By Jacob K. Lupai
March 30, 2013 (SSNA) — This is a response to a series of parts of article, Rebuttal to Mr. Jacob K. Lupai’s advice on Issues Raised in Equatoria Conference 2013, by my valued friend, Ateny Wek Ateny, in his column, Beating The Drum of Truth in The Citizen Newspaper (March 21, March 23 and of March 24, 2013).
I couldn’t have agreed more with my friend that the discussion on Equatoria Conference was indeed becoming boring while there could have been other pressing issues of common interest that needed attention. It was also becoming monotonous as no new argument was being made. It was better to move on.
For my part revisiting the series under the heading Rebuttal to Mr. Jacob K. Lupai’s advice on Issues Raised in Equatoria Conference 2013 is to make a couple of critical observations and hopefully this will not be too boring to the esteemed readers. If it is the case I offer my apology.
There are some over exaggerated assumptions especially in the liberation struggle that are nothing but erroneous and grossly misleading. This was apparently to promote other regions to the highest level of patriotism. However, the reality on the ground as testified by those who were in the frontline seems to suggest that the claim “we liberated you” at best is an intimidation. It is a myth invented as a tool to silence any dissenting voice. However, the fact is that all southerners liberated themselves.
The struggle for sovereignty of South Sudan was a joint effort by all in their different ways. The 98.43 per cent of people who voted for South Sudan sovereignty in the referendum on 9 January 2011 is evidence of the joint effort. It is therefore mind boggling for others to claim erroneously that “we liberated you”.
I was an active supporter of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). Through pen and paper I made this abundantly clear. As my friend Ateny said, in the United Kingdom the SPLM Chapter was based in London but I was the leader of SPLM supporters in Reading, a town between London and Oxford. I was also the leader of Equatoria SPLM Support Group. This was to distinguish between supporters and those who were hostile to the SPLM.
As a matter of principle the Equatoria SPLM Support Group stood firm. This stand earned some of us name calling but this never moved us an inch. We were outspoken in support of the SPLM.
When a high level SPLM delegation visited the United Kingdom from their bases in South Sudan I was chosen to chair the meeting in London between the visiting SPLM delegation and the community. The SPLM delegation included Salva Kiir Mayardit, Elijah Malok, Pagan Amum and Tahir Bior.
What captured my attention in the meeting was when Salva Kiir Mayardit said the split in the SPLM/A in 1991 caused massive and unnecessary causalities more than those caused by the enemy. He narrated how they had to advance rapidly through the line of fire from fellow southerners to escape being trapped. Salva’s plea was for southerners to be united.
Later on in the residence of Stephen Baak, the SPLM Representative in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, we heard about the liberation effort and enjoyed the cracking of jokes. I realized that life in the frontline would have been miserable without jokes.
As an SPLM activist when I came to Juba in 2006 I was enthusiastic to meet with Salva Kiir Mayardit and at least to greet my President with a hand shake. I was accompanied to the President’s Office by my friend Hon Anthony Makana who was then the Minister of Commerce, Trade and Supply in the Government of Southern Sudan.
I filled a form to see the President. As an SPLM activist I felt it would not be difficult to see Salva Kiir Mayardit. I was mistaken. The SPLM probably did not have me in their records as an SPLM activist. Sadly I left for the United Kingdom neither meeting with the President nor greeting him with a hand shake and to offer a word of congratulation.
To my friend Ateny I am still the same Jacob Lupai he saw in the 90s in the United Kingdom. I am not recruited into Equatorianism which I think is partly the product of my friend’s negative thinking. In his imagination my friend Ateny concluded that the Equatoria Conference was at best the revival of Kokora or rebellion at worse.
As a positive thinker the Equatoria Conference had nothing to do with Kokora or rebellion as my friend would like people to believe. Kokora is history and should not be associated with a genuine and progressive demand for a fairer system of governance.
With regard to SPLM membership I am a member and hold a membership card. In addition 5 per cent of my salary is being deducted every month for the upkeep of the SPLM. Recently 10 per cent of my salary was deducted for the SPLM plus the 5 per cent mentioned above. I hope my friend Ateny will now know that I have not been recruited to any other political .party. I stand by the SPLM Manifesto 2012 which only needs the SPLM to adhere to it rigorously for a better South Sudan.
The struggle for sovereignty
My friend Ateny claimed in part that without Bahr el Ghazal (his native region) in the 1990s/2005, there would have been no sovereign South Sudan (The Citizen, Sunday, March 24, 2013 – Vol. 7. Issue 414). Let me not prejudice the reader but is my friend really serious. According to one witness account of battles in the frontline, the elevation of Bahr el Ghazal to a prominent position claimed without which South Sudan sovereignty would not have been realized, is nothing but extremely an over exaggeration.
According to the informant the incursion of the SPLA into Equatoria and the subsequent realization of South Sudan sovereignty took concerted joint effort. The first ever SPLA incursion into Equatoria took place in 1985 by Bee Battalion under the overall command of Martin Manyel from Bahr el Ghazal. Commander Manyel was assisted by officers from Equatoria commanding smaller units such as companies. In the incursion into Equatoria there was also Niran Battalion under the command of Tahir Bior from Upper Nile. The two Battalions, Bee and Niran, were under the overall command of Nachuluk Nashigak also from Upper Nile. In 1986 Tingili Battalion under the command of Glario Modi Wurinyang from Equatoria was active in Torit area.
In 1986 Muksasa and Tafeng Battalions under the overall command of Alfred Lado Gore from Equatoria were active in Kapoeta area but later proceeded to Torit. Sakus Brigade was under the overall command of James Wani Igga from Equatoria where John Kong Nyon from Upper Nile was a battalion commander under Wani. Under James Wani Igga the Sakus Brigade came to Central Equatoria where a training centre was established at Morta. The centre trained recruits from all over Equatoria.
Before reaching Morta in Central Equatoria in 1987, SPLA soldiers who were under the overall command of James Wani Igga deserted to their respective areas of Bahr el Ghazal and Upper Nile. This left Commander Wani with less than a battalion. If it was not for the training in Morta which produced battalions of soldiers, Central and Western Equatoria would have been under enemy control until 1997.
All of the recruits trained in Morta were mostly Equatorians. With the massive desertion of SPLA soldiers to Bahr el Ghazal from Equatoria, how the sovereignty of South Sudan could have been realized without the active participation of Equatoria is a mystery. By my friend’s admission Equatoria was a contested area by the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF). With desertion in the SPLA ranks and the split, it was obvious that without Equatorians, sovereignty of South Sudan would have been indeed a distant dream.
After coming from a military conference in 1995 in Lotuke (Moyo Sokon) in Didinga area in Equatoria, Thomas Cirillo from Equatoria was appointed Division 6 Commander with Abraham Wani also from Equatoria as his Deputy. Division 6 was for Central Equatoria and carried out massive recruitment all over Central Equatoria. The recruits were taken to Morta training centre. Gier Chuang Aluong from Upper Nile was commanding Division 7 for Western Equatoria with Augustino Jadalla as his Deputy. As expected Division 7 made recruitment in Western Equatoria.
In military operations forces under the command of Augustino Jadalla attacked Yei and captured it from the SAF. Similarly forces from Western Equatoria under the command of Gier Chuang Aluong attacked Alero and captured it. Forces from Division 6 under the command of Thomas Cirillo and Abraham Wani attacked from Gimunu in Yei County driving out the SAF up to Mile 40 in Juba County. This was the final episode in the liberation struggle when the enemy never returned to those areas captured by the SPLA until the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005.
From the above scenarios where Bahr el Ghazal hardly features, it is difficult to understand how my friend Ateny could claim that without Bahr el Ghazal there would have been no sovereign South Sudan today. I hope my friend will not tell us that Operation Thunderbolt with combined forces that, in 1997, captured Rumbek, Yirol and Tonj, were only composed of forces from Bahr el Ghazal as evidence of his claim that Bahr el Ghazal was the key in realizing South Sudan sovereignty.
In 1999 forces from Divisions 6 and 7 were dispatched to Eastern Sudan under the command of Thomas Cirillo and Abraham Wani, all from Equatoria. Those forces rapidly captured areas in Eastern Sudan such as Hamsokoreb. The SPLA military operations spearheaded by Equatorians in Eastern Sudan was a contributory factor in forcing the enemy to realize that the game was over and so peace negotiations were accelerated.
My friend Ateny mentioned Gier Chuang Aluong, John Kong Nyuon, James Hoth and Uyai Deng Ajak all from Upper Nile as commanders commanding troops from Bahr el Ghazal in the Equatoria land. This is interesting. How could the mentioned commanders from Upper Nile be commanding troops from Bahr el Ghazal when most of the troops from Bahr el Ghazal had already deserted from Equatoria land? Were there no troops from Upper Nile or from Equatoria for those commanders to command?
It should be appreciated that Equatorians were the ones in the frontline and the most advancing group. To down play the highly significant role played by Equatoria in the liberation struggle is at best an illusion.
System of governance
My friend Ateny was disappointed with me because of my support for a federal system which he equates with Kokora. From his critical analysis, which I have not seen, my friend considers a federal system the revival of Kokora or a rebellion against the constitution and the government.
There seems to be no room allowed for an intellectual debate where advantages and disadvantages of a federal system are laid out clearly for informed consensus. Dictatorship seems to be creeping into our mentality where some want to force their words into others mouths. People need to have the opportunity to weigh the advantages and disadvantages to decide which side outweighs the other. The aim is to reach a consensus as a way forward.
Arguably if considered carefully a federal system is not harmful to nation building and national unity. I am impressed with the Switzerland’s model of a federal government. The Swiss model does not need to be adopted wholesale but could be adapted to different situations. The basic demand for a federal system is recognition of diversities, empowerment of people and acceleration of development for a better quality of life.
In South Sudan we can have three levels of government, federal, state and county. Each level will have a constitution and the three constitutions should not be in conflict. Challenges in South Sudan are numerous and a federal system could be the answer. This is because people will be empowered to take appropriate decisions and actions to address satisfactorily their pressing issues of poverty, development and security.
I hope this piece has enlightened people on the liberation struggle in contrast to the bogus and mythical claim “we liberated you” propagated continuously by simple minds. It should be well understood that nobody liberated anybody but it was the joint effort in the various ways that liberated all of us. Providing tactical half truth and strategically indulging in perpetual denial for the mere glorification of one’s region or tribe is not helpful in building a strong united nation that all call home. National unity calls for prudence.
Beating the drum of war is not helpful either. The negative thinkers and the prophets of doom are already busy speculating that Equatoria is planning to break away. The negatives got their license from Equatoria Conference 2013 where a federal system was strongly emphasized. The sound of war drum is now loud when, for example, somebody said it will take Equatoria 100 years to break away from South Sudan to become the Republic of Equatoria. The implication is that Equatoria has no right to do anything but must share in silence the challenges South Sudan is incapable of addressing.
To my friend Ateny who thinks I have become a regionalist, I would like to ascertain that my nationality is South Sudanese as confirmed by my nationality certificate and passport. I am also proud to be identified as an Equatorian. Those who are shy to identify with their region or tribe is not my problem. Nationalism does not deny anybody identifying with their region or tribe. We wouldn’t like to create an artificial nationalism while in fact people are too tribalistic. If I were to contest for the presidency of South Sudan I would use federalism in my campaign.
In conclusion, although Equatorians may be seen to be as naïve, mistaken for cowards, by all means they are not daft. As South Sudanese we should encourage an intellectual debate on a federal system to avoid an unpredictable behavior that may cause a type of volcanic eruption of unknown magnitude which will eventually shatter national unity. Hopefully the majority sensible South Sudanese do not want to go down that route as the tiny minority warmongers would like to.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org