Sunday, September 9, 2018

Human Rights and Opposing Political Opinions in South Sudan

Kuir ë Garang* (Editor)

"The Ruling SPLM has relied on the inexcusable and the now
 cliched “we are a still a young nation" to get away 
with human rights abuses and incompetence."


There is no question that South Sudan will take time to get used to civil societies expressing strong positions in sociopolitical issues and of strong personalities, that are not political players, to be strongly opposed to some government fundamentals. As I have always reiterated, no one expects the SPLM to build Ottawa in Juba in ten or twenty years. This is a commonsense given. Most, if not all of us, expect South Sudan to produce development results incrementally. However, it would be foolhardy to expect South Sudan not to put in place economic and political structures that make prosperity possible. Starting structures, rudimentary maybe, should have been in place since 2005.

Sadly, all we have are rotten systemic models copied wholesale from Khartoum. These copied governance models, such as too much power vested in the presidency and the national security censorship of the newspapers, have shredded South Sudanese social and political fabric; that is, what was left by the North-South war up to 2005.
Amnesty International has argued that “Since the start of South Sudan’s internal armed conflict in December 2013, hundreds of people, mostly men, have been detained under the authority of the National Security Service (NSS) and Military Intelligence Directorate in various detention facilities across the capital city, Juba. Many of those who have been detained have been held under the category of “political detainees” on allegations that they have communicated with or supported the opposition.”
These are usually assumptions made to scare people away from opinions that go against government narratives. In June 2017, the Associated Pressed (AP) reported that “15 South Sudanese journalists have been arrested, beaten, jailed, threatened or denied access to information in the past four months, according to the Union of Journalists in South Sudan. At least 20 members of the foreign press have been banned from or kicked out of South Sudan in the past six months, the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of East Africa says.”
However, there has to be a point at which we can sigh and say that 'things are bad now but they will improve in due course.' Undoubtedly, there must indeed be a point at which things should take a positive turn. For many South Sudanese, this positive turn would only come with the end of the civil war and the advent of peace. This state of mind, for all intent and purposes, is a bad.

Waiting for the war to stop completely for things to start taking a positive turn is to do a great disservice to the country and the civil population. The civil population is already suffering like it has been for the past sixty years.

In the mid-1990s, the SPLM under the leadership of Dr. John Garang de Mabior, under intense pressure from international aid agencies, regional bodies and internal split in 1991, and the pressure to build civil structures and democratic governance, knew that it didn't have to wait for the war to end to start institutionalizing its administrative infrastructures. The Civil Administration for New Sudan (CANS) was one such response. Even if CANS was still subordinated to the military Modus Operandus of the SPLA like the SPLM was, its creation is a manifest testimony that war doesn't have to end for the turning point to be created. 

As Dr. Luka Biong argued in Social capital and civil war: The Dinka communities in Sudan’s civil warwars don't necessarily destroy communities' social capitals. While some strong social fabrics are weakened during the civil war period, social capital is not completely eradicated because new social relations are built. Biong writes that "recent thinking has begun to challenge the premise that civil wars undermine social capital, arguing instead that violence is less about social breakdown than about the creation of new forms of social relations."

Since 2005, when the autonomous government was established in Juba, and more so after 2013 crisis that led to a vicious and costly armed conflict, there has been no respect for diverse opinions and human rights in South Sudan. The Ruling SPLM has relied on the inexcusable and the now cliched “we are a still a young nation" to get away with human rights abuses and incompetence.

While countries can be considered young in terms of capacities (human and technological), no country is too young to know moral imperatives such as respect for human rights and diverse political opinions. 

While Juba prides in the fact that it is a democratic state and that it doesn't stifle political opinions, its practical actions say otherwise. Intolerance to opposing political opinions, political intimidations, arbitrary arrests, political assassinations, and media censorship, have become the 'new normal.' They are not merely the subversion of the normative systemic functions but the system itself, to use Alex De Waal’s phrase. 

The recent arrest of Peter Biar Ajak on July 28, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge and a very vocal personality and analyst in favor of younger leadership for South Sudan (which he dubbed ‘Generational Exit), is a clear testimony that Juba is not willing to take a positive turn. Bashir Ahmed Mohamed Babiker, another South Sudanese activist, like Ajak, was also arrested on August 4 by the South Sudanese National Security in Yambio and he’s being held without any charges as his health deteriorates. Kerbino Agok Wol, a South Sudanese businessman and philanthropist, is also being help by SSNS in Juba since April 27 without charges being brought against him.

Governments have every right to take any citizen to court if they clearly demonstrate that such a citizen has violated the constitution or committed a crime of any form. And this is the work of South Sudanese courts and the judicial system. Charges need to be brought and proven in front of a competent judge before someone is arrested. Sadly, the ghost of the SPLA militarized mentality is still ruling juba. SPLM is a quasi-political party that is actually a military entity draped in a political attire.

So, when will the turning point begin? 

The answer is now and e-very-day. As the peace agreement being finalized in Khartoum gives us hope for a peaceful South Sudan, it does not follow that respect for human rights and diverse political opinions will come with it. With no doubt, as it has been recently noted by some analysts, like Brian Adeba of the Washington-based Enough Project, South Sudanese agreements are usually pacts among powerful elites that don't put the needs of the average civilian into account.

So, it’s common knowledge that the advent of the peace agreement wouldn’t guarantee respect for human rights and diverse political opinions. 

It is therefore time Juba not only speaks about the respect for human rights but actually acts on it. Diverse opinions should be allowed as long as they are conveyed in a respectful manner. No country can develop--unless it is a dictatorship--as a nation of a single opinion. Progress needs different and diverse ideas. 

*Kuir ë Garang is the editor of ‘The Philosophical Refugee.’ Follow him on twitter @kuirthiy 

Friday, August 24, 2018

Germinating a Mandela in South Sudan

By Akut Francis*
"For as long as we celebrate power by elevating our tribes above all the rest, for as long as our children partake to a whitewash education system that only works to make them subservient to a bourgeoisie class and its descendants, for as long as our leadership is firmly anchored in the mantra of 'them versus us' from the micro to the national level, for as long as we continue to be loud and frothing in hypocrisy and quiet and blind to premeditated oppression...."

Just when we, the people, the endangered citizens of country code SSD211 thought we were through with guns and bad leader|ship (seceded from the Sudan), and celebrated our independence, the power wrangle scourge set in at our yards and we were tossed by our very liberators to be the cannon fodders and pawns of cold wars in Upper Nile and most parts of Equatoria and Bhar El Gazal regions.
Early in 2012, I made my pilgrimage (online) to Mandela's Soweto house, now a museum. It is just off Vilakazi Street, in Soweto. Just there. You take a few turns and you are there. Earth red house. And this is where he walked off from one day to join the struggle leaving Winnie Mandela with the kids. A struggle he didn't know would tow him through the dungeons and jaws of the apartheid government, through to the throne. This, he achieved through a decision. Humility. And determination. And a genuineness of leadership.
So, p-residents, crybabies, 'users of the youth', revolutionaries, dictators, murderers, cops, haters, oppositionists, crackpots, saints and even 'bany ke bith' (Translation, Spear Masters), slay writers and readers, all have had their say about anything and everything regarding Mandela. Others have called him a saint too! Even the blonde and that fairytale London witch thanked him for 'his' speech titled 'I Have a Dream'. 
Alright. So let me say something too, Mandela is gone. Inevitably. May his soul rest in peace!
I can only reflect on Mandela from my local experience. The passing of a Mandela calls to my mind Dr. John Garang de Mabior, Comrade Kuanyin Bol, William Nyuon Bany, Justice Martin Majier Gai etcetera. Except that (some were failed, betrayed by colleagues to not capacitate their leadership) or  to be no more for the challenge. But would these living 'Mandelas' of South Sudan measure up to this man? Would I invest much admiration and mourning on these as I did with/on Mandela?
For Mandela led an inclusive government, anointing Mangosuthu Buthelezi 22 times as acting President; Mandela led for a single term and then passed on the baton! For Mandela articulated his vision and a people's struggle with quotable and memorable clarity and commitment, didn't Mandela embrace the youth, graciously accepting that he had played his part and needed to let go of the lead role and occupancy? 
How then do I embrace the Mandela in our own as they cling to not letting go, not giving the next generation a chance, accumulating praise names left, right and center and propping only the dinosaurs of their generation at the expense of new energy and life?
Didn't Mandela, divergent reactions of the world towards apartheid notwithstanding, embrace foes and friends internalizing and understanding the inter-dependency that we all have with each other and the need to move on progressively and respectfully and, so embraced President George W. Bush as he hugged Fidel Castro and walked hand-in-hand as he rode with the Pope?
Nelson Mandela
Photo: New York Times

Why then can't our own stop fighting over a cup of tea - armed to the teeth with sharp tongues, chest-thumping and isolationism, the active transfer of individual, personal challenges into a national challenge and the condemnation and rabid biting of the hands of benefactors and friends while holding hands with their deputies whose double-speak is only the stuff of the amazing? Mandela was no all-round saint but a human who understood and appreciated and worked the concepts of freedom and leadership. So, to reflect on him is to mourn the dearth of leadership in our country, the missed opportunities for bonding South Sudan into a united force benefitting from its admirable diversity and potentials.

For as long as we celebrate power by elevating our tribes above all the rest, for as long as our children partake to a whitewash education system that only works to make them subservient to a bourgeoisie class and its descendants, for as long as our leadership is firmly anchored in the mantra of 'them versus us' from the micro to the national level, for as long as we continue to be loud and frothing in hypocrisy and quiet and blind to premeditated oppression, for as long as we accept that the beautiful rainbow of South Sudan can only be projected in one color and tongue at the expense of the other 64-plus communities for as long as we can celebrate the distant Mandela with a straight face as we simultaneously 'preform less to create our own', then we shall continue to grovel in shameful backwardness, real bad leadership and squalor. 

"It is a sickening pity that what I feel for he,
who wasn't my President, I can't similarly project to
he who is my President." 

See, tomorrow you won't be amongst the glitterati in dark suits and black goggles and tax-payer funded jets and a million bodyguards competing for a vantage point on TV with the big man's casket. You know who will be there. But this much, I hope that the death of Mandela is the proverbial 'unless a seed dies', and that with it, South Sudan will probably get, ultimately, the leader(ship) it desperately deserves. He was no saint but he committed to some admirable ideals and achieved genuine success in liberation, forgiveness, leadership, unity, perseverance, sanity and love that's the current working and beautiful republic of South Africa.
May Mandela find eternal peace!

Akut Francis is a third-year Information Technology (IT) student at St. Paul's University - Kenya,. He's a hobbyist writer, a story developer and also an active member of Anataban Art initiative - South Sudan
Editor's Note: The ideas expressed in this article don't necessarily reflect the position of 'The Philosophical Refugee' but of the author. 



As someone who grew up in war conditions and lived as a refugee for a long time, I'm sometimes considered by many people in the 'west' to be prone to (or have) low self-esteem, be poor or illiterate. Living as refugees or displaced persons, who depended on the good will of others put people in a situation where they don't think much about themselves. But that's not everyone though.

As I stood by our front desk at my place work talking about Race and Identity in relation to my book, Is 'Black' Really Beautiful?, the issue of why many African peoples in North America become so over-sensitive when racial issues come up! For many rational people, this owes its origin to slavery and racial segregation.

But one of my coworkers, a person of European descent, was surprised to realize that her 'black' friend, a very intelligent woman, easily becomes irritated by simple things she [friend] considers racist. The friend considers any mention of a watermelon racist; and complains a lot about 'white privilege.' This means that discrimination is considered something 'whites' don't face because of 'white privilege.' In any discussion between 'blacks' and 'whites', 'white privilege' issue comes up!