When Ambassador Francis Mading Deng was appointed as the permanent representative of South Sudan to the United Nations (UN) by the end of August, 2012, I was thrilled. When he accepted the offer and took oath to represent the people of South Sudan at the world body, I was beaming with hope and was convinced that South Sudan is finally entrusted in safe and able hands of a brilliant, experienced and probably even principled diplomat. The future of South Sudan foreign relations, particularly in relation to how international relations are conceived of and articulated at the global center of power in New York seemed bright. Abyei was probably on course to rejoining South Sudan from its nativity in Sudan, so I thought.
Ambassador Deng’s glittering diplomatic career needs no introduction. Since the early 60s Dr. Deng has been in and around the United Nations corridors of power, serving on various capacities and scope. He rose to the highest level of humanitarian and peace policymaking positions at this global institution. Deng laboriously toiled and climbed the UN ladder from humble beginnings serving as a mere human rights officer between 1967 and 1972 to the under-secretary level, representing the Secretary General on issues of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) by 1992. He then served as a special advisor of the current UN Secretary General on the Prevention of Genocide from 2007 until his appointment as South Sudan’s special representative to the UN.
Successive Khartoum regimes have recognized Deng’s brilliance and diplomatic prowess as early back as mid-70s. He was one of the few Southerners cherry-picked on merits (he is a Scientiae Juridicae Doctor) by Jallaba ruling elites to preside over Sudan’s foreign relations. He served as Sudan State’s Minister for Foreign Affairs between 1976 until his resignation following the abrogation of the 1972 Addis Ababa Peace Accord and declaration of Islamic Sharia as the supreme law of the land by president Nimeri in 1982, which is one of the factors that triggered the second liberation struggle.
Ambassador Deng claims he tabled his resignation from Sudan’s Foreign Service then in protest to the central government’s conspicuous relapse to Islamist policies. But by 1992, Professor Deng was back working for Sudan’s Foreign Affairs Office and serving the more ruthless Bashir’s Islamist government in Khartoum. He was assigned as Sudan’s Ambassador to several Western countries, including the United States, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Canada.
Dr. Francis Deng is also an international public figure by virtue of his articulate scholarship and seminal academic contributions in international law, global politics and international relations and conflict management and resolution. He is one of the architects of the moral humanitarian intervention principle now commonly referred to as responsibility to protect (R2P) or responsibility to act (R2A). In this moral humanitarian intervention principle Deng and his colleagues shifted the burden of normative conception of state sovereignty from above to below and from territorial integrity to the dignity of the people.
The state sovereignty Deng and cohort pioneered dispensed with more than 340 years of established state sovereignty tradition in legal and political theory. Sovereignty up until Deng’s intervention as articulated in their book, Sovereignty As Responsibility: Conflict Management in Africa, published in 1996, was a geographic and regime friendly concept, where territorial integrity of states are sacrosanct and states may not interfere in internal matters of other states, even when totalitarian regimes brutalize their subjects.
The R2P moral principle came to refine the traditional sovereignty norm and articulates three factors that guide modern international relations and the moral obligations of a state. These moral principles delineate that: a state has a responsibility to protect its citizens from human rights violations and mass atrocities; that the international community has a responsibility to aid the state that is unable or unwilling to protect its citizens to overcome this failure; and finally that in seeking to halt human rights violations and mass atrocities and enforce peace and security, the international community has a responsibility to use force as a last resort when all other avenues have failed.
R2P has now evolved into a soft law in international law and serves as a fundamental principle in humanitarian interventions around the world. The ouster and lynching of the draconian Mouamar Khadafi of Libya following his iron-fist and violent repression of the Libyan revolution was pretext on the R2P moral and legal principle discourse coined and championed by Professor Deng and company.
On the national level, few have written so expressively and voluminously on the South Sudanese societies, particularly about the Dinka ethnic group as does Professor Deng. He has written much on Dinka cosmology and worldview, from which Dinka cultural values on peace, social justice and the importance of dignity are derived and around which Dinka social organization, folktales and folksongs revolve.
The gist of Deng’s exposé on his ethnic group, the Dinka, is to lay bare Dinka egalitarianism, and the centrality of peace, justice and dignity values in the Dinka culture so as to dispel any lingering negative perceptions and stereotypes that reduce the community to some unprovoked proneness to violence. This message is a persistent pattern of Deng’s Dinka writings traceable in his discussions of Dinka worldview, cosmology and religion all the way down to social organization and the role of elders and women in inculcating these integral cultural values in children through the use of folktales and folksongs for example. “Cieng,” which is a Dinka term that captures the importance of peace, permeates the society’s linguistic expression, including in folktales and folksongs, as Deng argues.
In a book chapter entitled “The World of the Dinka: A Portrait of the Threatened Culture,” Deng writes: “Despite the warlike profile of the Dinka, their moral values emphasize the ideals of peace, unity, harmony, persuasiveness, and mutual cooperation. These values are highly institutionalized and expressed in a concept known as cieng (pronounced “cheng”)…. The contradiction between the requirements of cieng and the violent reputation of the Dinka can be explained in terms of the gap between the ideal and the real, institutionally manifest in the difference between generational roles. While elders strive to live by the ideals, the young warriors find self-fulfillment, social recognition, and dignity in their valor, fighting ability, and defensive solidarity…. Nevertheless, frequent and pervasive as it is, warfare reflects a negation of the ideals, an alternative that should only be resorted to when peaceful methods have failed.”
Elsewhere in a book entitled, Tradition and Modernization: A Challenge for Law among the Dinka of the Sudan, Deng argues: “Cieng does not merely advocate unity and harmony through attuning individual interests to the interests of others; it requires assisting one’s fellowmen. Despite the violent nature of Dinka society, good cieng is opposed to coercion and violence: for solidarity, harmony, and mutual cooperation are more fittingly achieved voluntarily and by persuasion. Cieng has the sanctity of a moral order not only inherited from the ancestors who had in turn received it from God, but also fortified and policed by them. Failure to adhere to its principles is not only disapproved of as an antisocial act warranting temporal punishment; but more important, it is a violation of the moral order which may invite a spiritual curse—illness or death according to the gravity of the violation. Conversely, a distinguished adherence to the ideals of cieng receives temporal and spiritual rewards.”
In short, Professor Deng is an accomplished public figure and a diplomat, a scholar and a peace advocate whose reputation transcends our local South Sudanese borders and the African continent into the world at large. Deng’s presentations of the Dinka society are not only breathtaking but also leave the impression that he (Deng) is what he is today because he was probably nurtured and driven by these same Dinka cultural peace and justice values and egalitarianism.
However, following the litmus test of the violent outbreak in South Sudan mid-December last year, it is conspicuously noticeable that many a Dinka intellectual who hitherto could be identified as peace activists, have recoiled and thrown their weight behind president Kiir and his violent and destructive policies. This holds particularly true for those Dinka members who hail from the Greater or to use a more politically correct expression, the larger Bahr El-Ghazal geographic region, which includes Abyei, and which was part of this region before it was annexed.
Could this be the “defensive solidarity” that Professor Deng describes above? If so, how far can a defensive solidarity of a president who has declared a war on his people go? Should it go as far as undoing all the peace principles and values that one stood for, dedicated one’s entire life advocating and built a global let alone local reputation as a man of principles and the defender of rights, dignity and values? During his last Security Council address diplomat, Francis Deng did not fail to invoke the viability of raising such questions. By ardently defending a regime that the whole world is aware has instigated a war on its people and massacred thousands of a segment of its citizens on the basis of sheer identity difference, Dr. Deng like several other doctors from the region have needlessly undressed themselves.
There is no justification for the reaction in kind and the atrocities committed by the other side against those sympathetic with Kiir’s regime or identified with the president’s tribal belonging. But Deng of all others should not explain away the targeting of IDPs in a UN protection of civilian (PoC) site as happened in Bor and as defended by Deng to have been provoked by the IDPs celebrations of the fall of Bentiu and the gunshots fired by their UN peacekeeping custodians. There is nowhere in the world where those engaged in a peaceful protest arm themselves. No such thing as armed peaceful protest.
Professor Deng’s last Security Council address was shameful and is antithetical to all that he stood for, including representing IDPs before the world body and the international community and advising the UN’s Secretary General on the Prevention of Genocide. Importantly, that speech negates your groundbreaking contribution and redefinition of sovereignty as state moral and legal responsibility to protect its citizens. Diplomat Deng, you should condemn the violent madness in South Sudan and resign from representing Kiir’s regime at the UN, before you further risk tainting your hands with innocent blood, tarnishing your national and global image and reputation and undoing your impressive and rich resume and contributions to make the world more peaceful and just. Peacebuilding begins at home.