By Gordon Buay
December 28, 2010 (SSNA) — For quite a while, a certain Peter Karlo has been spreading unfounded allegations that I support land grabbing in Upper Nile State. This Peter–who is not Peter in the new testament in the bible–went as far accusing me of being part of what he called "Dinka–Nuer coalition" that he portrayed as a group that wants to grab Chollo lands in Upper Nile State.
I want to make the record straight to Peter Karlo. The argument that ensued last time between me and Dr. James Okuk was about the cosmopolitan nature of Malakal town. I don’t think Mr. Peter Karlo would provide tangible evidence in this forum implicating me in any land grabbing in South Sudan. The problem of land dispute between Chollo and Dinka of Upper Nile State was not part of the debate I had with Dr. James Okuk. Our debate was based on cosmopolitan nature of Malakal town and its inhabitants. Areas that belong to Shilluk (Chollo) in Upper Nile are known and nobody would dispute them because there are administrative records that show the areas occupied by the Shilluk since 1956. The CPA too is very clear on the issue of land ownership. Any land occupied by the Shilluk after January, 1, 1956, belongs to the Shilluk and no tribe, be it Nuer or Dinka, should claim any Shilluk land as theirs without violating the CPA and the administrative records known to the people of Upper Nile.
Besides, the South had a government from 1972 to 1983 that mapped out areas which belonged to the Shilluk. There are areas that some tribes may claim now which were administered in the 1970s as part of Shilluk land. Any reasonable Southerner, including myself, would agree with historical records that areas that belonged to Shilluk in the 1970s must still belong to Shilluk in 2010. If there is any Nuer who migrated to Shilluk land after 1983 war, I would urge that Nuer to vacate the Shilluk land. If I am a governor of Upper Nile State, I will order the security forces to evict Nuer who occupied the Shilluk lands in a minute.
I believe in the principle of justice and I am not somebody who can support glaring injustice. If the administration of Simon Kun Puoc, the governor of Upper Nile State, fails to adhere to administrative records of the 1970s to solve ongoing land disputes in Upper Nile State, I, as a person believing in justice as fairness, will not support him. If there are Shilluk lands grabbed by the Nuer and Dinka, the governor has a responsibility to correct the injustice. He can form a committee that will unearth the administrative records of the 1970s and address the disputes accordingly. If there are Shilluk lands the Nuer and the Dinka grabbed after 2005, the governor should return those lands to Shilluk. This is the matter of the principle of justice. I believe as a person that the principle of justice should not be contaminated by politics of expediency that bedeviled Upper Nile State since 2005.
We as South Sudanese should differentiate between the right to live in a state capital and the ownership of land. I don’t have a right to grab land in Yei that belongs to somebody under the pretext that I am South Sudanese. I have a right as a South Sudan citizen to work and live in Yei provided that I live in a plot of land that I either acquired legally or rent from the landlord in Yei. If I grabbed land in Yei by force, then, any argument I put forward will not be valid because there is no law in existence in the modern world that would permit me to grab somebody’s land. The Europeans did land grabbing 300 years ago under the pretext that they were occupying "no man land". We all know that North America was inhabited by Natives–it was not a "no man land". Such a thing cannot be allowed to exist in South Sudan in the 21st C.
But it is very important if we don’t confuse ownership of land by the communities and the attempt of some to reject certain ethnic groups to live in state capitals. Every Southern Sudanese has a legal right to live in Juba or Malakal provided that he or she does not live in the city by grabbing somebody’s plot of land. I have seen with my eyes in Juba in 2008 some mad individuals who took plots of lands which belonged to others by force. It should not be so hard for us to conclude that any Southerner who took land in Juba from somebody because he or she possesses a gun is a criminal. If we have a functioning government in Juba, those who grabbed other people lands should be legally evicted.
However, those who legally bought lands in Juba or rented them from their rightful owners have legal rights to live in Juba whether they are South Sudanese, NGOs, or aliens irrespective of their ethnicity, race and section. Since 1956, there are Northern Sudanese who legally acquired lands in Juba and have been living there ever since. Those northern Sudanese have legal rights to own the properties they legally bought and nobody should take their lands because they are northern Sudanese. The same thing applies to other South Sudan tribes who are not originally from Juba.
What is criminal though is the behavior of some guerrilla fighters who grabbed lands in Juba or Malakal because they have Russian AK-47. People who grabbed lands anywhere in South Sudan, be it Yei, Nimuli, Malakal, Gogrial, Wau or Juba, through barrel of the gun, are criminals, period. This does not need debate and if the South has a real government, the land grabbers who acquired lands because of the barrel of the gun should be locked in prisons. I will not hesitate to jail them for life if I am a governor or president of South Sudan because permitting those criminal activities is not only the violation of South Sudan constitution but it also erodes the very reason why we took up arms in 1983. We did not go to bush to grab Dinka land, Bari land, Nuer land and etc. We went to bush to correct injustice and any reasonable Southerner who believes in the principle of justice cannot tolerate a mad SPLA officer who grabbed lands because he has AK-47.
The author is a former Secretary General of SSDF and the signatory of Washington Declaration between the SPLM and the SSDF. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org