Reflection on Justice Peter Sule’s indefinite incarceration

It is now one and half year since Sule’s indefinite incarceration.

By Elhag Paul

May 2, 2013 (SSNA) — Justice Peter Sule’s only mistake was to misunderstand and mis-assess his people’s response to the status quo.  He perfectly understood their sufferings and pain.  He rose up for them when they are not prepared to accept the truth of the time.  They did not want to be themselves.  They did not want dignity.  They lost sight of the truth and reality of the situation under falsity of being civilised and peaceful.  They falsely claim to be the beacon of unity in a country that is driven by ruthless unprincipled gangs of people.  A country that they sacrificed greatly for and now after independence deprives them of the basic necessities of life. 

His people pride themselves in being educated and rational.  This thinking has fragmented them into individuals rendering them weak.  Each one is isolated from the other making them good targets of those who intended to prey on them.  The security that comes from being in a cohesive group or community has been broken and destroyed and with it the might of once a well organised community. 

A community that in the 1970s and 1980s fought its corner without flinching and it won what it wanted.  It vindicated the saying that ‘where there is a will, there is a way’.  That will has been broken and destroyed by its enemies during the long years of the liberation war.  A war in which they themselves fought hard and scarified enormously but yet ended up being reduced to underdogs of those who acted in ‘group think’.  Those who acted brutally towards them.  Those who legitimised their group think with violence on them while condemning any form of organisation in them.  This planned and executed fragmentation of Equatoria as a whole by its ill wishers has enfeebled its people.  So today, anyone trying to act for its good is brought down and condemned by none other than Equatorians themselves.  Sule’s case is a classic example of oppressed people that Frantz Fanon’s book the Wretched of the Earth talks about.

Kokora in the late 1970s and early 1980s was achieved because Equatoria was solidly held together by a glue of consciousness in relation to its interest and security.  It protected each and every Equatorian from abuse.  That glue of consciousness which emanated from a ‘group think’ ensured that Equatoria was mighty though it had its own internal weakness but externally it projected might which gave it its respect. 

In April 2011 a semblance of that might flashed in Juba during the Equatoria conference but it died out as quickly as it flickered like a dying asteroid.  Perhaps it was this that misled Sule into thinking that at long last Equatorians are ready to look after themselves.  Politics is brutal.  No one can look after your interest if you don’t look after it personally.  Appeasement of the powers that be and sycophancy never pays but only strengthens the abusers and oppressors.  In the process, the abusers stay long in power abusing you and the masses. 

Violence breeds violence.  We have seen this during the war, especially when SPLM/A split up in early 1990s.  We now see it in Lakes state, Unity state, Upper Nile state, Jonglei state and so on.  Tit for tat between communities that once lived peacefully have fallen prey to manipulation by opportunistic politicians.  South Sudanese have experienced a lot of this violence for a long time and there is need to put a stop to it.

How do we put a stop to it?  Ending violence may not be easy but there are some steps that each and every one of us should take.  This includes our political leaders.  Foremost is the need for a truth and reconciliation commission to examine all the heinous crimes that took place during the two decades of liberation.  The purpose of this exercise would be as in South Africa in mid 1990s not to seek revenge but for both culprits and victims or relatives of deceased victims to exchange the painful information thereby leading to forgiveness and healing.  That is to restore respect for humanity.  We must also accept that the culprits were dehumanised and so we do not seek vengeance but their rehabilitation. 

Some people reading this piece may be surprised by my call for truth and reconciliation commission, especially given the fact that the government of South Sudan has already taken initiative by organising one.  However, I do not believe that the government initiative on healing will be effective simply because the whole process is an exercise of showing off, although I hope I am proved wrong. 

There is no will to conduct a real truth and reconciliation process in South Sudan now because the rulers are the real culprits who must be held to account.  As they are in power they will frame the terms of reference for the healing programme to deal with communities excluding their own heinous crimes.  It will be a charade like the Anti-Corruption Commission which until now has not prosecuted a single person in a country awash with corrupt people robbing the government in day light.  The real healing or truth and reconciliation commission will have to be set up in future by a non SPLM administration so that the current criminals in power can be dragged to answer for their part in setting one tribe against the other;  a son against father, a daughter against mother and so on and so forth; in the process dehumanising the entire society.

The most surprising thing is that even as the government tries to promote healing, it grants amnesty to all the rebels from the ruling ethnic groups and preclude people like Justice Peter Sule who is held indefinitely on tramped up charges.  In July last year Gen. Paul Mach and company attempted to overthrow the government of South Sudan violently.  Instead of holding this group to account, all the members were set free and rewarded with positions in the government within a week.  Same with the police chief alleged by the president himself to have murdered engineer John Luis over his plot of land.  Do you see the arbitrary rule of the president and his ruling party the SPLM?  One rule for the ethnic ruling group and another for the others.  How can healing be achieved with such ongoing discriminatory and oppressive practices fuelled by tribalism?

The ideal thing is for the government to behave in a uniform manner toward all who allegedly committed the same crimes with the understanding that we the people of South Sudan do not want more violence.  The outcome of trials should not be to exact harsh penalties but to seek to reform or to learn from them as in the cases of Equatorial Guinea and Apartheid South Africa with Simon Mann and Nelson Mandela respectively.  By doing this, South Sudan will not only become civilised, it will discourage the culture of violence from state and individuals alike. 

There are those like Ngor Tong who through their articles in 2011 and early 2012 are calling for violent revenge by the state.  This is not only irresponsible but naïve lacking knowledge of the complexity of punishment and management of society.  Today, the Europeans have learnt that capital punishment does not pay and it does not serve any purpose other than to destroy lives of innocent people (executioners) psychologically.  South Africa led by foresighted leaders like Mandela has abolished capital punishment.  South Sudan should and must seek this path.  We benefit nothing by making fellow countrymen (executioners) killers of fellow human beings.   

SPLM did annoy people by its April 2010 behaviour during the general election.  This generated mixed feelings in the population and sparked numerous rebellions such as that of late George Athor.  That general election will remain a black mark in our conscience and history and it will continue to generate controversary.  It is the turning point on the aspiration of democracy in our country.  The latest episode is David Yau Yau’s rebellion and who knows what awaits us in the future.  The arrogance of SPLM will fragment our country and also fragment SPLM itself.  It will be an implosion that consumes all of us before we rise again.  No point burying our heads in the sand.

Justice Peter Sule should have swallowed the bitter pill.  But if someone was brought up with dignity, it would be difficult to stomach such discourtesy.  The question that demands answer is: why did president Kiir deliberately humiliate Sule in his residence on 10th July 2011 in front of everybody present on that day?  Was it politically intended to despise Equatoria as a whole, or was it a personal issue, or was it a harboured grudge related to the unfortunate incident of 26 March 1993 in Kongor where the late honourable statesman Joseph Oduho lost his life and Sule narrowly escaped?

If this was meant to despise Equatorians it is understandable given the very sad relationship between the Jieng and Equatorians.  During the war president Kiir openly insulted Equatorian people in Yei as “cowards”.  Since then his tribes mate have used the term freely to disparage and intentionally injure the feelings of Equatorians. 

But if the humiliation was meant as a personal insult, why should a president behave in such an appalling manner that reduces his stature?  After all, Sule and the other parties except USSP in 2006 unanimously pledged their support to the president.  The communiqué of that gathering stands out as evidence to prove that Sule as a person did not hold any ill feelings towards the president.

I personally was not impressed with the president’s backward manner of behaviour on 10th July 2011, a day after declaration of independence.   The president therefore has to take responsibility for pushing Sule to his limits.  There was no reason at all for the president to behave towards Sule in the way he did.  After all Sule was his guest and Sule was in his residence. 

In African traditions guests are respected no matter what, especially when they are in your house.  Courtesy demanded the president to show civility, diplomacy and respect.  The president did not.  His behaviour was atrocious.  His behaviour towards Sule was not only condescending, but belittling and provocative.  Put yourself in Sule’s shoes and imagine yourself being treated in this way.  What would you do?  How would you feel?  Those people near Sule (whose names I will not name now for obvious reasons) could testify to this. It was obvious that this was a nasty experience for Sule. 

If the discourtesy towards Sule was in relation to the events of 26th March 1993, then it opens up a whole can of worms.  The president in the Rumbek meeting of November 2004 accused late Dr John Garang of being a dangerous person who did not forget or forgive.  Could he possess a similar character and therefore was projecting his own part of character to late Dr Garang?  Whether he is or not, as the president he is expected to be above all past grudges.

If I had any right to criticise Sule it would be that he underestimated the 28 years of SPLM pacification of South Sudanese, especially Equatorians.  The ethnically dominated leadership of SPLM hammered the idea that they are the liberators into the mind of the young and the average South Sudanese.  They installed themselves in the place of the Arabs.  Most of the South Sudanese born after 1980 have no real picture of the dynamics of South Sudanese social fabric.  This generation without putting any blame on them have been indoctrinated with Garangism to their own detriment.  This can be seen from the arguments they expound in support of this failed and incompetent organisation called SPLM.   

This generation is incapable of seeing that politics is about interest and how that interest is framed.  It is either framed for one group as in the case of SPLM or for the society as a whole in the case of ANC of South Africa.  In South Sudan, the SPLM framed the political interest of the country in favour of the ruling ethnic group. 

This interest is protected by: 1) constant disarmament of all the other tribes.  2) Control of all the security organs in the country.  3) control of the legislative assembly.  4) control of judiciary.  5) Enriching members of the ruling ethnic group by way of massive corruption in order to control the economy.  6. Denial and projection of tribalism to the victims of the rulers.  7) Abuse of mass media.

If you remember the ruling Arabs in the Sudan behaved exactly like the SPLM now.  They used to blame any political protest from the non Arabs as racist act.  Take for example the failed coup of Hassan Hussein of 1976.  The ruling class in the Sudan did not waste any time.  They rallied the Arabs and used the media to label the coup as racist. 

In South Sudan now, anybody from the rest of the oppressed ethnic groups opposing the government is quickly labelled by the rulers as tribalist.  As far as the ruling class is concerned their own pernicious tribalism is not an issue but it is the tribalism of the others that is destructive to the country.  What they fail to see is that for tribalism to be effectively practised, essentially one must have power.  It is they who possess power currently in the country and this is the very reason they dominate every sphere of the government.  How credible is it then that the ruling ethnic group blames the powerless oppressed ‘other’ for tribalism in the country?

Rebellion for the sake of rebellion obviously is neither desirable nor acceptable.  For it causes unnecessary destruction, loss of life and unquantifiable sufferings.  This said, in some instances rebellion is not only desirable but becomes an evil necessity to be undertaken.  Take for example, when the Sudan became independent in 1956, we the Southerners in that country had no other option but to rebel and take up arms against the unjust tyrannical regime in Khartoum. 

Our current president joined that rebellion and when the Addis Ababa agreement was signed in 1972 he returned as sergeant.  Again hurt by the behaviour of the Arabs in 1983, he went to the bush.  For most of his life, the president has been a serial rebel for the just cause of the South Sudanese people.  The Arabs considered him an outlaw and we considered him a nationalist freedom fighter.  So are most of the current leaders of South Sudan.  The line between a nationalist and a rebel traitor is thin and it depends on whose side one is and who has the power to effectively label. 

With the above I consciously bring my reflection to an end for now and let me say Sule’s unjust incarceration whether people like it or not, is a statement by the ruling ethnic group to all the other tribes of South Sudan, especially Equatorians that they have the power and they can do as they please.  If you have not yet waken up and noted that those who call others as cowards are the ‘New Arabs’ on the block, then think again.  Sule’s incarceration is a message, loud and clear, that if you the ‘other’ do not worship those who consider themselves ‘Born to rule’ by singing Oyee!. Oyee! ………you are in for further pacification.  Therefore, it is a challenge to South Sudanese fair minded people and so the ball now rests in the court of the people to question why Sule is singled out to remain in Gulag.

[The 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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