A Tribute to Ambassador Page

By: Biel Boutros Biel

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has a cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us (Albert Schweitzer)

August 20, 2014 (SSNA) — On 18 August 2014, I happened to read a version of news story published by the Sudan Tribune online: (http://sudantribune.com/spip.php?article52090), that a top United States ambassador was due to ‘leave’ South Sudan. My heart threw a beat and it was rightly so, it is Ambassador Susan Page (Amb. Page), to be leaving! As I read through the news material, my mind recalled the courageous articles and statements on South Sudan, ocassionally authored and issued by Amb. Page. I wondered aloud within, thinking the gaps, the learned Ambassador would leave behind! However, my thoughts lamely reconciled, that perhaps, the new Ambassador ‘Charles Twining’ reported to replace her, would be giant enough to share his ‘candle’ without fear or favour.

Whom should we thank?

Sometimes, as human history would have it, there are individuals who do much priceless work for others but remain uncelebrated. However, if there are few international figures that the poor and the oppressed South Sudanese should give thanks to; Amb. Page, is among those who rock it! Her love for the ‘republic of vulnerable’ and most especially the Africans, from Rwanda unto us, it would be inglorious not to thank her. Amb. Page stood with us, South Sudanese, not only at the times she was posted to Juba as the United States Ambassador to South Sudan, but also since then and through the times of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement(CPA) between South Sudan and North Sudan. At that time, she was a legal advisor to Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).Using her legal knowledge, Amb. Page was one of the brains behind the drafting of the CPA protocols. In her own words she said;

I think about how privileged I am to have witnessed the signing of the document that ended the longestrunning Civil War in Africa (http://thepolitic.org/aninterviewwithsusandpageusambassadortosouthsudan/)

For sure, the CPA gave us the right to vote for our final freedom as South Sudanese people. For some, it might be ambitious to say, that I believe the ‘Oyee’ we say on every 9th Day of July, Susan Page has a ‘page’ in it.

How far has this iron lady put South Sudan into her heart?

It can never be contested that since 6 December 2011, when she arrived in Juba, to take up her position, Amb. Page has never looked back. She stood with us; at times, she even says things that South Sudanese government might not be happy to hear. It is on record for most of us, working in human rights defence that, Amb. Page pushed much on South Sudanese government to conduct thorough investigations on who killed our colleague Isaiah Abraham. She also has oftentimes stood tall and bold when the freedom of speech and expression is abused by the agents of our government. In May 2013, while commenting on press freedom Amb. Page stated that; 

the state has the constitutional mandate to protect journalists.

I think, this was a gentle reminder on how our ‘holy lords’ in the government should have known that the protection of a free speech, is not a privilege to be accorded to the citizens at the mercy of the state but rather a right that people’s government should not abuse and instead, protects it.

Amb. Page never stopped there, seeing our country as a close political ally to her own, she was bold enough to clearly convey the concerns of the U.S. government over our messy media situation and she remarked that; the US government is very concerned about the deteriorating levels of press freedom in the country. The continued push back, intimidations and harrassment of journalists is a violation of their rights and freedoms

Rightly to say so, Amb. Page, has come to South Sudan not to monitor the abuses of human rights and rule of law per se and to report the same to Obama’s administration so that a guilotine is put on our ‘Hitlers.’ No, she believes that her presence is meant to continue moving together along the thorny road with the poor and oppressed South Sudanese in their quest for true liberty. This explains why in many ocassions, she has always made statements that raise eyebrows and leave some conscience guilty among those who entirely claim the ownership of the liberation struggles with the same song ‘holier than thou’.

Amb. Page, understands us and sincerely believes that we are not hopelessly hopeless, but a people with dignity, who are only devastated by the effects of protracted wars. In 2012, to be sure, that the ‘iron lady’ means business for us, while in interviews with the media she said; 

———–they really had to start from scratch. We are not talking about just ordering some new furniture they didn’t have pens, papers, and stationery, let alone computers, electricity, and running water, vehicles, roads. It certainly is nation-building, but to try to encourage South Sudanese along their path to build a nation and using their resources to try to help the citizen population.

Those words said by a diplomat, show how deep she is in our shoes. Amb. Page, in the current South Sudan’s civil war, she remains hopeful and a source of our encouragement. Like United Nations former head in South Sudan, Hilder F. Johnson, Amb. Page, even at the point of uncertainity, she feels our hurt, pains and sufferings and wants us to have hope still as she said; 

Do not to lose sight of your dream of building a united and prosperous country, even in the wake of the violence that has wracked South Sudan (http://www.voanews.com/content/southsudanusambassadorsusanpagemessageunrestdiplomacy/1841001.html) 

To my mind, Amb. Page wants a peaceful South Sudan and since December 2013 when evils through our ‘votes’ befell South Sudan, yet it has been her wish that peace should return. She sometimes states things that neither please the Juba government nor the rebels but she believes South Sudanese have burning issues which could only be resolved through peaceful dialogue and she said: 

We reiterate, there can not be a solution militarily to this conflict that is first and foremost political and where demands of people need to be heard. U.S. government will continue to press for a national dialogue for South Sudan to promote democracy and the interests of all South Sudanese people.

Much as some of the things pushed by Amb. Page, didn’t succeed until the time of her leaving, issues such as apprehending and bringing to justice the suspects on the assassination Isaiah Abraham and making sense to the advocacy of the media freedom, however, it could be argued that, it has been because, the learned Ambassador’s words, have always landed unheard in the ears of ‘politically active generals.’  

Amb. Page understands South Sudanese and to many, she is a fearless lady who believes in freedom for all. Her courageous stance and hopeful statements on South Sudanese issues, to some powerful gurus, they seem ‘foreign interferences in domestic affairs’ whereas, to the oppressed and dying South Sudanese, she speaks the very issues for which our colleague Isaiah Abraham wanted South Sudan to be freed from and the same that led to the 15 December 2013 bloody start.

John F. Kennedy once remarked; we must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives

Precisely to assert, I would say, this is the time to thank Amb. Page, for truly, she believes in the fundamental freedom discourses for which men like South Sudanese leader Dr. John Garang and American civil rights icon, Martin Luther King, died for. That is why, the ‘iron lady’ has been saying things which a certain Minister of Information would say; ‘she has exceeded her mandate.’

One for home:

Ambassador Susan Page; kindly convey to President Obama that, the current shape of affairs we are in from Nimule to Renk, from Raja to Gambeila, if not completely peacefully dismantled, then South Sudan will not have a stable future any time soon. Tell Mr. President that the wounds are too big to be healed by a mere coalition government as the negotiations in Addis Ababa would suppose. Neither the Ocampo’s language nor the Chinese guns would offer solutions. Tell him, the ongoing war is not about Dinka versus Nuer but more deeply rooted, in the evils against which men like Riek Machar and Salva Kiir, spent their youthful lives fighting successive Sudanese governments. Tell him that, in order to have a peaceful, reconciled and united South Sudan once again, South Sudan needs a complete u-turn in its structure and state composition. The economic gap between the poorest of the poor and comrades who have become too rich too soon, isn’t anything to trace aside. Tell him that the common South Sudanese are looking for a governance system that won’t glorify individuals but one that will adore supremacy of the Constitution, a system that won’t care who becomes the President but that, which ensures;- that the president acts in accordance with the just laws, the one which ensures that the poor are fed from the oil money and revenues for which their sons, husbands, relatives, wives etc, died. A system which ensures that the votes are not stolen, that one which ensures that the parliament is dominated by the people’s representatives, that tthe judiciary is not for the in-laws, that the army is not for the tribal warlords. Kindly pass to him, that deep grievances, injustices, oppression, dictatorship, name them, have taken over South Sudan, that these evils are the ones controlling the country and the only solution is to have peace negotiations that asks; questions still not asked. That addresses not only why there is civil war but that goes deeper to explore how this war should have been prevented.

Thank you Ambassador Susan Page for sacrificing your worth for Africa and particularly, for standing with South Sudanese people at the times we most needed you. Truly, from CPA hitherto, you have been one of us and we only hope that you will always remain standing with the oppressed people though you might soon find yourself in the politics of the ‘Kerrys’ of this world.

For Ambassador Charles Twining, over to you sir!

The author, Biel Boutros Biel, is an Executive Director of the South Sudan Human Rights Society for Advocacy (SSHURSA). He fled to exile since December 2013 and is currently pursuing his Master’s of Laws Degree (LLM) at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. He can be reached on: [email protected]/[email protected]

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