By Stephen Par Kuol
July 10th 2019 (Nyamilepedia) – Oh I have been to Juba after more than half a decade, where I managed to visit my home clime of Greater Jongle! Thank to the ethos of Revitalized Agreement on Conflict Resolution in South Sudan (R-ARCSS), which is swiftly transcending the boundaries of these intractable enclaves superimposed by this callous war of shame and self-destruction. The first leg of my tour was to my hometown of Ayod to attend peace celebration organized by the State Government of Fangak. We drove to the Airport in the early morning of February 20, 2019 to catch a charted flight to Ayod.
It was a spectacular morning with countless daydreams and thoughts provoking sceneries! The tinny airport and its humble facilities were extremely busy and chaotic. It is named ” Juba International Airport”(JIA), but with all the nagging signs of the wreckage of war and unfinished constructions, it is very far from the modern international standards to deserve the name. It is just an over sized airstrip even by the standard of the developing world.
The route we took from the hotel is one of the busiest in town; it indirectly connects State House (J1!) and the airport. The traffic was hectic as it was poorly controlled by traffic police officers sluggishly standing by the roadside like idle spectators in their white uniform. Glancing left and right, my guest’s eyes spotted bullet holes of July 2016 J1 dogs fight on both walls of the streets. I could not understand why those bullet holds in the street walls are left unrepaired until now. Perhaps, each hole is a stark reminder that we are still in the filth of political violence.
It took us at least about 15 minutes to arrive, but before we knew it, the Juba’s Sun shone pale in our faces and blistering on our shoulders at around 8:00AM. After settling some mismatches on the manifest, we boarded the single engine aircraft at around 8:30AM and one old Ethiopian pilot propelled us off North to the Sudd Region. The next things in my head were the humming and buzzing noises of the caravan engine as it dashed and dangled over the clear morning sky of the Great Sudd swamp. To escape the heart pricking bouts of turbulences, I chuckled, took a long nap like a cock dozing on a long robe. I then sunk deep in thoughts and imaginations of what home would look like after five years of physical absence. When I woke up, we were in Ayod, our state capital according to the new establishment in Juba. Its beautiful ridges and thick Duk Forest welcomed us from very far in the horizon!
Unlike the mental trauma, which is painfully buried deep in the human soul, the obliteration of the physical infrastructure can be seen at an instant glance down from 15 feet above sea level. So far, the cosmopolitan life we used to live here has banished into the thin air of war obliteration. The residuals of Ayod are lifeless walls and charcoals. It is precisely a dead town of ghosts and weapons of mass destruction. Only the war-fatigued citizens under their shady trees and the roaming livestock are animated things in this war obliterated garrison town. In earnest, we landed and joined a sea of human faces and bumped into heavy hugs with friends and relatives we have been separated from for half a decade.
Emotionally, it was many things all in one: family reunion, celebration, peace dissemination and reflections. The peace feast quickly commenced with dances and loud traditional songs. In no time, the Oyeeh and Viva blended and filled the air in an astonishingly harmonious manner!! We then spoke and showered ourselves with a lot of political pleasantries. The penultimate was a rainbow resolution to end the senseless bloodletting in our state and in the country. The lingering question in so many skulls though was and still is: do we call the shot as leaders of this locality to bring about a sustainable and lasting peace in the country? Yes, we can in our own small ways like we did that morning! For that, I deeply commend the courageous leadership provided by our two good governors: General Johnson Kuol Gai of SPLM/A(IO) and General John Kong Nyuon of ITGONU to make that timely event a success.
It leaves no doubts in mind that the leaders of the area on both side of the divide have the guts and gusto to do so. However, it will take the entire national political leadership of South Sudan to internalize these celebrations and translate them into a lasting peace. It is one thing celebrating the R-ARCSS, but it is another thing implementing it as we continue to grapple with the devil in the details of its letter.
We had to cut the feast short to fly back to Juba before the dust as everything in this sins city of unknown gunmen happens while the sun is still up. The international airstrip and the dreadful streets of Juba drop dead at dust until the next dawn. So days are shorter than nights in this war obliterated national capital. The second leg of my tour was to Bor on February 22, 2019 where we also went to celebrate R-ARCSS in Jonglei Sate. It was exciting to see my former state capital, Bor. Bor Town has suffered similar obliterations but not in the shape of Malakal, Ayod and Bentiu. Here the physical infrastructure is not badly battered.
Just like I left the town as the State Minister of Education, the schools are also functioning better than any other place in the entire Greater Upper Nile at the time of this writing. Although the sectarian politics of 32 states tended to treat me as an alien from another remote planet, it was home coming to me because I made a home in Bor Town. The most encouraging thing though was that my fellows Borians received me with profound fondness I could feel in the grip of those tight hugs with my colleagues and friends. I truly missed Bor and my good people of Bor Jieng Community.
The third leg of my peace dissemination tour was the last trip to Fangak on 15th March 2019. It was another sunny morning in the company of friends and family to psychologically prepare me for another home going and see me off at JIA. We took off at around 9:30AM for one and half hours smooth ride by two young jolly pilots who made sure we view the breathtaking beauty of the Nile Valley as we glanced down on the swirling twists of its tributaries. After one and half hour, we felt the gently waves of our descend down to the “S” shape of the deepest tributary of the Nile we locally call Phow ( Zeraf River) and landed in Nyatuat Air Strip where were warmly welcomed by the community leadership and local authorities who rushed me to the Old Fangak town by speedboat.
It has already been half a decade away from here but most of the scenes where familiar; the noises, the smells, the teenagers grazing their calves and goats along the river; people counting money in public, the flag of South Sudan waving proudly at the police post around the legendary prison of Gatluak Manguel, elderly men sitting under trees for shade, quietly sipping on tea; the river boys trying to hustle passengers into their boats and canoes on the shores of Phow River; the old run- down colonial buildings brimming with people; South Sudanese currency still being utilized.
In any business transaction, no one rejects the torn, ragged and spoilt ones. Perhaps, because they fully know that there is no replacement or functioning central bank that regulates the money here, so they are happy to keep going with what they have and make their lives easy. Being one of the most stable relief centers, Old Fangak is the most densely populated town in the entire Zeraf Valley region also known as Phow State in the SPLM (IO) administered enclaves. It is all lively, bountiful and naturally beautiful!
I had to spend good four days visiting schools, relief centers, personal friends and family in the old hometown before proceeding to my home village of Kuerkaan via Fhom Elzeraf on March 20, 2019 to see my old man and the extended family. That was an exciting journey of three hours by speedboat with a number of brief stops to see relatives and friends in the villages and cattle camps in the tuoches along the Phow River.
In Fhom El zeraf that has been obliterated flat to the ground, the spirit of the indigenous population has evidently defeated the war obliteration. Life is amazingly being rebuilt! From far, one can see a myriad of thatched construction projects competing with each other. The people here subscribe to the philosophy: “whatever happens, happens”. There is no agony and misery they have not gone through. How do you describe those people who have been courageously living the traumatizing experience of all these war devastations, floods, famine and atrocious terror for half a decade and yet are still standing firm to keep hope alive?
It rendered me speechless! All I could say under my breath is that the South Sudanese people to whom I belong are exceptionally resilient, hardworking, courageous, intelligent and steadfast. That promising spirit can be seen in the gazes of the young pupils and their teachers who are still toiling to ensure that war obliterated schools are utilized. Thank to the NGOS like Fin Church, Mothering Across the Continent, World Relief, Nile Hope and the Comboni Mission in Old Fangak for maintaining some of the schools I chartered during my tenure as Jongeli State Minister of Education.
Life has to go on as it is going on in those remote enclaves of the SPLM (IO) territory. Schools are open and the pupils are attending classes. I cannot express enough gratitude to Dr. Ann Gloria and Ms. Patricia Shafer of Mothering Across Continent who under uncertain conditions and with scarce resource have ensured that our children continue to go to school. What is evidently missing is a more supportive community behind those heroes of war against mass illiteracy (voluntary teachers). Dr. Jill Seaman of Alaska Medical Project and her colleague, my brother Dr. Sunduk Maguek are also making sure that life is nursed and nurtured with very limited resources.
Their life saving hospital housed in the old colonial building is still full up to the brim with the Khalizar patients and other illnesses. Unlike the expressive English Language, our Thok Nath is literally none expressive but we can internalize gratitude in our own meaningful way. In that cultural and linguistic context, we thank and internalize deep sense of gratitude to all the Good Samaritans who are still supporting those humanitarian programs in Ayod, Jiech ,Old Fangak, Juaiboor, Kew, Fhom El-zeraf, Diel and other centers. On deep personal note, words can not express my gratitude to those comrades who overwhelmed my humble senses with those burdensome protocols and the social warmth of that hero well come: Brigadier General Turuk Lul, Major General Samuel Jok Kuai, , H.E. Commissioner James Gon Bol and Major General James Mawich Makuai .
I had to return to Juba on April 10, 2019 to catch up with 6th meeting of R-JMEC scheduled for April 11, 2019. Here in Juba, life is also going on but the national capital is no longer the lively Sun City it used to be. Glancing down at it with retrospective spectacles, one can see with ease that the once densely populated capital is alarmingly depopulated for all the obvious reasons: insecurity, poverty, unemployment, e.t.c. As physically evidenced by the sparse human traffic in the main markets of Custom, Jabel and Juba town, the war has been seriously starving Juba of its indigenous humanity. The war-obliterated capital is slummed and impoverished. As few pockets boom, hunger lurks and looms on every nook of the commoner. The once booming construction industry has so far diminished. From the streets to the restaurants and the churches, Juba has become a city of beggars and robbers.
The only hope is the R-ARCSS to rejuvenate those lively resorts on the River Nile. That is why from the tea spots on the streets corners to the drinking joints, R-ARCSS is the talk of the town. In real life, you get both the senses of the frantic energy to celebrate it and the thick cloud of limbo printed on the faces of our war treaded people. Far and wide, the common body language among the commoners conveys the pathos that our downtrodden people are wailing before their political leaders to chart a new path to a sustainable peace.
According to my guest’s eye, with true peace of mind, these people can reach beyond measurable heights in the 21st century if only their defacto political leaders can stabilize their country for a better tomorrow. In another word, they are yearning for a breathing space to reconstruct their dear lives. They want their leaders to shun this culture of political violence and embark on: confidence building in order to mend the rifts on the broken social fabric of their society and rehabilitate their war obliterated towns. Can we the so-called leaders provide just that? We must, or else, the heroic souls of our martyrs, the papal groveling and posterity will judge us very harshly.
The author is a Freelance Journalist who is also an active participant in the forums of R-ARCSS implementation. His other new publication on Amazon. Come is: War Talk at the Peace Talks: Peace Under Duress In South Sudan. He can be reached via electronic mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org