By Elhag Paul
October 12, 2013 (SSNA) — Unexpectedly on 7th October 2013, the good news came over SSTV. At last Justice Peter Sule and the other incarcerated generals gained their freedom. I was happy to receive the news. My instant happiness was not just because these innocent persons have been released, but rather it is because at least they can now try to regain their stolen identity.
Prison changes people in many ways. Historically, this institution was created to break down hardened criminals and the regime in it is designed for that purpose. Putting decent people in prison who have not done anything wrong can have an adverse effect on them emotionally, physically and psychologically. This is not to say that criminals do not experience the same, they do. However studies have consistently shown that jails fail to reform people, but they harden them up. It is the regime in this institution that negatively interferes with human well being. Now when innocent people are thrust in them due to abuse of power it becomes totally unacceptable in any decent society.
Obviously the setting of the Sule and others free is a good thing. At least they can now be free to socialise with their immediate families and friends. Although they are released from the Gulag, Sule is only partially free. He is not fully free in the sense of the word. He may be subjected by the powers that be to an intrusive surveillance and a stifling environment. Nevertheless, at least he is with his family. With this said, I was astonished to learn about Dr Lam Akol’s pardon. What crime did Lam commit officially? If he did commit a crime, what type of crime was it and when? Supposing he did, why was he not officially and transparently charged? His pardon is perplexing. I am persuaded to argue logically that the inclusion of Lam in president Kiir’s pardon is an official attempt to maliciously brand him as an outlaw who could not be trusted. This would be in line with the picture that the SPLM Oyee worked hard to project. President Kiir here is playing dirty politics of splitting. He wants to bring Lam closer to him, but yet also wants him to be indelibly tainted. Whether president Kiir’s game will work remains to be seen. Time will be the arbiter on this politics of splitting.
The release of Sule and the others is not an act of compassion from the president. South Sudan of late has been going through a very difficult time domestically and internationally. This has forced president Kiir to try to improve the image of his government. There are six overwhelming factors for the release of Sule and the others.
One, the chorus of protest: articles, resolutions of Equatoria conferences, demands of the three Equatoria governors, letters from USA Congress, letter from Friends of South Sudan in America, country reports of the US on human rights, reports of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International reports etc exposed the hollow grounds for which president Kiir incarcerated his political opponents.
Two, the slow but sure gathering of momentum in the consciousness of Equatoria people over the unjust detention culminating in the latest call for release of Sule by the Equatoria Diaspora in the USA.
Three, the loss of legitimacy by the SPLM Oyee government, especially the arbitrary nature of president Kiir’s behaviour recently with the dismissal of the entire cabinet; threats to the parliamentarians and the complaints by the Friends of South Sudan in America and the US Congress.
Four, in July 2013, at the general meeting of United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva, the government of South Sudan was found wanting on human rights. John Luke, the former minister of justice and his accompanying delegation were dressed down over the unacceptable human rights violations in the new country. The delegation could not defend the conduct of the government of South Sudan.
Five, the diplomatic message sent to the SPLM Oyee government through the treatment of its most influential officials; the vice president and the minister of foreign affairs while going to attend the UN general assembly session 68 in September 2013 by a friendly host government.
Six, to assuage the pain of the Nuer, the Jieng government in Juba wanted to release the Nuer generals to make amends, but this could not be done smoothly with Sule languishing in the Gulag. So for the government to appear fair and the hypocrisy of the Jieng to remain masked, Sule had to be included in the release.
With the foregoing, it is clear that Sule’s release was dictated by circumstances that the government could not ignore. President Kiir personally dislikes Sule as a person for reasons best known to him and he certainly would not have allowed Sule to be free had he not found himself in a very tight corner. My article, ‘Reflection on Justice Peter Sule’s indefinite incarceration’ http://allafrica.com/stories/201305080235.html provides the reasons for my claim.
In the first place, Justice Peter Sule should not have been incarcerated if president Kiir did not hate him. The detention of Sule and all the others are wrongful since they did not follow the legal rules and procedures. They were just arrested, abused and put in jail without any due process. Arguably, their detention was wholly illegal. Hence, the government of South Sudan needs to make amends. At the very least an apology followed by compensation. However, the clever use of the word pardon seems to deny them the right to an apology and compensation. But then, how can South Sudan behave in such a manner and expect itself to be a just country? How can the state be so unjust to its own citizens? Imagine incarcerating people putting them at risk of emotional, physical and psychological harm for no good reason and yet not acknowledging the harm done. Is this the kind of state we want? If our individual safety is not guaranteed why should we be part of the social contract? Why are we allowing people like president Kiir and his party the SPLM Oyee to lead us? South Sudanese need to reflect seriously because no one in South Sudan is safe under the current government.
The tribalisation of the state is the real problem here. There should be no argument on this vital point because even Mabior Garang, the son of late Dr John Garang acknowledges the policy of Jienganisation of South Sudan. In an interview with Pan African Vision on 22nd August 2013 under the title, ‘Southern Sudanese Did Not Count On The Emergence of An Indigenous Oppressor When Opting For Secession’ Garang forcefully said the problem in the country “is simple(y), the imposition of one culture (Jieng culture) to define the new state.” http://panafricanvisions.com/2013/southern-sudanese-did-not-count-on-the-emergence-of-an-indigenous-oppressor-when-opting-for-secession/ Had the judiciary like all the other organs of the state not been under the firm grip of the Jieng, the situation perhaps may have been slightly different.
The judiciary is staffed predominantly by the Jieng, with a good number of them totally unqualified like Telar Ring Deng. People who claim professional qualifications they did not acquire officially from any institutions. They get employed in influential positions in the government simply because they are Jieng. In effect, making the qualifications for these jobs conditional on tribal identity. These officials serve the interest of the Jieng. Thus they collude with president Kiir in violation of the law of the land like the wrongful detentions of Sule and the others.
Jieng people are hardly incarcerated despite the serious crimes they commit. Take the example of Arthur Akuen Chol who was freed from detention in Juba violently by his own armed gang of relatives. Chol was not arrested, nor was the gang that stormed the prison (a state institution) using violence and arms. Moreover, Arthur Akuen himself got re-appointed by none other than president Kiir to the upper house of the parliament. Where on earth can one find such blatant tribalism other than South Sudan? Another example to hammer the point home is the release of Gen. Paul Mach with some of his own Jieng army colleagues who attempted to overthrow the government of president Kiir in July last year. They hardly spent a fortnight in detention. Not only that but Gen. Mach was rewarded instantly by being sent to Addis Ababa as a member of South Sudan’s delegation to the peace talks with Khartoum. Contrast this with the incarceration of Sule and the others. Where is the justice here?
The timing of the pardon suggests the Jieng government wants to deflect the atrocities in Nimule connected with land grabbing away from the public and international community. The government appears to see the Nimule issue as damaging because it is mirrored in Chollo land, Murle land, Anyuak land, and Fertit land. This is a serious case of aggression on the people of South Sudan by one of its own tribes. While president Kiir releases the unjustly incarcerated persons, his government through the back door is busy detaining new victims like Angelo Voga on openly false charges in support of the so called IDPs in Nimule. It must be remembered that the SPLM Oyee government incarcerates people without due process as a means to subjugate them. People viewed as opponents are just detained and forgotten in jails indefinitely until something significant threatens the government then they are released like the case of those now pardoned.
President Kiir seemingly is determined to extract maximum benefits from his pardon to rebrand himself as a caring person while in fact he is abusing the power of pardon to further his regime of terror. The abuse of this power serves four purposes: firstly, it gives false impression that the victims of his tyranny were guilty and therefore he was doing them a favour. This is one of oppressive methods used by dictators. Secondly, it terrorises the pardoned to make them feel grateful for being released with the coded message of “Keep silent or else you know the consequence.” Thirdly, it denies the victims rightful compensation for wrongful assault by the state. Fourthly, it perpetrates the power of the president making him to appear invincible.
This undoubtedly leads to the issue of divide and conquer. Using the power of pardon president Kiir is not only trying to rebrand himself but also he is stoking divisions in the society. Let us start with the Nuer. All the Nuer generals released were incarcerated at a time when Riek Machar was the vice president meaning he had contributed equally in the decision to keep these generals in prison. Now that Riek is no longer in the government, president Kiir’s action appears designed to imply that the detention of these people had nothing to do with him and that is why he is releasing them. This point may be exploited to the maximum by president Kiir and his supporters in the coming SPLM convention pitying Nuer against Nuer to a devastating effect against Riek ambition to lead the party.
In Equatoria, president Kiir is already cagey with the development of consciousness there. The signs to this are the so far regular Equatoria conferences have come up with some unpleasant resolutions that the SPLM Oyee do not like. Also the demands by Equatoria Diaspora are creating uneasiness with the regime. All these and the slow coming of Equatorians together is a threat to Jieng hegemony. So the release of Sule will be used to portray president Kiir as a magnanimous person to split the forming conscious on Jieng atrocities and injustice. This may be used by the Equatorian Oyeeites to price away Equatorian support from Riek Machar leading into further marginalisation of people like Kosti Manibe whose character has been criminally assassinated by president Kiir.
In the Chollo group, president Kiir has already fallen out with Pagan Amum, distanced himself from Oyaye Deng Ajak and Dr Peter Nyaba. So he needs a new ally to maintain the divisions in the Chollo people. By supposedly pardoning Dr Lam, president Kiir will be able to appoint him into an influential position to do the fight with his opponents thereby preventing any unity among the Chollo. This is important for president Kiir if the Jieng plan to dispossess the Chollo of their land is to be realised.
As it can be seen, president Kiir wants to hit two birds with one stone at the same pulling the wool over the people’s eyes. By pardoning Sule and the others he is calculating to rebrand himself and also weaken the groups the Jieng consider as a threat by dividing them in order for the Jieng to prevail with the policy of “imposing one culture to define the new state.” In short Jieganisation of South Sudan.
Although Sule is officially pardoned and supposedly released from the Gulag, as I write he is still practically in detention. He is allowed home for few hours and then taken back in. In effect a “dowuru barau” meaning a prisoner in open prison. This does not look like the government is serious with the pardon. Is it? Now the bigger picture is that Sule may not be fully free in the real sense of the word. He may be subjected to intrusive regime of surveillance and a stifling environment. The reason for this is the fact that the detention of Sule has raised his political stature as he now has become a shining symbol of resistance to Jieng oppression.
Finally, president Kiir should neither be thanked nor credited for acting the way he did, nor thought of as a magnanimous person. At core, he is a nasty dictator. He should not have jailed Sule and the others. He is now using the power of pardon to portray himself as a good leader to deceive the public to rejuvenate his failed leadership and horrible party. President Kiir is the true criminal here and not the pardoned persons.
To jail people simply because he does not like them in violation of the law and then release them under a gimmick is not good enough. In any country where law and order is respected, Sule and the others would have been entitled to full compensation for the way they have been treated.
What president Kiir is doing is only advancing Jieng imperialism. The illegal jailing of people is an element of abuse of power to subjugate the masses in order for Jienganisation to be realised. So, this abuse of power will not cease until it is confronted. As evidenced, the partial release of Sule and the others is a result of political pressure brought to bear on the dictator and SPLM Oyee.
The basic and simple truism is that no oppressor has ever ceded power willingly. It has to be wrestled. Frederick Douglass in his speech in Canandaigua in New York in 1857 under the title, ‘If There Is No Struggle, There Is No Progress’ eloquently penned, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what a people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” http://www.blackpast.org/1857-frederick-douglass-if-there-no-struggle-there-no-progress The choice is of the people now, they can choose to put up with SPLM Oyee abuse or to resist and bring this nonsense to an end.
[Truth hurts but it is also liberating]
The Author lives in the Republic of South Sudan. He can be reached at [email protected]