By Elhag Paul
January 16, 2012 (SSNA) — 2011 and in particular the months of January, July and December of this same year will remain to be an important period in our history if only for the success of referendum early on that heralded our independence and closing with disturbing display of unwarranted violence. As the US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said on 14th December at the International Engagement Conference for South Sudan in Washington, South Sudan has defied all odds to be born. This achievement may be mindboggling to observers, but for us it is a testament to our determination to be free. South Sudan is now an independent country but we the people are yet to be free and the struggle surely must continue until those in Juba who have worn the Arabs shoes are replaced with true democrats and an accountable government. In a sense the true struggle for total economic, social, mental and psychological freedom of South Sudanese has just started. As expected, the resilient people of South Sudan as in the Sudan in 1956 are now after independence of South Sudan in 2011 telling the dysfunctional SPLM that it can not be allowed to be above the law in mismanaging our beloved country. Thus the process of building a true democracy has kicked off. Juba can choose to be like Khartoum in 1956 or it can take a different path. The choices lie with her. So 2011 has been a year of milestones for South Sudan.
Having spoken about 2011 generally, I wish to say that I shall be concentrating much on the events that took place at its close. The unexpected announcement of the killing of Lieutenant General George Athor Deng Dut at Morobo (if that is to be believed), central Equatoria by the vice president of the Republic of South Sudan, Reik Machar on 20 th December 2011 came at a time when people were so busy with preparation for the festive period of Christmas. This was a period when most people psychologically are not tuned to controversial news such as the one of Athor’s death. Athor himself was a controversial figure whose multifaceted life coloured with very risky behaviours had put him in position of love-hate relationship with the government as well as with some citizens. Athor the liberator, Athor the defender of the people, Athor the democrat, Athor the rebel. Athor the ‘traitor’ etc. It is the last label that earned him such a negative press. Athor’s chilling press statement in Nairobi recently following the breakdown of his peace talks with president Kiir is still fresh in people’s minds. Athor’s sudden demise at that important period of Christian faith not only distracted the people of South Sudan from honouring the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ peacefully, but it shone the light on the RSS’ values. The question is: Does RSS really want to develop into a democracy that upholds law and order most of us yearned for all our lives?
The manner in which Athor was liquidated does not bode well for RSS. I know that making this statement is going to make some people raise their eye brows. But, let us calm down and look into the killing rationally in terms of what we South Sudanese want to develop as a decent state and society. Our love or hate for Athor should not make us lose sight of what is good for South Sudan, even if that meant letting Athor off the hook before his killing. This said, the premise of my argument rests entirely on the issue of law as instrument of stability and order in society.
The assassination of Athor is not simply a case of good versus evil or victor versus the vanquished. There is more to it in terms of how the structures of the state work. There are issues of domestic law, issues of foreign policy and issues of international law and whether these are healthy or dysfunctional.
President Kiir in New York on 23 September and 14th December 2011, during the 66th UN General Assembly and the International Engagement Conference respectively proclaimed the RSS a democratic country. In democracies, the independence of judiciary and the exercise of law and order are highly respected. It forms the bedrock of the functions of the government. It is this vital element that everything else rests on. Democrats put their faith on arbitration. Sometimes the law gets it wrong but we accept the verdict and seek peaceful legal recourse to overturn such rulings. The executive branch of the government like everyone else is not above the law. It has to subordinate itself to the justice system.
Unfortunately, the RSS missed a golden opportunity to entrench the principles of law and order into the psyche of South Sudanese and the fabric of South Sudan institutions. Athor should not have been killed in the manner in which he lost his life. South Sudan as a democracy that it claims to be should have detained him, investigated all the allegation labelled against him, charged him and finally brought him to court. This process is important because the state is all of us. Since Athor (presumed innocent under the law until found guilty), he should have been allowed to defend himself against the allegations labelled against him by the government. He needed to have accounted to all of us through the court such that it was the society as a whole through the court to make the decision about his fate in order to deliver justice. However, the way he lost his life has deprived the state and the people of South Sudan the opportunity to learn from the entire unfortunate episode of his rebellion. Whether one is his supporter or his opponent, the reality is that to every story there are three sides. One side is the case Athor postulated. The other side is the case his opponent, in this case GoSS labelled against him. The third is the truth which lies in the middle and this can only be reached at through an independent and fair court process. This is what we the people of South Sudan have lost. It is buried with Athor. We must not because of our prejudices and hatred to some people ignore the due process of law. We do that at our own peril, for one day we may find ourselves trapped in that tight lonely corner and we may need to be comfortable in the knowledge that the system works. At the moment there is no such system.
Learning the truth of Athor’s rebellion through the court would have helped the state in its quest to improve governance. As it is now, the killing of Athor is neither within the law, nor will it heal the wounds of the country, nor will it help us to develop a civilised society where life is highly valued. Revenge and unlawful behaviours has no place in a democracy. In fact it diminishes the importance and primacy of law and elevates unlawful methods in operation of the state. The worrying thing is that the security men in RSS are already above the law. Take for example, the violent detention of Ngor Garang, Dengdit Ayok and Dr Okuk, these gentlemen were detained without arrest warrants in ghost houses for days without the police being involved. This can not be stuff of a democracy. It is arguable that in South Sudan there is a government within a government. A small clique composed of the president and security people like Akol Koor Kuc making up a government of its own with absolute powers of life and death within GoSS. It operates outside the constitution of RSS. They arrest, detain, torture or even kill with impunity. If one happens to be lucky like the three gentlemen mentioned above, once they have performed the initial rituals on you, you are then passed over to the police for the bigger government to deal with you according to the shoddy constitution. But, if one is unlucky he/she simply disappears without trace.
This small clique illegally has arrogated to itself absolute powers. The decision of life and death should not be relegated to the security services or to the head of state without due process. It is only in tyrannies and totalitarian regimes that the head of state freely authorise death without due process. Such death is dished out to opponents out of fear. The killing of Athor surely was done out of fear. The mention of Athor’s name to some of his colleagues in Juba sends shivers down their spines. It has been proven by psychologists that people who lack confidence often prefer to banish any thing they perceive as a threat. In killing they feel safe as the object of their hate and fear is totally removed. Unbeknown to them that their feeling of safety is a false one. They become blind to the fact that they are promoting violence which in turn will consume them. So inadequate political rulers terrorise the people who disagree with what the government does whether right or wrong because they lack the proper skills of people management. While terror works initially, at the end it does not pay and it is something that forward thinking decent people must not be involved. President Kiir should steer himself away from this path.
The proof that terrorising citizens does not pay can be seen from the way tyrants are always overthrown. Since time immemorial, when tyrants are finally overthrown, they shame themselves by behaving in a cowardly manner (because essentially they are cowards). Their images of strong men just vanishes like cigarette smoke in air. Take for example, the overthrow of Causecu of Romania, the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, the flight of Mengistu from Ethiopia, the flight of Idi Amin from Uganda, the buckling of Mobutu of Zaire and recently the images of Gaddafi being pulled from a culvert and Mubarak on a bed in court. These leaders ruled with iron fist and as the saying goes, not all that glitter is gold, when the time of reckoning came they coiled their tails and sought the nearest holes to hide in, but ‘there is no hiding place for a gold fish.’. They met their fate in the same way in which they brutalised their people. Had these leaders sown respect for law and order, their own fate would have been different as their countries and citizens would have responded to them in a civilised manner. And as such they would have espoused a civilised path to solving difficult issues. But having nurtured brutality, this same brutality comes back to bite them in exactly the same manner they dished it to others. The GoSS needs to take note of this point. It is not exempt from the laws of nature and the laws that inspire brutalised people.
President Kiir in my opinion should have followed the example of President Theodore Obiang of Equatorial Guinea in dealing with the case of late George Athor. When president Mugabe of Zimbabwe in 2004 arrested a group of mercenaries on transit in his country heading to Equatorial Guinea to overthrow the regime there, he president Mugabe openly handed the group to the authorities of Equatorial Guinea to deal with. He did not involve Zimbabwe in killing foreign nationals on behalf of others. President Obiang craftily used this opportunity to first project his government as decent and then second to tame his enemies. He manipulated the failed Wonga coup adventure mounted by the mercenary Simon Mann and his group to over throw his regime to strengthen himself and his regime. He learnt from this experience that one can employ the service of their own enemy to strengthen themselves and at the same time make amends. Obiang wielded, as expected of heads of states, the ultimate power of life and death. He could have had Mann legally through the court process executed on the charges brought against him of attempting to overthrow a legitimate government, but he saw far and opted to benefit from his arch enemy. He imprisoned Simon Mann and his group initially and then finally pardoned them. Before releasing Simon Mann, he struck deals with him and made the best out of a bad situation. Now the same Simon Man is working for Obiang to bring his opponents to account in courts of law around the world.
Or, alternatively president Kiir with Athor safely in his hands, courtesy of a cunning friendly foreign power should have imprisoned him while conducting negotiations with him in secret Apartheid-South Africa-style. This act alone would have weakened Athor and his movement psychologically. His movement would constantly be watching their actions so as not to endanger the life of their imprisoned leader. Now the rebels without their leader have nothing to lose and as expected, they have replaced Athor – business as usual. There is no way of controlling them except through further violence which means no internal healing for South Sudan. In another example, the Apartheid regime in South Africa, in the early 1960s could have opted to kill Mandela, but in spite of its brutal nature, it saw far into the future and sought to use Mandela as a bargaining chip. Athor should have been the negotiator for his life as well as the bargaining chip against his movement.
In both cases the insightful actions of these two regimes of Equatorial Guinea and Apartheid South Africa today can be seen in the wind of peace blowing through their countries. There are many such examples in the history of politics and conflicts. President Kiir, many a time has preached the need for peace in our country. He has done this in churches and other areas. Though his call for peace is contradicted by actions of his government, for instance on the killing of Athor and the wide spread abuse in the country by his own kith and kin, it is in his interest and the interest of the country to take the path of wisdom and put his call for peace in action by avoiding any resort to violence like Theodore Obiang and the Apartheid regime did with their political opponents. The amateurish and ghoulish liquidation of Athor as a political opponent should not be repeated with other political leaders whether rebels or otherwise. We must discourage physical violence in South Sudan political culture. Its promotion can only produce scenes in future like those in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Egypt. Hence, we should develop and promote a strong judiciary as the only means of settling problems in our country.
So killing political opponents whether through manipulation of the court, or through international intelligence network collaborations, or through internal intelligence network or through outright use of force is not a solution. It is not commensurate with democratic values and practice and it does not work. Let us not kid ourselves. Killing simply brutalises the society, dehumanises the people and generates more hatred and rebellions. Athor was liquidated on 19 th December 2011 and no sooner than a week later we have Tong Lual Ayat bursting out into the theatre of war like a mushroom emerging from a wet ground. Tomorrow who knows a Manyang may come out in Boma or a Kenyi in Tore. What have we done? If we go on killing, until when shall we go on with this macabre? Can we not just see that we need to be democratic and civilised in approaching our problems? Why is it difficult for president Kiir and SPLM to democratise to eliminate this unnecessary trouble? For every rebellion there is a cause or reason. That cause or reason may be genuine or pointless, but it must be addressed politically and properly if peace is to be maintained. In short, the root causes of any rebellion needs to be addressed through talking and not through shooting or poisoning. For in refusing this path, we are burying our heads in the sand like ostriches that hope the problem would go away. It won’t.
The Author lives in the Republic of South Sudan; he can be reached at [email protected]