By Ajang Mawe
April 30, 2013 (SSNA) — The hyped upcoming ‘national reconciliation and healing’ process generates a lot of questions more than the answers it provides. To say the least, it has basically pre-failed to achieve its objective. For any reconciliation and healing to take place, it has to be a process, occurring in different phases. First of all, the past crimes have to be squarely owned by the perpetrators. On the other hand, the victims will then make a choice between accepting the perpetrators’ apologies as presented or ask for justice to take its course. And then finally, the two parties reconcile amicably after which a new page in their lives is opened. This relieves them of the horrific memories being addressed through reconciliation and healing. Other than these steps, nothing like healing is being aimed at.
So, is this ‘national reconciliation and healing’ going to address chronic cattle raiding/tribal violence that has engulfed most parts of South Sudan? Is it meant to settle political and military conflicts or distrust between the SPLM/A and the former Khartoum clients…Or is it just going to be vague lectures supposedly directed at those who were ‘unintentionally wronged’ during North-South conflict? Such questions are far from being answered by the so-called ‘national reconciliation and healing’ process. Thus, it should be boldly declared outright as a pre-failed process.
A genuine novice in South Sudanese issues will definitely extol this shambolic initiative of ‘National reconciliation and Healing’ as a responsible and comprehensive approach to end chronic tribal violence in the country. It could also be erroneously perceived as a solution to political disharmony in the country. Chief among them is the legacy of 1991 failed coup against John Garang. It could still be assumed to be the solution to the 2010 SPLM leadership disagreements that generated numerous independent candidates during 2010 general elections. The 1991 failed coup cost thousands of civilians’ lives. It also poisoned the atmosphere of peace in the whole country from 1991 to this day. Attributable to 2010 elections hiccups are various rebellions such as George Athor’s, David Yau Yau’s, Galuak Gai’s etc. The consequence of these rebellions has unfortunately earned South Sudan a spot on the list of the most dangerous countries in the world. Therefore, all these conflicts must be redressed accordingly to pave way for nation building.
Of course, we have the alternative of burying our heads in the sand and wish that the upcoming ‘ reconciliation and healing’ process will address all of our security and political challenges. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be surprising if the opposite of the intended objective is the final outcome. I don’t necessarily want/wish to take the roles of an ardent pessimist here, but a political gimmick should never be a platform for such serious national issues with grave consequences. The fact that it’s being led by the man who initiated and supervised most of the crimes speaks volumes about its credibility. It has seriously wounded its credibility if it had any in the first place.
It’s undeniably true that some communities or individuals got mistreated by their fellow South Sudanese during the war. So a credible reconciliation and healing process is vital in laying grounds for nation building. But not the upcoming one! While there are numerous reasons attesting to inappropriateness of this process, a few of them such as seriousness of the crimes committed, identification of the parties to be reconciled and direct engagement of the communities themselves should be the pre-requisite to the whole process. Let me clarify these points.
Crimes committed are/were extremely inhumane
It all began with 1991 break away of some SPLA/M members to form a SPLM/A-Nasir. At the outset of the conflict, SPLA/M-Nasir forces comprising armed soldiers and unarmed Nuer civilians were sent into Dinka territory. The role of the Nuer civilians such as women, children and old men was just to carry the spoils from Dinka land to Nuer Land as opposed to the assertion that they committed crimes against Dinka civilians. They DIDN’T kill civilians.
As the conflict progressed and the SPLA-Nasir force became more youthful and fully armed, it unfortunately turned out that the vulnerable members of the Dinka community became their soft target. The SPLA-Nasir forces started committing crimes as gravest as the ones Al Bashir committed in Darfur. The following are some of the war crimes the upcoming ‘national reconciliation and healing’ is trying to gloss over.
1. Violation of women and children rights
Women and children were subjected to gang forced-labour. In the process, pregnant women who feigned exhaustion at work were slit open and left to die as a warning to other pregnant women with the same intention. A shirking lactating mother had her baby killed by being violently slammed onto the ground as a deterrent strategy against shirking.
2. Indiscriminate killing of civilians
When SPLA-Nasir forces defeated SPLA at Payom in Twic East (before they started their march to Bor), they introduced indiscriminate killing technique where families, wounded soldiers and individuals were forcefully crammed into a luak (byre) before being set on fire. Anyone trying to escape the inferno was instantly shot dead at the door. Such massive slaughter of civilians continued throughout Dinka land until the SPLA-Nasir forces were intercepted by another SPLA force around Bor.
Children and women that survived killing were taken by SPLA-Nasir forces. Lucky ones joined their relatives who lived in Nuer land while the other group faced the dehumanizing fate of living as sex slaves. Though some of them escaped later, others were willfully released by their captors since they had no prior experience in slave ownership. Still, some families are missing their loved ones to this day. Other families formalized such slave-master sexual relationships into legitimate marriages after the conflict.
4. Destruction of property
Towards the end of the invasion of Dinka land, the SPLA-Nasir forces started killing cows that resisted to go with them. The dead cows were then stuffed with corpses to render them unfit for human(Dinka) consumption. Since the SPLA-Nasir forces invaded Dinka land at the time of flood, a goat or a sheep on a dry ground was dragged into the water such that it could drown as a strategy to deny the Dinka potential food. Granaries were either set on fire or emptied into the rivers by these forces. All the erected structures such as schools, private houses, hospitals, water tanks, churches etc. were all vandalized.
Before the SPLA-Nasir forces dispersed to Khartoum, they meted the same crimes on innocent Nuer civilians during the Nuer inter-clan wars. In the face of these heinous crimes, are the responsible leaders ready to present themselves for legal investigation as part of peace and reconciliation process? An answer to that question might be the only route to sustainable ‘national reconciliation and healing’!
Is it healing before peace or healing after peace?
There is basically conflict all over the greater Upper Nile region. If an honest reconciliation were to be achieved, some or all of such conflicts have to be genuinely addressed before any sensible reconciliation. One glaring example of such conflicts is Yau Yau’s rebels in Jonglei state. The other two states of Unity and Upper Nile states are not new to militias (rebels) either.
Recent slaughter of Nuer civilians by Murle tribesmen makes reconciliation a remote idea to these communities at this point in time. The emotiveness of this conflict displayed itself vividly when Goss officials headed by Riek Machar were rebuffed by the civilians of the affected villages. So, when the cart is put before the horse by jumping to a healing process before cooling off the belligerent attitudes of these communities, will they not simply dismiss Juba ‘reconciliation and healing’ process? To them and others in the same situation, the planned peace and reconciliation is just a banquet like any other privately organized banquet!
Lakes state’s internal conflicts and its erratic conflicts with the neighboring states such as Unity state are yet a challenge to a well-intended ‘national reconciliation and healing’ process. If such conflicts are ignored, then the whole process is worth less than its name. It shouldn’t be surprising at all if the process is welcome with extensive military activities in some of these hostile regions of the country.
No one knows the parties to be reconciled
The problem to be solved has to be identified first before designing any solution to it. For the case of peace and reconciliation process, the warring parties have to be identified from the onset. For our case, it’s not clear who are being reconciled in the first place. Even if they were identified, still, presenting the reconciliation process as ‘national’ deprives it of its vitality because of the uniqueness of each conflict and the parties involved. Yes, we had/have numerous conflicts that need reconciliation. So a suitable ground needs to be adequately prepared for it.
It would only fit ‘national’ description if it were meant for political forces in the country after all the tribes are pacified. In that regard, even Lam Akol’s mere absence from Juba could be a serious challenge to it let alone the rebel activities. On the other hand, if it were to settle tribal disputes, then the involved communities have to be reconciled first on a case-by-case basis before heading to the state or national level.
The process is detached from the parties involved
I can’t imagine how a bereaved cattle rustler would stop a revenge urge simply because some Europeans, Americans, Asians and other Africans have met in Juba in the name of peace and reconciliation. In other words, internationalization of local issues is not a solution to South Sudanese conflicts. It’s just a complication of relatively simpler problems. Hopefully, our distinguished guests will do their own homework and shun the disgraceful event altogether. Neither is hiring and sending South Sudanese to their communities a solution to tribal conflicts. Less complicated approaches such as Jonglei Peace Initiative could achieve some results as they give a chance to local communities to interact among themselves.
The bottom line is that local approaches to peace process should not be simply replaced by ceremonial foreign approaches. These foreign processes can’t be binding. They just widen communities’ mistrusts in peace process as they are continuously bombarded with amateurish peace and healing processes that falter with the end of the peace conference. In comparing the two peace processes, we see the Dinka-Nuer peace of the 1990’s binding in Jonglei state while all the non-community based peace attempts to stop fighting in Jonglei state have so far all failed miserably.
While all South Sudanese are yearning for peace and reconciliation in the country, it’s regrettable that peace processes are hijacked by some power hungry politicians in Juba. The planned reconciliation falls in this category of hijacked peace processes as some greedy politicians are using it tacitly to stage their political ambition to South Sudan’s presidency. It should not be misconstrued by any means that it will bring peace to complex conflicts in the Upper Nile region or anywhere else in the country.
All in All, my view is that if past conflicts and all branches of corruption such as land grabbing are not well addressed, then the whole process of the upcoming ‘reconciliation’ is by itself a perfect delusion at best. Let’s see how it goes….
The author can be reached at [email protected]