By Athiaan Majak Malou
January 6, 2013 - Proverbs and sayings are statements of traditional wisdom, supported by long experience and expressed in memorable sentences. In this respect, they are passed on from one generation to another. Proverbs are very important in speeches and social conversations because they make statements or issues being discussed indirect and impersonal. By doing so, they reduce sensitivity and tension that could be caused by direct or personal reference. Because of the importance attached to these proverbs, the famous Nigerian writer and Noble Prize Laureate Chinua Achebe did mention in one of his book that, “Proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten”.
President Yuri Museveni of Uganda is fond of passing his messages using African proverbs and sayings. He practices this to introduce sense of humour and make his speeches interesting and less boring.
While on visit Juba on 9th July 2013, he was among the dignitaries who addressed the second independence celebrations at John Garang’s Mausoleum in Juba. In his speech allude to a number of what he called Africans’ proverbs to address the situation in South Sudan. One of the proverbs was: “The teeth with gap between them do not chew meat well”.
This was the time the political rivalry between President Salva Kiir and his then deputy, Dr Riek Machar was at its peak. The saying was therefore interpreted to be referring to internal wrangling within the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the government of South Sudan for that matter-that the government or SPLM as a party will not work well when there are differences among the senior officials.
To prove that this interpretation was correct, President Salva Kiir reshuffled his government within the same month of July dismissing his Vice president Riek Machar and many more ministers and party officials believed to be politically sympathetic with him or critics of Kiir’s leadership in their own right.
This was so because President Museveni role in South Sudan and many other countries in the region is very clear for everyone to see. He had a hand in the establishment of the current governments in Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and probably Kenya.
In South Sudan, he has been playing the role of a godfather during the war of liberation and up to now. President Kiir constantly seeks advice from Museveni on variety of issues.
The regional hands-on strategy of President Museveni is in line with his original vision of ‘Sowing the Mustard Seed’, which he has narrated in his autobiography under the same tittle, written in mid 1990s.
President Museveni seemed to have been inspired by Jesus’ parable about the mustard seed, mentioned in the Gospel according to Matthew 13:31-32, which reads, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the birds of sky come and dwell in its branches.”
Like John Garang’s vision of ‘New Sudan’, Yuri Museveni’s vision of growing to be the largest tree in the region has long crystallised.
Like the birds mentioned in the biblical parable, leaders from all over the region com to seek advice or support from President Museveni as eldest statesman in the region. When the crisis happened in South Sudan few days ago all eyes of the world, including those of America and Europe, turned to Uganda as a credible player who can bring about solution.
Putting into consideration the interdependences of the people of this region, it is incumbent on the governments of the region, especially IGAD countries and the friends of IGAD, African Union and the International Community to do whatever possible to prevent this conflict from escalating.
I know President Museveni did not mean what has happened and will not like the way his proverb has been interpreted. If that is the case, then he can now go back and say another proverb that can be interpreted positively and unite the people of South Sudan. I believe there is no shortage of such proverbs and wisdom from our regional icon.
To chew the meat well one does not definitely have to extract some of the teeth with gaps or put in-between artificial ones. What should have been done is to fill in the gaps and let the teeth collectively do the chewing of the meat very well, this time round. President Kiir ought to visit a better dentist.
The author has formerly served in the government of Lakes state of South Sudan as the County Commissioner for Yirol East and state Minister for education. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org