An open letter to all fellow South Sudanese
By Taban lo Liyong
I greet you all in the name of God, Ngun, and in whatever manifestations you worship Him.
I am glad that after we messed up our land and people, when we opened our hearts to Him, He guided our thinking to the right path and when we realized that we no longer practiced the brotherhood and sisterhood with which you had guided us to act with one voice during the Referendum, he brought us back to pronounce the whole vital words: ‘my brother’ and signed for peace of Khartoum. That was an acknowledgement in two words which, spoken in English, Arabic, Bari, Dinka, Nuer, Shilluk, Kuku, Murle, Azande, Morokodo, Didinga, etc. means the same thing; my brother, my sister I love you and hope you will love me back.
Those two words were uttered by our own father, Mayardit’s son: Salva Kiir. They were spoken in Khartoum, the home of ‘our brother’ Omer Bashir, from whom we were freely given the right to choose if we wanted continued stay in the Sudan or go our own way in search of a new home, and to forge a new identity in a new homestead. In the process of walking beyond River Jordan, those with haste, largeness of hunger in their stomachs and selfishness for the glittering materials of this life and sweetness in the tongue led our footsteps astray. Time arrived when brother decided to turn his brother into a beast of burden and started to pursue the making of a house servant of her and him. Not only that. They were to be bereft of their possessions, such as cattle, plants in the fields and even land. This was the path that prophet Isaiah had detected some people who had lived, perhaps in these climes in his time had fallen into. And he had said they would embark on internecine wars, brother killing as well as fighting the God’s people. And he had prophesied that when they had realized the folly of their action, and had turned to worship Jehovah who lives on Mount Zion, He would forgive them then.
For then, they would call one another ‘my brother’, my sister, and seek forgiveness for their sins. And those sins would be forgiven. It was those Biblical words that came out of his mouth: that he hoped, his brother Riek Machar Teny, had also reached the stage of saying. He was speaking from his heart – and not reading a speech. He said ‘This day was expected by our people of South Sudan and it has now come.’ He could have said similar words on 9th of July 2011 when he led us into the Promised Land, OUR Promised Land. There were other times in the past when Salva Kiir had felt that he was the people’s saviour. When those times passed unused he regretted it. There must have been similar occasions in the past when Riek Machar had felt some things needed doing, for a section of the nation. When they were not done he embarked on the path of violence, Later on he retreated and sought forgiveness for his sins. Regarding the following war both of them have squandered many occasions. It is now forgiveness time. And this occasion needs not be squandered again. It is need for cleansing time. It is seeking for South Sudanese LOVE time. When the words from the heart should block out the speech writers’ slippery pens. Will Brother Salva Kiir continue marching in the path of Righteousness? Will Brother Riek Machar continue marching in the path of Righteousness and earn South Sudanese LOVE?
“I am here,” said Salva Kiir “to express my gratitude to President Bashir for helping us to reach this day where we signed this agreement; I am happy that it is finally achieved. I have really seen the people of South Sudan crying before me every day.” That is the Biblical speech of the man who can remember the evil of Arab slavery and, who told fellow South Sudanese that, “If you cast your vote for Unity, then you want to remain or become second class citizens in your own country.” But as we have seen, the devil is not in the race of Arabs, nor Europeans. Even Africans can be as brutish as Arabs and Europeans. We have felt the heavy hand of power in the hands of South Sudanese over fellow South Sudanese whom they had called “comrades” in the process of fighting for nationhood.
The Devil does not work if the fence is strong. The bulls do not break out of the kraal however loud the lion roars from the outside if the kraal is strong. The devil squeezes itself into a community when the feeling of dissension, greed, selfishness, and underestimation of difficulties in achieving contestable tasks is involved. When a group overestimates their strength, they think a deep river is shallow, when one is very thirsty; one thinks hot water is cold till one has burnt ones’ mouth and tongue. When one underestimates the strength of another, one goes ahead and embarks upon a contest without seeing how, even a small animal, fights with all its might to protect its young. Now we have plunged the whole land into the turmoil we have signed to get away from. Let it be a lesson nobody will ever try to lure South Sudanese into again.
And, I am sure Brother Salva Kiir’s call to Brother Riek Machar, to go for this permanent peace, which, however long it will take to be arrived at when Brother Salva Kiir is away attending other international duties he will honour, he (Riek Machar) too will honour.
There are a couple of Ministers and some other officials, as well as some elders, who propose different solutions to the impasses that keep on cropping up, on being brought up to murk up the water. Do they know how heavy the crown weighs down on the crown wearer’s head? The crowned head is also the anointed head. The oath of office is not a playful thing. For all those who died due to the ongoing conflict the wagers of this war are culpable in the eyes of the Lord. They cannot escape responsibility. Some of the loud speakers have already started the blame game: “I was doing the Master’s work.” When they might have been the loudest speakers of the killings or authors of the progress that is war and killing.
Our father Mayardit’s son, take your manhood in your hand, do things which will make us ALL SOUTH SUDANESE LOVE YOU. Let us call you Father of the nation from KajoKeji to Hufrat al Naas, from Owiny ki Bul to Renk, from Kaaya not to end in Kwajok only but to go the border of the Old Sudan. You gave birth to the South Sudanese Nation. That was your mission. Whenever you lose the direction there are sons of the Almighty Lord who stand ready to straighten your path, and remind you of your legacy, they will take you back to the Righteous path, the path blessed by Nhialic. When things are going well, we are proud of the Man who bore you, of the Mother, our Mother, who bore you. Let the age mates of our father realize that he had produced a man who brought South Sudan into being. And who despite some pitfalls finally remembered his mission. A peaceful, prosperous, law abiding nation one is proud of belonging to.
Now the land that had teamed with life, laughter, joy and dance on the Referendum Day, the land that played host to the world when we hoisted our flag up is now bereft of life. Where have the former proud Southerners gone? People who had experienced shame of homelessness? People who were referred to as “Agona” by Palabek of Uganda: those who rounded Mount Agoro to reach Kitgum? People who had sworn never to go back into exile? Never again, they had sworn, shall we go out into exile but who had to go again into exile after they had won independence from the Arabs? Who had sworn never to leave their lands after they had used their land’s sanctuary for guerilla warfare?
They are all in exile. Again and in their millions. Shamelessly, I am here in South Sudan now because though my father, Umbi Woja lo Dangasuk, had taken me into exile because of family feuds, I had grown up as an Acholi of Uganda. They had, with my mother Aciteri Liyong na Adiya, sworn against life in the Sudan. After I had got the best that Uganda could give, calling myself Ugandan, carrying the flag of writing for Uganda, any straight-headed man would have remained in Uganda and made good there. Had I not been UPC Secretary for Acholi District at independence? Bu of my own accord I decided, when far away in Papua New Guinea to return to the Sudan then when we were a nation of backs and browns. To make sure that I would never backslide into carrying two passports, with the ambidexterity of dual natonality. Upon getting my Sudanese Nationality certificate, I handed over to Migration officer, Mr. Ajang Bior, now a Member of Legislative Assembly all the passports and other travel documents I had got from Uganda. I was then that proud.
And though I have Uganda to, though I could have farmed in Kitale, with my friend Mhesimewa Wamalwa Kijana, though I have a Chimbu tribesman as brother in Papua New Guinea, and a blood brother in Australian Aboriginal, I have decided to stay put. Though I can still go and live with the family of my late my brother Nicholas Odongo lo Aisu in Kachumbala, Teso, I came back to Kajokeji where I was born. I returned and became a Member of Parliament. I made a road from Kajokeji to Juba so as to make a short cut for my people to reach their national capital. I petitioned, together with my development committee, the Papal Nuncio in 1983 for His Holiness the Pope to introduce the Catholic Church to Kajokeji. The Road was built. Now it is becoming a bush. The Pope sent us missionaries, teachers, technical people. The best School system in South Sudan where you could take South Sudan School Leaving Certificate and Uganda O-Level and A-level was introduced. I am satisfied.
But President Salva Kiir, Dr. Riek Machar, as you are both aware, the land is becoming a bush. The mangoes of Kajokeji are now feeding the monkeys and birds. The people are in refugee camps abroad, suffering the indignity of being called refugees, landless people. Some are internally displaced. The borders of DRC, Northern Uganda, Western Kenya, Western Ethiopia, South of Sudan, Western Central African Republic.
If you do not embrace all of those who are homeless that makes more than three quarters of us South Sudanese fatherless. We become bastard children of others who are ready to own us, to adopt us into their vision of fatherhood. Which is anything goes. The vision of South Sudanese fatherhood which is compatible with whatever South Sudanese had fought for from Owiny ki Bul and Torit, from 1955, up to July first, 2017, which had embraced everybody has never been given the time and room to find itself and enter into every South Sudanese heart for bringing up his children. It has always embraced everybody, with unity, love, as well as united vision. And sharing, and togetherness. (In, any case the co-wife who deserts her children cannot complain of the bad treatment of her children by the co-wife. And the man who feeds you when your father does not care, makes you accept any leftovers together with the owner’s dogs without grumbling.
Now those your deputies who talked so loudly against love and forgiveness might have thought they were amplifying their Master’s Voice. Now that the Boss is speaking his own total voice, and it is the voice of Peace, they either leave their belligerency or keep quiet. Please let them not hide their hatred behind you. For you have seen the new world of love and peace. If they persist you might as well tell them “Get off my back Satan!” Otherwise they should be shunned and, if they embark upon war, they should be taken to the Hague.
Many years ago, we were mourning the fall of a former President of High Executive Council. And I said, the man being discussed did not give South Sudanese a Cause to Love Him. Some fellow South Sudanese were with me. One of them was a journalist, later edited a good book detailing the progress of South Sudanese towards independence is now in the Transitional National Assembly. Brother Salva Kiir had given South Sudanese a Cause to Love him when he urged us to Vote South Sudan into nationhood. None of the other South Sudanese members of SPLM/SPLA had shown so much courage, even in private conversation, to be heard to advocate for Separation. Then selfish spoilers came in and messed it all up. Now in Khartoum, on the 27th of June 2018 he again gave us cause to Love Him. Please, Mayardit’s son, don’t squander this golden opportunity. I am declaring it openly that I voted for Separation as you had urged us. And that I also voted for you when you stood for the Presidency of South Sudan. So I declare that you are a President partly by my vote also. Now that you have heard the crying of your helpless South Sudanese children, and want to bring that suffering to an end, I urge you to do it. What is it that your people who are crying from your other mothers are crying for? Most of them wish you returned the land into what it was when the present problems of 2017 arose. Mentioned in the Interim Constitution that is the districts in which South Sudan was divided, and which were also parceled into the 21 States mentioned in the Interim Constitution which had sought to conclude this war. We are, and shall be behind you in the upholding of this peace. And please, Mr. President, do not look back. When this war is over, and you have reunited SouthSudan that will be the best opportunity for you to withdraw from the political arena. After all Tate Nelson Mandela served one term only as president. And war with honours. The world loves him. A man can do that much. And take rest. You too have been given 36 months in which to build your legacy and oversee how you wish History to judge you. All those who pull you to a selfish corner are not worried about this. It is us from Kajokeji, Kachepo, Chukudum, Morsak, Maban, Renk, Momvolo etc. whose vote counts above those of Tonj etc.
I also call upon Riek Machar to accept your motivation to join hands and make what had happened before to be a lesson to us all. Any pursuit that demands the use of force hurts both sides. In the matter of using force to suppress fellow nationals there is no winner. People who go to raid another country can retreat when matters are hot. But a raider in his own country should remember he is engaged in a perpetual war. It becomes attack and counter–attack. Feud after feud. Ghanaians liken such a contest to two crocodiles seeking to swallow one another through their tails. And at the end for us South Sudanese, we begin to ask ourselves: Is that why we opted for Separation from the Arabs? Did we do so in order to wage a war of suppressing fellow South Sudanese who are not of our language stock? Was that the reason why South Sudan Liberation Movement and Army were formed? Is that why the Arm is stronger than the Political Movement? If it was not then we need to think, and think deep, about what we have done to our people. As well as build a new image for all the political parties which wish to come up.
At the same time the “Party List” stem of representation does not suit us well. We need Constituencies system of representation. First and foremost, we need geographical constituencies which can be redrawn whenever there are changes in the demographics. This may affect gender-based constituencies, profession-based constituencies, labour-force based constituencies. But nothing defeats a Census well-carried out constituency demarcation of the constituencies. Especially the first. And by now the demographers should have started work, using the figures used for the 1955 General Election. And the 1982 Census.
And all new political parties should come to represent constituencies. Membership in parliament should be by constituencies. But when we do have something called ‘Party List’, it turns out all the undesirables go to parliament through party list. They are sure no constituents will question their silence in parliament, nor their misdeeds. Nor reject them in the next election. Or those who are appointed by the President of the party, they simply represent him. So it is as if the President can represent himself in his other multiplications. The President too, has no room for nominating other members. If we want to increase the number of parliamentarians, let us increase the geographical, the professional, the union the gender, the generation representatives. It worked well for the Sudan Socialist Unions. It can also work for us.
And the removal of Party Lists from the Constitution would also endear the present President of South Sudan. For, it increases the number of effective representatives.
The steps you have taken have put both our Salva Kiir Mayardit and Riek Machar Teny in the path of redemption of your names and reputations. Since we, as South Sudanese have never been tried this much, none of us can say ‘I would have done better’. These are tests we shall go through as we adjust ourselves into becoming a nation with nationals who have never been together in schools, in the army, in prison, in work-camps, etc. We should expect much falling. And rising. And falling again. We shall learn to fall, rise, and learn to take failures into our strides.
South Sudan is a colonial creation. We were small principalities. Called chiefdoms or some were called kingdoms. There were others without chiefs; others were war leaders or Gender generational age rulers. Then the Slave traders came. And disturbed that social setup. Then came the colonial period. Which lasted long in some places and barely touched ground in others. Where they stayed longest they sowed the seeds of modernization and urbanization. That created imbalance amongst the citizens. But those who were forcefully urbanized, since they had no say in the design need not be blamed. It is upto the new regimes to create mechanisms of accelerated development for Murle, Toposa Nuer, Kachepo etc. like Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah did for Northern Ghana. This has left many differences between and amongst the ‘tribes’. The qualitative differences are in modernisation. We merely suited the colonial master’s designs. None of us is responsible for how he found us and how he used us. We may not like how we were used. Or how some of us were used. Perhaps some of us were used to the detriment of others. That was why we wanted our freedom. And we all took concerted action in regaining our independence. Let us then rejoice together. Let us find a way of sharing together whatever we had taken which had been destined for the general dining table and from our own hearts dish them out.
To bring to a close I would like to assure my readers that these are my personal thoughts. And they were given out for general consumption in order for me to share my thoughts in these crucial days of serious decision makings. I hope my approach to Brother Salva Kiir Mayardit, and Brother Riek Machar Teny, personal rather than official, are not taken as discourtesy. Perhaps we should not wear our official masks everywhere. Besides I am not hunting for job and am not hunting for enmity. I was born in 1936. And I am 82. If anybody knows the date when the Second Term opened in that year, and the Saturday when two aeroplanes went to Kajokeji, one landed and the other dropped its load, then that is the day I was born, because my father was a policeman I was born in the Malakia of Kajokeji on a Saturday and given Sebit as my day name. I would like to have my exact birth date. Anybody who knows those details, possibly from Yei, should please tell me. I shall be grateful.
Let us accept and declare openly that we have wronged one another. Let us seek open forgiveness. Let us seek path of righteousness. With the wrong doer and he who was wronged, accepting his misdeeds. And seeking forgiveness and the other accepting the open bared hear which was bared for him. Let us learn from our mistake. Let us succeed. By the power of Ngun in His different guises we shall succeed.
Ngun kata. Ngun ngangarakin yi.
Juok tye. Juok bikonyo wa.
Rabuna fi. Rabuna be saadu nina.
Jehovah is there. Jehovah will help us.
Allah is there. Allah will help us.
They all love righteousness, and heed the cry of the downtrodden.
Taban lo Liyong
A nationalist South Sudanese.
Some of you may think me simplistic. Others may think me opportunistic. Some that I am off my mind. Far from it. The nights have been few. The day is still long. As far as I am concerned America and her proxy have caused us pain. And may cause us more. We wish General Obasanjo were here. He is levelheaded. The team, our handlers, thinks we are children who have to be handled with kids gloves. When they have blood in their hands Blood that kids cannot shed. From now America should also be made culpable when more Southern Sudanese is shed.