General George Athor’s first anniversary: He stood against bullies!

By Elhag Paul

December 17, 2012 (SSNA) — 19th December 2011 is the day the SPLM/A lynched Gen. George Athor in Morobo district at the foot of Poki Hills.  The gruesome pictures flashed over SSTV as evidence showed the general on the ground in civilian clothes with gaping bullet wounds.  It is an unbelievable to see a body of a well experienced military officer on mission to recruit in that part of the country.  Ironically, this very location, Poki hill locally is renowned mythically for felling the mighty of the mightiest.  The narrative aired on the media channels in RSS on that day rang hollow.  The information could not add up and this is what makes the killing of Athor a very controversially disturbing thing.

On Wednesday 19th December 2012 Athor will have been gone for one year.  The real story behind his presence in Morobo district at the time where he met his fate may only be known in future.  Truth has a way of coming out no matter how it is managed.  Nature has decreed that human beings even the best of friends at one time will fall out and it is during such a time that the truth will then come out.  South Sudanese just need to patiently wait for the mendacity of SPLM Oyee to fall apart and the truth to burst into the open for everybody to see.

Gen. Athor’s quarrel with his own organisation the SPLM/A was triggered by discrimination.  The SPLM body responsible for selecting candidates for general elections of April 2010 (for reasons best known to itself) barred the general from contesting for the post of governorship of Jonglei state in favour of Gen. Kuol Manyang Jouk.  Had the SPLM/A had policies and rules in place for selection of candidates, perhaps the situation would not have gotten out of control leading to unnecessary loss of life.  As is always the case with SPLM the selections was solely based on personal opinions of the members of SPLM politburo which is heavily clouded with clannish and tribal bias.  It is doubtful whether this lacklustre organisation now has any written rules and criteria for future internal contest for positions.  As 2015 election looms the same scenario is likely to recur.

In response to this discriminatory act, Gen. Athor opted to contest the election as an independent candidate.  He had massive support locally and opinion from the ground suggested he would win the gubernatorial seat.  However, having lost favour of his organisation the elections were rigged in favour of Gen. Kuol Manyang Jouk.  Gen. Athor asked for recount of the votes but without any good reasons this was rejected outright by SPLM confirming the electoral fraud.  With this, Athor’s recourse to justice was snuffed off.  Aggrieved without an outlet like a dog pushed into a corner he rebelled and the rest is history.

To make his point, violence broke out in Jonglei highlighting the poor governance of the SPLM.  This is a party that yells loudly about democracy yet intolerant of democratic practises.  Democracy is a beautiful shinny garment that even Lucifer wraps himself in it.  The current dictators of SPLM Oyee sang it when they were rebels only for their behaviour to exhibit their true characters as totalitarians.  The instruments of dictators fortunately are shrinking by the day.  The monopoly of violence enjoyed by dictators is gradually being erased by people’s power.  For instance the Arab spring and before it the various revolutions in Europe attest to it. 

The control of the media similarly has been shattered by advances in information technology.  Lies churned out by dictators are instantly deciphered by the public exposing the failures of the system and the incompetence of the leaders.  Deception is by the day proving to be a difficult thing for leaders to manufacture.  Thus the internet is proving to be their nemesis and there is nothing they can do about it.  Kleptocracy, the process by which the thieving leaders enrich themselves to maintain power for generations too is becoming difficult to hide.  Stashing of stolen cash abroad is now affected by the international measures in place – transparency and anti laundering instruments which expose culprits.  For example, president Bongo of Gabon recently found himself in deep troubles after his assets in France were made public with questions as to how he acquired them.  All these developments are replacing the paraphernalia of oppressors and overpowering them in the process.

Fareed Zakaria in his book ‘The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad’ published by Norton in London in 2004 argues that when dictators as is the experience now in RSS and many African countries begin to hold sham elections the signs are on the wall that democracy has beaten them.  The sham elections that they hold are a way of trying to escape reality and delusionally hold on to power because what the democratisation of every sphere of life has done is to strip them of their oracles of control, namely media, knowledge, violence etc.  Let us take the case of RSS, in April 2010 it held bogus elections in which it rigged its way into power.  This was followed by bulldozing the shoddy constitution now used to abuse the people. 

The fact that they stole the elections and put in place an undemocratic constitution did not give the SPLM/A the legitimacy it hoped for.  Conversely, the fraud energized the people, at the time through the leadership of Peter Sule to point out the imbalance in the distribution of powers of the three arms of the government.  This infuriated the rulers.  Who was Peter Sule to challenge them?  In the bush they got used to exercising the ultimate power without criticism and restraint.  Those who dared open their mouths like Benjamin Bol, Martin Majier etc were killed in cold blood.  Now having gotten acculturised to mindless brutality and having acquired the reigns of state power they can not stomach any criticism positive or otherwise from anybody.  Here Sule’s positive criticism was mistaken and he got framed. The allegation levelled against him is something that should be taken with a pinch of salt.  Mendacity runs in the blood arteries of the SPLM Oyee.

As with all totalitarian regimes, the SPLM Oyee detests intellectuals, especially journalists.  Since South Sudan gained independence journalists and opinion writers reporting from the country have been subjected to harsh conditions.  Decent people doing this very important work which constitutes one of the major tenets of democracy in South Sudan have found themselves imprisoned, tortured and terrorised.  For instance, Ngor Garang and Dengdit Ayok of Citizen Newspaper and diplomat Dr James Okuk.  The government did not stop here it even went as far as trying to terrorise international journalist working for international news organisation such as Allan Boswell of McClatchy News of USA. 

The stifling of freedom in South Sudan is a serious issue and we have a painful example in the sad story of Diing Chan Awuol with pseudonym of Isaiah Abraham.  His life was tragically cut short on 5th December 2012 simply because he expressed himself.  Now regardless of his political belief, association and what he wrote.  Did Diing not have a right to life like all of us?  Does writing and expression of an opinion constitute a first degree crime?  Was his writing about corruption, mismanagement and foreign policy blunders of the government not a fact?  Why kill him?  Supposing that expression of opinion constitute a crime why did the authorities not charge him in a court of law?  Is lynching not against the shoddy constitution that the SPLM Oyee forced on the country?  If the constitution is not applicable, why have it? 

Importantly, who has the power of life and death?  This particular question must be explored in depth in light of the terror unleashed by SPLM Oyee in the country to silence the people.  Is it the president and his henchmen who decide who should live and die, or is it the people of South Sudan as sovereign in the form of the state who decide through proper judicial process?  Don Salvatore and the SPLM can not have it both ways.  They can not behave like bush rebels and also claim to be statesmen.  When all these questions are taken together would it be wrong for us the people of South Sudan to conclude that president Kiir and his group collectively are criminally liable for crimes against us the people of South Sudan?

Paradoxically, late Diing was a committed member of the SPLM Oyee.  He dedicated most of his life to nurturing and protecting it.  The largest percentage of his writings is in support of this very organisation that brutally took away his life.  He believed in working within the SPLM Oyee to transform it, unfortunately it costed him his life.  For those who think that being a member of this joint can transform it they need to think again.  It is better to desert it now and avoid being tainted beyond cleaning.  By deserting it you will do honour to late Diing Chan Awuol and also register a strong vote against violence in South Sudan. 

SPLM Oyee’s power and strength comes from you the members.  Without you this organisation would be nothing as it should.  Therefore, the massive corruption, the mismanagement, the failure in foreign policy and the terror they unleash indirectly and directly has your blessing.  In a sense you are an accomplice. Think about it.  If you are a decent person who espouse democratic values and respect the right of life as enshrined in the various international instruments especially the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 10th December 1948 you to distance yourself from this murderous machine. The sooner you do so the quicker democracy, true freedom and peace will dawn on our country thus considerably minimising the possibility of injustice such as the one foisted on Gen. Athor which resulted into a tragedy.

Athor rebelled to fight SPLM Oyee injustice.  Like Diing who used the might of the pen, he was a well known popular personality in the SPLM/A.  He gained respect from the rank and file of the liberation movement following the Nasir coup of 1991.  Opposed to the coup and cut out from the main force of the movement in Equatoria, he managed without any support to hold his ground in Upper Nile for some years against SPLM Nasir faction until he later linked up with his HQs in Eastern Equatoria.  Reputed as brave and fierce man, the late leader of the SPLM/A Dr John Garang respected him and reportedly occasionally invited him to join in foreign trips.

Both Athor and Diing were killed by SPLM/A in cold blood during the Christian holy month of December a year apart.  This month which means a lot to the citizens of South Sudan as Christians has been defiled by the barbaric behaviour of the SPLM Oyee – all the reason why we should reflect whether we want to continue being governed by this lot.  As for some of us we have overwhelmingly voted with our pens to see the back of this murderous organisation.   

As Christians we hold the noble value of forgiveness.  We do not believe in violence.  We do not believe in shedding blood.  Our holy book tells us that if someone slaps you on the right cheek turn the other cheek to him.  We believe in talking and solving problems amicably.  The culture of violence must stop in South Sudan.  We all need to sign up against it.  Killing serves no purpose at all.  Some of the worst regimes in Africa like the Apartheid regime of South Africa saw sense in not killing the leadership of its opponents at the height of their struggle.  Please see ‘Killing is not a solution, uphold the rule of law’  This article was written early this year and late Diing may have read it but he did not comment on it.  Its contents now more than at any time is relevant due to the reign of terror engulfing our country.

Regardless of what Athor did, good or bad, acceptable or unacceptable he did not deserve to be killed in cold blood without due process of law.  He should have been accorded his right to defend himself in a South Sudan court of law for fairness to be seen to be done.  Again regardless of what people think Athor took a principled position against electoral theft and political bullying.  His only error is that he chose violence; trusted foreign powers and got convinced that he was safe.  This led to his demise.  Fundamentally Athor was brave but not shrewd.  He was ignorant of political dynamics especially the constant shifts in politics in relations to interests.  The only thing that remains constant in politics as articulated by British is interest, all others are expendable.  Diing in his last article tried to articulate this point visa viz RSS and SPLM North and perhaps this was the bone of contention that sealed his fate.

May the people of South Sudan learn one or two things from late Athor’s first anniversary about the importance of holding on to values and principles even if it means losing one’s life.  Athor in 1990s remained loyal to SPLM when he was cut off and surrounded by adversaries.  Athor in 2010 said no loudly to injustice and SPLM bullying.  He deserves to be remembered for the hero he was for being principled and taking a stand against bullies, a very rare quality these days in our country.

[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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