By Jacob K. Lupai
February 26, 2013 (SSNA) — Experts in constitutional law are lecturing people that the convening of Equatoria Conference 2013 was unconstitutional. In paternalistic tones people are urged to avoid or for the authorities to stop such conferences altogether because it was feared they would destabilize and ultimately lead to the disintegration of South Sudan. However, the argument was hardly convincing other than to play on fears that regional conferences could create disunity in South Sudan. It is as though the regions are not nationalistic enough or are inherently pro disunity such that any regional conference convened is only to sow the seed of disintegration.
The above may be a wrong assumption because in Equatoria Conference 2013 most if not all of the delegates who spoke emphasized the unity of the people of South Sudan. The questioning of the constitutionality of convening Equatoria Conference 2013 is nothing but a flimsy way of discouraging such conferences from taking place because they are mistakenly perceived as propagating disunity. There are regional conferences held in Africa but there is no evidence that they are disuniting Africa. A regional conference is to address pertinent issues.
The Equatoria Conference 2013 was not an assembly of people to cause turmoil in the country. It was a peaceful assembly where unity of people of South Sudan was strongly emphasised with the President of the Republic of South Sudan being appreciated for his leadership. People expressed their opinions and views freely, something that is constitutionally guaranteed as Articles 24(1) and 25(1) of the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan, 2011 seem to confirm. Also, in the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan, 2011, Article 49(2) stipulates that, “Any two or more states may agree on mechanisms or arrangements to enhance inter-state coordination and cooperation”.
Precisely the three states of Equatoria chose to come together to enhance inter-state coordination and cooperation in addressing challenges for common aspirations. What is wrong with that? Other states have the liberty to do the same if they so wish according to the constitution. Also, there is no such thing as Greater Equatoria. There is only Equatoria as in history books. This was also acclaimed by the people in Equatoria Conference 2011 that Equatoria should simply be known as Equatoria without the word Greater as prefix.
Are people jealous of whatever Equatoria initiates or are they scared of the misguided assumption that Equatoria has a hidden agenda? It is doubtful that Equatoria has a hidden agenda. The delegates would not have spoken their minds the way they did in Equatoria Conference 2013. Those were very courageous people who called a spade a spade without fear or favour. Announcing in public of what the problems are has an added edge in resolving the problems. This is because in private people may deny problems exist.
South Sudan as one tribe
People may talk of South Sudan as one tribe in the effort to promote unity. This is, however, a deceptive way of perpetuating domination and marginalization of others. Propagating South Sudan as one tribe will not work. What will work in promoting unity is by accepting that all citizens are equal before the law not by word of mouth but by action and that states and regions are also equal in treatment.
The resolutions of Equatoria Conference 2013 clearly illustrate an institutionalized marginalization of people of Equatoria and this is very dangerous to the kind of unity people are endeavouring to promote. The question is, if South Sudan was one tribe how come other people were so marginalized that they could no longer tolerate but to speak out loudly the truth of the fallacy of South Sudan as one tribe. South Sudan is a multitude of tribes so let’s stop fooling around.
Equatoria Conference 2013
Equatoria conference 2013 was convened partly as a follow up of the 1st Equatoria Conference 2011. It was also to articulate issues and challenges facing the people of the three states of Equatoria. It was unfortunate that some simplistic minded individuals cried out loudly that the Conference was an expression of deep seated hatred of non Equatorians. This was specially highlighted by one Manyang David, a journalist who covered the Conference for the Juba Post. As a journalist one would have expected a balanced analysis of the Conference but instead my fellow young writer spewed out venomously his deep hatred of Equatorians.
On one occasion Manyang David even went too personal. It is a mystery how the Juba Post should be keeping such a biased and unprofessional writer turned poor journalist that is not good for the image of journalism. Manyang David articulated his biased perception of Equatorians in his dispatch, Sowing seeds of hatred and disunity, that appeared in the Juba Post of February 20th – 26th , 2013 Vol.7 Issue 166. Probably as a simpleton he was not aware that his dispatch was demonstrating his hatred of Equatorians like any other non Equatorian of his group who is not comfortable with a federal system.
Truth hurts but is liberating. What the delegates to the Conference articulated was the gross marginalization of the people of Equatoria as the resolutions show. Criticisms were not directed at non Equatorians but to the national government to find solutions to the issues raised. Probably it was the call for a federal system of governance that caused the most offense to non Equatorians as Manyang David in his venomous hatred of Equatorians seems to suggest. As always non Equatorians associate a federal system with division of people while Equatorians associate it with the most fair, appropriate and equitable system of governance that is satisfactory or relevant to a diverse country.
People argue that non Equatorians are in Equatoria because Equatoria is accommodating the national capital and the seat of the central government. Fair enough! This is true and indeed Equatorians welcome fellow citizens from all over the country. However, the problem is that fellow citizens from the different parts of the country have no desire to respect the rule of law in Equatoria. They have become land grabbers, money grabbers, terrorizing innocent farmers in Equatoria with impunity and causing unnecessary insecurity. If this is the price the peaceful and law abiding Equatorians have to pay in independent South Sudan then what is the basis for unity?
No one in their right minds or senses will put up with medieval behaviours. National unity is a voluntary coming together of diverse people and regions based on fair and equitable sharing of power and wealth, the two most important aspects in nation building. National unity that is imposed by spurious nationalists will never work. It will only promote disunity and ultimate disintegration of the country.
Fair mindedness in Equatoria
From the outset it should be asserted that self-praise is no recommendation. However, narrating instances in which Equatorians sacrificed their positions in the national interest will not amount to self-praise but is a matter of telling the truth for people to understand.
During the first war (1955 – 1972) an Equatorian abandoned his military career in the Sudanese army and volunteered to lead the armed wing of Southern Sudan Liberation Movement (SSLM). Most of the foot soldiers were either illiterate or semi-literate. However, they had one burning common desire, the liberation of Southern Sudan from Arab neocolonialism. The SSLM mounted protracted guerilla warfare until an agreement ending hostilities and granting Southern Sudan self-government was concluded. If the Equatorian was greedy for power he would have assumed the presidency of the self-government in Southern Sudan. As a nationalist the Equatorian accepted a non Equatorian to be the president of the self-government in Southern Sudan. The non Equatorian was never anywhere closer to the frontline to dodge enemy bullets.
In the second war of liberation (1983 – 2005) and towards the end of the liberation war an Equatorian offered his seat to a non Equatorian who was rejoining the Sudan people’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). The other non Equatorians in the SPLM from the other regions held tight to their seats. It was an act of nationalism that the Equatorian surrendered his seat to the non Equatorian for the second powerful seat in the SPLM. This might have been considered a characteristic of Equatoria’s weakness. However, there was no mistake of pushing Equatoria too far.
When the SPLM-led government was established they had no buildings in which to be accommodated. It was an Equatorian who out of nationalism offered his state government buildings to the new SPLM-led government without any formal agreement for any compensation or payment of rent. Surely others cannot claim to be more nationalistic than Equatorians. How could others including land grabbers be more nationalistic than the peaceful and law abiding people of Equatoria?
Arguably, people of Equatoria are fair-minded and also peaceful. This may explain why non Equatorians want by any means to live among fair-minded and peaceful Equatorians. Therefore, a federal system to non Equatorians may mean they will badly miss Equatoria. This is, however, flaw perception because no one will be forced to move from anywhere else against their will as long as they are law abiding citizens. The only place to be moved to is prison which is of course for law breakers.
The constitutionality of convening Equatoria Conference 2013 can best be left to experts’ interpretation of constitutional law. For a lay person the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan guarantees freedom of expression and assembly. The people of the three states of Equatoria have expressed their joint opinion that they are Equatorians. Indeed they are Eastern, Central and Western Equatorians. The common name in the three states is Equatoria. So no one should deny the people of the three states of Equatoria from calling themselves Equatorians.
Equatorians do not have hatred of non Equatorians. It is only the medieval behaviors of non Equatorians that is of concern to national unity. Stop the medieval behaviors and marginalization of people then hard feelings will disappear. This, however, will not happen without Equatorians speaking up boldly. It should be understood that Equatorians are not revengeful as in other cultures where hatred for a misdeed lingers for decades. If all citizens were treated as people of one destiny with equitable access to opportunities, we would not have got the kind of resolutions produced by Equatoria Conference 2013.
In conclusion, in promoting national unity it is better to speak out the truth than to indulge in gossips and backbiting in dark corners. Equatoria Conference 2013 should be seen as something helpful in highlighting what the mistakes were so that they should not be repeated in the efforts to forge national cohesion and unity.
The author can be reached at [email protected]