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Did the President’s Address Meet the Threshold of an Ideal State of the Nation Address?

By Juma Mabor Marial

Sometimes, one gives up on public affairs when the nation has ended up on a road to nowhere. This is the conclusion I made when I stopped writing and concentrated on my private businesses. I deliberately stopped writing to avoid putting myself into loggerhead with those who thought I might have been infringing on their authority.

But even as I was busy with my private businesses, I didn’t neglect my civic duties of sharing with colleagues and other like-minded intellectuals the challenges and wrong path our nascent country was taking. I didn’t however share a lot on the on-going conflict and its dynamics or the peace negotiations basically on the assessment I had made and against the experiences and the difficulties those who contributed faced as most of them were easily branded as rebels sympathizers or government mouth-pieces. It was and it is still a risky venture to undertake and that is why I decided to remain neutral at least until the objectivity and rationalism is restored.

This may not be the topic of discussion but I thought about this disclaimer because I wish to once again share with the public my reaction to the recent State of the Nation Address by President General Salva Kiir. For some of us who may not be familiar with the meaning and objectives of the State of the Nation/Union Address, I want to share a little bit on the theory before we could move on to the content and analyst the strengths and weaknesses of the recent State of the Nation/Union Address by the President.

A State of the Nation/Union Address(SoN/UA/) is a political model in which the President reports on the status of the nation. The address not only reports on the condition of the nation but also allows the President to outline his or her national agenda and national priorities. It is here that the President can recommend any measures that he or she believes are necessary and expedient. The SoN/UA is often broadcast to inform the nation about its present economic, political, and social condition. It is also a vehicle for the President to summarize the accomplishments and plans of his/her programme of government both for a particular year and until the end of his/her term of office. In the United States of America, the President address a joint session of the United States Congress, typically delivered annually. The address not only reports on the condition of the nation but also allows the President to outline his or her legislative agenda (for which they need the cooperation of Congress) and national priorities. The address fulfills rules in Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, requiring the President to periodically give Congress information on the "state of the union" and recommend any measures that he or she believes are indispensable and convenient. During most of the country's first century, the President only submitted a written report to Congress. With the advent of radio and television, the address is now broadcast live across the country on most networks. In several countries, state of the nation address are criticized by various sectors for being too ostentatious and flashy, with politicians and media personalities treating the event as a red carpet fashion show. One Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago blasted the organizers and called the event a "thoughtless extravagance" where "peacocks spread their tails and turn around and around, as coached by media in a feeding frenzy."

This criticism is too heavy to be replicated in South Sudan or one risked other consequences, but let us now move back to the situation and critically look at the state of the union address of our President. Unlike in the United States of America and many other countries of the world, the State of the Nation/Union Address of the President of the Republic of South Sudan is not delivered through the legislature or given on a specified calendar date. This may be by design or default.

It is unfortunate that, the few technocrats that control the timetable of the President sit and decide any weekend that the President should address the nation on this date and rush the announcement to the media thus obliging everyone to anxiously wait for what the surprise state of the nation address would deliver. This can of course not be blamed on these secretaries in the office of the President but it should be blamed entirely on the framers of the Transitional Constitution and the legislators for not having thought it important to incorporate a specific calendar date for the state of the nation address as an integral provision of the supreme law and other enabling legislations.

Their attempt to cater for this event is vaguely articulated under article 78 of the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan, 2011 which states that ‘the President may personally or by a message, address the national legislature or either of its houses. The national legislature or either of its two houses shall accord priority to such request over any other business. The President may also request the opinion of the national legislature or either of its two houses on any subject matter’. 

This is the highest ambiguity that any constitution would allow because the letter and spirit of this provision is to the extent that, its gives the President the privilege and the freedom to call on parliament any time he deems fit and appropriate to address the nation, i.e. If the state of the nation address is to be given through parliament. Again, if one looks at article 101 (t) of the Transitional Constitution on the functions of the President, this is where you would find the proviso on the annual state of the nation address but whether this one is being implemented is another glaring question because for instance, how many state of the nation addresses did the President make since South Sudan gained independence, one would likely suggest four on approximate but whether they were four or more is another area that need research. But that is not the issue of contention here; the question is the substance of what the context of the State of the Nation/Union Address that the President has been giving and is yet to give entails.

Having said this, one would not be surprised by the substance of what the content of the address entails as it is prima facie a rush and unplanned event where some note takers think it is just but a bullet point exercise that is not worth wasting time to prepare. Throughout his state of the nation address, the President has continued to keep the nation (citizens) glued to the televisions and their ears fixed on the radios waiting for something that never come at the end of the day.

In his recent state of the nation address, the President was expected to inform the nation (citizens) about the relationship with the foreign and diplomatic community and affirm whether the gaps that were apparent have been bridged after he signed the peace agreement, people were also eagerly waiting to hear the security status of the country and what are the developmental and infrastructural plans for the country, the commitment to peace agreement and the challenges and achievements that the government is able to report. He was also expected to talk about the economy.

The President didn’t do much in all the above areas except that he spent his entire time talking about the Compromise Peace Agreement that he had signed and reiterates his insistency on a number of reservations that he made when he signed the pact. This is not a bad elaboration to have been made by H.E. because, as the head of state, he must share his commitment on the peace by enlightening the citizens on the deal and ask them to support him in the implementation in order to have a sustainable peace in the country.

The President scored highly on this item and he was applauded across the country and around the world for this statesmanship. Those who assisted him from his office on the literature and philosophy in giving the world and the people the assurances of his commitment to peace were equally appreciated. However, it was unfortunate to realize that, the state of the nation address was only organized to talk about the signed peace agreement and left out other crucial issues like the state of our foreign relation as a country, our development master plan, the achievements that the President and his government might have made despite the strife in the country, the infrastructural plans, the economic status and the challenges that the nation face as a result of the conflict and other external factors.

Precisely, the President was expected to assure the citizens that his decision to append his signature on the Compromise Peace Agreement (CPA) has improved the foreign relations of South Sudan and her international friends, he was also expected to give a rough summary of what his government has achieved despite the on-going conflict, talk about the northern corridor project, the EAC engagement, the cooperation agreement with Sudan, the implementation by his government of the GPAA peace agreement, the improvement on the healthcare, education and infrastructural development. The President should have also taken it as his government achievement the declaration of cease-fire even if it is being sabotaged by the enemies of peace. He should have informed the nation of his government short and long-terms plans. The recently pasted vision 2040, what it entails in terms of development, infrastructure, education, healthcare systems, democracy, security and other well-fare issues.

After that the President should have talked about the challenges that his government is facing in its attempt to deliver services to the nation and this is where it would have been convenient for him to justify his calls for the nation to support him in the implementation process so that the country can return to stability and redefine its destiny. Again because the organizers of this event thought it was just a breakfast activity, they made the President, someone I have always considered a Wiseman and hold with highest respect repeat himself over and over again on one item called the implementation of the peace agreement.

My ultimate discontentment came about when the President came to the end of his address with regard to the state of our economy and informed the nation that and I quote; ‘I know some of you wanted me to talk about economy, but I decided not to talk about it purposely because I know, even if I talk about it [economy], we will just be discussing it here, but there is nothing that can be done about it’. This is where he scored NIL, as a President, you are like a doctor, a teacher, a father in the house and everything. You may be aware of the difficulties and the challenges just like all of us knows that the economy of the country has nearly collapsed but the last person to declare that is the President because like a doctor, you cannot tell the patient that the disease is incurable less you risk them taking their lives before you leave that room, as a father, you cannot tell your children that, I know you are hungry but there is no food and therefore, you have to live with it.

I know the President was giving this statement from the position of honesty but what he should have known is that there is more to his office than just being honest, he didn’t have to express himself in the negative but rather, he should have turn it positive by informing the nation that, he is aware of the economic difficulties the country is facing as a consequent of the conflict and the only way out would be for all the citizens to join him inimplementing the agreement that he has signed with the rebels as this will enhance improvements in the economic sector.

This statement would not mean doing something about it but rather, it will help in restoring hopes among the citizens and that is why the Presidents are called the fathers of the nations because they are the symbols of hope for the nation even in situations where the people are in despair. The President should have realized what his actions and his statements could do when he signed the peace agreement on 26th August, 2015, the market reacted positively to this development and a dollar that was exchanging at 17 SSP in the black market lowered to 11 SSP just in a matter of hours, this is doing something about fragile economic situation because the economy usually reacts to political developments. His statement that there was nothing that could be done about the worsening economic situation opened flood gates for unscrupulous business practitioners to abuse the market and after that day, the dollar that was trading at 14 SSP shot up to 16 SSP while the local shopkeepers increased their prices by 40 % and when asked about why they are doing that, they would simply reply, ‘there is nothing we can do about it’.

It is not surprising though that our President is not known for motivating the citizens in the situation of despair for instance, when the first graduation ceremony was made in the University of Juba early this year, the President told the grandaunts that they should not hope for being absorbed into the government since there are very few positions in the government. This was not to encourage them to be job creators because he felt short in declaring that aspects, instead, he was telling them that there was nothing his government could do about the high rate of unemployment even as most of them graduate into the job market.

Summed up together, it is unfortunate to conclude that, the recent State of the Nation/Union Address by the President just like many other statements that he gives in public occasions failed to meet the threshold required by an ideal state of the union practice. Most importantly, the President and those who organize these functions with  him must also understand that the hopes and expectations of the people of South Sudan are usually anchored upon their office and anytime they come out to say something in form of the state of the nation address, people eagerly anticipate a solution to a number of challenges that are facing them and for the President to declare that there is nothing that can be done about something like the economy is suicidal and  to some larger extent an absolute declaration of despair.

Finally, I can’t blame the President so much because he cannot do all by himself but my disappointment goes to those who are in his office, they should be the ones to read the minds of the public and advice the President to tailor his state of the nation address in such a comprehensive manner as to cover all the aspects regarding the country’s political and socio-economic situation. They should also advice the president to usually give assurances and guarantees where the citizens are about to give up. These are the tasks for which they are being paid and maintained, otherwise, if they allow the President to speak the way he did in the recent state of the nation address, then, they could be deliberately sabotaging his relationship with the citizens or altogether ineptitude. I don’t know which one of these is relevant but a serious investigation must be made on those two scenarios.

Juma Mabor Marial is an advocate

Reachable at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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