Saturday, July 14, 2018

BLINDLY INTO KAKUMA REFUGEE CAMP...

Kuir ë Garang, author, poet
NOTE: I would like to write something about myself when it comes to relating to people [friends, relatives and strangers]. But before I do that, I have to start by telling you something about how I went to Kakuma as a refugee and my bitter experiences without my family. This short narrative will not be too descriptive or too detailed.

GOING OUT BLINDLY!

When my mom talked to my dad about the possibility of me going to school in Kenya as a refugee, my dad brushed it aside. We were living in an internally displaced camp, Mangalatore, in the then Central Equatoria. Dad always believed that the war was ending soon and that I'd go to school inside Sudan once the war was over so there was no point going that far and become a refugee  My cousin, Aleer Deng and my friend Chol Agok, had gone to Kenya a year before so mom wanted me to follow them to school. In Mangalatore displaced camp, the available schools were mere placeholders, something to give us an impression that we were in school. 

However, when Commander Majak (now Dr. Majak) went to Mangalatore in 1995, mom knew it was her chance to have me go to Kenya with him. Dad still wasn't for it. However, mom was adamant so she insisted that we went to see the commander. It was the first time for me to see Majak up close as the first time I'd seen him was at our compound gate in Itang Refugee Camp five years earlier talking to my mom. Mom always said that Majak was friends with Kon Atem, her cousin. Dr. Majak is not our blood relative but more of a family friend.

While Commander Majak was very friendly and welcoming, he cautioned us about the problems facing young people in Kakuma refugee camp. He argued that many young people spent time playing soccer and taking part in other teenage indulgences instead of concentrating on their school work. "Unless a child is very disciplined, going to Kakuma would not be of any benefit," he'd said. I would witness that myself once I was in Kakuma Refugee Camp. But mom, for some reasons, believed that I could make it in Kakuma. I was a timid and quiet child so going away alone was much of a surprise to me.  Even my younger sister, Nyibol, used to beat me up when we were younger. 

I'm going to spare you the detail about what transpired following our meeting with Commander Majak. But a few weeks later, I found myself with the commander, his sister's family and another cousin, who is, unfortunately, now deceased. The experiences from Mangalatore through Uganda, back to Sudan, through Natinga, to Lokichoggio and on to Kakuma, was a trying experience I would leave to future writing. 

KAKUMA 

I found myself in Kakuma Refugee Camp among strangers. I didn't know whether there were people I knew in Kakuma refugee camp. The only people I knew well were in Nairobi. Given the fact that I knew no one in the camp, the cousin who came with us had his maternal uncle in the camp so he asked his uncle for me to stay with them as I figured out what to do. Commander Majak had left us at the group leader's house. It was group 46. We had to leave the group leader's house because my cousin's uncle had some feud with the group leader so he didn't want his nephew to stay at the group leader's house. 

The uncle expected me to figure out my food card situation but I didn't know how to go about it as we'd passed Lokichoggio where newcomer refugees had to register before coming to Kakuma. Temporarily, I had a place to stay. What the future had for me, I HAD NO THE FAINTEST CLUE!

Now, it was time to figure out the school situation. Strangely, we'd gone to Kakuma Refugee Camp at the end of April when the schools were about to close so we had to wait for the school to open in May to approach school administrations. We had about a month to relax before the hassles of the school.

Luckily, my cousin had a paternal uncle, who was a headmaster in one of the schools in Zone One so we visited him one evening. With an understandable pride on his face, he promised that he'd find us a spot at his school in grade seven. Without reservations, he told my cousin not to worry about getting both of us a spot in grade seven. 

When the schools opened in May, my cousin and I cluelessly but jubilantly strolled to school. To my surprise, he only put my cousin in grade seven and told me to go to grade six. Feeling let down, I asked him about the promise he'd made us but he told me that my cousin's spot (his nephew's) was arranged before the school closed. Shocked, I reminded him of the first time we visited him at his house and the promise he'd made. Irritated, he asked me to either go to grade 6 or leave. He then refused to talk to me as he was chatting with other teachers in the staff room.

I was lost, hurt and hopeless. I could have tried someone else if he'd told me he couldn't do it before the school closed. The classes had already started but I had no school. Like most people in authority in Africa, he treated me like a nonentity. Who could I complain to? Nobody!

Luckily, after a few months in the camp prior to the school opening, I was able to find out that there were some relatives from my dad's side [Adhiook] in Kakuma that I knew previously.  Through them, I was able to know that in the school in which I was being treated badly, there was someone I knew, Ustaz Wach Duot. 

Ustaz Wach was the deputy headmaster in the school. Jebel Marra, was the name of the school if I remember well. I went to him and recounted what happened. Wach promised me that he'd talk to the headmaster and told me to come back to school the following day -- to the same school. On the following day, instead of taking me to his headmaster, he told me that we were going to Fashoda Primary School. I didn't ask why. I just wanted to be in the class so I followed him. I'm still to ask Ustaz Wach about the reason. But I was happy to be going to grade 7 at least. 

So we went to Fashoda.

Ustaz Manyuon Kuol, a morally upright man, then the headmaster at Fashoda, asked me a few questions about my educational background and then allowed me into grade seven  "as an audience only" where I'd meet those of Gabriel Garang Pioth in 1995. I had no writing items yet we had about eleven subjects. Some generous students helped me with exercise books.

Garang Pioth and I (two years later) would be the only Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) sponsored students in not only Fashoda, but in all of the Zone One schools in 1996 after we sat for Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE). 

So I stayed with my cousin at his uncle's in group 46 for about three months. His uncle was a generous man. But because I had no food card that could entitle me to the meagre food ratio in the camp, the uncle asked me to find somewhere else to live as he couldn't feed his family and the two of us who had no food ratio card. He said he "could feed one extra mouth but not two" as he had younger children. 

For those of you who were in the camp, you know what it means to feed two extra people who had no card at your family's expense. He had been generous and hospitable to me, but it was time he let me go.  

I was in a fix. It wasn't easy to go and ask to stay with people when you had no food ratio card. The food was scarce so asking people to share with me that meagre ratio was understandably a tall order.

Technically Homeless and without any choice, I had to approach the only people I knew back in Itang.  But what this uncle, who I knew in Itang, told me, would add to my miseries. I'd found a school with the help of Ustaz Wach. But now, I was homeless, literally.

TO BE CONTINUED...

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Kuir ë Garang writes for and edits this website. Follow him on Twitter: @kuirthiy

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Foreign Activism, Leadership Failures and the Fallacy of Externalizing Blame in South Sudan





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"If we let our people suffer or die, no matter how we profess to love them, their suffering or death becomes a proof of our abject failure. "


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It is as clear as daylight that any sovereign state in the world only pursues its interests for either pure political and ideological reasons, or for the interest of its citizen, normative or material. This is the essentialist nature of any foreign policy enterprise. So any country in the world reserves the right, within reason, to protect its citizens and its interest in ways it deems appropriate. South Sudan isn't an exception.

However, there is an essential difference in the manner in which states undertake this statist interest. Rogues states, especially in Africa and the Middle East, usually pursue this state interest in total regard of universal moral and ethical standards. Citizens are persecuted or killed in the name of sovereignty. Any criticism of human rights violations by international activist organizations or individuals is rationalized as meddling in the "internal affairs of our country." For South Sudan, the ruling SPLM dismisses human rights concerns and leadership problems as 'regime change agenda."

As long as the folks in power prolong their stay in power, the manner in which their state interest is pursued is not evaluated. Such closed, uncountable system leads to oppressive and dictatorial political cultures. For rogue states, of which South Sudan has become given its treatment of critical citizens, what counts as necessary is the result required. And this result is the perpetual longevity of the rule of the folks in power regardless of what they do to stay there. Morality, accountability, responsibility to citizens become inconveniences. 

On the other hand, some states pursue this state interest within reason as they observe moral and ethical standards required by any universal respect for human rights. Morally, these states see sovereignty as responsibility not the protection of the few kleptocrats, who have built what German Sociologist, Robert Michel, termed "The Iron Law of Oligarchy." The state interest then becomes the benefit of the few elites who regard the state and its survival as revolving around them. The state becomes them and they become the state. In South Sudan, there is no distinction between SPLM (the ruling party) and the state, and SPLM and SPLA (the national army) This kind of muddled thinking makes one singer, Garang Ateny, an SPLM apologist, say in his song: "We are all SPLM." 

The former kinds of nation would oppress their citizens in the name of sovereignty. Anyone who holds, or tries to hold them accountable, is easily branded traitorous.  Undoubtedly, this monstrous and escapist use of sovereignty is meant to keep other states at bay. It's also meant to protect the political and economic oligarchs and kleptocrats. They continue to benefit as the masses suffer. In South Sudan, this is easily demonstrable.

While states have this interest and the right to protect their territorial integrity, they have no right to oppress their citizens in the name of sovereignty. Sovereign isn't the administration and leaders but the state as a whole, and more importantly, the citizenry. So when states fail to protect their citizens, then they give other state and non-state actors an excuse or an obligation to intervene in the internal affairs of the state.

In South Sudan, given the effect of more than five decades of war, different foreign actors, mostly westerners, have voiced concerns about human rights violations. These people, who supported the South during its war against Khartoum, are now voicing their concerns as Juba has now turned into what it was fighting against for more than five decades. Some of the most prominent groups are the US government, a collection of individuals who call themselves 'Friends of South Sudan', and the Enough Project. The Friends of South Sudan include Roger Winter, Ted Dagne, Eric Reeves, Brian D'Silva, and John Prendergast.

Monday, June 25, 2018

President Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar Dancing on South Sudanese graves! *

Left: President Kiir;
Right: Dr. Riek Machar
"A child born the year South Sudan achieved independence will be 7 this year," wrote US ambassador to the United Nations in an opinion piece for Washington Post. As someone who grew up with the horrors of war, it's very sad that South Sudanese children still go through the same tragedies. A child who was born when the war started in 2013 will be going to Kindergarten this year. Sadly, all they will know is war unless Riek Machar and Kiir Mayardit develop moral hearts.

South Sudanese children are being born into what we were born into. However, the two protagonists of the civil war in South Sudan are toying with the lives of South Sudanese and the fate of the country. 


"A child born the year South Sudan achieved independence will be 7 this year." Nikki Haley


That President Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar first met in Addis Ababa on Wednesday after two years and then a few days later on Monday in Khartoum, is more than bizarre. What makes these meetings bizarre is the fact that these meetings are meant to prepare the two men to commit to peace. Why these two men should be convinced by foreign leaders to do something absolutely crucial for South Sudanese is incomprehensible and disheartening.

When Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, recently decried the suffering of South Sudanese, a prominent South Sudanese intellectual and scholar, Dr. Jok Madut Jok, questioned why Haley thinks she cares more about South Sudanese than South Sudanese themselves describing Haley tears as 'Trumpier than Trump." 



But given the political and power game Riek Machar and Kiir Mayardit are playing, it's difficult not to question our sense of responsibility to South Sudanese civilians and South Sudan as a country. We tend to focus on what others are saying than what Riek Machar, Kiir Mayardit, and their SPLM have done. If South Sudanese ended their war, people like ambassador Haley wouldn't have much to say.

It's very difficult to understand what President Kiir Mayardit and Dr. Riek Machar want, really. Many of you would say, 'duh', it's power! What else could it be?' While power is like the Marxian opioid, one would still expect reasonable concessions for the sake of the suffering South Sudanese.

However, the way Riek Machar and President Kiir have been acting lately makes one really question not only the moral consciousness of these two men but also their perception of reality in Africa and in South Sudan. One can understand the complexities involved in brokering peace; however, it's hard to understand why the two men need to go to two different capital cities within a few days to commit to peace in South Sudan? This is bizarre. A waste of time! A waste of resources!

But still, all we've got are promises. "We came to Khartoum to look for peace," said Riek. And Kiir said that "I came to this meeting with an open mind and hope my brother Riek did the same." 

That they don't care about South Sudanese and South Sudan is clear. Neither Riek Machar nor Kiir Mayardit has ever called a press conference to formally apologize to the people of South Sudan and to make sure people are held accountable for the atrocities committed. But no, President Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar believe that verbally saying things amount to being a good leader and a conscious patriot. Until these leaders end the war, people like Haley will continue to take the moral high ground and for good reason: South Sudanese leaders are letting down their children and South Sudan.

 Any rational man who cares about his country and his people would value the importance of political compromises. That the two leaders cannot sit down without a mediator is indicative of the nature of their moral outlook and the extent to which power has blinded them. 

South Sudan will continue to bleed, to cry, to remain in destitution as it has been for the past 100 years.

As long as President Kiir and Riek Machar need a third party to convince them to do what is valuable to South Sudanese and South Sudan is a worry fact about the kind of leaders we have.

Power is an intoxicant. It gives people a 'high' that is not easy to avoid. That is understandable. However, President Kiir and Riek Machar should acknowledge more than half a century of the suffering of South Sudanese under the elite ruling class in Khartoum and centuries of dehumanization by slave traders. 

As Riek Machar and President Kiir continue to pay lip service to the South Sudanese and the world, they are digging the graves of South Sudanese and then dancing callously on them. President Kiir needs to dissociate himself from warmongers in Juba if he is indeed not the obstacle to peace. Riek on the hand needs to see what political concessions he should make because, in politics, concessions are as permanent as change.

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*Kuir ë Garang is the editor of The Philosophical Refugee. 


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