Sunday, July 14, 2019

Wildfires and Unrelenting Winds in Aweil

By Martin Garang Aher

Climate change has no name in most African villages, far from the reaches of local and global media, and research. But when natural disasters, those that have never occurred do so, people ask rhetorically hard questions and begin to seek answers.
In South Sudan constituency of Korok, an event that surprised the locals happened recently. A little bush fire was swallowed up by massive wind turbulence and spun around for hours before it launched itself into a speedy conflagration, consuming people, trees, livestock and anything that could catch fire in its wake. when it subsided, over fifty people were dead, incinerated beyond recognition and many more sustained third-degree burns. 

People began to ask: what is it? Why have fires like these happened? What has changed in our routine seasons of the year that winds and fires have become so ferocious and unpredictable?....and many more questions are still being asked. The answers are still to be communicated to these communities.
This, to doubting Thomases in the climate change argument, shows that the conditions of the atmosphere are not the way they used to be. Even unschooled villagers have come to understand it. 

To remember the victims of the combined ruthlessness of winds and fires in Korok, here is the lamentation in Dinka about the once known natural area that has now turned into a deadly monster, spitting hot and blowing faster than usual:

Kɔrɔk Acï Dëp
Karaŋda acï nyopwei
Ye Karaŋ Abɛɛl, aye Karaŋ Aŋeŋ?
Aye ŋɔ̈ɔ̈i amääth alɛ̈ ke Kɔrɔŋdaan tööŋë
E wɛ̈t yic apɛidït,
Ekëya, ɣok aŋuɔt ɣothiëc,
Yeŋö gɔp baai wei, yeŋö nyop ye wei?
Ŋön ye yɔɔɔɔɔt ku wiiiiu, gɔl Majöŋdaan Ayät ɣet Wunlaŋ?
Kɔrɔŋ ce reedic ka raan loi awanwan!
Yen kuc raan la ruanyruany piiny!
Ku abak acë guöp la ŋäpŋäp!
Yeŋö loi yeen?
Ye gir, ye mac?
Aye lueel alɛ̈ ke Wärajak yen abï gir ku mac.
Kujal kuc, yeŋö ku e tonydaan thɛɛr ŋïc piu ruël?
Ku gir yakthok.
Yeŋö cë rot waar ye ruöönë?
Cë Wärdaandïït ë jiɛɛk
Yenhom wɛ̈lɣook bï ya wär ë dot?
Tuɔnyda, yeŋö?
Yeŋö pɛ̈l yïn këdhie yïnic pät ë piu ku rɛc?
Ca nhom määr Puurkulël?
Ku kuc mac liääp kek yom?
Ka cïn kë kuany ka gup!
Käla wiuwiu, käla wutwut, käla lɔ̈klɔ̈k!
Katuc kuapuɔl cë wut lil Wärdït
Maɣoo! Maɣeey! Tiëŋkë tol nhom!
Tonydaan dïït Wärajak
War yïnhom tony thɛɛr.
Ɣok acï gup la däŋdäŋ
Cɔl ɣook aben puöth liɛr, ku kuëthku
Buk waak bɛn kiit..ɣo nɔ̈ɔ̈k nhïïm...
'Tonydaan Wärajak ka cuk päl, raan aba yiik amook tuɔnyda wa..."

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Show Us Your IDs: Ethnic Patriotism And The Killing of Simon Dhieu In Yei River County

Ethnically targeted killing is heightening in South Sudan. The constellation of killings out of tribal detestation, ordinarily executed following effective identification to establish the correct ethnic origin of the person(s) to be killed, has, to this juncture reached its zenith.

A few days ago, presumably April 13, 2016, Simon Dhieu and his co-worker of the Danish Demining Group (DDG) based in Yei, were gunned down by a group of unidentified Dinka haters on the outskirt of town. They were on their usual routine – which involves locating and destroying mines and other unexploded ordnances – exploring suspected areas to be demined. Their killers, who stopped the commercial vehicle they were traveling on to the demining site, made no secret of what they were looking for. After forcing them out of the vehicle, they asked about their ethnic origins. The specific identification process employed by these determined killers included asking if there were MTNs or Dinkas among the occupants of the vehicle, numbering about eight people per the narratives of those who witnessed the scene.

Sensing the gravity of the situation, the demining workers grew numb, unable to speak for fear of being caught lying, which might have led to further catastrophic consequences; or as a ploy to hide the identities of their colleagues that the assailants demanded to know. Either of the two, the ploy did not work. The assailants asked for identity documents at gunpoint and were subsequently produced under intense nervousness. Satisfied with their search and identification that Simon Dhieu and his friend were Dinka people (the other who said his mother was a Kakwa from the area was spared), they separated them from the group, undressed them, tied their hands behind their backs, faced them away from the rest, took aims and in an unembellished bestial ferocity, shot them all in the back. The two young men, intelligent and dedicated nation builders who, on daily basis, risked their lives demining their new country from mines and other unexploded ordnance left behind by two decades of civil war - especially Yei River County – contorted and collapsed in front of their colleagues. The mother earth, unpreparedly, received their lifeless bodies pushed down on it by the curvature of space. On the ground, they lay never to get up again. Their colleagues looked on completely petrified, outraged but powerless.

Dinka The MTNs

The killers were out looking for the MTNs, a euphemism for the Dinka people. MTN is a South African-based Mobile Telephone Network operating in many countries around the world, including South Sudan. But to understand its contextual use in this ethnic-based targeted killing, one has to understand the Hutu paramilitary génocidaires of 1994 - The Interahamwe Militias - that likened Tutsi ethnic group members to cockroaches and set about to exterminate them; the Sudanese president’s likening of South Sudanese to insects (hasharat) that should just be sprayed dead. More broadly, think of any other time someone likens another person to a monkey, a dog or a pig – wishing to do unto them the treatment such animals would receive. The perpetrators always used these euphemisms to deny themselves any feelings of sympathy or remorse. It is a human way of turning off humanity and revealing the devil within in its full glory. But in this case, a simple analogy is that MTN coverage seems to be everywhere, just as Dinka majority in South Sudan could be found anywhere in the country, hence, the MTNs.

The killing of Simon Dhieu and his Dinka co-worker is one count among many: between Juba and Yei, people have been pulled out of vehicles and killed; between Juba and Mundri West and East, vehicles heading North of the country have been ransacked and travelers killed mercilessly; out of Rumbek to any direction, extrajudicial killings have been meted out on tribal identities. Even in Juba itself, people say it would be stupid to walk on in the streets at night without checking your back. Suburbs have become lethal tribal areas with people from particular regions of South Sudan settling exclusive from others. 

Lethal Tribal Identity

At the moment of their death, and in the realms of the spirits – if there exists a metaphysical ability enabling the dead extend earthly tragedies into conclusive discussions in the worlds beyond the physical, Simon and his colleague would still be questioning their abrupt and tragic human-engendered demise.  No doubt, even those alive and have heard or witnessed the killing are probing for answers as well. There is a need to fill-in the gap left by the deaths of these two young nation builders with answers. They had no time to ask their killers. Their killers were filled with rage. Simon and his friend were, in turn, filled with fear and questions. They died before working out anything for resolution or understanding. The only message that brutally departed with them was the question and confirmation of their Dinka originality. In South Sudan, a nation that must assert itself among the nations of the world, telling the truth could be part of nation-building. But, in telling the truth about who they were, Simon Dhieu and his Dinka colleague stumbled on a mystery: having been born Dinkas was a deadly natural reality that kills at once upon pronunciation or realization.
That was why they were killed. They might want to know why it was lethal to be found or born a Dinka? Would they have survived had their killers known that in the Dinka blood runs a shared DNA strains linking them with Kakwa, Acholi, Shilluk, Anyuak, Nuer, Taposta, Luo, Atuot, Aliap, Didinga, etc? Would they have been spared if they had a chance to remind their killers that, despite being the Dinkas they so much hated, they both shared the history of marginalization and, now, the independent South Sudan?

The Nation Built on Tribal Allegiances

To suggest that South Sudan is a nation built on the glaring reality of ethnic patriotism, one cannot be accused of overstating the network of the South Sudanese society’s identity crisis. We have seen this in government, where communities rally behind politicians hailing from their areas; we see it in the South Sudanese army, paramilitaries, and militias where people we have blood relations are the ones we support and stand by irrespective of inabilities and misleading, often destructive dreams; we know this when we speak and argue with pervasive national character and suggesting revolutionary changes while discreetly, wishing that these changes be done by somebody closer to home; we see it in the employment sector, where entire tribes dominate key structures of subsistence; in the airport and immigration where rules only apply to tribes other than mind; in service delivery queues where if an official delivering services is of my blood relation, tribe, region, or any other category that fits, we must be esteemed queue-jumpers. If ethnic groups favour themselves over everything, then the end of everything will always be ethnic clash - Clashing over resources, government positions, national projects, administrative areas and all that the country throws at her citizens. South Sudanese must rise and meet the challenges of true nationalism - It is not right to speak with national rhetoric while practicing ethnic patriotism. Nations of the world that are now considered prosperous, peaceful and strong did one thing: they shunned ethnic allegiances and accepted to be one and subjects of a nation.

It is in shunning ethnic loyalties that the deaths, like that of Simon Dhieu and his colleagues would be brought to an end. If it starts effectively at the national level, other gruesome deaths related to ethnic loyalties would surely be curtailed.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Siad Barre’s Style: ‘Rebooting’ South Sudan

It (food) must be put back into the pot so that we serve it. No visitor serves food; if you don’t put it back into the pot, we will tip it over.
(By Akut Kuei - A group of young Dinka traditional singers. They sang about Arabs’ exclusive use of national resources in the Sudan at the expense of long time indigenes)

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development, IGAD, plus the Troika (USA, England and Norway) and China have brought the negotiations for peace in South Sudan to what seems to be a successful ending. The South Sudanese government and the rebels convened in Addis Ababa on the 17th August 2015 to sign the final peace accord. It had taken almost twenty months of fruitless deliberations. The government and rebels, all along, showed little remorse for the suffering that war had wrecked on the people. Even as peace draws nigh, it was how it first started, the savage way it had been fought and the peacemaking process that dragged on in attempts to ending it that presented many concerns in its dynamics. 

South Sudan is the youngest country in the world, but looking at her messes as well as the ambitions of her leaders, one could surely be persuaded that political climate, as the nation moves further into the future,  would not be an all time easy. The reason for uncertainty is visible in the post-independence war of 2013. Post-independence war in this country has highlighted that cruelest things, such as events that cause the loss of life, easily spiral into abysmal ending whilst life-preserving undertakings, such as peacemaking and forging of strong national attitude, assume highly visceral hatred that it becomes impossible to balance the books of normality. In other words, what appears normal to the leaders of this new nation is not a march towards prosperity but a ‘rebooting’ of the country to its prewar and war-time eras. All this is aimed at bringing the country down if aspired political and existential space for ascending to the top job in the land is not guaranteed. Meaning, ambitions for top leadership and nationalism, the two values that should go concurrently, are far apart. Nationalism itself, has no place.

Compromised Peace proposal

The recent peace negotiations tell us more of what occupies the minds of South Sudanese leaders; the very reason it is important to compare the situation with that of the failed state of Somalia and the way her independence leader, Siad Barre, behaved towards the end of his rule in 1990s. We begin at the recently debunked climax of peace process in Addis Ababa. We may ask, why was it so hard to quickly agree when destruction stares everyone in the face in the country? Why was there a rush to gloss over issues that might entrench war longer than was the expectations? These questions have simple answers: leaders were worried about their own positions. The rush was meant to run away from more problems, especially on the side of the rebels who suffered a deep breakup. The government, on the other hand, was not ready to push on with the war unnecessarily because the economy was shrinking badly. Continuation of war might lead to multiple rebellions, which would be hard to quell. It was a distressed situation, similar to Middle East’s nuclear talks, which prompted Christopher M. Jones to title his 2010 book on the subject as “Rushing Ahead to Armageddon.” Rather than pacifying with confidence that would be meaningful in the healing process, the warlords of South Sudan have rushed to uncertainty with peace. Peace was signed with bitterness. That was not a good sign. Wars might be consequences of rushed decisions; fired up by emotions and hatred among the populace and substantiated by inexperience, ineptitude and callous over-ambitiousness among the bearers and would-be bearers of power, but procurement of peace is expected to walk the path of peace, because it is meant to result in justice and responsibility.

The Signing Game

Despite the rushing, however, the day of reckoning saw no unanimity in the agreement. Better put, there was half peace, the one signed by the armed opposition and the stakeholders, clustered as the Group-10, but rejected outright by the government on the pretext of abrupt and surreptitious new and unclear texts that needed time for proper deconstruction and selling to the public. President Kiir simply used the word “consultation” and only initialed the document and declined to append his signature and requested for more time. He was expected to sign in fifteen days from the previous deadline set by IGAD-Plus mediators.

So, there was no complete peace signed in Addis Ababa on the final day. Instead, there was some kind of a multilateral show orchestrated by IGAD and Partners to ensure the war had ended. IGAD -Plus have worked very hard to see South Sudan returns to peace and quietude, but had inadvertently got locked in the tangram of controversy, not by choice, but by intention as ‘powerful third parties.’ That alone caused some bitterness and fears. Armed opposition sat back and felt that IGAD-Plus was their backer and a power broker, ready to launch military actions against the government in Juba or lobby for sanctions that might cripple Juba and gives them the advantage. The government and supporters felt betrayed by complacent mediations. What was clear in all this was that: peace was coming home more imposed and forced than voluntarily agreed upon by the rivals.

Globally, treading the path of pacifying two groups had never been easy to any peacemaker. Peace writers such as David Johnson content that “imposing the peace suppresses the conflict but does not resolve underlying grievances and does not establish positive long-term relationships among the disputants.” If South Sudanese situation turns out to work differently under peace imposition, many people would be relieved. But the character of the disputants means that physical retribution remains a big worry.

Many months of negotiations since the outbreak of war have seen many peace drafts that would, in normal circumstances, qualify for a bipartite ratification and acceptance gone by without concrete pacification. The international community that supported the peace process got weary, death toll from war surpassed surprises and eroded sympathies, the yearn for peace among the population heightened, mediators got frustrated and only the competing leaders maintained their unyielding and dogged demands for the right share of power. Severally, neither the government nor the armed opposition (and the stakeholders) budged from their tabled positions particularly on issues related to power and security arrangements. In attempting to cut the power cake according to needs, the mediators have many times almost ran the risk of reproducing 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that divided the Sudan in 2011. It had quite often been reflected in the power sharing and security provisions.

Jumping from Draft to Draft

The first of the latest draft proposal granted armed opposition 53% of power in the three states of former Upper Nile Region. This, together with demilitarization of Juba, the national capital, to the radius of “twenty five kilometres “within ninety days of signing the agreement” and placing the security of the city in the hands of foreign forces that would come from a combined deployment of the “Transitional Third Party Security Unit” (TTPSU) which included the UN forces (already present in the country in huge numbers) and a contribution of further supplementary contingents from IGAD member states, the AU and the UNMISS, enraged the government and many of its supporters. The text of the first draft of the three documents summarized the status of the national capital as “Special Arrangement Area (SAA).”
 TTPSU seemed to be acting as the police force in the city during the transitional period since the role of the police is never stated anywhere in the entire proposal.

The proposal was a hot pie for government to sell and was expecting a high turn out against it. Public demonstrations were held across the country to reject it. This was a clear contradiction to the position presumed by IGAD mediators and partners who seemed to think that any agreement to end the hostilities would be readily accepted by the general public without resentment. Based on the public outcry following the first draft, it was possible to note that citizens of South Sudan read the proposed agreement in twofold: the end of one war and the beginning of another which was being made conducive by ambiguity in the agreement. Interpretations of the draft from the protesters across the country showed that the first draft was clearly rejected. It also highlighted the need for a just peace; a peace that sets no preconditions for a cyclical suffering. There was also panic grounded on the assumption that recently gained sovereignty from colonial Sudan was being replaced by another, this time, a massive international and regional coalition backed by multinational companies and businesses that see South Sudan as resources' mining field to be exploited.  Nothing gave this thought more credence than the clause which made the national capital a ‘Special Arrangement Area’ during thirty months of transitional period. Many leaders in the armed opposition and Former Detainees have been quoted as randomly pleading the UN to take over the country if they failed to dislodge the government. The chief mediator, Seyoum Mesfin, recently confirmed the fears.

Following the first draft, however, the government wrote to IGAD member states and the mediators, pushing for more changes. It led to the second version, the Kampala version, which convinced Juba that it had won the favour of many IGAD’s heads of states who all agreed on the government’s suggestions and made changes to the draft. As president Kiir went to Addis Ababa, despite his initial refusal to show up, he was aware of a new favorite deal. It turned out that the new deal was re-made even more new than he thought. The third and final version of the deal appeared on the final day in front of him for immediate signing. This time, there was no time to push for changes. This version removed authoritative control of armed opposition in the three states of former Upper Nile Region, reducing its power influence from 53% to 40% and gave the government 46% of power control. Juba remained to be demilitarized, only the change of terminologies were made. Armed Opposition moved on to get 15% power influence in all other states of the country. That further extended opposition power tentacles to the new influencing level. Stakeholders in the name of Former Detainees were also given a reasonable percentage. The result caused commotion on  government side . Being in charge of the country with so many other political groups, civil society organisations and interest groups, there was a need to make consultations and bring everyone on board. President Kiir believed he was signing himself out of power. His reservations matched the calculations of the opposition resentment to his demands: we all get the power or we all lose it.

The mediators felt that there was no more room to consult and tried to force the deal through. The international pressure that followed mirrored Siad Barre’s Somalia toward the end of his rule. The warring parties became entrenched. Observing from the rear, one would see that South Sudanese leaders can and have the powers to turn the country into whatever state they desire. They know they fought and brought the country to independence and desperately want to be part of it as long as they are alive. To be edged out by an equal partner in the liberation of the country is not an easy option to accept as long as South Sudan is what it is today. Every liberator in South Sudan believes that without his/her participation, there would be no country. Since many of the top leaders were comrades-in-arms, they believe that none of them has the authority to push the other, for the sake of peace or not, out of the country. If one still has the military power, a thought they all possess without regrets, the best way is to cause trouble for all so that one is recognized and maintained. In case of failure to use past military background to acquire political power, going Barre becomes the apparent way out. This can best be viewed as a self-destructive strategy and here is how:

Cornered by Africa Watch, Human Rights Watch and inter-clan rebellions, all aiming and pushing him (the independence leader) to cede power to the people whom he was accused of being their contemptible totalitarian, Siad Barre knew he was not going to stand his ground. He remembered how he alone maintained the cohesiveness of the greater Somali community and state; he recalled how he single-handedly shaped education by introducing Somali language in Latin scripts. He also remembered discouraging clan significance in civil society and in governance affairs, hence, a success in forging a strong nationalism for his people. In a mood of desperation to the people he then thought were ungrateful to his cohesive leadership and deliverance from the yoke of
colonization, he somberly, audibly said for the last time:

“When I came to Mogadishu,” he thundered on, “there was one road built by the Italians. If you try to force me to stand down, I will leave the city as I found it. I came to power with a gun; only the gun can make me go.” Mohamed Diriye Abdullahi quoted him in his book, Culture and customs of Somalia (2001), p. 41. Barre was ousted soon after and fled to Kenya (the country that secretly blamed Somalia in the events leading to The Shifta War of 1963-1967, in which ethnic Somalis from Kenya aspired to join Somalia), then to Nigeria where he died of heart attack. No question, the Somalia he left behind was the Somalia he prophetically told he would bequeath on his people. Today, the situation in Somalia is everybody’s concern. The federal government of Somalia (Dowladda Federaalka Soomaaliya) in Mogadishu is powerless and is constantly guarded, guided and protected by forces of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), a force that is largely and technically fighting for Ethiopia for Somalia’s alleged historic support of the insurgency in Ogaden Region where ethnic Somalis of Ogaden Clan (Barre’s mother is from Ogaden Clan) have formed the Ogaden National Liberation Front and sought to unite with the motherland Somalia. AMISOM is drawn from countries that once criticized Barre’s leadership. The territorial integrity of Somalia today is shambolic. Somali waters today are fished and used as dumping ground for toxic wastes from multinational companies of the countries that formed regional and the International Community that were his staunch critics. Security in Somalia following the emergence of militias, such as Al-Shabab, makes everybody twinge with embarrassment. Foreign drones with lethal weapons fly the skies without entry permissions, kill with impunity unmindful of human rights violations, and leave without departure orders to do so. Also, unannounced encroachment on Somali waters by foreign fishing vessels has depleted the local fishing grounds, leaving fishermen with no survival means, and turning them towards piracy. All in all, a simple request for leadership change has set Somalia up for international meddling.

Could South Sudan go Somalia?

Many citizens are concerned that this might happen if leaders do not take nationalism seriously over simple leadership ambitions. The young intelligentsia must not fall prey to tribal affiliations but wake up with serious national agenda and focus their energies on restorative justice in order to bring South Sudan back on course as a country for all. However, coupled with the behavior of the international community, backed by regional groupings that have interests to cater for by venturing into the green Savannah of South Sudan, and informed by the aggressive nature of the Nilotic of this country, logic tells that it is possible to bring down this country to her knees. Sad, but a reality.

What was wrong with the peace deal in South Sudan?

IGAD'S error, first and foremost, was the ambiguous push to force the deal through. It was a serious discontinuity in the rules of effective, genuine, neutral and honest processes of negotiations or conciliation in which disputants are expected to reach a compromise in atmosphere of concessions. If shuttle diplomacy had not been shelved to oblivion, then it would have been an efficient tool used by IGAD-PLUS to avail and discuss the compromised peace deal to its desired ending. Herding the parties into the signing ceremony without fully securing positions of acceptance or rejection on the document was futile at best. For both parties to be completely trusting in the deal and in the process of mediation, both parties must have signed at the same time, having all agreed to the text in its conclusive form. Allowing one side to sign and the other to refuse is a weakness that mediators should not have permitted to happen because of tendency to burst neutrality and instead, inculcates mistrust. The agreement was muscular, ignorant, rushed and overtaken by impending pride of having won over the warring sides. It was a recipe for renege on modalities of implementation .

The Way Forward

Finally, South Sudan is not home to IGAD and Partners, but for South Sudanese. The buck ends with South Sudanese themselves and their leaders. Therefore, the government and the rebels must know that South Sudan needs nationalism, not destruction and surrendering it away because of bitterness and frustrations. The nation must repossess itself and not to prove to the world that as much as her refugees depend much on international aid and humanitarian assistance, managing her national affairs is also subject to international assistance. A country that ignores her leadership worth should not even call herself sovereign. 

In the words of Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, an eloquent former Sudanese ambassador to the UN, Chief Negotiator for G77+ China at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2009, Copenhagen, “Our government has chosen to give away our national sovereignty and territory, as demonstrated by Mile-14 and the presence of foreign troops and military advisers to maintain-in-power a regime as politically and morally bankrupt as never witnessed in the region.”

Lumumba had since joined the rebellion against the government in Juba. He spoke these words on his maiden day in the bush. I guess we know what he was saying, it was ‘rebooting,’ more or less.