“Giving an apology is the best way of bringing in peace. We don’t want to pass these painful things to our children. We want them to be living in a peaceful and democratic state in South Sudan…So those of us who have survived and who [have] seen painful things during the war, we need to kick off the process of national reconciliation,” said Dr. Machar in Bor on Tuesday (April 3 rd, 2012) during a peace workshop held to reconcile the warring ethnic groups in Jonglei state, as quoted by Sudan Tribune.
By PaanLuel Wël, Washington DC, USA, Planet Earth
April 6, 2012 (SSNA) — In the politically correct circles of the academic-left of the Western World, there is an understanding, called it a theory or an argument, that goes like this: some foreign cultural practices and beliefs—the caste system in India, killing of twins and albinos in some parts of Africa, witchcraft, polygamy and wife inheritance in Africa and the Islamic world and so forth—are obnoxious, despicable and barbarous. But because these are highly controversial subjects that may, and do indeed, insult those local people, it is better—politically correct—that the West should not talk about—condemn and eradicate—those cultural practices. Rather, it should be left upon the “enlightened” foreigners—the Indians, Africans, Arabs etc—to censure and exterminate their barbaric traditional customs and norms that are, or so they say, virtually anachronistic to the civilized world of the 21st century.
When appropriately and timely applied though, Political Correctness—the avoidance of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult certain groups of people—can be an effective tool to broach, and perhaps solve, such sensitive issues as the Bor Massacre of 1991 . To cut the long story short, none of the members of other South Sudanese communities—not even other sections of the Dinka society—would be prepared to come forward and urge the Bor Dinka Community to accept Dr. Machar’s apology and make peace with him for the fear that they may offend/insult Bor Dinka community—the victims of the 1991 Bor massacre.
Thus, I believe it is upon members of the Bor Dinka community, like myself, to break the silence over the taboo that Dr. Riek Machar, who masterminded the killing of unarmed, innocent civilians of the Greater Bor region, does not deserve to be forgiven, no matter how many apologies he is prepared to offer. To some, dare I say most, aggrieved members of the Bor Dinka community, it hardly makes any difference if and when those apologies are offered in Juba, Bortown, in each of the three counties of the Greater Bor region or even in each of the villages that constitute the Greater Bor community. To such a group of Bor Dinka members, an unequivocal acceptance of Dr. Machar’s apology and the prospect of a genuine reconciliation with him tantamount to the ultimate betrayal of their dead mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, relatives and colleagues killed by armed forces commanded by the very man they are making peace with.
But for how long will the Bor Dinka community gonna hold bitter grudge against a man who has come out—against all odds and intense pressure from tribal bigots within his Nuer community—to unconditionally accept his not-so-admirable past, offer unreserved apology and called for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that would open a window of opportunity for the young Republic of South Sudan to come to term with its long troubled past? For how long will the two communities—the Dinkas and the Nuers—be continually defined by an ugly past that none of them had any overall control over? For how long will the Dinkas and the Nuers will the entire country hostage to their tribal enmity? When will the two communities understand that any war—any conflict—between themselves is an all-out war among South Sudanese and any reconciliation and peace between them is the definitive peace for the whole country? Arguably, because of their size and political influence, a war between the Dinkas and the Nuers will always be a war against South Sudan itself while peace and reconciliation between the two will invariably result in long lasting peace and social prosperity for the whole country.
If Dr. Machar—who has unrivaled influence among the Nuer community—has wholeheartedly decided to make peace with his past by apologizing to the victims of his political adventures, isn’t it a high time that the Bor Dinka community welcomes his earnest apology and accept his peaceful overtures for the sake of the young—but already troubled—republic of South Sudan? I believe it is!
When Dr. Machar offered his first public apology to the Bor Dinka Community on August 10, 2011 , it was meant as an acknowledgement of his responsibility for the 1991 Bor Massacre—killing and mass displacement of the Bor Dinka civilians—following his defection on 28 August 1991 from the SPLM/A under the leadership of the late Dr. John Garang. The fact that the apology was given in a gathering organized and attended by senior leaders of the Bor Dinka community—including Rebecca Nyanding, the widow of Dr. John Garang that Dr. Machar rebelled against and fought a bitter war with—speak volume to the resolve and determination on the part of Dr. Machar to chart a new bright future for himself as a political leader and for South Sudan as a conflict-ridden nation.
Although Dr. Machar was categorical that his apology was solely aimed at bringing about some kind of a final closure on the dark past of the war era and, hopefully, to engender unity and harmonious relationship between the Dinkas and the Nuers, the apology was, unsurprisingly, received with mixed feelings from both quarters. On the one hand, some members of the Bor Dinka community such as the elders, Rebecca Nyandeng and Malaak Ayuen who were present during the gathering did “expressed their forgiveness to the vice president” and “commended [him] for accepting responsibility for the [Bor] incident.” To them, the apology was the beginning of a long reconciliation process to come. In their reaction to the apology, the Bor Dinka Students from Uganda described Dr. Machar’s apology as the “beginning of a new era.” On the other hand, some members of the Bor Dinka community thought that the apology was not enough—chiefly because it was delivered in a small house in the distant land of Juba instead of in public gathering in the land of the victims.
The ethnic Nuer community among whom the Vice President hailed from did expressed mixed reactions too. While some welcomed Dr. Machar apology as a long overdue positive initiative to bring together the two estranged communities, others did worry that the Bor Dinka community would use the apology as “evidence of a crime” to arraign him before the ICC court for the 1991 Bor Massacre. Still, some members of the Nuer community like Deng Gatluak thought that the apology was premature:
“I don’t believe Riek Machar apologized just like that to the Dinka Bor community. If it is true and aimed to reconcile with the Bor community, then that reconciliation should have been a two-way process. Who among the Dinka Bor’s top leaders apologized on behalf of late Garang for the killing of Jikany Nuer unarmed civilians in 1985?” [Sudan Tribune, August 10, 2011].
Others though saw the bigger picture, especially given the fact that Dr. Machar, the current vice president of South Sudan, may aspire to the highest office in the future and may not wish to embark on that political quest with a lot of baggage. According to one Lul Gatkuoth Nguth from Canada, Dr. Machar’s apology was nothing less than a “politically astute move, to bring peace and harmony to the [two] communities:”
“In my opinion, it is not a shame that Riek Machar Teny apologized to Dinka Bor community. This is how the politics work. If you go through peace and conciliation process, this term ’apology’ has to apply if you are a real good politician who has a big mind” [Sudan Tribune, August 10, 2011].
It was within, or because of, these not-so-clear reactions from the two disgruntled communities that I responded to Dr. Machar apology with an article “ Dr. Machar’s Apology to the Dinka Bor Community: A Tradeoff between long lasting Peace and Social Justice.” In that article written on August 13, 2011, I argued that the Bor Dinka community must trade off deserved social justice for the victims of the Bor Massacre for a long lasting peace and societal harmony in the new republic of South Sudan. My argument was in formed by the recognition that Dr. Machar, the perpetrator of the alleged mayhems, has freely and willingly initiated the peace and reconciliation process and the Bor Dinka community must therefore meet him half-way and strike a compromise for the sake of the country.
The Israelis, in their conflict with the Palestinian Arabs, have a policy referred to as “Land for Peace” in which Israelis are prepared to give up their Biblically land to the Arabs in exchange for peaceful co-existence with them. My contention, therefore, was that the Bor Dinka community should also embrace the policy of “Peace for Justice” instead of the traditional policy of retributive justice—Justice for Peace in which a true peace must be accompanied by a severe punishment for the perpetrator of the crimes. If South Sudanese have made peace—yes, CPA—with President Al-Bashir of Sudan who murdered millions of South Sudanese, how could they not forgive their own son who have volunteered to have his apology accepted and be forgiven for the sins committed by his armed forces?
As I have previously mentioned, one key objection raised by various members of the Bor Dinka community against Dr. Machar’s first apology was that it was delivered in Juba instead of Bortown, and in small house, instead of in a public gathering where most members of the affected community would be present to witness and receive the apology from Dr. Machar. Well, it now appears that that complains from the Bor Dinka was not entirely lost on Guandit Machar. On Tuesday this week, April 3rd 2012 , Dr. Machar offered his reaffirmation of the apology to the Bor Dinka community he had last year delivered in Juba. It was publicly delivered in Bortown where the massacre occurred and among those, whose family members were killed, maimed or displaced.
Will that be the end of the story? No, it is not. Not for Dr. Machar himself for he is calling for a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission and not for the Bor Dinka either for they still find issues with the apology itself.
For example, some members of the Bor Dinka community see the apology as a “window dressing” process, delivered in meetings and public gatherings not meant for the discussion of the 1991 atrocities . The allegation is that the first apology was delivered in a gathering meant to mark the anniversary of the death of Dr. John Garang in Rebecca Nyandeng’s home in Juba, while the second apology was given in Bor on an occasion designated to stop the ongoing inter-ethnic strife in Jonglei. Though the two incidences in Bor are related, in that both concern conflict resolution and peace building mechanisms, some members of the Bor Dinka Community do feel that holding his apology on that occasion tends to generalize and hence belittled the magnitude of the Bor Massacre—something they feel should be given its own special day and occasion to discuss it.
Taking advantage of anonymity provided by online websites, some comments on Dr. Machar’s second apology are even harsher. Typical of most tribal bigots in all South Sudanese communities, one commentator from the online, France-based Sudan Tribune went even further in his vehement rejection of Dr. Machar’s second apology in Bor:
“Groups of people who just forgive easily are undoubtedly corrupt; forgiveness is the brother of destruction. Anybody who forgives is encouraging crime on his capacity. No apology is accepted from Dr. Riek Machar and he can go to court with what he did of murdering children, women, and elderly people not only in Bor but even in some part of Nuerland.”
The same antagonistic line of argument was echoed in these words from another online commentator:
“He can make apologies as much as he wishes, but we are not going to buy his craps. His thirst for power forced him to apologize at the wrong time. He will not hold his antelope horn spoon as a president of South Sudan. People who will vote for him are his blind Nuer followers. They know no truth or are denying the facts about the destructions he caused to civilians.”
Moreover, Some within the Bor Dinka Community maintain that the 1991 failed coup against the leadership of Dr. John Garang of the SPLM/A that resulted in the Bor Massacre and the mass displacement of the Bor civilians did not just affected the Bor community but also all the communities of South Sudan. This avowal is well captured below by Peter Nhiany on South Sudanese Bloggers’ blog. Because the comment can best be understood and appreciated in its entirety, I am going to quote the whole statement as it appears on the blog:
“I have a big problem with the repetition of this apology thing from Mr. Vice President. Do I want him forgiven? An answer to this question is obvious but Mr. Vice President just does not get it right. Does he understand that the human catastrophe he caused in Jonglei State didn’t occur neither in Juba nor in Bor town alone. This was a sweeping tragedy across Jonglei from Nyarweng to Anyidi in Bor South. Apologizing while in Juba does not constitutes legitimate apology; apologizing in Bor town does not constitute it either. Do not get me wrong; I’m not rejecting an apology from our Vice President. There is a missing piece that Mr. Vice President overlooks every single time he repeatedly apologizes for his human destruction he committed in 1991. Mr. Vice President forgets that those heroic SPLA soldiers who fought against his vicious army in those months in 1991 were not only from Bor or Jonglei State. They came from all walks of lives from South Sudan communities. I mean from all tribes of South Sudan. When he apologizes, he needs not to forget that he caused harm to other tribes in South Sudan as well and that he should not forget. Kiir Mayardit knows it very well. The 1991 war between SPLA and SSIM did not only killed Bor civillians and Bor citizens who were soldiers, but soldiers from all tribes from South Sudan. I want Mr. Vice President to come clean by not apologizing to one part and leave another out. I love peace and I want our new nation to live in peace for the rest of the generations. Dr. Teny needs not only to apologize to Bor or Jonglei people but to the whole of South Sudan. Whether his intention was to bring victory to the South Sudanese over NIF/NCP, he did it in a wrong way; a way that took away the lives of those who would be helping in developing our new nation now. I do welcome his apology, but he still has more to do in order for him to come clean. Mr. Vice President needs to look at a bigger picture instead. I’m sure we people from Bor are not in position to seek any revenge for what Dr. Teny did to us in 1991. We love peace and will continue to love peace regardless of how much we are hated by the enemies of Peace. I do thank all the soldiers who stood with our leaders to protect not only the people of Bor, but further escalation of the 1991 defection and divide within our party. I’m also sure that all people of Bor or Jonglei communities who were affected by the SSIM rebelling are at this time not seeking any punishment for Dr. Riek Machar-Teny. I hold no grudges against him, but if he wants to continue to be our leader, he really needs to re-strategies and develop new approach. May God bless RSS and South Sudanese.” [Peter Nhiany, April 4, 2012, South Sudanese Bloggers]
Peter Nhiany’s argument that the carnages of the 1991 split didn’t only affected the Bor Dinka community but the entire people of South Sudan is in place. It is true that Dinkas’ as well as Nuers’ civilians and soldiers were indiscriminately killed or maimed and so were other community members of South Sudanese society. But I also think that Dr Machar, as an individual and as a leader, has done enough of his part by leading from front instead of waiting to be pushed around or behind by others. He has initiated the process of national reconciliation and forgiveness. As members of the Bor Dinka community that was heavily affected by the 1991 split within the SPLM/A, we must give him a chance and hear him out before passing the next verdict on the man.
What remain to be done, as Dr. Machar has already proposed , is to organize and have a national conference of all South Sudanese people since all were affected as Mr. Nhiany has explicated, though to varying degree. We can borrow the very model used in South Africa after the demised of Apartheid, or in Rwanda after the genocide, to bring about national dialogue: South Sudan needs a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to deal with such deep-rooted and emotional issues such as the Bor Massacre. I think that is what Dr. Machar was calling for in his reaffirmation of his apology in Bortown. Remember how people reacted to his first statement offered in Juba? He was told to go to Bortown and made an apology. Well, now he has gone to Bortown, humbling himself to do as members of Bor Dinka community advised him to.
In fact, a call to establish a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission has a lot of support from South Sudanese citizens. Steve Paterno , a South Sudanese political pundit residing in the USA who authored a biography of Father Saturlino Ohure—the spiritual father of South Sudanese liberation struggle, thinks that:
“The VP Riek Machar may be sincere in his apology, but his approach is naïve at best and haphazard at worst. In its recent convention, the SPLM National Liberation Council resolved among other things a need for a national reconciliation. Such undertaking must be institutionalized in a similar way with the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is in such a proceeding that we will, for example, know as to what is that Riek Machar did in his capacity that contributed into the Bor Massacre, plus other incidents he is accused of orchestrating.”
Another South Sudanese from the USA, Agereb Leek Chol , a Master Student at Clark University in Massachusetts, also lends his support to the idea of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Sudan:
"On April 3, 2012, my Vice President extended his apology to civilians in Bor town to “confirm” his apology. I will welcome Dr. Riek Machar apology once and for all. The reason is not because he went to the grassroots, but if we want South Sudan and Jonglei State to be in peace as we pray and write about it, we then need to forgive ourselves. This doesn’t mean we forgot Dr. Riek Machar’s crimes during the civil war, but this is the only right way forward. If the Black South Africans reconciled with the Apartheid regime, Hutu and Tutsi in Rwandan, Dr. Garang de Mabior with Dr. Riek Machar in 2002, President Salva with Paulino Matip and Peter Gatdet, then we the civil society have to jump on the bandwagon too. Should Dr. Riek Machar extend his apology to the entire country because the Nasir Coup affected all tribes in the South, then we have to give him some credits because he has started the dialogue and reconciliation process. On a personal note, I ran at a gunpoint in Bor town in 1991 escaping Dr. Riek Machar’s merciless armed forces. South Sudan Oyee! And SPLA Oyeee!!”
It was the same melody from Ayuen Awan. Commenting on a link article on Dr. Machar’s second apology on my Facebook page, Mr. Awan wrote thus:
“A mere apology is not the way to go. Dr. Riek should be dragged to a Truth & Reconciliation Commission for public hearing. Those who were victimized by his brutality should also give their testimonies.”
I did welcome his first Juba apology and I wrote about it sometimes back . As someone from the Bor Dinka community in which the 1991 bloodsheds is still a matter of personal tragedy in every family and as someone who lost relatives in the process, I need not be told what it feel like to broach the subject. But the Bor Dinka community must remember that it was their own sons, lead by Dr. John Garang, who initiated and agreed to make peace with Dr. Machar. It was done lest the blood of the martyrs must have been shed in vain. The Nasir Coup of 1991 weakened the Movement to the point of self-annihilation. The Movememt had to make peace with Dr. Machar, and Dr. Machar had to make peace with the Movement, to ensure that the Movement is strong enough to confront the enemy and achieve its long-term goal of political liberation. And it was achieved, with combined forces of all South Sudanese whose hearts and souls were wedded to the Movement, for better or for worse, in death or life, and in defeat or victory!!
Personally, I hold no grudge against Dr. Machar so long as he works—and he had been doing so since he rejoined the Movement in 2002—for the interest of all South Sudanese people. But if he had decided to offer an apology, I would accept it because it is human nature to apologize if one believes that they have unfairly or unintentionally wrong someone. Dr. Machar is under immense pressure from some diehard tribalists within his own community—yes, there are tribal chauvinists in every community—and the Bor Dinkas must appreciate his resolve to do and say what he is currently doing or saying. For the record, he is the only leader so far to own up to his sins in South Sudan and probably among very few across the African continent. The pride that comes with leadership, particularly in Africa where leaders can easily mobilized their tribes to defeat justice, make it simpler for the horse to pass through the eye of the needle than for the politician to own up to the crime he committed in broad daylight. Ask Kenyans about Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto and you would appreciate Dr. Machar’s overtures for peace in South Sudan.
No matter how much the agonies of the 1991 Bor Massacre may conspire to cloud our present judgment of the man, we the Bor Dinka community must see him not only as the “Riek Machar man col amook ci baai riook” of the past accused of masterminding the massacre of innocent unarmed civilians but also as the current vice president of South Sudan pleading to have his apologies accepted and calling for national reconciliation and healing. It is not a secret that the Bor Dinka Community prides itself as the most civilized, law-abiding, and peace-loving society in South Sudan. Whether or not that is a true reflection of who they are or just a mere self-aggrandizement does not matter; the challenge in front of the Bor Dinka community is whether they are prepared to make peace with the “enemy” who is publicly prepared and ready to make amend with them.
The Bor Dinka community have lost many leading sons—more than any other community relative to their size and the seniority of the victims—to the cause of South Sudan: Akuot Atem Mayen, Martin Majier Ghai, Arok Thon Arok and above all, Dr. John Garang himself. The victims of the 1991 Bor Massacre are more or less part of the costliest package paid to secure the independence of South Sudan. A peaceful and prosperous South Sudan—only attainable with harmonious co-existence of the Dinkas and the Nuers—is the highest gift that any member of the Bor Dinka community can ever bestow on the graves of their beloved lost ones and that all South Sudanese can ever dream to bequeath to their children and children’s children.
Before the Biblical Paul was Paul, he was Saul—a murderous madman targeting Christians in their dens. Who knows, the Saul who murdered the Bor Dinka people might one day be the Paul of the republic of South Sudan!! Like the Jews of Europe, the Bor Dinka community must forgive their tormentors but never forget the atrocities committed against them!!
PaanLuel Wël ( [email protected] ) is the Managing Editor of PaanLuel Wël: South Sudanese Bloggers. He can be reached through his Facebook page, Twitter account or on the blog: http://paanluelwel2011.wordpress.com/