By Dr Lako Jada Kwajok,
Jan 20, 2016(Nyamilepedia) —- Two important things among others need consideration when someone decides to acquire a piece of land for the purpose of building a home. Top of the list is the neighbourhood that requires a little research before he could go ahead with his project. The points of interest are – whether the neighbours would be welcoming to him and also his willingness to establish good relations with them. Civility between neighbours is something of utmost importance as it’s unhealthy to live in a hostile environment. Issues like proximity to workplace and presence of amenities close to the property usually take a secondary consideration. Second on the list is to seek land acquisition legally using the available and well-established administrative process. It applies to inhabited and uninhabited land as there is, I believe, no such thing as no man’s land in South Sudan. The case I am about to present to you is one of a kind because the culprit not only ignored the above but came up with something probably no one ever did worldwide. It’s the use of military force to own a piece of land for residential purposes.
Months ago, the Minister of Defence Kuol Manyang Juuk, sent bulldozers and graders across Juba bridge to an area on the eastern bank. He took a large piece of land, divided it among his folks and started building houses. When the land owners discovered what was happening they went to claim their ancestral land; only to be faced by tanks guarding the grabbed land. In fact, when the tanks were seen moving across the bridge, some locals thought an imminent offensive against SPLM/A-IO was in the making. The fact that he used tanks to secure that piece of land for his personal use speaks volumes of the sort of government we have. Also it shows he knew beforehand that the property has got owners. Therefore, he has to intimidate and scare them off. Well, this is what the Minister of Defence can do in order to grab a piece of land in South Sudan. The big irony is that he would not dare to move those tanks into Abyei, Heglig or Mile 14 that are South Sudanese territories under occupation by Sudan.
Government and state regulations that control acquisition of land mean nothing to this guy. He has done a lot of bad things while in the bush and known for crude behaviour coupled with poverty in etiquette. Some may recall when he was the governor of Jonglei state few years ago, he physically assaulted a very junior employee in the presence of an audience. The locals were in a state of disbelief seeing the top ranking official in the state displaying an act of thuggery. His governorship of Jonglei state has been nothing but a total failure with widespread insecurity and communities on the verge of famine. Anywhere in the world he would have been sacked long ago and forgotten, but not in South Sudan where there seems to be no end to outrageous phenomena. He instead got promoted to the position of Minister of Defence.
Even on one occasion, he was delegated to represent the president in one of the regional head of states meetings. South Sudan is at a significant disadvantage with such kind of people representing it in the international arena. If he cannot handle a very junior employee by persuasion or the use of disciplinary measures and had to resort to violence – how on earth would he interact intellectually and withstand the pressure of the shrewd politicians he would be up against in international negotiations? They would be challenging his views to weaken his position and gain an advantage. Would he slap them on their faces or beat them up if he cannot get his way?! I have no doubt in my mind that he would be out of his league and easily outsmarted and outmanoeuvred with the consequence of South Sudan signing bad deals.
In 2005, the Bari community was split between those against and those for making Juba the capital of South Sudan. It’s hard to know which side was the majority. But it took only a year or so to make the overwhelming majority favour relocation of the capital from Juba to anywhere in South Sudan. Why did the popularity of Juba as the capital of South Sudan plummet so quickly?! The main reason for this change of heart is the widespread land-grabbing that affected the whole community. I remember watching a program over SSTV where the host tried to embarrass the late Dr Philip Tongun, by asking why do the Bari people want relocation of the capital that brings development to their areas? He received an excellent answer from the great community leader that stunned him I quote. ” Juba has been the capital of South Sudan for a while, and if having the capital is the vehicle that brings development, then the Bari people are not special to have that privilege alone, other communities should have the chance.”
The Bari community has been the target of negative propaganda as being obstructive and refusing to give land for government use. But in reality did it ever refuse a government request to relinquish land for building a school, a hospital or for the construction of a bridge or a highway? It even gave the government a large piece of land on the eastern bank for building government departments and institutions. The government showed no interest in the offer and it soon became apparent to the locals that it wants the land without the people. As they started to understand the whole situation, they became convinced that the aim is to relocate them from the land they inherited from their ancestors. Subsequently, the failure of the government to curb the menacing insecurity and lack of basic services delivery, made the community conclude that it’s better off without Juba being the seat of the capital. Land grabbing is commonplace in grater Equatoria. It’s rampant in Ma’di land, Yei area and parts of Western Equatoria state. Acts like what the Minister of Defence has done can only breed hatred and increase the likelihood of clashes between communities. What started as a dissent from a portion of the Bari community has now spread to involve the rest of Greater Equatoria. The majority do not want the capital in Juba or anywhere in greater Equatoria.
I would say to everyone who lost a plot or a piece of land – don’t be disheartened or lose hope. Do not stop claiming the ownership of your property. Those who now think they have won by building on your lands would later learn how naive and shortsighted they have been. They have built homes not on rocks but on moving sands. Without a doubt, there will be time for reckoning and they could be dispossessed of what they built using similar means – the way they acquired them or their illegal ownerships being made to crumble under the weight of lawsuits. People like the Minister of Defence can seize lands belonging to others by force. But it will never confer legitimacy to the properties they possessed by the means they have used. Calling the area Juba 2 or whatever name would not help to legitimise it, the locals will never accept the status quo.
Not long ago someone on this forum pointed out that many villages remain abandoned in Jonglei state. The MP’s from those areas stay all the time in Juba and do not visit their constituencies. Everywhere in the world people like to visit their villages and hometowns. There is nothing like having a house in your own village. It remains a puzzle why these people don’t like their ancestral land and prefer to grab other people’s lands. The minister could have easily gotten a piece of land in Bor town without resorting to illegal possession of land around Juba. In that way, he would be contributing to the building of his hometown. He ought to know though that the game is far from over. The land owners have just started warming up, and he should brace himself for a relentless claim on his illegal holding with only one possible result that is the return of the grabbed land to their legitimate owners.
The author of this article, Dr Lako Jada Kwajok, can be reached for comments at firstname.lastname@example.org