The broken social boundaries in South Sudan

By Elhag Paul

July 4, 2013 (SSNA) — The third Equatoria meeting in two years dubbed ‘Equatoria Consultative Conference’ with the theme “Fostering Equatoria Leadership in Building Cohesive Nation” held on 8th and 9th May 2013 at Nyakoruon Cultural Centre in Juba, rattled the presidency.  It is reliably reported that both the president and his deputy were furious with the three governors of Equatoria for holding the conference although Bahr El Ghazal later followed suit.  In the article ‘Machar warns against sliding into regional politics in the country’ (Sudan Tribune, 2nd June 2013) the vice president makes his views against Equatoria’s right to association clear confirming the report.  Surely, there is nothing wrong with regionalism but what we are seeing is a display of ignorance and unfounded fear from ill informed people and this is what is holding the country back from development.   

Unlike the fanatic opponents of regionalism, Dr Machar is not ignorant, but he is an opportunist who wants to exploit every loophole available to get his paws on the presidency of Republic of South Sudan.  Compare and contrast his stance against regionalism with his support for federalism in the article ‘Vice-president says federal system best for governing South Sudan’ (Sudan Tribune 4th June 3023)  In short, in all this hocus pocus of regionalism and federalism, deep inside Dr Machar lies feelings of insecurity masked by his flashing smile.  He is basically afraid of SPLM Oyee losing power.  He prefers to use the securely built-in tribalism in the Oyee machine to accede to the presidency.

It is understood that both president Kiir and Dr Machar ranted demanding to know why Equatorians were meeting at that particular time and what good would that bring to the country.  Strange!  Is it not?  What is wrong with Equatorians meeting?  Do they not have any right to meet?  Of-course they do, but remember that this ridiculous questioning is part of a strategy used by the ruling ethnic groups to keep the whole region of Equatoria under their control within the SPLM Oyee machine.  After all, what is the point of trying to humiliate the governors when the whole event was transparent and more over the resolutions of the conference was submitted to them? 

President Kiir and his deputy want to be the ones to tell Equatorians what they can do and what they can not do.  This is important for them because they can only exercise unfettered power in the country (which they have done now for three decades) by keeping the Equatorians divided and in a state of confusion.  Just as Willie Lynch the enslaver controlled African slaves in America in 18th century, through, “fear, distrust and envy”, the duo is attempting to do the same in Equatoria.  After all, Dr John Garang did it before them.  The biggest threat to the current system is the coming of Equatorians together because if the Equatorians unite, the other equally oppressed tribes in the whole country are likely to gravitate towards them and this would mean the end of the current abusive rule.  So, although president Kiir and his deputy Dr Machar are at each other’s throat now, they are united in keeping Equatoria down. 

Assured by their control of the various militia groups in the country and the sad history of Equatoria in the last three decades, both president Kiir and Dr Machar now want to guarantee that Equatoria remains cowed without any leaders for them to continue with their exploitation of the country.  The reported interaction between the governors and the presidency amounts to intimidation which constitutes violence on the part of the presidency in pursuance and maintenance of oppression.

Jieng oppression is crystal clear for everyone to see in the country.  It does not need research to validate or digging into to convince people.  It is there in your face.  It saturates the entire space of South Sudan.  The starkest evidence is illustrated by the problem of boundaries.  Since 1983 through the SPLM/A, the dominant ruling groups violated all the boundaries that existed between them and the other groups in South Sudan.  The concept of boundary often is ignored by people.  But in reality it is the most important aspect in relationship.   Respect between individuals and communities are maintained by boundaries.  In a sense boundaries governs behaviours of people and through it problems are either solved, or exacerbated between individuals and communities.  Therefore, without question it is a very important aspect in maintenance of peace and stability.

It is only in cases of oppressed groups that often one finds that their boundaries in terms of space, bodies, environment (land), interaction and traditional laws are violated by invaders at will.  

Oppressors like president Kiir and his deputy believing in their illegitimate power find it easy to disrespect the Equatorians by carpeting their governors for exercising their right to free association.  They intrude into spaces which under normal situation they should not.  This intrusion is serious because it deprives the Equatorians of the ability to think freely and decide on their affairs without duress.  Whether the presidency appointed them or not, the fact that these governors now are accepted as leaders of Equatoria they must be given that respect of free association with their people.  After all, the right to free association is enshrined in the interim constitution of South Sudan.

President Kiir in Yei in 1997 audaciously called Equatorians ‘cowards and women’ in public meeting.  He repeated the same utterance in Yei in 2004.  This abuse might not have been taken serious at the time, but it actually served to undermine self-worth and confidence of the Equatorians.  It was an attack on their bodies.  It injured their inner selves making them feel powerless.  The current inaction of Equatorians which is induced helplessness is down to the negative language that the Jieng use frequently to violate the boundaries of Equatorian bodies.  Thus the language used to disarm an opponent is therefore the weapon that breaks the core of the self in relationship.  It is also the tool that stratifies societies into classes, have and have-nots, empowered and disempowered and so on. 

Another violation of boundaries relates to the manner in which Equatorian girls/women are treated by the Jieng.  Unprotected given the fact that their men have been divided and terrorised, in most cases, against their will, the women are violated and abused helplessly.  For instance, in 1990s Mangar, the SPLA commander in Kaya murdered a young beautiful girl named Maka by inserting a metal object into her private parts and twisting it round, because she refused to marry him.  Such stories are plenty and wait to be told in details.  It is unfortunate that the so called healing and reconciliation programme may not even touch such stories. 

Similarly, the issue of land grabbing in Equatoria has at its core the fact that the boundaries of environment in Equatoria have been destroyed.  The dominant ruling groups do not care or recognise that there are local rules and laws that govern the distribution of land in Equatoria.  Knowing very well that they are the powers that be, they freely grab land wherever they feel like with impunity causing the local people immense pain.  These oppressors leave their villages and lands intact and deliberately come to destabilise settled communities in Equatoria because they control the SPLM/A Oyee machine and therefore the government of South Sudan.  Take for example the case of Nimule where the Jieng are basically running riot as if they were the indigenous people. 

The broken boundaries of Equatoria both tangible and intangible are things that the oppressors want to maintain at all cost if Equatoria is to remain nothing in the politics of South Sudan.  If Equatoria is to ever rise again its relationship with the current dominant groups and the others need to be clearly re-defined.  That definition must be underpinned by nothing but its interest only.  Which means that Equatorians must first pay allegiance to Equatoria’s interest.  This should be done regardless of their political beliefs and difference.  Equatoria must always come first no matter what because in adopting such a stance it will be and continue to be formidable in balancing out things for the greater good of the country.  For instance, the dominant groups during the war with Arabs did not actually care whether South Sudan was liberated or not.  They were relentlessly pursuing their tribal interest only. 

This stance saw their prominent members frequently selling themselves out to the Arabs and then defecting back to the movement with impunity.  The cause of South Sudan was more or less reduced to a business to be exploited.  They shuttled between Khartoum, Nairobi and the bush like officials commuting between work and home daily.  When the CPA came they became the winners of the day by default.  Unlike the Equatorians who paid allegiance to the liberation of South Sudan and turned out to be the losers.  This is a good lesson that Equatorians must learn.  

What the current governors are doing now though their behaviour rightly is subject to harsh critique should be seen as the first steps towards recovery and rehabilitations of greater Equatoria.

Whether president Kiir will sack the governors or not should not be of any significance at this point.  What is important is for Equatorians to stand up for the interest of Equatoria knowing that the whole region will be behind them and will protect them in any eventualities.  If one governor is sacked who ever replaces him/her should do exactly what their predecessor had done to prove the point.  Now that both president Kiir and his deputy have rebuked Equatoria, this should be taken as a catalyst for Equatoria to fully flex its muscle by throwing down the gauntlet.

Col. Joseph Bakasoro did it when the SPLM deselected him in 2010 general elections.  He ran for the governorship as an independent candidate and handsomely won.  This was evidence that if a candidate is honourable and liked by his/her people he/she can easily win regardless of the odds.  He, Bakasoro, or Luis Lobong or Clement Konga or Alfred Lado Gore etc should enter the fray now with that experience in mind.  Let them contest for the chairmanship of SPLM party itself with the intention to later contest for the presidency of Republic of South Sudan.  If SPLM deselects them, let them then agree on one of them to stand for the presidency as an independent candidate.  SPLM is already a soiled organisation and its current leaders are tainted beyond retrieval.  Any none SPLM/A candidate nominating himself/herself for the presidency stands a better chance of winning.

Some people may ask as to why Equatoria should do this.  The answer is simple.  This is the first step in the road to full recovery from oppression and helplessness.   It will signify that the people are beginning to regain their confidence and also value themselves.  Thus they can take decisions for themselves and not be told by others of what they should expect and do.  The nonsense spoken about freely of Equatorians being nominated by the duo in the presidency as running mates should be seen an insult to the most capable section of the society.  Why should someone else decide what is good for Equatoria?  Is this not a concrete evidence of Equatoria’s subjugation?  Is Equatoria not capable of making its own choice?  Why can one of the others be a running mate to any of the mentioned Equatorians?  For example, Dr Riek being a running mate for Bakasoro or Lobong.  Is this scenario not contemplated just because Equatoria does not have militia?  Why should South Sudanese be held captive to warlords? 

Mathematically using the results of the last census, an Equatorian candidate stands equal chances of winning the presidency of Republic of South Sudan.  In fact such a candidate may by default even have an edge over the others for the following reasons.    SPLM Oyee poor governance has had a very negative impact on all the other 60 tribes or so of South Sudan.  For certain, most of these tribes do not want anything to do with the current leaders for obvious reasons – violence, land grabbing, raping of young girls and women, abuse of power, looting, lack of foresight, massive corruption, lack of rule of law and you name it.  SPLM has totally failed to provide any kind of direction or service to the people.  As it is now, they have outsourced service provision to the NGOs without incurring a dime.  SPLM Oyee has neglected the organised forces which supposedly are its backbone.  SPLM Oyee’s rule has tarnished the image of South Sudan internationally squandering the initial good will from the international community.  The majority of South Sudanese tacitly now accept that if South Sudan is to be saved from catastrophe it needs a leader from any of the smaller tribes.

If South Sudan manages to produce a leader from one of the smaller tribes in 2015 and that is if at all elections are held, it stands a better chance of stabilising the country which is what everyone would want.  But this can only happen if the smaller tribes can put their act together for the general good of the country.  The smaller tribes need to know that this is a duty to be performed by them at all cost for the stability of South Sudan.  The current ruling ethnic groups must accept that they have decimally failed in leading South Sudan.  Their behaviour with state resources and abuse of security apparatus beggars believe.  South Sudan today is a failed state because of their utter mismanagement. 

Therefore, the people of South Sudan should not give the current rulers another term to plunder the country further.  If South Sudanese want to dig out this country from the current mess, then the way forward is already suggested above. 

Digging the country out involves restoring the broken social boundaries and relationships between the various ethnic groups of South Sudan.  So, if South Sudan is to be saved at all, Equatoria must rise up, carry the torch of governance and shatter the myth of majority waved in their faces day in and day out endlessly.  Thus, it necessitates that a president from the minority groups comes to power to play the role of a unifier and a fair and just arbiter.

[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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