6 Apr 2020

 

Fading Hopes For Peace Yet Again In South Sudan

"Lest we forget the cause for secession from Sudan, the aspirations of which were anchored on fundamental values notably equality, fair treatment, freedom from repression and hegemonic attitude, just society, democracy etc, the future of the country and her people appear bleak."

By Ngor Arol Garang

This new month, February 2020, hopes to usher in a new sigh of peace and stability, have started with yet another polarizing political rope pulling between parties to the conflict in South Sudan, yet again dashing hopes of possible consensus and compromise. The parties were expected to conclude negotiations, reach compromises and form the unity government on February 22, 2020.

However, the views over the number of states and boundaries coming from the IGAD (Inter-Governmental Authority on Development) meditated talks showed the contrary. Instead of closing and ending the stalemates, the outcome proved the inability of the parties to end the conflict.
Their views are widening instead of narrowing, causing resumption of disparaging and hate hurling debates between supporters of the political divides in and outside the social media.

The government fears backlash of the decision it made to unilaterally create more states, preferring instead formation of the government based on the 32 states.

The opposition camps are stuck to their demand, advocating either a return to former 10 states or reduction in the number to around 21, 23 or a number below 32, causing outright rejection from the government.

While this wrangle continues with no end in sight, the people for whom the decisions and overtures are being made continue to pay the price of antagonism and intransigence.

The Saturday’s attempt was one of the many efforts to break deadlocks. President Salva Kiir and opposition Leader Riek Machar have had ample times sitting together in Juba hoping to thrush out the differences and reach consensus. They could not, resulting in several deferrals.

The two men and their supporters appear to have drawn some redlines beyond which no movement is expected. While Riek and plethora of opposition cites violation of the constitution in the creation of more states, citizens and economists are more concerned of their economic viabilities and social cohesion.

Benefits of more states are in the offing. None of them has been realized since 2015. What is obvious and palpable is that the tensions and loss of lives and properties have resulted in violent protest and articulation of anger.

Twic is in squabble as a result of 32 states. They are unable to agree on where the administrative headquarters should be, Turalei or Mayen Abun.

There is a perennial hate hurling at the great people of Aweil West and North counties by the people of Raga who see the merging as nothing but extension of ethnic hegemony, even when their own is the governor. Lives have been lost.

The folks in Raga see themselves as part of Wau and want to remain there as the first option. If this option is respected, they would be glad to return to Wau. If this option does not work, they prefer being given state of their own instead of merging them with another ethnic group as the second option.

In Tonj, a fight over the name of a county caused a dispute that claimed lives, destroyed properties and a fight was taken to a supposedly administrative headquarters of the area, causing protests and calls for removal of the governor. A local minister was removed from his position on allegations that he raised the issue in the cabinet meeting.

The Luac people in this area are also demanding a separate state of their own from Tonj, citing a) marginalization, b) vastness of their region and c) population and d) popular demand of the people as the qualifying criteria.

This wish was raised in the meeting of the governors of Bhar el Ghazal held in Wau in January 2020. The resolution out of this conference was forwarded to the office of the president together with the demand of the people of Raga.

Conflict over cattle theft and raids between the Agaar and Gok in Western Lakes have resumed and claimed lives, destroyed properties, disrupted regular movement of people, services and goods.
The creation of this state was supposedly envisioned to address perennial clash and killings.

It has, however, exacerbated the relationships, severed ties and created barriers between the two communities. Instead of building bridges, foster unity, harmony, cohesion, the creation is causing division and isolation.

Equally important to add, since it is challenging and stretching the leg, is the question of viability of these units, given that more states comes with financial and political burden to carry.

32 states require more resources. The governor would need mobility, at least a vehicle or two, an official resident and operational cost. The deputy would need a vehicle, an official resident and operational cost. The speaker and the deputy will require the same attention, care and treatment. The ministers, the legislators, county commissioners and the civil servants would need resources, be it payment of salaries or the cost of providing services.

With the war economy, the money that comes from the oil and non-oil revenues is directed to priorities that give little attention to basic services, crushing funding for roads, schools, hospitals, subsidizing farming as well as welfare of the military, improvement etcetera.

Some governors do not have offices in which they operate. They operate under trees. County commissioners operate in their homes. Legislators walk. There is no money.

Yet some areas are contented. In Jonglei, ethnic Murle have received it with delight and gratitude. They are satisfied with the carving out from Jonglei. So are the people of Ruweng in Unity.

But in Upper Nile, the Shilluk see the creation as the political grabbing and giving of a supposedly their land to a rival ethnic group, the Dinka of Ngok Lual Yak, causing protest and sustained rejection.

Elsewhere, politicians from Eastern Equatoria see creation of more administrative units as having disadvantaged them, preferring an additional state besides Torit and Kapoeta.

How then do such polarizing issues get resolved? Here we go. Complex issues require bottom-up approach, if one wants to break the stalemate and create lasting solution.

Firstly, the government from the word go, as it commendably did at the beginning of the talks with opposition when the proposal of 21 states surfaced, should have maintained the initial position that rejected the proposal, citing lack of resources and the need to involve the people to make the ultimate choice and decision.

Secondly, and given the complexities and multiplicities of issues, the government should have commissioned studies if it wanted to create more administrative units that would foster cohesion and harmony instead of turning around to implement what it rejected.

Thirdly, it should have carried out public consultations with the communities to hear directly from the people what they really wanted and where they would like to go in case they do not qualify as a community for a state of their own.

For example, the people of Raga should have been asked to decide either to remain in Wau or choose where to go.

The people of Maridi should have been part of Yambio, given geographical proximity to each other as well as commonalities, be it traditions, people, languages, culture and political views; so were the people of Tambura and Yambio.
They should have been a one state albeit internal but normal political wrangle between the elites in Tambura and Yambio.

Jonglei should have been split into three states in a way that gives Murle, Jie, Kachipo and Anyuak a state of their own while leaving Bor for ethnic Dinka, as ethnic Nuer form a state of their own.

Break Upper Nile into an arrangement that takes into consideration geographical proximity that accommodates Luac Dinka of Khorflus, the Atar folks, the Akoka, Baliet and the rest. Merge them with the Shilluk around Malakal to form a state.

Break Unity into two in a way that ensures the people of Abiemnom do not have a challenge of getting to Parieng. Make them choose where to go, either join Twic or choose to remain as part of the administration that looks after Mayom and adjacent areas.

Ask the great people of Aweil how they would like to manage their affairs. Don’t break them before consulting. They are smart and unique people. They know what they want. If they want more states, they would do it amicably and this would be determined by proximity of the areas in which they live.

Break Warrap into Tonj and Gogrial, Lakes into East and West. Central Equatoria into Yei and Juba, Eastern Equatoria into the arrangement of choice.

If this was how the creation was made, it would resonate with the contextually abused “demand of the people”.

Still, this would not have been the priority. Peace would.

Such arrangements are made when the country is in peace. They require a conduct of census, demarcation of electoral constituencies and availability of funds to support the conduct.

Lest we forget the cause for secession from Sudan, the aspirations of which were anchored on fundamental values notably equality, fair treatment, freedom from repression and hegemonic attitude, just society, democracy etc, the future of the country and her people appear bleak.
 

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