The Freedom to be you under Kiir’s dictatorship

By Elhag Paul

November 12, 2011 (SSNA) — First it was Onyoti Adigo, then Ngor Garang, then James Okuk, then again Ngor Garang and Dengdit Ayok. These sequential incarcerations give the lie to president Kiir’s claim that he was ushering in “a new era on good governance, democracy, accountability and transparency.” Remembering Kiir addressing the UN General Assembly in New York on Friday 23 rd September 2011 gave me such a pride. In my entire life I had not felt like that before. The feeling that at long last South Sudan was truly an independent country and equal to the other nations represented in that august forum. South Sudan’s views could now be heard by the world and we could stand with our heads high as members of community of nations.

Gone are the days of derogatory Arabic language with words like “Abid” labelled on us by the former colonial masters from Khartoum. They worked hard to maintain that abhorrent culture with their policy of unity but our people saw the deceit in it and wisely chose their freedom. The result is clear for everyone to see. Kiir though with humble background, as our representative still can now sit, mingle, interact and discuss with the mighty of the world and be heard. Never mind about the power dynamics affecting the industrialised and the none industrialised countries. What is important is that the world at last has opened up and there will be ample opportunities across the board for South Sudanese regardless of the current internal difficulties at home we are facing.

South Sudan now sits on the same table with the Sudan as equals and we have to respect each other as equals. ‘Thank you’ to all the fallen heroes of the past 55 years who sacrificed their lives for us to be where we are now. Their sacrifice is not in vain. They have ensured the continuation of our cultures and affirmed our humanity regardless of race, sex, tribe etc. President Kiir’s presence in New York was therefore an exquisite moment in our history.

Overall, Kiir’s performance in New York was good judged by the clapping and the ovation that he received. His statement was of good length, not short to raise eyebrows and not long to bore the audience. It was well measured with good points too on democracy.

With hindsight now the president’s statement runs hollow especially on his claims to democracy and good governance. Putting aside all the undemocratic actions of president Kiir’s government to date, the most concerning is the treatment of Ngor Garang, Dengdit Ayok and James Okuk at the hands of the security agents and by the state of South Sudan. This is the final seal identifying the president as a despot and his government as a tyrannical regime. He is no different from Omer Bashir, the small Ayatollah in the Sudan. Before the arrest of these gentlemen, many people were subjected to the same treatment without the knowledge of the nation. Take for example, the reported activities of the former police chief who run ghost houses where citizens disappeared. While Kiir acted appropriately in the case of the police chief and that gave people hopes that things would improve, it is now abundantly clear that things are getting worse by the day. Anybody doubting Kiir’s government as totalitarian dictatorship must think again. This government is not good for you the reader, me the writer and the others (fellow citizens) in our country. The policies and values it holds are not good for development of our country. Freedom of press and freedom of speech are important vehicles for development. It is through the exchange of information without fear that good programme can be put in place for implementation and government can be checked. Without this we are doomed and this can not be allowed.

Governments, no matter what their orientations are will always try to usurp people’s right. Even the United States of America, the bastion of democracy tried to muzzle freedom of press during the years of war in Vietnam. It was the courts there that stood firm to tell the executive that they had no right to restrict the press and it was not the duty of the courts to curtail freedom of expression and speech. If the government did not want criticism it must safeguard information it holds and at the same time do the right thing. Government can not misbehave, violate its own constitution and expect citizen not to criticise it.

Justice Black, one of the nine Justices who deliberated on this land mark case had this to say in his opinion: "Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell. In my view, far from deserving condemnation for their courageous reporting, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other newspapers should be commended for serving the purpose that the Founding Fathers saw so clearly. In revealing the workings of government that led to the Vietnam war, the newspapers nobly did precisely that which the Founders hoped and trusted they would do." New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971)

Obviously, each country has its own laws and it is important to distinguish that America is not South Sudan. However, given that Kiir has pledged himself to “a new era on good governance, democracy, accountability and transparency.” We expect him to implement his pledge in full along the line of the thinking of Justice Black. Now in democracies citizens talk freely without fear and as Justice Black put it, the freedom of press is sacrosanct. Kiir can not just bundle decent people who have not committed any crime into ghost houses without due process because he disagrees with what they have written. The shoddy transitional constitution that he put in place even does recognise that citizens can not just be treated the way James Okuk, Ngor Garang and Dengdit Ayok are being treated. Articles 19(4) and 24(2) of the constitution of the Republic of South Sudan are supposed to guarantee that freedom. Why is the constitution not being respected? What instrument then is RSS being governed by if the constitution itself on this issue is rendered redundant? We need answers. Perhaps Mr John Luke, the minister of Justice of RSS and the so called independent judiciary could intervene here.

Either Kiir and his government have a case or they don’t. If they do, let them openly charge these gentlemen and swiftly take their cases to court for resolution. After all, the people managing the judiciary are not only the president’s relatives but also SPLM apparatchiks. They will be obliged to deliver the president’s wishes if the examples of the other African countries are anything to go by. If they don’t have a case then they need to give these gentlemen their full freedom back. We did not fight the Sudan for 55 years to obtain independence to be treated by our own brothers and sisters in the government in the same way the Arabs did. This tyranny and deliberate subjugation must be resisted and brought to an end. It is not acceptable.

It must be noted that denying citizens freedom of expression and speech is an Africa wide malaise simply because the rulers of our continent are uncomfortable with the truth. In the early days of SPLM/A anybody who dared to talk freely got lynched straight away or framed as a reactionary or counter revolutionary with dare consequences. The SPLM/A strictly practiced a repugnant form of justice which ensured that the framed convict was executed first before his/her appeal could be heard. Even after the execution, the appeals were not looked into. Victims of this obnoxious justice are Dr Juac Erjok from Abyei and Yahiya from north Sudan who were sacrificed during the graduation of the Jarrad battalion in 1985.

So what Kiir is doing now is not new. He is a master of it as he was the chief of security under Dr Garang for 22 years. The likelihood that he will espouse democracy is something that we can only wait to see. But the current signs are not good. Forget his façade in New York. Kiir conveniently chooses words to conceal his inept abusive government. From this, it seems that Kiir and his cohorts know very well that what they are doing does not conform or meet the minimum requirement of democracy. Would it not have been better if they could allow the South Sudanese people to experience the joy of being citizens of a true democratic country? After all, the Arabs deprived them of this important element of human rights which enriches feelings and quality of life for decades. With this, do you see the similarity between Kiir and Bashir? The latter doled out discrimination and oppression on the agenda of civilising, Islamising and Arabising Africans, while the former is doling out the same in the name of being our liberators. Being a liberator means being an enabler. What this means is that a true liberator is a person who empowers others to free themselves from oppressive environment and oppressors alike. But if you liberate people in order for you to lord it over them, this is not liberation at all. This is replacing on jackboot with another. In effect, the so called new liberator is worse than the old one because his/her actions are pre-meditated for self interest. SPLM/A fits here perfectly well. We must be prepared for a long fight on this issue of democracy for it will not come easily under SPLM which has a certificate with distinction in oppression and brutality.

There is a way out of this muddle. GOSS is our government, Kiir and the SPLM are supposed to represent us and not to oppress and abuse us. The fact that they imposed themselves on us after 9 th July 2011 does not mean that they are free to misbehave. We the people have the power because we gave it to them. We can withdraw this power from them by our vote at the opportune time. Paul Freire in his book, titled ‘ Pedaggogy of the Oppressed’ published by Penguin in 1972 in Harmondsworth on page 34 stresses that “In order for the oppressed to be able to wage the struggle for their liberation they must perceive the reality of oppression not as a closed world from which there is no exit, but as a limited situation which they can transform” Freire is right, we must not give up, there is a way out. With our protest and our votes we can get ourselves out of this nonsense. In the meantime, we must loudly protest and draw inspiration from Patrick Henry (1736 – 1799) words, “They tell us, Sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power.”

The reason Kiir and SPLM are desperate to silence people is because they do not want accountability. The rampant corruption they are involved in and the looting of the government coffers is one thing that makes them feel embarrassed and they just do not want to hear about it. They want their pledges to the world to fizzle out. The second is their failure to provide security and other services to the average person in South Sudan. The third and most important is their attempt to distort the history of South Sudan using massive state resources to install some section of the society as elites. Kiir and SPLM have the power to correct their mistakes which then removes the likelihood of people talking about their poor governance. They need not resort to terror in order to silence people. Inflicting fear on the population is not a solution because it will not last long. The most terrorised people usually in the end rise up and when they do, the cowardice of the kings is exposed such as in the cases of Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. The resort to terror by SPLM in itself signifies fear of the leaders, internal weakness and lack of confidence in governance. They are bankrupt of ideas and scared of the consequence of their larcenous behaviour. No wonder, the cabinet of Kiir is full of an assortment of opportunistic people with hazy background. Such lot can only remain in high places through use of force because they know that they are not the choice of the people but choice of the dictator.

However, in the short term terror can be damaging to all of us. The construction of restrictive atmosphere by arbitrary violent and illegal means (such as arrests and detention) sends a message to each one of us that if we do not shut up, the agents of the state can do away with us. The impact of such corrosive message is that if we do no censor ourselves, we would find ourselves in serious troubles thus instituting fear in us which cripples our ability to be free beings. The moment we censor ourselves, Kiir will have succeeded in controlling our minds and lives. We would begin to see the world through his eyes and thus we are mentally enslaved to SPLM against our wishes. This is what happened in the bush under Garang supervised by Kiir. Now Kiir is transferring it to managing our country. The question is, what then is our worth as human beings under this system? For us to truly develop our country requires freedom of thought and speech so that we can explore and put any good ideas into action.

SPLM intolerance of free speech is not acceptable because this is the only way for us to correct them. It must be resisted as this is an important part of our human rights. The west would not have developed and become what it is now without free speech. All the inventions in the various fields of life developed from free speech. So, Kiir and his government should not be allowed to stifle the development of South Sudan by stifling free speech. Therefore the detention of Ngor Garang, Dengdit Ayok and Okuk is a direct threat to free speech and our freedom as a people.

Does what I have said so far suggest support for lawlessness? No! Contrary to assumptions and perceptions of the authority in Juba, what Ngor Garang, Dengdit Ayok, James Okuk and majority of us want to see is that our country is appropriately governed with its resources well managed and directed towards a holistic overall development of our country. At the moment this is not the case. The top officials in GOSS treat state resource as if it belongs to them. No structures for proper accountability. We believe in rule of law. If anyone of us breaks the law we should and must take responsibility for our actions, but this has to be through the legal mechanism. We expect to be arrested under a warrant issued by a judge. The arresting officer must be able to explain the reasons for arrest and also give a caution. The accused must be allowed there and then to have a choice of whether he/she wants to engage a solicitor or not. He/she must also have the right to inform a relative or a friend or a solicitor. The accused must also be taken to court within the prescribed period in law as he/she is presumed innocent until proven otherwise. But to send thugs to arrest government officials and press men like they have done to the above gentlemen and to keep them in ghost houses for sometime is not in line with rule of law and the untruth that Kiir crowed about in New York. In a democracy, a competent court would throw the government case against these people out on violation of procedural grounds.

If there are any people who require investigation, arrest and detention; these must be Kiir’s own acolytes who have plundered the coffers of the state and not the gentlemen in question. The very thieves (SPLM functionaries) who stole 4 billion dollars earmarked for grain. The cheer negligence that Kiir and his administration displayed in this scandal is breathtaking. Why not investigate the SPLM crooks who have defrauded the country with a sad consequence in Warrap, Unity state and Jonglie state? The innocent lives which perished in these states due to lack of food is a direct result of this corruption. This is what constitutes a security problem and a national crime which requires genuine government attention. It is unbelievable that GoSS even fails to identify and separate what constitutes a security problem from genuine corrective national debates in the internet.

With the above said it is important that we all stand up and demand a proper judicial inquiry into the abuses of the human rights of the above victims as well as an inquiry into the loss of the 4 billion dollars earmarked for grains which led to death of innocent people of Warrap, Unity and Jonglei states from the preventable famine.

All in all the government should not silence the people of South Sudan by arbitrary arrests. The media and the people of South Sudan should be allowed to express themselves freely (to be who they want to be) because they fought for this freedom.

The Author lives in the Republic of South Sudan; he can be reached at [email protected]

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