Footage of the South Sudanese president Salva Kiir apparently urinating on himself at an official event has sparked an online debate across Africa about his ability to lead the country, and the ethics of sharing the incident on social media.
Standing for the national anthem while opening a new road last week, Kiir, 71, seemed at first unaware of what was happening. After a pool formed at his feet, some of his entourage noticed and the film crew that was broadcasting the event live abruptly pointed the camera away from the ceremony.
People, including politicians and lawyers from Uganda, Nigeria and Kenya, immediately took to social media to debate the incident. There have been concerns over Kiir’s long rule: he has been in power since independence in 2011, and South Sudan has not held an election since. The country is now due to go to the polls in 2024.
Many said the incident showed Kiir was not well enough to rule a nation facing intense challenges – acute levels of hunger, conflict and climate shocks. Others have criticised the sharing of the footage on social media, complaining that doing so was disrespectful to a man of his age.
“Some of us have being so concerned about the health of Pres Kiir, instead some people called us enemies of peace & state,” tweeted Wani Michael, a South Sudanese civil society activist, who accused Kiir’s loyalists of letting him down by not encouraging him to leave office.
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He said he would not share the video, despite his criticisms of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). “You can mock our Pres the way you want, you can call us names. But, as human beings Pres Salva Kiir is an elder & we respect him. We’ll recollect him from all these mocking and give him the respect he deserve. We’ll not mock his health even if we disagree with his govt.”
Another user countered: “Were you empathetic to the people who were jailed, tortured, and killed by him?”
Bongomin Acellam Taban Abwoc, a political analyst, tweeted: “He never had any sympathy to us and has been very brutal to the nation.”
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Kiir’s presidency has brought years of fighting with a splinter faction of the SPLM led by Kiir’s rival, Riek Machar. Hundreds of thousands have died, and the country has suffered sexual violence, repression of political opposition and corruption
Ugandan MP Daudi Kabanda tweeted: “This could be me in future – how would you feel if it was me being embarrassed like you are doing to Elder Salva Kiir?”
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Nigerian senator Shehu Sani said: “This may be a urinary sickness or an extreme act of patriotism; refusal to excuse himself while the national anthem was being played.”
Prominent Kenyan lawyer Esther Ang’awa was critical: “I expected President Kiir to have honourably retired on health grounds by now. But my critics say I am an idealist and that’s not how politics (I hear ‘tyranny’) works.”
There were concerns about how Kiir’s supporters would react. Independent news website Sudans Post quoted an anonymous state television employee who said that police had been searching for the journalist who filmed the incident.
Rumours also spread online that journalists present at the event had been arrested, but these were denied by the Union of Journalists of South Sudan (UJOSS). “[UJOSS] would like to make it abundantly clear that, as per our records at the moment, there is no journalist that has been arrested or is missing,” it said in a statement.
A claim that the cameraman had died by suicide, circulated by supporters and opponents of Kiir, appeared to be fake.