The first anniversary of Peter Sule’s indefinite imprisonment

By Elhag Paul

November 2, 2012 (SSNA) — 3rd November 2012 marks the first anniversary of Peter Sule’s capture in Moruland.  I am using the word anniversary here loosely to cover everything negative and positive.  For those who are affected and those who are not, let them put it in their own context as they wish since the fact remains that he has been in detention for 12 months. 

Peter was alleged to have rebelled against the government of South Sudan.  At that time Sudan Tribune broke the news on 4th November 2011 by reporting that “SPLM spokesperson Philip Aguer said Peter Abdul Rahman Sule, the leader of opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) was arrested in Jambu payam, Mundri East County of Western Equatoria state, after a brief exchange of fire between his forces and the army”.  So far Peter remains in detention having reportedly been severely abused initially by the security forces.  Presently there is no information about his health and general well being from credible independent sources.

At about this time last year the media was saturated with the story of Peter’s attempted rebellion.  Most of the articles printed in newspapers, exchanges in the various internet discussion forums, exchanges in informal verbal discussions between friends and groups across the board had very unpleasant things to say about Peter.  Peter basically became a punch bag for those who for one reason or another had something to vent their frustrations on.  There was no rationality in relation to Peter’s case.  It was believed that most of the vocal critics of Peter were people who grabbed the opportunity to pitch job application to GoSS by shredding him.  Peter was called a “fool” and “stupid”.  He was not spared and assessed holistically as a human being with multifaceted personality.  All of us have different sides to our characters and we are conditioned by the way we are brought up; by our cultures and the environment in which we live.  Our different sides of character come out to play by events in our environment. 

Against such a background talking about Peter demands examination of all the factors that have led to him resorting to rebellion.  That is another huge topic for another day and I will not delve into it.  But to start with, we need to know (though I will not explain): who is Peter?  What is his contribution to the liberation of South Sudan? What is Peter’s personality?  What are his values in life?  What is his political belief?  What prompted him to take that route?  Was he justified to take that action?  Who would have been the losers and beneficiaries had he succeeded in his endeavours?  Such questions are important to ask in order to know something about the person and what motivates him.  With such knowledge making comments can be within context and also fair rather than the spewing of venom we saw last year at the heat of the moment.  Nobody is perfect and we are all fallible and thus we need to be considerate and fair of others in our assessments and comments.

Peter has now been in detention for twelve months allegedly for rebellion.  During this period there have been many rebellions against the government of South Sudan.  For example, David Yau Yau in Jonglei state declared war on the government of South Sudan.  While violence is unacceptable, it seems many groups are gravitating towards that end.  Why?  The fact that the government is controlled by one party, the SPLM serving interest of a specific group of people is not helping the situation, especially given that the SPLM is bent on enriching its members at the expense of the people of South Sudan. 

Internally, agents of the state are taking a different non democratic route in their attempt to change the system.  Since July there have been a number of failed coups in Juba.  Prominent among them was the one of 26th July 2012 allegedly spearheaded by the Bor group under the leadership of Maj. Gen. Paul Mach and the recent one allegedly led by Maj. Gen. Simon Gatwec.  The former was very serious and it nearly brought the government down.  Most of the coup plotters were arrested and detained in Yei garrison.  However, due to tribal politics in the name of unity of the rulers, the culprits were swiftly released with some rewarded by being sent as representatives of the government to the talks in Addis Ababa.  This act is a blatant violation of the constitution of South Sudan.  The latter attempt which forced the president to return to Juba from a summit in Kampala/Uganda in the middle of October 2012 is reportedly not as serious as the earlier one but has the potential even now to snowball into something.  It is still viewed as a smouldering gun.  The alleged leader of the coup Maj. Gen. Simon Gatwec is now in detention in Juba.

Maj. Gen. Paul Mach and his group unlike Peter and Maj. Gen. Gatwec appear to have received a lenient and favourable treatment from the government of South Sudan.  For a group which is alleged to have attempted to overthrow the government violently to be rewarded is a new phenomenon in African politics and this can only be in RSS.  The politics of tribalism in South Sudan may eventually destroy it. 

For the president to ignore the constitution and “Fi ainak ya tajir” (meaning deliberate deceit in your face or what can you do?), he rubbishes the constitution in order to preserve the interest of his social group is breath taking.  Sadly, the president appears to have no idea that he is representing something bigger than all the tribes of South Sudan combined and the behaviour he is exhibiting amounts to negligence of duty.  What is amazing is that no politician or member of the parliament has raised a finger on this unfortunate and unacceptable discriminatory and repressive act thereby making themselves complicit.  It is clear, one group – the rulers and only the rulers are above the law while the rest are subject to harsh treatment.

Maj. Gen. Gatwec unlike Peter has the weight and unconditional support of his people in the form of the Nuer Youth behind him.  Right from the time of his arrest the Nuer Youth beat the drums of notice so loud that everybody heard their message.  It is most likely that Maj. Gen. Gatwec’s case may now be handled sensitively because he comes from a community that can protect their own in a country that fails to protect all its citizens as per constitution.  It is also possible that Maj. Gen. Gatwec could follow Peter’s fate for the simple fact that not all the Nuer political actors have been protected by their community.   Something that is puzzling but a reality.  The reason for this anomaly may lie in internal politics of Nuer community.  An example can be drawn from the case of George Tang and others.  Since their arrest their cases have been of low profile.  To date nothing has been heard about them in terms of justice.

Peter comes last in the pecking order of political things in RSS and with it his own personal worth.  The manner in which the people of his own region went silent on his rights and security buoyed the rulers and ensured that Peter is thrown to the wolves.  But it is important to note that whatever is happening to Peter is not the first and the last and it is not the end of the story.  Any emerging effective and popular leader from Peter’s region from now on can be a fair game in RSS politics. Such a leader can be entrapped, framed and trashed in similar manner as Peter and nobody will raise their head in his/her support.  For Peter’s experience will always be the precedent and point of reference to go by in the eyes of the tribal victors. 

The leaders of SPLM/A from its inception in 1983 have always sought to pacify and subjugate parts of South Sudan, especially Equatoria.  Leaders from that part of the country have been targeted in many ways.  The techniques mostly applied to subjugate Equatoria and its leaders include ‘divide and rule’, ‘isolate and kill’ with terrorisation of the population.  Now, it seems they may have succeeded.  For the majority of those who stood out thumping their chests in condemnation of Peter (a jurist of wide experience in life) were mostly short sighted Equatorians conditioned psychologically by SPLM terror.

The humiliation of Peter through Machiavellian intrigues and machinations is not only Peter’s problem.  Peter is only an individual and for that matter a drop in an ocean.  The humiliation carries a big political picture spanning four decades of internal politics of South Sudan.  It is about vicious control of an entire region and its people.

The symbolism of Peter’s forgotten detention tells a lot about his region and its people.  It depicts the disempowerment of a once proud and stout people whose dignity has been lowered to nothing.  It is a statement that what Peter represents in terms of his identity, culture and freedom can be trodden upon with impunity by the tribal victors.  The basic acts portraying this reality in South Sudan can be found in the illegal but condoned practice of land grab; assaults on innocent men and women by tribal security force; marginalisation in civil service; denial of passports etc.

In contrast to this appalling situation is the fact that the crimes of the victors are at worst ignored or at best legitimised.  Take for example, Arthur Akuen Chol who stole hundreds of millions from the government.  When he was arrested and detained, his people (armed thugs) went to the prison and violently released him from detention.  What followed is stuff of Alice in Wonderland.  No investigation on a prisoner breaking out from prison with help of relatives.  No enquiry on the attack on state institution.  No action taken against the escapee and culprits who stormed state property although they are known.  All these violations and crimes are shrugged off and capped by Arthur being rewarded by a parliamentary appointment by the president.  Wow!  Any wonder why RSS is a failed state.  Just compare and contrast the actions of this administration to get the jest of what I am trying to say here in terms of oppression, discrimination and abuse of state power by the so called heroes or should I say villains.

Maj. Gen. Paul Mach and group can violate the law and yet gain their freedom to move freely with rewards from the government while others like Peter are indefinitely incarcerated with the media unleashed to demonise them.  President Kiir needs to be fair.  During the independence of South Sudan he swore to uphold the constitution.  Now that he has broken it to free the “Machs” of this world, he needs to extend the same treatment to all the other political detainees.  Granting amnesty to those languishing in the detention centres will help calm the political atmosphere.  Bring fresh hope to the country and possibly lead to a new direction. 

Things are not improving in our country.  Everyday the sun rises and sets the situation gets worse.  Corruption grows, insecurity spreads engulfing the cities, tribalism spreads like cancer, the leaders make blunders, no provision of services to the people etc.  The rebellions we are facing and talking about here all started because of these very ills.  The result now is that South Sudan has become a fertile ground for germination of rebels with coups popping up like mushrooms on wet ground.  We can not go on like this.  Some sense needs to prevail. 

First and foremost, SPLM needs to reflect and accept that the country belongs to all the people of South Sudan and so the people have a stake in how it is managed.  Currently, the direction the country is heading into is not good for anybody including the SPLM itself.  Thus SPLM needs to take a proper democratic step by:

1) Granting general amnesty to all political prisoners, armed groups and opposition figures to equalise his release of the “Machs” so we start afresh.

2) Arranging a conference where all the political parties, civil societies and independent stake holders are represented to deliberate on the issues afflicting the country.

3) Forming a government of national unity to govern the country during an interim period and for that government to create a conducive atmosphere for general elections.

If president Kiir really wants to have a memorable legacy it will only have to be on his courage and confidence if he has any to pull back our country from the brink of disaster.  He drove it to this dangerous position and he now needs to act like a real statesman to save what is left of it by initiating the proposed democratic actions.  By acting he will end the unnecessary sufferings and divisions in the country and recover his name.

As stated, Peter’s humiliation symbolises something big.  That something instead of it being destructive and divisive, it should bring us all together and here I want to end this article by quoting president Kiir himself.   “This is the time that we must cement the unity of South Sudan so that we are one country” Gurtong 26th November 2011.  Let us then cement the unity of South Sudan by treating every citizen equally as mandated in the constitution and preached by our church leaders.

[Truth hurts but it is also liberating]

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

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