By Justin Ambago Ramba, MD
May 31, 2010 (SSNA) — Recently there has been resurgence in attacks on the civilians in the remote Western Equatoria State (WES), of south Sudan by the notorious Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a terroristic group led by the self styled Messiah, Joseph Kony.
Bordering the D.R Congo and the Central African Republic (CAR), Western Equatoria State has suffered much insecurity largely as a result of its geographical location and the weaknesses of the governments of the three bordering countries. The entire population in this state has been one time or the other intensively affected with each rebel attack as it results to abductions of children and women and other atrocities that range from rape, mutilations, and massive displacements.
Since the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement (CPA), between the north and the south, many people have returned to their former villages and most are more settled than others. However in WES, this peace has little effect if any. The bitterness of the situation has led the local population to view the GoSS leadership with a lot of scepticism and resentment as they feel marginalised and neglected.
On many occasions the citizens in these areas who mostly depend on the locally organised tribal youth groups to deter the incursions of the well armed LRA rebels in the remote villages, have expressed their discontents as they face a new reality, that their lives were far more secured during the civil war than it is now. Five years ago the LRA activities were confined to northern Uganda and parts of the Eastern and Central Equatoria States inside south Sudan, sadly only to be allowed by the GoSS to cross over to their present day hide-outs in Western Equatoria, northern DR Congo and eastern CAR.
In the last three years this semi-autonomous region has seen a steady rise in insecurity in spite of the 2005 peace treaty, which often lead others to say that Western Equatoria is not the only insecure area in south Sudan ; but comparing notes one can clearly see that there exists different regional patterns and causes to these problems.
For example in Jonglei, Warrap and Lakes states, which now rank as the most insecure areas in south Sudan, the insecurity have often resulted from as a their long held culture of ‘stealing cattle’, which is being wrongly dignified as cattle rusting and even glorified as cattle raiding, events where the youth paradoxically take much pleasure and pride.
Cattle rustling are by no doubt, clear barbaric and criminal activities to be a culture in the 21st century. They are driven by a compulsive urge to ‘steal cattle’, which belong to other communities or neighbouring clans. These have been in the vogue amongst the cattle herders of south Sudan since a time immemorial. But in the last two or three years, even local observers have acknowledged the new shift in the raiding patterns, where women, children and the elderly become increasingly targeted and killed than ever before, and the practice has already claimed more than 700 lives since the beginning of this year.
On the other hand, rebellion has also re-surfaced in Jonglei, Unity State and parts of Upper Nile states, immediately following the April 2010 Sudan’s general elections, in protest to the controversial results in which the ruling SPLM party is implicated in major malpractices of vote rigging and intimidations. Leading the rebellion is one renegade SPLA General and a former deputy chief of staff, who lost the gubernatorial elections in the Jonglei state and is now calling for fresh elections, while holding the entire state as hostage.
Going by records of how the GoSS has responded to these insecurities, one can only see a clear pattern of a government that lives much in denial of the facts on the ground. There is also a huge intentional neglect and reluctance in the tacking the unfolding LRA threats in Western Equatoria State, where south Sudanese nationals continue fall day and night as preys to an invading foreign rebel group. The many promises made by the president and his allies in the SPLA, has only resulted in the killing of one rebel and the capture of no more than a hand-full since 2006.
The SPLA due its rudimentary structures has always been too slow in its border protection mission. This has undoubtedly brewed negative images amongst the population and they have not the slightest doubt that the GoSS is doing too little and has possibly already failed in containing the recurrent LRA aggressions in the state.
The civilians in western Equatoria being aware that they cannot continue to offer the notorious terrorists the undignified image of defenceless victims asked the government to help the formation of armed local defence groups that can offer the first line of defence in the various remote villages. This unfortunately never received the approval of the authorities in Juba.
However at the face of the mounting local, regional and international pressures, the SPLM/A led GoSS has persistently maintained its position by throwing all the responsibility of all these insecurities on its peace partner, the dominant National Congress Party (NCP) of president Omer al Bashir is with the intension of maliciously portraying the GoSS as incapable to govern in the run to the 2011 referendum on self determination. This also still remains to be confirmed. But for the local population who themselves are southern Sudanese, and mostly so from the tribal groups whose loyalties to the SPLM/A throughout the civil war and thereafter cannot be doubted, know well that what the SPLM/A is saying is not true, as they are the ones who carry out most if not all the cattle raids as well as do the killings in the due process.
The above claims as they currently stand are more likely to portray the SPLM/A led GoSS as an organisation whose credibility is probably going down the slope, and whatever they say at this stage may only impress the outsiders who lack the practical knowledge of how things are run in this part of the world. The truth which is there to remain forever is that these young people, be them from Warrap, Lakes or the Jonglei state, they remain responsible for all the insecurities in their respective states as they continue to engage in these barbaric, criminal and lethal adventures of cattle raiding. This must not be politically misunderstood as a destabilisation program from some enemies, somewhere, as these young men continue to strongly identify themselves with the ruling SPLM, or else how could they have overwhelmingly voted 93% for president Salva Kiir and similarly so for the SPLM candidates to the various parliaments.
But as the government of south Sudan has been misled into the erroneous judgement of addressing the widespread insecurity by using the blanket policy of indiscriminate disarmament, one sees an element of unfairness in the approach. Given the facts of the events on the ground the dynamics and root causes of the insecurities in WES prominently stands out as a unique case. It is not a problem between citizens, nor is it being fuelled by arms proliferation as is the case in Warrap, Lakes, and Jonglei states. WES is suffering from a foreign invasion by an armed terroristic group as classified by both the UN and the US administration.
If the government of south Sudan is too much consumed within itself that it is now largely dependent on the Ugandan Army to defend the Sudanese borders with D.R Congo and CAR, as the former hunt down Joseph Kony and his group, it would have been a patriotic gesture should the civilian in WES get asses to arms and ammunitions from the SPLA, and not the planned disarmament that we expect to see in the few coming days.
The latest US policy to fight the LRA should be extended to involve the training of the local population on strategies who it can go on to defend itself in the different villages which are prone to such attacks. The livelihood of the people of WES, dictates that the villages must be safe, so that people can access their farmlands which are usually remote from the residential villages and be able to grow their crops. This is a very fertile state and if it can be allowed to use its farming potential to the maximum, south Sudan can be able to address its current need for food in areas like Warrap and Jonglei which according current to the UN secretary’s visit have shown that people there are much hit by food shortage, underfeeding, malnutrition and a looming famine.
I really do not how much illegal arms are there in the hands of civilians in the Western Equatoria State. However, we are all aware that, the current insecurity in the state has nothing to do with arms proliferation or their misuse as such. On the contrary, the citizens of this once peaceful state believes that they are been made to remain on the move because they cannot properly defend themselves against the LRA.
So far we know that the SPLA has only killed on LRA rebel, while several civilian continue to be massacred, abducted and raped by these notorious bandits. It would be an extreme naivety for any citizen in WES to surrender their weapons at this particular moment in time. The “arrow boys”, must continue to enjoy the peoples support as they go around their noble duties of defending their villages from the LRA bandits.
A man is better off dying with a weapon in his hands. Now there is no time limit for eradicating LRA, and each time they are attacked by the major armies in the areas, it is always the local civilians who bear the brunt of the revenge attacks. People do not necessarily have to confront the disarming team, but men are men and you should know better how to use your guns.
Probably people already know where to hide their guns if they have one. It is when to use and when not to use that makes one stand tall as a responsible human being. My message is that, “this is not the right time to disarm civilians in Western Equatoria State (from Jambo to Nagero), especially when the people have no records of invading nor raiding other communities in south Sudan. And as long as the LRA rebels remains operational in western Equatoria state, the citizens of the state should be entitled to self defence and protect.
We are all aware that these days many self centred aspirant leaders have chosen the short cut to power. It is one thing to cling to your party’s policy lines, but should any such policies contradict the true aspirations of the grass-roots, then you need to re-think your positions, lest you be blindfolded into forsaking your people and your community. There is no such thing like leader without people.
Last but not least our civilians look forward to a more empowering strategy from both the US administration and the Uganda army to make the eradication of these monsters both appreciable and achievable.
Quote: “The biggest hypocrites on gun control are those who live in state houses with armed security guards — and who want to keep other people from having guns to defend themselves”.