How not to hurry and bury our legends with their talents in South Sudan

Another title for this piece is ‘Teresa Nyankol Mathiang, the Mother Tereza of South Sudan!’ But this is not only about Teresa, it is about Terezas. Indeed, Nyankol Mathiang Dut was an artist in art and an ‘artistess’ in manners. Adieu! Nyan de Mathiang de Dut was a dude, a simple friend to everybody, who had ears and eyes for her music. When I say an ‘artistess’, I mean not only feminine in her voice but also motherly in a creative way. I tested her love not only for music but for children when launching our second album, “CPA is Rising Light” with the Little Doves Choir in 2009 at South Sudan Hotel (Kids amusement park) in Juba. After a very ecstatic show, the old nightingale of the Sudans made a memorable comment that I have the pleasure to treasure, to live and to relive.

“My small friends (in Dinka), I give you an assignment. Let me book one for me among your beautiful doves here. Can you, please, groom another Nyankol from these little girls (depending on which one to pick up the challenge)? I love the music and I want them to follow me,” she cherished the kids’ talents in a clear Dinka (Ngok) dialect. Now about the assignment, David Pachong and I have to stop wondering and start pondering over it immediately. David, I wish you out of the prison soon. Your friends all over the world, and in South Sudan, have poured a great deal of sympathy in many ways, including through my phone and the social media. I am with you in there. It is unfortunate they arrested you two hours before we met to discuss Nyankol’s and other plans for the children of South Sudan just seven days before Mama Tereza passed on. I believe she has left a legacy for us to pick up, especially the literacy legacy that greatly has featured in most of her motherly songs.

The Late Legend, Mother Tereza of South Sudan music, on her best. While I am updating this story with her picture, and while she is being laid to rest in her Abyei home today, the ‘Dong Abyei wei kedi’ (How did Abyei remain out of the agreement?) song is playing at the background on my laptop now at 3PM while Bashir and Kiir are signing another Addis Ababa Agreement without Abyei problems resolved or solved. What a treble coincidence of history! To me, what they have done again is postponement and procrastination, which is the usual trademark of the Khartoum Regime, so that they resume occupation soon just as six bombs had been dropped on the market at the border area of Southern Kordofan (Nuba Mts) just two hours before the two countries signed the border demilitarization (buffer zone) protocol in Addis (Addis sounds like accident in Arabic). No wonder, Bashir’s professionally perpetual propagandists will call it an accident again tonight. Adieu, Nyankol Mathiang Dut!

However, how to separate talents from being buried together with our legends is the point of utmost concern here. I have just used a boda-boda (a taxi-cycle) when I came to look for thermally generated electricity for my laptop this way. When I see that system called ‘boda-boda’, I know it is a combination of a human being and a ‘metal being’, an engined machine. But when it is a boy standing bedide a motorcycle, I wonder why somebody would call it a boda-boda. I would rather it were a ‘boda’. To me, it becomes a boda-boda when it is a full set. Therefore, a complete meaningful system must consist of a human being (rider/driver) and a machine (boda). Sorry for the meaning-filled meandering but what I imply by this is that a musician plus the instruments give a complete sense of music. Hence, we should not ignore either, else we lose music. For instance, if we ignore the health of a singer and only rush on the stage when she is using the instruments, then we are being biased. Or this way, if we rush into burying our talent, say Manut Bol, Garang de Mabior or Nyankol Mathiang and do not continue with their legacy, then we are being visionless. By so saying, let none take me for blaming a specific ‘uncle’ hereby or thereabout . I blame the whole system, including me, and my superiors, who are teeming with superiority complex but also teaming up with inferiors suffering from inferiority complex so as to give the unwarranted sycophancy.

In fact, if you ask me, I can tell you what the Ministry of Agriculture is doing to its farmers despite I not being a farmer, but I do not know what the Ministry of Culture is doing to its artists despite I being one of the artists in South Sudan. I hear there are a few (less than 5) names of musicians on their payroll, but their role of being there— nobody knows. By the way, they should not be taken for representatives of musicians. They entered that pay shit (rather pay sheet) through their own way. There is this nominal South Sudanese Artists Union formed every year, but can anyone volunteer to know why it is neither being opposed publicly nor being proposed permanently? Though not an insider, I am sure our parliament (the senile seniors in the SSNLA) passes a budget of that ministry that includes the artists year in, year out. What I cannot tell is whether the budget (their portion) passes to the artists likewise. In which way? Only God can tell.  I wanted to know it when I applied for a job of an Inspector for Culture (especially the drumming culture/music in Juba) that was advertized in The Citizen a few months ago, but to my surprise, the D/G (Director-General) wondered “Who told you? And who advertized that position. And why again advertize it!” So I left the application envelope on his desk and left warning but silently, ‘Unless you set a thief to catch a thief, you will not see arts being part of our income earners in South Sudan’.

From my experience as a talent scout for the last 10 years in South Sudan, this is how to kill a legacy right after the death of a legend. I call it ‘real death after death’; when an icon is buried with their legacy. That is why there is no Dr. John Garang Foundation, Manute Ball Foundation and then Nyankol Mathiang Foundation, or something of that kind. Even if we listen to their words in music or speeches, we do not put their instructions into our actions. That is why it is now a common ritual for government to only invoke Dr. Garang’s speeches and the names of our heroes, say, when there is political preaching for brainwashing the masses of any bad decisions arrived at bilaterally by our leaders. That is the only day towns begin to go to villages. The only day women must have even more than their 25 percent of their affirmative action in the government while we know there are only 19% literate women in our country. The political hypocrisy of preaching water and drinking the wine continues when our artists are being celebrated only on that Big Day stage. The deceit continues with the youth being appointed for the leadership of the ‘Republic of Tomorrow’, while today, nobody creates learning opportunities for the abundant but redundant youth in the job market.

As we have remained alive and kicking, and talking and walking after Nyakol Mathiang, Dr. John Garang de Mabior, Manute Bol and their departed colleagues, what do we have in store for the future? Why did the late Mother Teresa Nyankol complain of the sickness two weeks before she fell away from the earth and nobody gave heed to her treatment? Why should David Pachong Mading be languishing behind bars, the dungeon of the National Security or CID, without clear results of who set him up, or whom did he set up (probably in his songs since I still harbour the belief that he aint engage in those fake stuff)?

AKI NA PAW-PENN! The author (John Penn de Ngong) sharing light moments with Chinedu Ikedieze (Aki, Baby Police, Spanner, etc.) and the Late Uncle Loco (Sam Loco Ifeanye) at South Sudan Hotel, Juba, on June 4, 2010. During their 3-day visit to South Sudan, the Nollywood gifted and experienced talents told me the fundamentals of talent development (not in acting but in anything e.g. writing). When Sam Loco passed away in Nigeria last year (2011), he left a big hole in a future idea that we agreed to put into test in the new and near future of the baby republic. Talent (arts industry) is a second income earner to Nigeria as a country, second to oil! South Sudanese youth, are we there yet?

All my wonderings and wanderings are still punctuated with ‘why’. This is because I am a victim, not a victim of my own inability to make deals to enrich myself as the short-cut, rich minority believe, but a victim of ignorance. I still deny this… not my ignorance. No, not when I have two poetry books, one essay book, one novel and one play already written and approved for publishing, but not yet approved for funding. Not when I have a group that is dispersing due to lack of support, the Little Doves Choir, once artistically pampering  and flattering the same government leaders who would dance with the kids and later desert them like little cartoons (teletubbies) that have been worshipping woods. The group in question (The Little Doves Choir) is given as a case study not because the author co-founded it but because the Legend, the late Mama Teresa, had once blessed them and left with a will of refining more Teresas out of them. Where are they today? Did we chase them home? No. Only my colleague in the same business, Martin Ojok, of the orphan group, Atek-gi-Lwak (leading Acholi-child dancing troupe) can explain, but not without the same bickering of the group facing the risk of dispersing due to lack of support.

So why is it that we, the most talented writers, singers, runners… fill the endless lists of talents here… are having our latent talent evaporating with age from our brains and our right to write (sing or even riot) rotting in our throats with rage against the system that has ignored talent development in our country? I once asked this question one of the panel discussants, who happened to be the Undersecretary in the Ministry of Culture, (but I believe Dr. Jok Madut Jok is being just under-secretary as he seems to have been handcuffed by {not the police but} the policies of the government). In his analysis in a VOA talk show a few weeks ago, he made mention that the youth of South Sudan were lazy or did not want to work, hence the reasons the East Africans and other foreigners have taken over their jobs. Come on, Your Excellencies! If our current leaders (SPLM/A) could convince me at the age of 10 to go and fight, and suffer and even risk to die in the war of liberation without incentives (leave alone salaries), who are you to say the youth are refusing (in other words the government has failed) to work. Me, to behave like an ideal idiot to refuse a salaried job while I am such an ideal idol!

Maybe our leaders have failed to define the difference between being lazy and being idle. To me, being lazy is when I have a lot of  something to do— but not willing to do it, whereas being idle is when I have a lot of nothing to do— but willing to do it. Since laziness is a situation where there is something to do, idleness is a situation where there is nothing to do. So, are we, youth, who are abundant but redundant, to blame for our idleness? My job as an able-bodied citizen is to use my ability to build my nation, myself first, and the job of my senior citizen is to create opportunities (through good policies, plans and action, including policing, if necessary) to enable me to do something. Failure to do that, the so-called foreign workers will not only train our homegrown workforce to keep on lazing around but also train them to use their power for survival. If information were open to the public in South Sudan, we would be shocked by the figures of victims that are robbed, or even killed, every day in Juba alone. That is the fruit of having a young country idle: a devil’s workshop, indeed! So if all the devils from around the world swarm and overwhelm our naïve nation in the name of investors, including fake doctors or fake pharmacists to stuff our bodies with fake drugs (including vague drugs like opium) and expired foodstuff, leading to sudden death due to lack of proper health care or resistance of diseases against our body system, are the youth to blame?

I was saddened to hear from Southern Voice (Garang Ngarjok), one of our vocal artists, that Madam Teresa had complained of ill health and even suggested that some group of artists, who perform in South Sudan Hotel every weekend, throw a fundraiser concert to raise some money for her treatment. Before that was done, alas, Nyankol had gone! When she made this distress call, it was by coincidence that it was the day on which I last shared the stage with her in South Sudan Hotel (African Park or Adiqa). Little did I know she was performing her somewhat farewell show during a Dinka Language Development Association (DILDA) fundraiser cultural gala, of which I was one of the organizers. While on the stage, her Ngok-Dinka Traditional Dancers, including another celebrity, Arop Nyok Kuol, rushed passionately and surrounded her with an emotional reaction as they braved the afternoon downpour. Symbolically, Mother Teresa of South Sudan sang my favourite ones, including (if not from my addictive musical impulses) as usual in her clear Dinka, “Wek than keek…” or I give you my last message (fare or will…) whose lyrics run thus: “We than keek we mïth ke Panda, ku bɛɛr we thɔn oo, we mïth ke Pandɛɛn col… Diɛ̈tka nhïïm ye määr ë ciɛ̈ŋda, duɔ̈kä nhïïm ye määr ë ciɛŋdun…”

This, in English, sounds like: I give you my last message, my fellow citizens. And gain, I give my last message (will), fellow citizens/children of our Black land, Let’s not forget our culture. Do not forget your culture…”  The lyrics continued to another verse I cherish most, concerning literacy campaign: “Let’s teach our child. Let’s teach it to our black child. Do not forget our culture.” This reminds me of her message to the Little Doves Choir that I quoted before, ” Can you, please, groom another Nyankol from these little girls?” The challenge, as I hinted severally in my previous blogs on education and talent development, lies in the hands of the policy makers. Hundreds of musicians in South Sudan today are producing their music from their own cravings, just from the scratch.

Unfortunately, one audio song is recorded in our local studios with 500 South Sudanese Pounds, but sold by a ‘music pirate’ (worse still a Ugakenyan) that downloads it to our mobile phones for only 1 SSP! Why? No copyright laws! Even if the Property Rights Bill is passed by our sluggish parliament just on the first day (Nov. 2, 2012) they return from their holiday (recess), it would still not help us. Why? Lack of implementation of the laws on patent rights.

The Little Doves performing in a music competition gala at Senior Commands College, Kimaka (Jinja) in Uganda, July 2007 (Photo by John Penn de Ngong)

For instance, we found red-handed a Ugandan shop selling our ‘Garang Adanna Horriyya’ Album wholesale at Customs Market in 2008. When we tried to drag him to the police, the constable was not stable with our laws (if any), and brushed us off with this question, “He said he used his own money to produce your music. Why don’t you appreciate him for promoting your music, instead?” There and then, David Pachong and I went away disgraced. Not only we, but a hundreds of our musicians are having their music ‘harvested’ for free in the name of promoting by spreading it (but not for free, then!). The leading victim of this is one renowned revolutionary, Fannan Ezekiel Panchol Deng Ajang, the leading moral and morale ‘salary  payer’ to the SPLA freedom fighters in the 90s. Now, he is just any other begging singer in the streets of South Sudan and Uganda!

Therefore, before I usher you into the final paragraphs giving the reasons why our talents are wasting away in South Sudan and the solutions to the malady thereof, first click the following link to download (while reading the conclusion) an interview I gave in 2007 to New Sudan Vision, and reprinted by The Star in 2009, on why The Little Doves Choir are no longer performing your favourite hit, “Garang Adanna Horriya” and the like in a group. The PDF interview goes by the title: The Little Doves – Southern Sudanese Leading Child-musicians on their Slippery Ladder to Success. Alas, they slipped away from that ladder! Read here why and how?  Click… JST0406018
So why are our talents buried with our legends in South Sudan?

All in all, there is little knowledge enhancement and talent development in South Sudan today. Even among the youth, whose greater population is still in schools, talent is neither being discovered nor is knowledge being recovered. This has historical background. It is in the fact that the marginalized peoples of South Sudan have just discovered that they are ranking high among the richest in the world in mineral deposits in their land; but there are even more potential riches not yet explored and exploited—the talent deposits in their youths and children.

Fossilized over centuries of multi-national colonial succession, wars and ignorance, the varieties of talents in the South Sudanese youths are now ripe but not fully prepared for tapping. For over half a century now, the South Sudanese youths, especially in the South and the marginalized areas of the Sudan, have never enjoyed any rights, especially in relation to the media freedoms, that is, freedom of expression and freedom of association. They were made to dedicate – hence waste – a great deal of their time and talents in the successive wars of liberation.

The author (in black) and his colleagues: Deng Ayok (in white) and Deng Joggaak (in blue) explore the swamps of Jalle Payam in Jonglei during a socio-economic baseline survey carried out by the group for Total oil company in August 2008. That’s when I realized that it was useless risking my life to reptiles of the Sudd in search of oil deposits in our land while leaving behind talent deposits in our hand. Now, I am a talent researcher, oil later when Bashir has removed his hands off it.

Following the declaration of independence of South Sudan over a year ago, there is an urgent need and demand to excavate the hibernating wealth in the surviving young generation in the postwar era of the Sudan. The tools for exploiting this are the youths themselves through their talent spotting and supporting organization known as USTASS United Scribes, Teachers and Artists of South Sudan) to which this writer is a talent scout in the title of an Executive Director. However, the challenge is in accessing opportunities, especially funding for building both the capacity of the members and the organization.

However, the problem facing talent promotion in South Sudan remains lack of access to funding, especially at a small scale and grassroots levels. Given sufficient support from the government, donors and multinational companies in South Sudan, talent promotion individuals and organizations. With good funding policies and opportunities, the highly talented youth of South Sudan that missed the London 2012 Olympics in Britain will surely shine in Rio 2016 Olympics in Brazil. Therefore, individuals and organizations will easily achieve their goals of spotting and supporting talents in South Sudan (Talent by Talent Scouting) if opportunities were availed on natural competence national capacity.

Of course, as mentioned earlier on and again and again in my previous blogging blabbing, there is no money in writing, singing or sporting in South Sudan today. The able-bodied youth seem to have been accustomed to the belief for relief that there is no need for taxing one’s brain when they can just do the walking on the flakes of fertile soil underneath their feet and do the talking about the lakes of versatile oil beneath their field: all these for minting cash on! However, the oil being both politically and geologically thousands of kilometers deep in the heart of the earth and the soil being the skin thereof, how do we extract cash out of them now, right now? We need knowledge. We know South Sudan for the last six years of the Interim Period, which has indeed been an extreme period, of the Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), that, to date, is still a compressive peace argument, is presumably independent but predominantly dependent on a cash cow that grazes in the south but is still milked in the north. Therefore, we want technical knowhow, not tactical know-who, if at all we want not to bury our talented youth raw with their gifts in South Sudan.