By Dr Lako Jada Kwajok
September 23, 2015(Nyamilepedia) — The title of this article may seem too optimistic to many people or indeed premature to others given the dire situation in the country at the present time. The burden of a decade of a kleptocratic regime on people’s lives should not be underestimated. It’s only human that some would fall into despair and look to the future through dark glasses following the ordeal. 10 years of rampant corruption, nepotism and insecurity, culminating into a greed-driven civil war, had left bad memories that would need some time to be forgotten and wounds that would similarly need the same to heal. But before the long process of healing and rehabilitation could start, people should understand fully why we ended up in this catastrophic situation in the first place. What are the root causes ? Could it have been avoided ? And what is the way forward to prevent repeating the same mistakes in future ?
We are gifted with a country that has a variety of unlimited natural resources waiting to be utilised. Some of the resources do not need much effort to exploit and the costs would be extremely low. When you look around the world you would realise how fortunate we are in terms of availability of natural resources. Here are some examples; a Palestinian colleague once told me with a look of disbelief on his face ” El Yahood harathu el bahr !” which literally translates in English to ” The Jews ploughed the sea “. He was referring to the process of reclaiming land for farming which is being practiced in Israel because of lack of land. Israel has got one of the most advanced and prosperous agricultural industries in the world. Some of you might have come across the boat people in Hong Kong and other Asian cities. They are different from the refugees fleeing conflict areas by sea. These are people who live their entire lives on boats at sea. Again it is due to lack of land; what I don’t know is where do they get buried when the die. Maybe they live all their lives at sea only to be buried on land when they die. The third example comes from the Arabian peninsula, where there is no single river in an area more than double the size of South Sudan. While we have numerous rivers and streams they got nothing. There was a time there when a litre of bottled water was more costly than a litre of petrol. Most parts of the peninsula are desert lands while our land is green and covered with forests and grass lands in most of its parts. We are already exploiting the oil reserves and most likely there will be more discoveries of new oil reserves all over South Sudan. The gold is already there and being looted by foreigners. Other minerals are in abundance but yet to be tapped. When you add the huge animal resources to the list then the following question will be in your mind, what else could we ask from God to give us ?! Even the Jews who were mentioned in the bible as God’s people do not have the kind of resources we have. Our situation is akin to some one living in abject poverty while the wealth is all around him.
With the above resources there should be no poverty in South Sudan. The land simply has plenty to offer to its own people. There is enough for everyone; everywhere in South Sudan. We just need a visionary leadership that understands the country’s potentials. With the right strategy and sound policies, South Sudan could have by now leapt one or more steps forward rather than going with the reverse gear. We are where we are because of the following reasons :
1. Weak leadership and lack of ideas and plans to lead the country towards prosperity: 10 years in power is quite a long time to bring about some positive changes and achievements. Most of the prosperous countries in the world have a maximum of 8 to 10 years for a presidency or a premiership. Their people expect achievements during the said periods. We have seen nothing tangible from the current government in terms of projects, schools and hospitals. From the beginning of its tenure it gave the impression of a government composed of people who are only after enriching themselves rather than caring for their fellow citizens. They built big mansions, acquired fancy cars and sent their children and families abroad for schools and health care. The irony remains that some houses in Juba are comparable or even better than the majority of houses in the west but located in a shantytown. The whole situation was made worse by people or some members of a tribe believing that ” it’s their time to eat “. What good could come out of people harbouring this sort of notion ?! It is no wonder that corruption has become an acceptable exercise in the government of South sudan.
2. Adopting a divisive and non-inclusive policies: It is here where the smaller tribes were completely marginalised and ignored. The government pursued the policy of hegemony by the Jieng tribe with total disregard to the damage it could cause to national unity. It also fell under the influence of the Jieng Council of Elders ( JCE ), in fact it became a tool in executing its divisive policies including land grabbing and pastoralists belligerent acts. The notion that the Jieng are liberators and the rest are collaborators is disseminated among the Jieng population by the JCE. It is a divisive and short-sighted political tactic that would backfire in the long term. It is certainly not helpful in a multiethnic and multicultural society like ours. The Equatorians for example may say they were the pioneers of the struggle against the Mundukuru’s and without their contribution the SPLM/SPLA would have perished following the 1991 rift. The Nuers and the people from the Cholo Kingdom may on the other hand say they were the first to introduce self-determination into the SPLM/SPLA politics and their contribution was pivotal in the path towards independence. Many of you know that between July and August 1992, many Equatorian officers and intellectuals were executed in Juba by the Bashir’s regime for being the SPLM/SPLA fifth column. Some were thrown off planes en route to Khartoum. I personally know some of the victims who were my colleagues at school. People from Upper Nile and Bahr El Gazal regions including some Jieng who were not in the bush also faced the same fate. How would their families feel when they are called collaborators ?! Will it not call into question our evolution into a nation ?! The independence of South Sudan was accomplished through a collective struggle of all the tribes and communities in South Sudan. The decisive action was their votes at the referendum which brought about our independence.
3. Impunity and absence of rule of law: What defines a government is the upholding of the rule of law. Without this fundamental duty, it descends into a different category, more closer to the rule of warlords. Indeed when criminals are set free from jail by members of their tribe and killers are left at large then it means our society is divided into two classes, the helpless majority and the mighty untouchables. It is the reason that some people think they owned the country and are above the law. It is a recipe for chaos and the unravelling of South Sudan as maintaining law and order is paramount to the survival of any country.
4. Greed and selfishness: Civil wars are not uncommon in the history of nations. However, they are usually due to a widespread conflict within a country. It is often triggered by a showdown between two parties with their supporters on both sides facing each other or a widespread discontent that pits the people against the government. The case of South Sudan is quite unique as it was due to a power struggle between the president and his deputy. Both happened to be from the same party and carried the positions of chairman and deputy chairman respectively. It was a division within one party between those who wanted a change in direction with implementation of reforms and the other group led by the president who wanted to maintain the status quo. We do remember clearly that Dr Riek Machar and his colleagues planned to address a rally in Juba prior to the fighting. It was a peaceful and democratic way of taking the case to the people in order to gain their support in future elections. That was not the approach a coup plotter would choose. The people were very keen to listen to what Dr Riek Machar and his colleagues were going to say. They were not allowed to proceed with the rally. The president, who was clearly unpopular, sensing imminent loss of power came up with the ploy of coup d’etat. Whether he was coached by Museveni or not is yet to be unearthed. The fact that he went ahead and allowed the massacre to happen displayed how greed and selfishness could take control of a weak leader. There was no thought about the people who were tired of half a century of wars in their country.
This war has relegated south Sudan to a low status among the world nations. Even a country like Djibouti would stand as a giant when compared to us. Our friends and backers are quite embarrassed even angry. Our leadership is being viewed across the world as a bunch of irresponsible, clueless and selfish politicians who have no regard to the welfare of their people. Those who did oppose our secession now feel vindicated. Some of our supporters are now wondering whether they made a big mistake in advocating our secession. We are the laughing stock of Africa or indeed the world. The old phrase ” The sick man of Africa ” may soon be conferred to South Sudan. It has been the property of the Sudan for decades.
Recovery from the devastation caused by war is bound to happen and peace would ultimately prevail. In the lives of nations there are no disasters that would last for ever. People always rise and overcome the difficulties and consequences of wars. The question is what kind of recovery and peace we should have that would guarantee non-recurrence of the cycle of violence. What we got now could just be a lull before the next cycle of violence if little or none at all is done towards addressing the root causes of the conflict.
The way forward is : Firstly- To ensure that no single tribe is allowed to dominate the government to the extent that it could run the executive branch on its own. In essence no single tribe should be allowed to set the agenda for the whole country. Secondly- The army, the police force, wildlife and prisons should not be dominated by one or two tribes. The massacre would not have happened if the SPLA was truly a diverse force. Therefore it is imperative to represent all the ethnicities and states proportionately in the armed forces. Thirdly- There should be reforms in the judiciary while safeguarding its independence. All citizens should be on equal grounds before the law of the land. We can not outlaw carrying a gun in one community while allowing it in the other. Selective justice should come to an end. Fourthly- Justice for the victims of the December 2013 massacre either through the proposed hybrid courts or other means should be a priority in the transitional government of national unity ( TGoNU ).There will be no meaningful peace if this matter is inadequately dealt with. Fifthly- Government officials who are found to be involved in corruption should be made accountable. It should include all culprits across the board before, during and after the conflict. It is the only way to eradicate the culture of corruption or at least minimise it.
The period from the late 50’s to mid 70’s was the golden era of our national unity. Leaders like Clement Mboro, enjoyed a universal support from all South Sudanese, many of them didn’t know which tribe he hailed from. It didn’t matter then because there were no tribalistic councils of elders to divide the people. The 1991 SPLM/SPLA split and the recent conflict were serious threats to our existance as one people. The recent war inflicted a significant damage to the social fabric of the country. Our national unity remains in limbo. We simply can not afford another major conflict in the country. It will certainly lead to total disintegration of South Sudan should it happen again.
Apart from stopping the blood shed, signing the peace agreement gives everyone a breathing space from 20 months of political and social turmoil. Perhaps it will be a time for reflection for those politicians who really care about their country. They would have to think about what could have been done differently to avoid the civil war and what should be done to prevent it happening again in future. George Santayana, the Spanish-American philosopher said ” Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it “.
My optimism stems from the fact that the transitional government of national unity ( TGoNU ) would be a consensus government. There will be no more dictatorial decrees over the SSTV. The JCE will have to change its job description as it will have nothing to do with the TGoNU. Even if it tries to influence the state of affairs through the would be Jieng members, it will fail to achieve what it wants unless there is support from members of the other tribes. With the end of the defunct regime of Salva Kiir, the restrains on civil liberties and freedom of speech would be lifted. People will at last live with dignity in their own country.
The international community is very keen to see positive changes on the ground. It is a naivety to think that engagement and intervention by the international community is only for the purpose of exploiting our natural resources. While we cannot deny the presence of such motives, they are by no means the only reasons. The current refugee crisis in Europe gives a clear picture of what the international community is trying to prevent happening in South Sudan. The regional leaders including president Museveni, are all on board the peace agreement. It is in their best interest not to allow the situation getting out of control where thousands of refugees cross the borders to their countries. The peace agreement is backed by super powers who would not relent seeing it going through to establish peace and stability in South Sudan. Any ill-advised attempts to derail their endeavour would be detrimental to the perpetrators, in other words they would bite the dust.