The Meaning of Liberation in the Context of the Independence of South Sudan
July 29th, 2019(Nyamilepedia) — As the citizens of the Republic of South Sudan – the newest country in Africa and the World – marked the occasion of the birth of our Republic, and as we mark the fourteenth anniversary of the tragic loss of the first President of the Government of South Sudan -Dr. John Garang de Mabior- it is important to take stock of the achievements of the liberation struggle that led to the secession of South Sudan. This begs a pertinent question in this discussion; what do we mean by “liberation”? The Movement which struggled and finally achieved the negotiated settlement – the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) – leading to the birth of the Republic of South Sudan was the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement and the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLM/SPLA). The Movement by definition was primarily concerned with “liberation”.
The principal objective of the SPLM/SPLA has never been the secession of South Sudan; however, the movement has always been mindful that this had been the aspiration of the people of South Sudan after subsequent oppressive regimes in Khartoum failed to answer the nationality question since the independence of the old Sudan in1956. –We seem to be falling into the same confusion after clearly having delimited this as one of the root causes of the problem in the old Sudan. It is unfortunate that we have inherited the problems of the old Sudan which we set out to solve as a liberation movement in in the first place.
The Republic of South Sudan can hardly be called an independent state. In fact our civil population, in their cattle camps and in their villages, has never in our history been more dependent than they are today. In pre-colonial times, the Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) ensured the welfare and prosperity of our people for centuries. Even during the anti-colonial wars and the neo-colonial liberation struggle, our people were not as destitute as they find themselves today under the SPLM as a government. There was even better healthcare in the liberated territories than there is today in Juba – the capital of our Republic. This is a travesty to say the least. It would be laughable to call our country independent were it not such a tragic situation. The birth of our country is a reality which can’t be denied, it is a historical reality; however, the work of liberation and indeed of becoming an independent country is far from over. The hard-won freedom of our struggle has been hijacked by the secessionist traditional elites who colluded with the traditional elites in the north (Sudan). The traditional elites are not so enthused about the liberation of our people, nor are they concerned with our country’s independence. Their only concern is the division of the “national pie” – jobs and whose turn it is to eat – which they have now secured exclusively for themselves. This was their only quarrel with their counterparts in the north (Sudan).
If we purport to be “liberators”, then at the very least we must have a concrete understanding of the meaning of “liberation”; that is if we are sincere about what we are saying and doing. The following are a few points, a contribution to the national conversation – as the struggle for equal rights and justice continues!
What is “liberation”? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary “liberation” is: 1. The act of liberating; the state of being liberated. 2: a movement seeking equal rights and status for a group e.g. women’s liberation. The dictionary further defines “liberating” as: making you feel free and able to behave as you like.
Through the countless speeches of the late Dr. John Garang de Mabior, the historic SPLM/SPLA went further to put the definition of liberation within the historical context of our people’s experience and the movement’s vision and objectives as: the freedom of the individual from any form of constraints, be they social, economic or political.
The vision of new Sudan was defined by the Movement as: a forward-looking vision based on liberation, modernization of our societies and the restoration of the greatness of our people. It stems from the historic mission of African Liberation which was the building of a new society.
It is unfortunate that the traditional elites have hijacked and stalled the mission of our peoples’ great struggle to liberate themselves from centuries of oppression and to heal from the effects that colonialism and the slave trade have had on us as peoples of modern South Sudan. This is evident in their sustained mission of de-campaigning the vision of new Sudan¬ – claiming that it has become irrelevant within the contemporary realities – an independent South Sudan. They have presented this vision as selling out to Arabs. This is nothing but mischief. The bitter truth is that the liberation of our people is in contradiction to the vested interests of the traditional elites who have wielded social, economic and now political power in our land since they were empowered by subsequent occupying powers throughout our history.
This is mischief because the vision of new Sudan has nothing to do with geography but more to do with building a free society governed by the rule of law. The contradictions which arose as a result of the secession of South Sudan – represented by the domination of politics by the Jieng Council of Elders (JCE) – are almost identical to those in the old Sudan – represented by Awlad el Beled (basically the Arab Elders). This makes the vision of new Sudan very relevant to us despite the contemporary realities.
Those of us who have been to school and have studied history will appreciate why the liberation of our people is very important. The psycho history of our people can only be understood within the context of their historical experience, and South Sudan has a different historical experience from most African countries.
Even from antiquity, before the Greco-Roman invasions and the Persian invasions before that, the territory which today defines the borders of the modern Republic of South Sudan has been an area on the marches of ancient empires. From Aksum to the north-east, Kemet and Nubia to the north, Darfur and the West African Empires to the west and north-west and Kongo-Ngola to the south, this area has always been devastated by slave raids.
Any power that ever ruled the area we today call the Republic of South Sudan imposed on our peoples a brutal system of taxation, which – in the absence of gold and other resources such as ivory – was paid in cattle and slaves.
The conqueror always left a system of surrogates in our land that would facilitate this slave economy, and we know that any economic system must be accompanied by a social system which promotes the said economy. A slave economy must be accompanied by a slave society. This is the sad truth in our country. The social, economic and political system we have today is not that of pre-colonial times when our people chose their leaders. Our ancestors were defeated and the conqueror introduced a new oppressive system – the slave trade. In this new economic system of slave trading companies, the South Sudanese who collaborated with the enemy during the anti-colonial wars were rewarded by becoming junior partners in these trading companies. The traditional elites in our country come from this historical experience.
The slave trade was abolished by the British in the old Sudan during the Abolitionist period of their history but the end of the slave economy was not accompanied by the dismantling of the slave societies. They continue to exist today, causing serious identity crisis.
The old world has ended. We will never be able to rewind time so that we can re-live the glory days of the golden ages of Nile Valley Civilizations. Conversely, the new society that has been envisioned by the traditional elite is untenable. The establishment of a new society should not be the exclusive preserve of the traditional elite; it must be an all-inclusive process.
One of the main objectives of the struggle of our peoples under the banner of the historic SPLM/SPLA was the convening of a National Constitutional Convention in which all the stakeholders in our Republic will have a say in the constitution of the new nation. The new nation cannot be defined through narrow, myopic lenses of a self-appointed clique – in this case the JCE. This is a recipe for disaster and the civil war our peoples waged in the old Sudan is a testament to this fact. It would be a grave mistake to repeat this in our new nation.
The JCE are a cancer on our body politic and a correct diagnosis and treatment is required if we are to survive as a people in this century and beyond. The youths of South Sudan should not be fooled by the title “elder” within the name of this criminal body – as they are not a legal entity, they cannot be sued in a court of law. The JCE are partially responsible for our nation’s descent into barbarism. These are not elders; just old timers who are out of touch with reality.
We should not allow old men who are out of touch with reality, who are themselves detribalized and don’t really know or follow our pre-colonial cultural values to invoke age in order to intimidate and oppress us and drive our nascent Republic further into the abyss.
This should not be taken out of context, as if to say we no longer value our elders. No! We must understand the fundamental difference between an elder – in the context of African cultural values – and old men who are engaging our youth in senseless wars.
The modern struggle that birthed our country has thrust our people from the old world of the oppressive Eastern Roman Empire – known locally as the Turkiya (Ottoman Empire) – into the modern world of Westphalian Sovereignty and the Rights of Man. The principles expounded during the French American and Russian revolutions. It would be a betrayal of our hard-won freedom to acquiesce to the old oppressive system of colonialism and slavery.
Our true elders have been an integral part of our peoples’ struggle and national mobilization would have been impossible without them. It would have been impossible for the cadres of Anyany and later the historic SPLM/SPLA to recruit the peasant army which struggled for our freedom.
Our true elders are suffering with the rest of our civil population -young men, women and children – across the wilderness of our country, in IDP and refugee camps. This is not an attack on them. We honor and salute our true elders.
An elder is a respectable senior citizen, who through his/her wisdom sustains the future of the society by uniting people. An elder does not condone political tribalism, which leads to intercommunal violence and wars that end up being fought by the youth.
In pre-colonial times, our true elders had the wisdom to relinquish power to the youth in times that the future and survival of the society depended on it, and order would return once the threat had been averted.
African peoples value elders because in pre-colonial times, the IKS on which the survival of the society depended was acquired through experience. During those days, knowledge and wisdom required age, giving a monopoly to the older segment of our population. The wisdom of our elders sustained our communities until they were conquered in the early 1900s.
With the advent of the information technology revolution, the power relationships which existed between the young and the old were upset. The youth can now access information at the touch of a button. The youth of today are more informed than the elders and true elders recognize this and have the wisdom to let the youth take the lead. We must however be vigilant against the traditional elites who are invoking age in order to maintain the unbearable status quo – an oppressive social system and a vestige of the days of the slave trade.
No one should be fooled that suffering is our culture!
The youth, who constitute a majority in our country, should listen carefully to those who purport to be elders and judge them by their words. We cannot allow our society to die in the name of listening to old timers who don’t know where we have come from or where we should be going.
The JCE have arrogated to themselves the title of “liberator” which is a contradiction because in the history of liberation, no person or group has ever liberated another. By definition a liberator becomes an oppressor. The concept of “liberation” has to do with the freedom of the individual.
The concept of “liberation” must be understood in its holistic sense. We cannot claim to have liberation in one area and not another. This is not liberation. The concept of liberation must include the liberation of women or else what has taken place is not liberation. The current state of equal rights for women in our country is deplorable. The rights of LGBTQ and other minorities may be hard for our people to understand today and may be more than we are struggling for, but they are part of this debate and we must be at least ready to understand this in theory.
In conclusion, I would like to affirm that independence and liberation are inextricably linked concepts and neither are the majority of our people liberated, nor is our country independent. The effects of colonialism and the slave trade are still with us today and we have mental slavery on a societal level; this is the system which the traditional elites want to modernize. The liberation of our people and the maintenance of the status quo cannot coexist, one must take out the other – it is a zero-sum game.
The SPLM/SPLA (IO) today provides the best opportunity for young people to participate in determining our destiny as a people. I appeal to our youth to join the SPLM/SPLA(IO) – specially in this peace process – so that they can inject new blood into the struggle and together with youth from other parts of our country, determine our destiny. The youth should not believe the propaganda from the traditional elites in the opposition, who claim the SPLM/SPLA(IO) has failed to defeat the regime in the last five years. This again is mischief. These are people who don’t understand the science of revolution. But for the struggle being waged by the SPLM/SPLA (IO), the regime would not have accepted reforms in the country.
The weakness of the SPLM/SPLA(IO) comes from the traditional elites in the opposition refusing to work together as a united front due to some irrational fear of Dr. Riek Machar that they share with their counterparts in the regime. This is one of the main reasons the protests in Khartoum succeeded in a shorter time than the struggle in South Sudan. Majority of these groups have now abandoned the reform agenda and are working with the oppressive regime as allies. Against all these odds, the SPLM/SPLA(IO)- your movement- shall wage the struggle for true liberation and true independence – equal rights and justice – to its logical conclusion.
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