Contributor's Opinion Roger Alfred Yoron Modi

Opinion: War crimes, post-traumatic stress disorder and reconciliation in South Sudan

By Roger Alfred Yoron Modi

A woman pictured in an unknown location in South Sudan (File/Supplied/Nyamilepedia)

November 21st 2019 (Nyamilepedia) – Recently I wrote several damning Facebook posts about others and republished my article titled “Collusion and Harmful Actions against South Sudan Peace Process” in which I also attempted to link some people as the source of my personal insecurity arising from my journalism.

In the writings, I also attempted to link some people to the killing of my father Alfred Yoron Modi who was a journalist and Chairman of the Justice and Peace Committee of the Catholic Archdiocese of Juba whose last communication with his family was in August 1992 from the infamous “White House” detention centre where hundreds of South Sudanese intellectuals and military men were massacred during former President Omar El Bashir Presidency.

In all those writings, there are things I got right and there are things I got wrong. My doctor said I was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Anxiety Disorder when I wrote the Facebooks posts and republished the damning article which I had first published when I was suffering from the same condition.

In this article now, due to limited space and relevance, I will only explain a few of the circumstances and make corrections to some of the things I wrote last time. I will also argue that to heal and move South Sudan forward from the effects of wars (both historical and current), truth,  reconciliation and mental health care should be prioritized.

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could be defined as a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it and its symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

Most people who go through traumatic events may have temporary difficulty adjusting and coping, but with time and good self-care, they usually get better, according to Mayo Clinic.

While the terrifying event that triggered my PTSD was related to my personal insecurity in exile due to my journalism and experiences of the current war, it also got links to the lack of truth and reconciliation regarding the killing of my father.

When he knew that he was about to be killed in the “White House of Juba,” my father Alfred Yoron Modi on August 17th 1992 wrote and signed a letter to his family saying “My fate of survival may no more be there as of today. However, I urge you to take courage and live normally. You will be briefed about the cause of my disappearance which is regarding working for the protection of our human rights in the Church, the South and the Country at large. I have never committed any other crime at all in God… My accuser has won his battle.”

My father went further to ask my mother Pauline Poni, to help make the Archbishop of Juba Paulino Lukudu Loro come to his rescue as he was being tried as a military man instead of a civilian for the Church activities he was doing.

“Pauline [Poni] you can brief Sr. Rejina Achen who will brief H.G Lukudu (Archbishop Paulino Lukudu) about my military trial as a result of the Church activity.

I have never been involved in the recent [an unreadable word] at all in God. I may only be forgiven by going to prison, otherwise, God Bless you.”

My mother refused to take the letter and go brief Sr. Rejina Achen as requested by my father. My mother argued that my father was killed since June and the letter was too late for her to act on. That was the story she told me since a kid in several forms until I could detect that something was definitely wrong and she was trying to cover up. She might be trying to cover up for others or herself for her arrogance and cowardice to act on the letter. But I understand the fear and situation of then when dealing with anything related to a detainee. And my stand was that I was not trying to blame her for my father’s killing. My argument is that if she had acted as requested, whatever Archbishop Lukudu would have done would help us get into the bottom of the truth. If Archbishop Lukudu did nothing, it would still help us know the truth and the reasons for him doing nothing. After all, he had a responsibility to check on my father in that detention since my father was then the Chairman of the Justice and Peace Committee of the Church under the Archbishop and his detention was a known fact at the time and needed no further information for Archbishop to act.

On how I got to link other members of my maternal family to my father’s killing, they brought it to themselves since they had a great influence on my mother they made my mother  arrest and detain me in Juba in 2015 when we had disagreements and brought up a false charge against me that I said my mother killed my father, the case later collapsed because it was fake though. Also, some of those maternal uncles used to talk ill and fake about my father even when many people I meet outside (the public) including some relatives of my mother talk extremely good about my father. When I got sick with the PTSD I reached the conclusions I reached in my Facebook posts and articles about my crises because of the above. But I still love my mother and I remain open for genuine reconciliation with her and all others including Archbishop Paulino Lukudu who did nothing about my father when he was at a very difficult time in detention and he was undergoing military trial due to his work with the Justice and Peace Committee under Archbishop Lukudu.

Why truth, reconciliation and mental health care matter in peace-building in South Sudan?

A study in Juba found that 36% of the sampled population met the criteria for PTSD and despite this, South Sudan only has two practising psychiatrists in the entire country and mental health patients are often neglected or imprisoned, instead of receiving the support that they need.

All the above issues I mentioned regarding my father’s killing were among the unreconciled problems that triggered my recent PTSD, leading to flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety.

Imagine if I was armed or I was in South Sudan when I got the PTSD, I would probably have committed crimes and harmed the people I linked to my problems and the war atrocities that have not received the truth and reconciliation. That is how many people who have not received the truth and reconciliation about the killing or death of their loved ones or their own displacement or harm end up committing crimes in South Sudan and elsewhere.

I was lucky that my PTSD triggered when I am in Kenya and I managed to get the health care I need. Even while getting the health care, I was suspicious that some people with political interests against my work, sneaked in and harmed me through some of my doctors. While I can’t reveal all the detail to the public for security reasons, I could as well be wrong. In all these, I would have reacted violently to those I suspected here, but I decided that I should forgive them. That is where religion or faith is important. I would have harmed some people when my PTSD got triggered and believed that some of those helping me were harming me instead. Though I still continue to demand answers relating to facts that are not adding up regarding my hospitalization, my choice to forgive and leave everything to God ended up helping me and helping those I accused wrongly since I have not reacted by harming or fighting anyone.

The current war that started in 2013 has killed nearly 400,000 people and displaced more than 4 million, with about 1.8 million of those internally displaced. While the last war from 1983 to 2005 has killed an estimated two million and displaced four million others, that includes the Bor Massacre and the 1992 Juba Massacre, etc. Therefore, truth, reconciliation and doing what is just in South Sudan means looking at the whole picture and resolving them together. That is how South Sudan could heal from the effects of wars and be able to start a peaceful Country.

South Sudan’s Independence Constitution (the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan) provides that all levels of government shall initiate a comprehensive process of national reconciliation and healing that shall promote national harmony, unity and peaceful co-existence among the people of South Sudan.

A Commission was formed for that purpose but it has not achieved the objectives so far and that had and continues to have a direct impact on the problems and war which started in 2013 in the Country, since there is no truth and several people and communities remain unreconciled and unhealed.

In an article in February 2017, I argued that the National Dialogue initiated by President Kiir is not consistent with the then peace agreement (ARCSS) due to technicalities of the Articles he cited while forming the responsible committee and the non-inclusion of many opposition groups in the process.

Now even, it is not anymore the ARCSS but the R-ARCSS and more or less different circumstances. Given the general momentum for peace, if all or most of the parties, including the opposition, could agree to join the National Dialogue and use it to complement, not undo, the R-ARCSS, well and good, especially in the area on truth and reconciling and healing the Country.

Efforts on truth, reconciliation and building and equipping health centres to take care of our traumatized societies should be increased. The current generation are in a much better position to heal South Sudan and put it on the right trajectory.

Roger Alfred Yoron Modi, a South Sudanese journalist, is a former Editor-in-Chief of Radio Bakhita and Managing Editor of Juba Monitor Newspaper living in exile. He previously worked for, among other media houses, The Citizen Newspaper and freelance for The Nation Mirror Newspaper both of which have been shut down by the National Security Service. He has a background in law. He can be reached via rogeryoron@gmail.com or his twitter handle @RogerYoronModi

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