March 27, 2014 (SSNA) — A fortnight or so ago, an online newspaper “Equatoria sun” unveiled a list of shadow cabinet alleged to have been formed by Rebel Leader Dr. Riek Machar in anticipation of the speculated interim government and among the top cabinet ministers were four or so Equatorian members led among the top portfolios by Kosti Manibe Ngai – Finance, Commerce and Economic Planning, Dr. Cirino Hiteng — Youth, Culture & Sports, Aloisio Emor Ojetuk – National Security Service Hon. Silvano Odwaro Gordon- Agriculture, Forestry, Tourism, Animal Resources and Fisheries and Dr. Olivia Lomoro – Health .
Out of those mentioned in Riek’s list of cabinet, only one Equatorian in the name of Dr. Olivia Lomoro – Health, came out to refute the allegations, the rest of the nominees like their colleagues from other regions of South Sudan remained adamant leaving the public to speculate on whether their silent meant acceptance of the allegations or ignorance of the same. Hon. Aguil De’Chut Deng denied and declined the nomination to the prestigious Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.
Subsequently, the public reaction was mixed with some indicating that, the list could be a conspiracy to settle political scores by those who have one or another vendetta against the named individuals and likely presumed political heavy weights in Riek’s cabinet. The contrary opinion was to the effect that most if not all of those mentioned in Riek’s shadow cabinet were supporting the rebellion silently and were determined to sabotage Kiir’s government within as far as they have the necessary capacity to do so.
Such schools of thoughts continued for quite some time but because of the overwhelming crisis the country is engulfed in, the problems became too numerous and each problem is overtaken by relatively bigger issue that comes up. This is where of course the debate on whether there was a shadow cabinet or otherwise with the above names was relegated and the attention was then shifted to other new news.
These new news came three weeks later when again in the Sudan tribune online newspaper, the headlines reads ‘Greater Equatoria group declares support for Riek Machar’. The headlines in this piece of news which made it catches everyone’s eyebrows was that and I quote ‘The leadership of the Greater Equatoria Council of Rights (GRECOR) has openly declared for the first time it plans to mobilise “all sons and daughters of the region” to rally them behind the leadership of rebel leader Riek Machar, ‘the document was said to have been signed by Wani Tombe and circulated to both local and international media outlets.
In a joinder and with the spirit of disclaimer, the Governor of Western Equatoria state, Colonel Bangasi Joseph Bakosoro presumably on behalf of other Equatorian government loyalists, said on Tuesday that a statement released earlier this week by the Greater Equatoria Council of Rights (GRECOR) declaring support for former vice-president turned rebel leader Riek Machar did not represent the views of the region as a whole. He also added that, “The views expressed in the release do not represent the people of Equatoria. Yes, those outside the region in the diaspora are our brothers and sisters but what they say does not necessarily represent our people inside the country,” said Bakosoro.
Bangasi went ahead and said that ‘while the people of Equatoria championed democracy and issues of national importance; they were not known for agitating or back-room politicking. “We do not gossip and do not agitate. We are straight when it comes to issues of democracy and governance,”
Now here, comes the public debate and critical analysis of what exactly is the position of the citizens of greater Equatoria region, be they politicians, ordinary citizens, academicians, religious leaders or even soldiers. For the purpose of clarity, it is unfortunate and regrettable to accept that, in circumstances of internal conflict, a country which has 64 tribes is tempted to investigate what the other tribe’s opinion is with regard to the on-going crisis. It is a bitter truth that all of us as South Sudanese have to swallow and I think this is the suspense our colleagues from Equatoria region are caught in and struggling with quite deeply.
The blame can only be directed towards the initial speakers during the early stages of the conflict when most of them came out and confined the problem into ethnic corner by telling the world that it was a war between Dinkas and Nuers and this open a flood gates of wanting to know that the remaining 62 tribes have to make their positions known as to whether they are with Dinka which is synonymous with the government or with the Nuers with another name of rebel, to some extent, it could easily be said so for two crucial reasons;
One, by default, the antagonists are from the above mentioned tribes and secondly, the references that were rapidly made to the 1991 crisis made it apparently conclusive that any crisis that breaks out again could be instigated by the preponderant culprit Riek against Dinkas (Kiir) the Dynasty. This could sound like a myth but I hope for some reasons that this is where those who said it was a war between Dinkas and Nuers got their analogy from.
That aside, but now, the war between the Equatorian diaspora and Equatorian original (the ones at home), as the explanation that Bangasi gave on the question of Equatorian loyalty to either side of the conflict goes. He agreed though that, their advocacy for democracy and good governance is the same as that of Riek and Equatorian in diaspora, however, on behalf of the Equatorian at home, Bangasi thinks that it should not be agitated, gossiped, back-roomed or aggressive, and here comes the common opinion of the Equatorian in Juba and in the other states of greater Equatoria region.
Before their opinions are divided and their loyalty scattered, there are obvious reasons that you must know as a non-Equatorian and these are some of the reasons that I must ask you to test the unity of Equatorian if you think that they are so divided, the list is long, but it is worth to mention thus, with my experience and knowledge of our brothers and sisters from Equatoria; these are the three main things that they think they are better off than any other tribe and most particularly more organized than the so-called Dinkas and Nuers.
One of these things is that, Equatorian believe that they do not like violence and therefore they are people who engages in dialogue to resolve any differences of any magnitude, this is stated by Bangasi, secondly, Equatorian believed that, the on-going war is between Dinkas and Nuers over power and because the belligerents have the same violence behavior and genetic attitude, it is none of Equatorian business to take side, if need be, the two tribes should finish themselves. thirdly and most important of all, Equatorian thinks that, the war mongers are fighting in their land and they are not happy that these warring factions left their places and come to make Equatoria a battle field. This third point may also tell you why most Equatorian want a federal system of government. I had promised to give only three points around which the Equatorian finds a uniting front against any other tribe in south Sudan but I must equally add on board issues of nepotisms, land grabbing and corruption that most Equatorian unanimously agreed are associated with Dinkas and Nuers.
The question that begs for answers is what does Equatorian gain in supporting Riek and opposing Kiir?
It is not easy to give straight forward and authentic answers to this question especially when the one who tries to answer the question is non-Equatorian but for the benefit of analysis and routine geo-political situation of the country, one would be tempted to assume that, he can give the right answers somehow, in my own opinion, Kiir government unlike Riek shadow cabinet has adequately taken care of the political needs of Equatorian starting with the position of the vice president, Minister of cabinet affairs, minister of finance, minister of national security, minister of Dams, water and electricity, other ministries, deputy ministers like the strong deputy minister of interior, foreign affairs and international cooperation, several heads of commissions, heads of departments among others. This arrangement has no doubt taken care of the political needs of all Equatorian and to some other regions; it has earned president Kiir animosity because they thinks Kiir has given too much to Equatorian.
Economically, by virtue of being the gate way to south Sudan interior and with the capital territory of the republic of south Sudan stationed within its premises, both the central and western Equatoria are more developed than any other part of this nascent country. The roads, healthcare facilities, schools and other social amenities are only enjoyed by the people of south Sudan when one is fortunate to reside in one of the states of the greater Equatoria.
Socially, most of the Equatorian sees the other south Sudanese as land grabbers and trouble makers who have come to disturb their peace and therefore, the subjective need to have the federal system of government such that ‘according to Equatorian vocabulary’ each person should stick to their states boundaries, something that narrowly defined the true meaning of federalism as a system of government.
It is precisely because of these analysis one would be forgiven to brand Equatorian as people who may not know what they are looking for at some point, for instant, takes Riek shadow cabinet if it were to be a reality and compare it with current Kiir’s government, which one would best represent the Equatorian, the one that give them four ministerial positions in the case of Riek cabinet or the one that gives them more than ten strong ministerial positions like in the current Kiir cabinets, that is a food for thought. However, if I was asked to give an opinion about what most Equatorian thinks in relation to the current crisis, It would be good as not wanting to know about what they thinks or what they could possibly do in the on-going conflict and therefore, Wani Tombe and group stand a better chance than those who have said nothing because you never know and would never like what they are up to.
With the on-going conflict, south Sudanese have been taken back to yesteryears when people could only identify themselves by the regions they belong to. The spirit of national unity and embracing unity in diversity has been fully thrown out of the window and the chances of our society fragmenting further are relatively hitting the maximum. It is therefore a recommendation of this author that, for south Sudan and south Sudanese to propel and achieve their vision of being a free and sovereign nation where tribes peacefully co-exist, the following areas need to be addressed very swiftly:
1. In situations of conflict, people should not be accustomed to investigating what side of the conflict the other peoples are with regard to the on-going crisis, I think Equatorian were disturbed by some provocateurs who wanted to know where their loyalty lies and that is where they made a grave mistake of declaring themselves as supporting the rebel leader Riek Machar.
2. The diversity brought about by tribes should be taken as a unique aspect to learn from one another the positive differences and unite around those areas.
3. The government and the regional politicians should warn themselves and their citizens against releasing reckless statements that are likely to incite one tribe against the others.
4. The land issues, nepotism at the institutional level both public and private should be addressed and historical injustices addressed in order to cultivate the trust that is lost among the citizens of south Sudan.
5. The paranoid attitude that there are tribes which are more violence than the other or even worse considered to be more stupid than the rest does not help the situation, we must take ourselves with respect and utmost dignity.
6.The Wani Tombe and the group are not less Equatorian and the explanation by Bangasi that they don’t represent Equatorian is inadequate, the only remedy that the Equatorian should tell these brothers and sisters of theirs is that, they should have other avenues of addressing their needs for democracy and good governance and not joining Riek bandwagon for they can easily be branded as joyriders.
7. Equatorian politicians must also be seen to be bold in stating their positions especially in situations like this where a country is engulfed with a lot of uncertainties. This has been long awaited but not forthcoming.
In Conclusion, the purpose for writing this article is to put to rest the unnecessary investigation as to whether this tribe support the rebellion and that tribe support the government because what I know is that, this is not a tribal war because if it was, so many tribes would have been defeated a long time ago, the war would not also be called a rebellion but a genocide because other tribes would be at their complete elimination stages as we talk. So, let’s us take this as a rebellion where some, Dinkas, Nuers, Equatorian, Shiluk, Anyuak, Azande, Toposa among others have taken up arms with the intention to overthrow a democratically elected government for which all of us who are still within are duty bound to defend and protect.
I end by quoting the United States President when he was speaking in the G7 seven summit yesterday in reference to the crisis between Russia and Ukraine and this is what he said and I quote "we must not narrowly defined our interests or we will be forced to look the other direction".
Juma Mabor Marial is a Lawyer based in Juba. Reachable at: [email protected].