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.