South Sudan: A Case of Rising Insecurity and Poor Justice System

By Deng Vanang

September 26, 2013 (SSNA) — With insecurity upsurge fluctuating in Juba city, government’s current efforts may be more commendable if only they are regularly improved over time and sustainable. Few could doubt, especially those who know him on one on one basis, the ability of Honorable Aleu Ayieny Aleu as the man charged with Ministry of Interior docket. The Ministry’s main task in the minds of citizens terrified by this ongoing reign of terror is to curb insecurity that has been on an upward spiral ever since 2009 in Juba and some parts of the new Republic. Security docket like that of roads and transport is always distressing in most parts of the third world and not least South Sudan that is claiming to stamp its feet on the ground as a sovereign state.

Although bringing order to bear is a collective responsibility ably carried out by both government and citizens, the person at the helm as the Minister plays pivotal role to make the work a success. In this case I have some faith in Aleu if given the full mandate and resources to combat this unprecedented rise in crimes. Since he has the much needed intelligence on this state of affairs as he was once a security head of SPLM’s internal cells in government controlled areas in late 1980s towards early 1990s. In January 2005 when I and he happened to be grouped in GoNU’s political cluster in Rumbek, Aleu in all his comments painted a picture of a man of action who speaks out his words with unsurpassed knowledge and absolute authority. He is also known to be a courageous man who craned out his neck challenging the validity of Commission of enquiry verdict. The Commission in question was then investigating the cause of late John Garang’s death in a fatal plane crash eight years ago. In his commendable patriotic stand he was rebuked by his colleagues who justified their position behind the veil of protecting state security and had himself expelled briefly from SPLM. In sympathizing with the late and his good wishes to see him live long enough to see the fruits of his labor expectedly could not be received kindly by his SPLM’s nemeses. For Garang’s demise availed them an opportunity of a promotion after getting stuck in an otherwise long and unmoving queue. As the nation mourned with Aleu, they heartily sang good riddance, quipped the cynics.

In spite of all the above mentioned accolades, Honorable Aleu should remain cautiously resolute and not allow himself to be fooled that agents of our insecurity are foreigners if the recent rounding up of Ugandan suspected criminals following a pitched battle with some of our gallant security forces around Rock city estate is anything to go by. He should understand better than me from the style the foreign criminals stage their raids. Which clearly shows that these foreign gangs are merely canon fodders used by some money minded key figures in our state security apparatus. From perspective of many, these suspected local collaborators provide the foreign criminals with necessary intelligent information about where, how and when to strike and weapons with which to carry out their death missions. In a nutshell, our state of insecurity is still largely internal with foreigners only encouraging and aiding it. 

This war against insecurity can however be fought with intelligent minds more than the physical might if it is to be won full and square. For it requires strategies than solely clamping down on the suspects behind the insecurity with crude weapons. Equipped with the view that any vice in society has the source and therefore, it is only possible to deal with it properly when the cause is uprooted from its roots. Dealing with effects of any problem has proven counterproductive as experience demonstrates. That is why blaming insecurity solely on foreigners without asking where they acquire the guns with which to rob citizens is a misplaced excuse as it is equally shallow and lame.

If they come along with guns from their respective countries, then what is the work of our immigration and cross border police? And how possible somebody from nowhere enters a foreign country unknown to him/her and without anybody assisting locally manages to engage in successful armed robberies for a long time uncaught? The moment the government accepts this fact that some members of our security forces are conniving with foreign criminals and starts approaching the vice from within itself, only then the executioners {foreigners} perpetuating insecurity from the outside can be properly handled. By seeking solutions to insecurity first from within is to also assess and review the operations of all law enforcement agencies. In the process several more questions with equivalent answers must be asked. Do their dealings offer a blank cheque to criminals marauding everywhere? If the answer is yes, then why is it the case? The good Minister right from that point after discovering the problem being internal, can pounder whether the issue stems from poor remunerations, difficult living conditions or lack of homogenous command structures within the security forces.

Law enforcement officers’ poor pay encourages them to release suspects in exchange for bribes or utmost join armed robbery instead of providing protection for the citizens. Their overriding motive may be to supplement poor pay slip. Difficult working conditions too can as well degenerate the moral of security officers. These could most likely point to none other than unfair treatment of officers on duty which can manifest itself through a host of factors such as overloading some officers with duty while some fellow colleagues are allowed to do their own past time shores. Recent discovery of about eleven thousand ghost police officers getting all their monthly pay outs and allowances side by side with the genuine and committed servicemen and women on duty is enough to discourage our security officers. The unfair treatment can also manifest itself in job training opportunities. For an instance if the underlined opportunities become the privilege of a few rather than for all. Shortage of better uniform and cash incentives as a reward for an extra-ordinary job well done can in equal measure demoralize the otherwise hard working officers.

The next port of scrutiny to curbing insecurity is judiciary. Judiciary is a back up tool to security officers’ concerted efforts. When crimes rate is galloping tremendously that may be a pointer to the rot in judicial system. If some judges presiding over cases brought before them are deemed to be corrupt by handing down the obvious guilty sentences against the ones normally seen in public view as innocent and vice versa because of some considerations be it bribes or nepotism, then everyone can expect more worse to come. That is rise in insecurity since the innocent deprived of justice can seek refuge in jungle laws to remedy themselves from apportioned miscarriage of justice.

Another case in point is the fact that South Sudanese cities are awash with guns both licensed and unlicensed. It therefore, bits logic as to why a government claiming to be competent like any other of its kind and whose primary responsibility is to see no strong molests the weak can expect normalcy in situation like this. This is only possible if the state has the monopoly of instruments of terror and anything that suggests the otherwise leads to a clear breakdown of law and order which only serves to indict the whole nation with current status of a failed state. This negativity to say the least is undoubtedly more often pronounced as much as it is associated with South Sudan due to staggering rate of many horrible things that happen within her common borders. Such sorry state of affairs certainly draws international attention to her more than any other countries do. Many indisputable evidences justifying the above premise abound. South Sudan is a country with one of the highest corruption incidents in the world. It is also where natural justice of no one can be a judge of his own cause is summarily subverted. It is a place where an accuser can double up as a police officer and a judge at the same time litigating with the one he/she accuses. Here goes the explanation. The accuser might have a brother/sister serving in the police force to arrest for him/her the one he/she accuses. Then goes to the court and finds a judge related to him/her or he/she can bribe to preside over the case. In this scenario the allegory of a goat being arranged in a law court where the judge is the hyena becomes the norm than an exception.

An additional headache not to escape the attention of Honorable Aleu is an increasing illegal presence of traditional chiefs’ courts currently in Juba or in other states capitals. The setting up of parallel justice systems, both statutory and customary, in one city only breeds judicial confusion than the burning quest to administer justice. And more so when these alternative customary courts proceedings are not closely monitored by high or county courts in order to keep them in check and in conformity to the county’s supreme law. In Greater Equatoria and Juba in particular, Chiefs have expanded mandate to land control by taking into their advantage the already obsolete laws as brought forth by CPA. They not only over run cities and rural towns’ outskirts but more over declare them pseudo sovereign territories where they lavishly allocate plots with exorbitant prices. Although at times fight over who owns certain area and keep in an indefinite wait people who buy from them land as they negotiate a compromise. This is due to money-making craze that has currently taken a better part of our previously good old local justice system countrywide.

With chiefs not only getting more younger, corrupt and ignorant about old traditions but also is the number of families under their chieftaincy breaking up into a regressing point of thirty something per an head chief. It all seems everybody in a homestead wants to be a head chief more probably due to yawning poverty and cut throat power struggle. Overpowered and motivated by insatiable desire to make money, several self seeking individuals have sought refuge in Juba and other State capitals. In connivance with some crooked law enforcement elements, they unilaterally made themselves unelected traditional chiefs who out of ignorance or deliberately try cases against the long entrenched traditional norms. For their makeshift courts they shamelessly hire policemen and women to man their own created cells in which victims of extra-judicial justice are illegally remanded. In pursuit of self gain they carry out arbitrary arrests by proxy with subsequent judgments that only subvert the course of justice. That is the supposedly main plaintiff and respondent are, despite being alive and kicking somewhere, illegally represented by relatives who have nothing to do with the matter.

The absurdity of presiding chief being related to one side by blood is not questionable while it is the highest bidder that wins the case than the required truth in most of these traditional courts. Power has gone into their heads swollen with corruption and impunity to the point that they tear into pieces the appeal court verdicts that over turn their earlier judgments. These so called traditional chiefs whether self appointed in the cities or elected in villages are even failing to follow the most rudimentary procedures of court proceedings. They don’t deliver letter of summon in the first place but send legions of police force instead to arrest suspects accused of petty civil cases who haven’t shown any objection to appear before the courts. No faire hearing of the case from two sides. The one who pays bribe is allowed to talk endlessly while the opponent is ruthlessly denied right of proper reply. Recent graphic testimony narrated by Bor High Court’s President Jairo Ajang in New Nation fortnight newspaper is an eye opener and more than enough to alert security and judicial authorities in Juba about dire state of traditional system in villages. He said of Bor High Court being jammed with numerous cases of people who have voted bare feet in fleeing judicial chaos in rural areas. Bor’s example is only the microcosm of the rot that has taken tolls of traditional system countrywide, especially in the homelands of most Nilotic tribes with regards to women rights, their inheritance, dowry and cattle.

In this Hobean state the sooner the government moves in quickly to make the chiefs adhere to what supreme constitution says about the status of chief courts the better before it loses the whole upcountry to Talibans and Al-shabaabs, the so called South Sudanese traditional chiefs who apply their own subversive version of traditional laws. Which according to national constitution these customary courts should not only apply the laws correctly but also exist and try cases in respective tribal homelands where customary laws are held supreme. While those living in the cities should have their cases tried in County or high courts as supreme laws equally states. Due to community chiefs’ failure to administer justice to their subjects coupled with county courts judges’ reluctance to monitor them, it is only necessary that government reviews the laws to correspond with current changes in our increasingly modernizing society thereby harmonizing traditional laws of all ethnic groups into one supreme law that will apply in every nuke and cranny of this country. Then the chiefs with incentives from the government should only be allowed to help, as it happens in some countries, in out of court settlements and community – based reconciliation processes that keep their rural communities stable. In the former, failure of the parties involved in the case to agree the chief can, on their mutual consent, refer them to County court for legal redress in line with supreme law of the land.

The same can be said of unsolomonic wisdom of having two police forces with different command structures operating in the same city. In this case I mean South Sudan Police Services and Central Equatoria State Police. There can be likely lapse of security if one of the two police units is not fully in charge of a given area to either take credit or blame for what has gone right and wrong respectively. Such dilemma can only serve to complicate security situation in the city. For some elements in the two units can engage in crimes or pay less interest to work in some areas where civilian criminals can take charge and later blame it on members of the other unit. This issue has already made the youth to confuse community policing with acts of vigilante in some security volatile areas in Juba for self protection which can even give rise to more insecurity than the one being curbed and needless to say it reflects unfriendly image in the eyes of foreign investors who shall be more than willing to confirm our failed state tage.

Deng Vanang is a journalist and Executive member of the South Sudan’s leading opposition the SPLM-DC. He can be reached at:[email protected]. All the views expressed in the opinion are absolutely mind and cannot be attributed in any way to SPLM-DC.

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