By Dr Lako Jada Kwajok.
A Dinka elder relaxing with a pipe at Rumbek market, southern Sudan, with a little to worry accross the borders(Photo credits: Michael Freeman)

A Dinka elder relaxing with his pipe at Rumbek market, southern Sudan(Photo credits: Michael Freeman)

August 12, 2015(Nyamilepedia) — To begin with, having a council of elders is not a bad thing if members of a particular tribe wished to have one. Indeed it could be a positive undertaking provided the intentions and goals are towards furthering the unity of the country. The council could lend the government a helping hand in resolving local conflicts and fostering social cohesion. In fact there are already multiple councils of elders all over the country though carrying different names. Any chieftaincy in the country is in essence a council of elders.

This was not the case in the past as the chieftaincies used to enjoy much power and authority over their communities. The Mundukuru’s in order to gain full control over the south, abrogated much of the powers from these chieftaincies reducing them essentially to ceremonial councils of elders. At the present time the chieftaincies we have are the true councils of elders. They are mainly tasked with resolving tribal feuds, land issues and cattle rustling. In all the communities, change of power follow the rule of succession and a limited degree of democratic process. Usurpation of power is unusual in these chieftaincies.

Under normal circumstances, the Jieng Council of Elders ( JCE ) by definition, would be none of my business. However it would have gained the respect and support of all the South Sudanese people, me included, if its deeds were conducive to harmonising our communities. Clearly this is not the case here and the council is involved in activities quite far from what you would expect from such kinds of social bodies. When you hear the word ” elder ” what comes into your mind is the notion of experience, integrity and wisdom. These qualities are unfortunately at their nadir in the Jieng Council of Elders. It is a multifunctional body with unclear objectives or a secretive ones. At the present time it functions as a shadow government, a mini parliament, a political party and a lobby group all at the same time.

The stimulus for this article was the recent document presented to the IGAD-PLUS peace mediators as the position of the JCE  on the ” Proposed Compromise Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan “. From the very beginning there are fundamental questions insistently begging for answers. The letter is full of erroneous assumptions and is deceptive and misleading to say the least. To write about all the contentious points will need several pages of explanation. I am going to confine myself discussing few crucial points. By doing so I am not suggesting any kind of support for the proposed compromise agreement. But I want to expose the fallacy of the JCE line of argument.

At the beginning of the letter, they brought up the statistics saying that the Nuer constitute 49.5% of the total population of the Upper Nile region and 15% nationally. The mere fact that they did not provide the Jieng percentages can only mean two things :

( a ) that the Jieng are representatives of all the non-Nuers. ( b ) They are speaking on behalf of the government. The fact of the matter is that the 2008 population census is widely considered inaccurate by many South Sudanese, thus presenting the above percentages to an international audience could result in erroneous deductions. If the Nuers are 49.5% of the population of the Upper Nile region, it will mean to a foreigner that the Jieng constitute 50.5% or close to that of the same population, giving the Jieng the majority. The same applies to the percentages nationally as the same foreigner would think the Jieng are 85% of the total population of South sudan or close to that. Therefore it would be deduced by the international audience that the JCE is reflecting the position of the rest of the population of the Republic of South Sudan. This misrepresentation is intentional as they could have provided the Jieng percentages of the population. The JCE has got no right to speak on behalf of the other tribes and as far as every one knows, they have not been given a mandate to do so.

In regard to oil production, they were quick to provide the percentage of the oil produced in the Jieng territories, so now talking about the Jieng rather than the non-Nuers as shown earlier. The percentages given are 96% for the Jieng territories and 4% for the Nuers ones. Many would bitterly dispute these percentages but there is a veiled message that you can read between the lines implying that the Jieng are the breadwinners of South Sudan.

The point ( b ) is reinforced by the recent letter sent by Salva Kiir to the Ethiopian premier that is almost a carbon copy of the Jeing position presented to IGAD-PLUS peace mediators.It shows that Salva Kiir is so weak that he is being pushed around by the JCE on one hand and president Museveni on the other hand.

The JCE still maintains with ridiculous stubbornness the fallacy that a coup attempt has occurred despite the fact that the whole world refused to believe it. Even president Museveni, Kiir’s mentor, denied that a coup d’etat actually happened. As we all know, Pagan Amum was reinstated to his previous position before the conflict, is it not an admission of fault when you do that to someone who was accused of treason and could have received a capital punishment ?!

On the issue of the Hybrid Court of South sudan ( HCSS ), the JCE is unhappy for it being given the primacy over the national courts of South Sudan. They want issues of war crimes and genocide to be dealt with within our customary systems as well as the statutory mechanisms. Is it really feasible to get justice for such crimes in our current judiciary system ?! If people who committed murder are set free from jail by their relatives in the SPLA, is there any hope under this regime that the situation will be any better ?!

The JCE is making a big fuss about encroachment on the sovereignty of the state by the international community. It even went further to accuse the international community of an intention to take over the country. There is no such thing as sovereignty when you are kept in power by a foreign force. It is rare for the international community to unanimously agree on a single issue due to different ideologies, interests and agendas. Thus why would they conspire against a country they helped to create on the world map in the first place ?!

This brings me to the issue of funding. How is the JCE being funded ? If it is from government coffers as it’s certainly the case, then it is unacceptible and clearly demonstrates favouritism. Suppose the other 63 tribes form their own councils of elders and demanded funding, how much will be the cost for the government coffers?and will it be really cost effective? If the other tribes decide to follow suit and send letters to the IGAD-PLUS peace mediators, so they get exactly 64 letters. What would the peace mediators think ?! Would they not think they are dealing with lunatics ?! And mind you, they previously called Salva Kiir stupid which angered his supporters and triggered a move in the National Legislative Assembly ( NLA ).  The JCE comes out as a body with unrealistic believes, divisive activities and bent on promoting and spreading the seeds of tribalism in our communities.

The JCE could have done a lot towards bringing our communities together and cementing the unity of our country. It is through addressing the following three issues:

1. It is not a secret that the Jieng are universally disliked by the other communities, previously in the whole Sudan and now in South Sudan. In fact where ever they go people loathed them. Governor Bakasoro was reported saying ” What is wrong with you people ? wherever you go you cause havoc “. It even spilled over across the borders. During Anynya 1 movement many South Sudanese went to Congo/Zaire. The Congolese had no problems with any tribe except one, the Jieng. Despite being much less in numbers than the other South Sudanese tribes, they were the only ones singled out and disliked by the Congolese. Some of you may know that the Congolese came to Equatoria as refugees during the Congo war.

They were in Juba and other towns in Equatoria. People lived in harmony with no problems. Had they stayed longer they would have been totally integrated into the society. This displays a situation where you are more comfortable with a foreigner than with someone supposed to be your brother ! Again the Jieng went to Uganda and people did not like them. The situation is not any better in Kenya and now there is a definition in east africa for a South Sudanese which is not very good. This bad reputation is gradually spreading over the globe and it’s not something to be proud of. I learned that our reputation is at the bottom in Australia, thanks to the Jieng. If nothing is done, it will not take too long before the whole world treats the South Sudanese as an outcast people. The question the JCE needs to ask themselves is ” Why do people hate us ? “ Until they find an answer to that question and make amends, they will never be embraced wholeheartedly in any society they go to.

2. It is so often now you hear the Jieng talking about the oil being produced in their territories and bragging about it. If you ask a local citizen in Mongala, Nimule, Yei, Mundri, Maridi and Yambio his opinion about the oil, I can tell you what you will hear  is: ” To hell with the oil ! we never benefited from it ! we don’t need the oil ! we are self-sufficient ! “. Self-sufficiency is a rare commodity in the Jieng land. What is the point of boasting about the oil and million heads of cattle if your people are still dying from hunger?

Famine is a familiar and frequent visitor to Jieng land. It’s fair to say the Jieng have never been self-sufficient in modern history. This year like every year, there is hunger in Kuacjok, Aweil , Lakes state and the Bor area. In reality, wherever the Jieng live, you find hunger. And not only that, they bring hunger along with them when they go to other places by land grabbing, crops destruction and causing insecurity that prevents the food producers from doing their job. Is it laziness as V.P Wani Igga recently pointed it out or it is the culture that detest hard work ? The JCE could render the country an excellent service and boost our economy by addressing this crucial issue.

3. The Jieng community is the most violent community in the country. There is a state of continuous war between different tribal clans in Lakes State. In Warrap state the Aguok and the Apuk clans have been killing themselves recently. It is an on-going feud that never ends and happens every year. The same trait is abundant among  the Jieng in Northern Bahr El Gazal and Jonglei states. The conventional wisdom is that when your house is on fire, you try to put it out rather than running away to extinguish a bigger fire somewhere else.

Rather than indulging in national politics which is none of its business, the JCE should have been working tirelessly to resolve the on-going feuds in its community. There are even problems with some of the known members that disqualify them from being entrusted to deal with national issues. Former Chief Justice Ambrose Riny Thiik, not long ago was accused by members of a clan in his constituency of supplying arms to a rival clan. Regardless of the validity of the allegation, the fact that his name was brought down that low, indicates he lacks respect among a significant portion of his constituency. As for Aldo Ajou Deng his greed has got no limits. He is someone who can go against his people for personal gains.

When the government of national unity was formed with Sadiq Al Mahadi as prime minister in April 1986, Aldo Ajo was nominated by the southerners to take up a ministerial post. But due to disagreement with the northerners, our politicians decided to pull out to maintain some bargaining power and leverage . They asked Aldo Ajo to relinquish his ministerial post, he refused and sided with the Mundukuru’s. At that time one of his colleagues remarked that Aldo Ajo greed goes back to his school days where he eats everyone else’s food if he enters the dining room first.

At any rate, what is happening in Jieng land could be the norms in the medieval ages but certainly not the way a human being is expected to live in the 21st century.

The author can be reached for comments at loku.jada@hotmail.co.uk