Nyamach Nyang Chol,
is a dynamic, charismatic and feminine political figure. She stands for what she believes in even if it goes against popular ideas. She's a young South Sudanese woman currently living in Melbourne, Australia. The answers below are uniquely hers. Enjoy the interview and may her story inspire you to embark on a journey of your own.
What is the meaning of your name in your mother tongue?
Nyamach or Nyadoar are my names, the meanings are outcomes of the same events. I was born during the war when our fathers were liberating the now South Sudan. At the time of my birth, my father was fighting in a place called the Blue Nile, Asosa (Kurmuk), which is based on the border of Sudan and Ethiopia.
My father was an SPLM/A Commander in the bush and that’s the meaning of “Nyadoar” in Nuer language, meaning foreign/bush as we were displaced from our home towns, every South Sudanese in the diaspora now is “de doar” because it’s foreign and are forced to be out of the country due to insecurities and instability.
Nyamach is also war-related, my father was leading the military at the time of my birth, he was a great freedom fighter and won most battles against the enemy, therefore Nyamach means gunfire.
The meanings are more or less the same, Nyadoar is more sacred to me because my late paternal grandmother chose it but Nyamach became more popular that the majority don’t even know the former name. I have many names as a typical South Sudanese firstborn, everyone named me since birth but these are the common two.
What kind of upbringing did you have?
Born during the war I had the same upbringing as most South Sudanese youths today. My family moved a lot, my parents never divorced but having a complete nuclear family under the same roof was a pipeline dream because my father left us a lot to go fight.
At the age of two, my father evacuated us to neighbouring Kenya for safety and a better life. Unfortunately, my father's political and military involvement with the SPLM/A meant he had to leave us behind a lot if we were lucky we would see him once a year for approximately one month. Sometimes we would go several years without seeing him and other good times he would have an assignment/role in Nairobi where things would look up for a bit before he’s reshuffled back to Sudan somewhere.
Life became bleak when my baby brother nearly died of an illness and in 2003 my mother sought refugee status, she was not taking chances again after losing a daughter a couple of years earlier due to lack of hospital fees and waiting for dad from an unknown location in Sudan to send money. With the help of my uncles in Australia, we got visas and moved to Australia, leaving my father behind to follow through with the war, which was coming to an end. So, my early learning and primary school education were in Kenya and my high school and university education were in Australia.
Why did you get into politics as a woman?
We are all in politics whether we are women or men, politics is personal, it affects our lives especially as South Sudanese today. Although, I never planned to get into politics as a profession, well not now at least, maybe when I become rich and old then maybe as an educated woman in my village I would be expected to be the voice of the voiceless and probably elected into a political post to make a difference.
I knew it was bound to happen someday considering I'm the daughter of a liberator and a politician. As they say, life doesn’t come with a manual, everything just happened prematurely and indirectly but with great intentions at heart. I joined Politics at the age of 29, I'm now 30yrs old but people thought I was a politician since the age of 21 when I first started working with the government (maybe because I’m very vocal where it matters).
I worked with Referendum Taskforce, which was then Chaired by Dr. Riek Machar before the independence of South Sudan and I became a Diplomat in 2011 thereafter. I worked tirelessly and selflessly till 2018 when I realized the lack of system being put in place and the injustices being faced needed undiplomatic approach, especially when all our hard work kept going to dust due to a continuous trend of kleptocrats being appointed into power positions.
Therefore, I packed up and joined the South Sudan United Front Movement chaired by former Chief of Staff Gen. Paul Malong Awan who appointed me as the Deputy of External Relations & Diplomacy, also a Secretary of Gender & Social Welfare. I currently hold the same posts under SSUF/A working collaboratively under SSOMA to bring about a just peace if not a change of regime altogether that will address the root causes to the conflict, a peace that will put the interests of our South Sudanese first.
I became a politician for every mother and child affected by the conflict, for every civilian who doesn’t feel safe in their own country, for every refugee who has lost hope, for every hard-working South Sudanese who doesn’t see the fruits of their contribution to the nation-building, because I'm every South Sudanese. My nationalism is skin deep and I will work for a better South Sudan so the next generation will feel at home, leapfrog to a developed nation and be a prosperous state in the world map.
Also, what were the challenges you had faced?
This is a broad question due to challenges being part of our everyday life but I will keep it simple based on my understanding. See, I'm very ambitious and hard-working, I know I accomplish every assignment I set my mind to at work. Unfortunately working in the public sector and now politics, I fall under every stereotype. It’s challenging to be in a male-dominated environment as a female, young and unmarried.
These challenges are common in workplaces but I face it rough dealing with my people. I have been demoted into roles that do not fit my job description because it’s a female role and it could use a beautiful smile, for example, being made a receptionist or typing meeting minutes instead of participating. I have been disrespected in my leadership roles by older male colleagues because I'm female and younger, and I'm constantly lectured by people I work with to get married so I can get my entitled respect.
I mean, shouldn’t a person be respected based on their merits? But because I'm a woman I need a man to secure that respect for me. Also, being a curvy woman who loves to dress up and look pretty is used against you and often being judged by the cover, so many misconceptions that no one takes the time to get to know you and your capabilities. It has been a real challenge. I even believe some people look at my 6-inch heels and think Nah she won’t be able to handle this assignment because it involves a lot of physical work but I function better in heels as funny as that may sound.
I have lost many assignments due to my appearance. Sometimes I would just wear trousers, flat shoes, keep my hair short and my makeup minimal in hopes that I will be picked to do the so-called male roles in the protocol but that takes away my confidence.
What is your advice for women hesitant to go into positions of leadership?
Ladies, do not be hesitant to pursue your ambitions, don’t listen to naysayers. You are more capable than a man in suits, reach the highest position you possibly can in your chosen profession. Yes, you will intimidate a lot of men and even women for that matter, but never lower yourself for them, let them level up. The risk you are taking to be in a power position is worth it, what you have to give is way more than the challenges you will face and overcome on your way there.
You will meet misogynists, horrible bosses, backstabbing colleagues on your way up but keep your head high, ignore them and let your success speak for you. Separate your social life with work especially if you are not already married, date outside your institution if you must. It will not be easy but it will be worth it, let’s change society, one woman, at a time. Like they say, “if you want the job done right, do it yourself”. Let the power within you out and make the world a better place.
I believe with more women aspiring to power positions in South Sudan and around the globe, a world will change around us, nations will see stability in all forms because we have a secret recipe called love and nurture that men lack.
I also strongly encourage women with experience and already in senior power positions to guide the younger generations, show them the way, let them learn from your mistakes because you have paved the way for them. Root for any young girl aspiring to be in power position, because if we are not our sisters’ keepers no one else will look out for them.
What's your encouragement for young people that are afraid to follow their chosen path?
Don’t be afraid to follow your dreams, don’t be afraid to fail, and above all don’t be afraid to start over and follow your forgotten dreams.
People in your life will talk you out of following your passion but if you look at their track records you will realize it’s coming from an envious point of view because they gave up on their dreams and now misery needs company. Don’t be afraid to go hard even if there are shortcomings, you will one day have the big break you’ve longed for doing what you love.
Most of us are doing jobs to make ends meet, which is fine but completely giving up on our chosen paths is not okay, never make that mistake of putting your dreams to sleep indefinitely, put in the work every day and slowly but surely you will get there. I live by these sayings, “if you hate what you do, quit”, “if you hate where you live, move, you are not a tree” and my favourite of all is, “do what you love so every day will feel like a holiday.’’
Nyabuoy Gatbel is a South Sudanese Canadian currently living in Calgary, AB. She was born in Ethiopia in 1993 and moved to Canada as a refugee in 2002. She's currently a undergraduate student at the University of Calgary. Besides her studies she's a social entreprenuer focusing on the, ''Paarman Centre project,'' a fashion model, writer and author of the book, ''The Fire Within poetry in Thok Nath and English.''