Straightening the crooks in a volatile history

By Deng Vanang

April 17, 2014 (SSNA) — Those who ignore or falsify history do so at their own peril. History repeats itself, quips the adage. While Greek ancient philosopher put it precisely: we see the future through the light of the past.  If we ignore history the nasty events of the past, that should have been avoided, must keep hitting back with the ugliest vengeance. This explains why leaders with a good grasp of history favorably manipulate challenges around them to prolong their stay in power. Failure, in addition, to give the devil his due when history is being written in spirit and letter begets tragedy historians always regard as revisionism, which is an adept refusal to recognize others’ contributions or attributing them to the rest who don’t deserve. And in as much as human beings need food, shelter and clothing so is the undeniable and insatiable human crave for recognition. Most bloodiest revolutions in world history in pursuit to put records right arose from this social prejudice in which past Sudan and on-going South Sudan civil wars are not the exception.

This brings us to the memory of gentlemanly column written by Citizen News paper columnist, Ateny Wek Ateny, now the Presidential spokesman, on Tuesday, 14th of August 2012 in response to the one entitled A leader dealing in hope and so was Dr. John, authored around the same week by Mr. Mading de Yak Choldit in The New Times weekly newspaper. The young author suggested to Ateny why he should be celebrating the lives of other heroes/heroines instead of John Garang. A determined Mading tersely dedicated a lengthy opinion piece to Dr. John Garang following the martyrs’ day, of 30th July 2012 and whose copy  he e-mailed to Ateny, further reminding him rather tacitly of how gravely wrong he was by not dedicating his martyrs’ day column to Dr. John. Martyrs day was initially mooted and committed to Garang’s life and his struggles in early stage of Comprehensive Peace Agreement {CPA}.

But sometimes along the way government thought it wise the day should instead be dedicated to all martyrs of almost two – century struggle of South Sudanese for statehood from 1820 to 2011, a dilution which might have rattled the widow, Mama Rebecca Nyandeng de Mabior and greater Bor community. The perceived dilution may be the reason why they initially acted in resistance to that Presidential decree by only showcasing their heroes. And I’m afraid how negatively they will react when the anti-Garang’s forces inside or outside the government take over the reins of power and subsequently decide he is no longer the chief of martyrs. What is obviously unchanged till now in their favor, nevertheless, is Dr. Garang being regarded as chief of all martyrs in government official protocol and correspondence.

However, the focus of my article is on one of the last paragraphs of Mr. Ateny Wek Ateny’s column of the same day and I didn’t bother to follow up its possible continuation the next day at the time, that was Wednesday, August 15th 2012 and I quote: Mading is not alone in this. I knew a number of our brothers/sisters within Bor community where Mading also comes, who often get irritated if a hero other than John Garang is mentioned and even more irritated enough if anything is dedicated to other heroes/heroines however trivial. End of quote.

Of great concern here is how bias martyrs’ day has become and made a day of agony rather than that of joy for several South Sudanese ethnic communities who fell have been undeservedly wiped out of annals of history although many of their sons and daughters sacrificially lost both lives and limbs in the course of struggle. Apart from localizing and exploiting the persona of John Garang by some Bor community members, Martyrs’ day is increasingly becoming a day that is used to humiliate others as well as it is becoming a source of disunity rather than a day to remember our past struggle in togetherness and love, both of which helped us gain our hard won freedom. A day in which others are told openly they contributed nothing in the past struggle by displaying almost only portraits of Bor community and other Dinka clans alleged heroes or heroines in all strategic city high ways and corners.

Especially when clans, in particular Bor community takes charge of Martyrs’ day celebration committee as it does every year. Denying somebody’s contribution normally puts a sharp strain on the national unity and social relations between communities that compete for genuine citizenship rights in a given country. Since rights depend on duties {responsibilities}, those who are told they didn’t participate in the slaughter of the elephant, could not even think of having right to claim any piece of the meat. And if any, they are only doled out of sympathy. It also creates inferiority complex in those said to be good for nothing since they didn’t participate in the national call to duty – the liberation of South Sudan. That bias notion if heeded effectively hands on silver platter the country, resources and leadership to liberating tribes and clans. If Martyrs’ day is defined in such narrow assumptions, then it cannot be regarded as a national day by any standard. For what is national is inclusive of all ethnic groups and clans. That again reminds me of my past casual movements around the city, Juba which make me feel much more annoyed about how some groups and individuals in South Sudan have been working around the clock to underrate others, destroy the relative peace and freedom we painstakingly achieved, especially through their own alienating words, perceptions and actions. These illicit behaviors have come to explain that some South Sudanese didn’t know what they were fighting to achieve in the first place and why unity, which is perquisite to stability and development, is important.  By regarding others as worthless creatures is not only a moral attack on their integrity but also the highest order of ignorance for nobody God created is useless, whether blind, crippled or maimed.

As it is said in English every dog has its day to celebrate, there is always a time when any of those physically challenged can help us out of desperate situation, for example blind and crippled are naturally endowed with unsurpassed intelligence as is the deaf with physical strength. To be individually selective on who is hero or not at random as demonstrated in the martyrs’ day every year, particularly when showcasing Kerubino Kuanyin Bol and Arok Thon Arok’s portraits among heroes while John Kulang Puot remains a condemned criminal although both defected from SPLM/A and died behind government battle lines is quite prejudicial. The same can be said of Akuot Atem’s picture which was displayed from obscurity for the first time in 2012 Martyrs’ day leaving out the picture of his friend and comrade – in – arms; Samuel Gai Tut is rather more ridiculous. What differentiates Akuot from Gai when they both rejected Garang’s leadership and went in a separate way together to challenge Garang? And what could make Gai a traitor and Akuot a hero if it is not pure bias?  Or is the killing of Akuot by William Abdullah Chuol on charges of being Garang’s mole within Anya-Nya Two can now be ascertained as a foolproof? Too, people need to be reminded none can be a hero unless supported by other. This is enough to say if somebody has helped the other to become a hero he is as well a hero too. Also labeling other South Sudanese as non-producers of heroes against what is obvious save for some clans or tribe is flagrant moral down grading that will never allow peace to reign in our land.

The bug of blame doesn’t stop with the stated groups who think it is their legitimate right to lord it over others with crude impunity. The government partly abets this prejudice as well for failure to gazette the heroes/heroines whose lives deserve to be commemorated at national, state, County, Payam and Boma levels during the martyrs’ day depending on the strength of each one’s contribution in the liberation struggle. Its laxity is taken advantage of by those who are busy sowing and watering seeds of ethnic sentiments as is the case now in South Sudanese society when some people are forced to celebrate the lives of certain individuals as heroes who during their life time robbed them of their women, parcels of land and even chickens. It is quite harsh! Yet again village heroes shouldn’t have been allowed to grace the national day in the first place in capital city Juba. By allowing such vice, government is not merely abetting injustice, but also desecrating what is sacred, the martyrs’ day. Not only the government to take the blame, too, the media have to take some beatings since they are the memory centre of the nation from which the country’s history is written and should assert their an alienable editorial right in guiding those writers and reporters who either unintentionally or deliberately try to falsify history in favor of some and at grimmest expense of others.  Personally I’m not against John Garang as somebody I highly respect for being one of great South Sudanese who are no body’s fools with self-confidence in their own leaderships and with audaciously enigmatic zeal to fight for their rights and rights of others. But to eulogize Garang as unblemished may not be sincere as some are more often than not trying to portray. Garang was like any other mortals who by very nature of their creation have beatitudes as well as faults in them. He was no god. To his credit, Dr. John as known to many was undoubtedly charismatic and equally accredited with success of our struggle due to the above mentioned attributes. But even still he can be blamed for not taking us straight to the Promised Land in which we are today. Instead, he alike Moses led us meandering around Egypt we wanted to leave as quickly as possible through his impractical new Sudan theory which caused deadly divisions in Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement/Army.

The same internal conflicts went along way to prolong the war with Khartoum Arab based-successive regimes. His gifted charisma also deceived him he could flash his weird concept he ever conceived of down our throats. His routine rituals of sacrificing innocent lives of dear comrades in struggle for graduating battalions in Bonga and Bilpam cannot go unchallenged. Although those who were closest to him regard Garang as very generous person and merely blame his wife Madam Rebecca Nyandeng for corrupting him, he can be partly faulted for current corruption unknown in pre- civil war South Sudanese traditions that has plagued our society and flunked our otherwise filthy rich country, South Sudan, into an abysmal poverty and protracted inter-ethnic feuds. The genesis of current endemic corruption and hatred can be traced to the way Garang ruled SPLM/A as personal property whereby he with his wife Madam Nyandeng and trusted aides could globe – trot in soliciting funds for arms without revealing sources of funding and neither could he provide transparency and accountability to his senior commanders in the field. This lone ranger behavior prompted Uncle Lwal Diing Wol in late 1980s by asking Garang this question: who should manage to retrace sources of SPLM/A arms supplies and funding if he suddenly died on the plane? Fortunately Garang died after accomplishing his mission of liberation.

This allegation became a rallying call in a dossier bombastically entitled ‘’why Garang must go now’’ as authored by SPLM/A Nasir splinter group in 1991 when it quipped: Garang believes he is the movement and the movement is him. Similar scathing attack on Garang’s autocratic style of leadership was repeated by the then second deputy Chairman and Chief of general staff of SPLM/A, Salva Kiir Mayardit in a bitter showdown after his near fallout with Garang in November 2004 in Rumbek. Kiir emphatically said in a packed hall of bewildering audience that Garang always carried the movement in a briefcase with him on his foreign trips and as deputy he never used to leave him in charge and neither anybody else he {Kiir} might have known of. He could even secretly leave for overseas without informing his field commanders and some close aides, several people alleged. And one more mind boggling question that sent everybody reeling with a rib cracking laughter was eloquently posed to eye-popping Chairman Moa by one no nonsense commoner. Boldly driven home to him still to be identified guy irritated by ever fattening animal called corruption in yei around 2003 in a heated public debate as to why everyone who went outside South Sudan liberated areas returned with a big pot belly in the midst of other bonny individual members of the movement? He said it is up to those with pot bellies to answer where they got theirs from, but for his he had to explain the source. Garang said he got his big belly from a string of foreign dignitaries who played him host as a quest while mobilizing support for the guerrilla movement. He then threw the ball back to those with big bellies around him to explain where they got their ill-gotten pots from. He was a role model to millions and even more to those closest to him. Like a tree planted in fertile soil and favorable weather, he produced numerous fruits and no any sane person according to the law of nature can imagine a tree producing fruits different from its own kind. That is today corruption has its origin in the way Garang ran SPLM/A which he generously bequeathed to his surviving good boys and girls. And should anybody erroneously think Salva Kiir is the only problem is dead wrong, although of course he has elevated the endemic financial and political corruption a notch higher. His guilty is his cross to carry alone and shouldn’t be used to shield in any way people who have been deemed to have long term opportunity in becoming governors, Ministers, County Commissioners and Parliamentarians with a free hand over immense resources in their respective constituencies, but only succeeded to enrich themselves, families and close associates.

As a further proof everybody is significant, Madam Rebecca has a very good side she deserves being credited for. For ever since 2006 she saw a developing monster in Kiir others closest to him never did. While most of us have been praising Kiir, winning and dinning with him, Mama Nyandeng has been crisscrossing the width and breadth of South Sudan warning us of impending danger we chose to ignore at our own peril. But of great importance here is the urging desire for us to understand history as a continuum that repeats itself and the ongoing rebellion against Kiir and his government as the golden opportunity to right the wrongs once and for all in order to stop cycle of violence from recurring every ten or so years later. That is through the proclamation of a viable constitution with the entrenched checks and balances while independent institutional watch dogs are instituted to safeguard against executive excesses.

Deng Vanang is a freelance journalist. He can be reached at [email protected].

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