Friday, December 14, 2012

Wau Casualties of Taking Towns to People

  By Martin Garang Aher

Just like the time of Jervas Yak ubango, acting governor of Bahr el Ghazal during the premiership of Mohamed Ahmed Mahjoub (1965-1966, 1967-1969), and on a completely differential paradox, the city of Wau on Sunday 9th December 2012, witnessed death in yet another horrible setting.

It had all began with Western Bahr El Ghazal State governor, Mr. Rizik Zakaria Hassan’s cabinet decision to transfer Wau County headquarters to Bagari, about 12 miles Southwest of Wau town, in an apparent reckoning of taking services closer to people. The decision had made the local town dwellers uneasy, prompting them to take to the streets in protest. The ensued drama was a horrendous nightmare. A video coming out from Aljazeera English Channel clearly shows people with guns firing into the crowds of unarmed civilians, many on foot, some on bicycles and others on motorbikes.  The dead are seen on the ground in pools of blood in the aftermath of the shooting. South Sudan government and the police are yet to agree on who did the killing. Whichever side will take the responsibility; the action was unacceptable and unpatriotic. The defensive governor, Rizik Zachariah Hassan is on record in denial that demonstrators were killed in the clash with the police - or the army. Earlier the minister of Information and Communications, Mr. Derik Alfred Uya, said that about eight people were killed.  Numerical flaws sway between 25 deaths and the number that Mr. Derek had put forward. In fairness he had outperformed the governor who denied in totality that any of the protesters were killed. Why did a simple street protest that teargas with batons might solve attract the full gallantry of the police? The anger shown by protesters, as alleged, in setting ablaze what was in the way could have risen to such height due to slackness in conveying to the people the decision of the cabinet to move the headquarters out of town.

One was stunned to see the repeat in South Sudan of South African police heavy-handedness, which characterized the apartheid regime and more recently, during the Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine in which the police gunned down thirty-four miners in cold blood. South Sudan government and Western Bahr el Ghazal government in particular ought to do better than allowing civilians to die for the decision that should have been communicated smoothly to the people. Had the transfer of the headquarters been thoroughly put to the people, this incident could have been averted. The wanton use of force by the police will serve as a signal that life of the citizens is of little value. Wau and its authorities must chart a different trend in order not to bring to memories massacres that nearly made it the city of death in the past.

Similar incidences had occurred in Wau before, in which authorities had acted out of malice on people. But the circumstances were different. One of these incidences is easy to recall from history. On the night of July 11, 1965, two cousins, Cypriano Cier and Ottavio Deng Maroro Rian wedded two sisters and daughters of a prominent chief, Benjamin Lang Juk. The wedding took place in Wau cathedral whereupon a double wedding party was announced. Many southern intellectuals were invited to the party. The government of premier Mohamed Ahmed Mahjoub saw it fit to exterminate southern intellectuals at one sweep since southern Sudan was then a war zone and activities of the Anya Nya needed to be curbed. The difference between a southerner in town and those of the outlaws Anya Nya in the bush was proving difficult. To end the southern quest for a free country, the best way to do it was to cut off the head of southern region through her knowledgeable cadres. It follows that the wedding party was surrounded at night by the army and everyone, including the brides and bridegrooms was massacred. Wau woke up on the 12th July 1965 to a sobering count of seventy-six dead people, forty-nine of whom were southern government officials.

Jervas Yak Ubango, the acting governor who was revered as a high quality public administrator, was forced by the government to deny the occurrence of the incidence. He, in his own right, luckily escaped death earlier that night by leaving the venue just minutes before the killing occurred. In facts twisting, typical of Sudanese politicians, Sayed Ahmed al- Mahdi, minister of interior said the army had to shoot because some of the outlaws were planning to attack the armed forces and were using the wedding as a launching pad, and that they searched the party venue and have found weapons and ammunitions. Al-Ayam newspaper on the ground disapproved minister’s allegation of the plan to attack the town as well as the presence of the outlaws in the wedding party. The paper was shut down for its defiance.

Unlike Wau of 1960s, home to wolves and sheep, Wau of the modern era is expected to play a critical role in spreading development, not to serve as a city of terror anymore. If Dr. John Garang were to be alive, his astonishment in witnessing the first casualties of his aphorism of taking towns to people vis-à-vis the popular expectation of the reverse would be eminent. Garang suggested the idea in president Kibaki’s State House, Nairobi in 2005 and in presence of many African and world’s dignitaries and heads of states and governments during the signing of Six Machakos Protocols. For South Sudanese present at the time, it was sweet on the ears. The harbinger of towns coming to the villages was what was needed, or expected so as to realize the fullest of freedom.

When Garang made the statement, however, the pressing issue was the reality of peace coming to old towns. General Lazarous Sumbeiywo, IGAD envoy in charge of the Sudanese peace process had just completed his tactical knowledge of bush dashing and had managed to bring the parties to peace together to sign the penultimate documents, which were to pave the way towards the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. It was at the State House in Nairobi that the merry-go-round came to full circle. Because of fear that the Sudanese were infiltrating the negotiating delegations every time an agreement was about to be stroke and causing delays and possible stall, Sumbeiywo had moved negotiations venue from Naivasha, Machakos, Nyanuki and finally to Nairobi thereby confining the fly in fly out parallel negotiators from Khartoum to hotels. This, for records, saw the success of peace, and as a consequence made CPA The Nairobi Agreement. It would have been Washington Agreement had the IGAD committee accepted president Bush’s request to have it signed in the White House.

In truth, peace was coming. To many who had never been to towns in the old Sudan, the idea of towns coming home in the villages was just right. At least the overweening behaviour of town folks would come to an end when the country achieves independence. No one would again ask anyone about having been to Juba, Wau, etc. In fact, it would be the village folks that would be asking themselves if towns have come to their villages. But a few must have given it an indebt reflection if it would involve administrative reordering and shifting. Indeed, following this lack of knowledge, what happened in Wau has dole out that there must have been a belief in a cheeky hypothesis that towns would be built from scratch and people asked to inhabit them in full functioning. It is a terrible misunderstanding! However, Wau is a city of controversies where death en masse had horrific historical precedence.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

And The Question is ‘What killed Isaiah Abraham?’

By  Martin Garang Aher

On December 5th, 2012, a day that has become one of the drabbest days in South Sudan, and particularly bloodcurdling within the circles of the intellectual community and the media, Isaiah Abraham was killed in the coldest of night by thus far, unknown assailants. The brutal killing of Isaiah Abraham - a real person whose real name had been wrongly understood to be a cognomen for Isaiah Diing Abraham Chan Awol - a political commentator and a government critic from within, shook the nation that Wednesday morning. Many thought Isaiah Abraham, a name familiar to many readers of South Sudanese sociopolitical and economic commentaries, was that of a coward guy hiding behind a pseudonym. But he wasn’t. As an ordained Christian pastor and born of a Christian family that follows baptismal renaming cult, Isaiah had nothing hidden in whom he was. In actual fact, he was just he, Isaiah Abraham.

It is believed that Isaiah was confronted in his house in the wee hours of the morning and was physically assaulted and eventually silenced by the barrel of a gun. Family, friends and his readers were crumbled by the news of his death. Dark clouds hang over freedom of expression as well, for Isaiah could only die through what he writes. Those who were greatly affected were members of South Sudanese blogosphere who intuitively felt the urge by the country’s sheer lack of development in its wholesomeness (physical infrastructure, change in attitudes, psychological development, ideological development, social development, etc.), and who wished to save the country by offering advice from a politically non-allied perspective. They had initially thought that the gunmen might now need the intellectuals to push the nation to its credible viability. But on this day they were wrong. The brutal death of Isaiah Abraham left many querying where in the world would an enduring stability and development of a nation not require the two polarities to cooperate and coexist? Following the news of death of Isaiah Abraham, there appeared to be no room for intellectual comments in South Sudan. Never had it crossed anyone's mind that the penman, usually located within the capitals: Juba, Torit, Malakal, Aweil, Bor, Yambio, Bentiu, Abyei, Rumbek, Kuacjok and in the diaspora would inadvertently enter into war with the gunmen. Such seems to be the unfolding state of affairs.  It is hinted that Isaiah Abraham had received threatening phone calls before he was eventually hunted down and killed. The queerness of it all is that threats have continued to be issued to others after him.

There are people who say they have received anonymous phone calls ordering them to cease making critical comments on the Internet about the death of Isaiah Abraham. Those receiving these death calls from hell are told to shut up or face the consequences. But Isaiah Abraham was a major in the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) and bore the brunt of war so that those who do not speak for themselves would have the prospect of living the dream of freedom.  He is not a man whose name should be whispered with fear, not when he is dead. There are courageous statements in the media from many South Sudanese citizens who do not want to comply. Some of his readers say that if Isaiah Abraham wasn’t quiet, then why remain quiet about his death when what killed him may still be out there.

What really killed Isaiah Abraham? My assumption is that many South Sudanese writers, bloggers, columnists, commentators and their readers are in full knowledge that what they write or read about is often not about themselves but what they ought the society to be for everyone. A commentator like Isaiah, who wrote till death, did so because he wanted to see an equitable, just and fair society flourishing in South Sudan. It would conversely be of no much an interest to focus on the human face of who took the life of Isaiah Abraham. At this point, speculations are that his death, if methodically investigated, may not criminalize one individual but a system of some category. Believing this may be the case, then, logically, there is no prison structurally capable of hosting culprits of a crime of such enormity. South Sudanese too, are aware that investigations have been ordered in the past and unto present, no culprits have been incarcerated. The kidnapping and near-death torture of Deng Athuai, the Chairperson of South Sudan's Civil Society Alliance, is a case in point. Deng’s attempts to let the government disclose the names of seventy five officials meekly implored in the letters sent to each one of them to return the money to the national treasury landed him in a sack, thoroughly beaten and left for dead just a few kilometers from the outskirts of Juba. Other tortures and disappearances have been reported.

These tortures and now the death of Isaiah Abraham makes one believes that whoever kills and tortures cannot be found. Only what makes the killer so ferocious could be unwrapped.

The events leading to Isaiah’s demise are clear. Many think the country’s leadership is perching on shame for failing to restart oil flow and correspondingly, reeling in fear of an unforeseen seat-swapping civil unrest if things stand the way they are. It is important to note here that South Sudan government remains the major employing sector in the country, and with ninety-eight percent of its budget coming from oil, stakes of discord can never be any higher. Private sector is yet to emerge. The quintessential truth rests on what citizens see; impending suffering might be looming. There is no economy that anyone would say is free falling, rather, there is no real economic move from ground zero. On the political economic front, neighboring Sudan holds the nation by the throat. No future date is set for oil flow in sight, borderlands are being invaded, and prices of anything but everything are skyrocketing in the local markets. Frustration is comprehensible on the faces of the people. These and others are what Isaiah Abraham was commenting on.

The second last article he wrote mentioned his participation in the demonstrations. He was among the demonstrating crowd of the people of Northern Bahr el Ghazal and other areas who dissent Mile 14 and other borderlands in the security arrangement between Sudan and South Sudan. He also wrote strongly about South Sudan’s intransigence in dealing with Sudanese rebels. The facts that Isaiah wrote about are strong enough. In fact someone who is ill-trained in matters of national security would think he had trespassed too close. But he was miles away. Sometimes his controversial commentaries leave some with doubts as to what he was unto.  In the writers’ blogosphere, some thought Isaiah was the government, or at least, its agent. Until now, some people are yet to be convinced of who Isaiah Abraham really was. Even some of us who might have seen Isaiah physically would not be able to clear this mystique. However, in the face of this anonymity in the person of Isaiah, just as much as the anonymity of his killers would keep clouding our vision of the reality, one thing would be clear, with or without investigation into his death – the question of what killed him. Could Isaiah Abraham be a victim of ordinary crime - of which Juba is said to be notorious due to lack of effective crime stopping mechanisms, or comments on Mile 14 Sudanese rebellions, leadership stagnation, fear of uprising, lack of basic services in the country or siphoning corruption? What is it?

Ordinary citizens who love South Sudan as a country and the shrewd Isaiah Abraham would be gratified in the ultimate justice if what killed him is systemically addressed. What killed Isaiah, when found, might probably be what is killing the nation. If Isaiah Abraham, a man without an opposition briefcase and following could die for his views, then South Sudanese opposition leaders in the like of Dr. Lam Akol are justified to oppose via a remote control.