By Jacob K. Lupai
March 10, 2013 - A fellow prolific writer, a friend and a brother Ateny Wek Ateny in his Column, Beating The Drum of Truth, under Just a simple way to advise Mr. Joseph Akim Gordon and some of his fellow Equatorians, had expressed views on issues raised in Equatoria Conference 2013 with a word of advice to Equatorians. Ateny and I are not strangers to each other. We met in London in the United Kingdom and had also shared discussions through the Internet.
In expressing his views brother Ateny seems to have been provoked by the convening of Equatoria Conference 2013 and the subsequent resolutions adopted. This was further fueled by what Ateny might have seen as a provocative question that was too much to turn a blind eye when he came across an article written by Joseph Akim Gordon under what is wrong with Equatoria Conference?
Brother Ateny was not only dismissive of Equatoria Conference but was also very dismissive of the resolutions adopted and therefore dismissive of Joseph Akim Gordon’s justification of the reasons for convening the Conference in the first place.
If the Column of brother Ateny in the esteemed Citizen Newspaper is about Beating the Drum of Truth, one wonders how Ateny is beating the drum of truth when he denies truth exists as indicated in the entirety of the resolutions of Equatoria Conference 2013. The Governors of the States of Equatoria are senior members of government in South Sudan. It must have been odd if they did not have inner knowledge of what they had publicly expressed in the Conference.
Brother Ateny was already biased against the convening of Equatoria Conference 2013 because he had no inclination to regional conferences. However, he is entitled to his inclination as others are inclined to hold regional conferences. The constitution allows two or more States to come together to enhance coordination and cooperation in fostering development. The three States of Equatoria are within their constitutional right to do so.
The three States of Equatoria are also within their constitutional right of freedom of expression and therefore can discuss socio-economic and political issues that promote development for a high standard of living of their people. Those who do not have the ability to convene a conference to strategize for their development should not be used to deter others. What best can be done in nation building is to learn from each other instead of being dismissive of others innovativeness.
Equatoria Conference 2013
Whatever others may say the people of Equatoria have every constitutional right to assemble and express their views freely. This is also an act of democracy and precisely as an act of democracy the people of Equatoria attended a 2-day conference in Nyokuron Cultural Centre in Juba between 14 and 15 February 2013.
The Conference was well attended by representatives from the three States of Equatoria spearheaded by the Governors. Equatoria Conference 2013 was a peaceful assembly of people with the common theme of consolidating justice, unity and prosperity. It was to enhance inter-state coordination and cooperation in addressing common challenges.
Equatoria Conference 2013 was convened with the purpose of reviewing the resolutions of Equatoria Conference 2011 and of articulating common challenges facing the people of the three States of Equatoria. The Governors spoke truthfully of the challenges facing the people of Equatoria in particular and of South Sudan in general and these were crystallized in the resolutions of Equatoria Conference 2013. There was nothing to hide.
Unfortunately issues raised in the Conference and the subsequent resolutions drawn seem to show that to some extent there was institutionalized marginalization of people of Equatoria.
Denial of marginalization
For brother Ateny Wek Ateny he strenuously denies marginalization of people of Equatoria exists. On February 27, 2013 in his Column, Beating The Drum of Truth, Ateny said, “For me I do not think the people of the former Equatoria province are marginalized”. In his persistent denial brother Ateny went on to say, “However, if our brothers/sisters in Equatoria are interested to be marginalized, then that may be a different story”. This is a strange statement or cynical indeed to say the least. Who on earth in their right minds would be interested to be marginalized.
On scholarships it was observed in the Conference that only Bahr el Ghazal from which my brother Ateny hails and Upper Nile were the beneficiaries while Equiatoria was excluded altogether. However, Ateny could not see this as marginalization of Equatoria. In his Column on March 1, 2013 brother Ateny was of the opinion that, “For example; if there are 200 scholarships then it should go 85 Bahr el Ghazal 65 Upper Nile and 50 Equatoria ----“. Brother Ateny seems to be expressing an equitable distribution of the scholarships. I commend him for being fair-minded.
As observed in the Conference there was no equitable distribution of the scholarships but Equatoria was deliberately excluded. One may wonder how brother Ateny will continue to insist that Equatoria has not been marginalized in the distribution of scholarships. Also, in the Conference it was observed that government financial support to South Sudanese students studying in Kenya and Uganda was only provided to students from Bahr el Ghazal and Upper Nile.
From the above scenarios it is misleading to think that people of Equatoiria are the ones interested to be marginalized. What should be understood clearly is that they are being deliberately marginalized as the presentations and comments in the Equatoria Conference 2013 showed. People were talking truthfully about it, something that should have been appreciated by people interested in nation building and national unity.
SPLM/A in Equatoria
The year 1991 was a difficult year for the SPLM/A. Mengisto Hailemariam’s regime in Ethiopia fell in 1991. It was the main backer of the SPLM/A. The SPLM/A had to make a decision in light of developments. It relocated from Ethiopia to Equatoria. Shortly thereafter a split occurred in the SPLM/A and this created a complex situation for the SPLM/A. Morale was low and others were off to Kampala and Nairobi in Uganda and Kenya respectively in search of better life. The behavior of the SPLM/A in Equatoria was not also helpful. It was characterized with brutality, looting and raping, causing immense suffering to local communities.
As though there was no any other alternative local communities formed into militias to protect themselves against the SPLM/A brutality and insensitivity. Brother Ateny would call the militias bandits as he was not in the receiving end of the SPLM/A mistakes in Equatoria. Naturally the enemy would have taken advantage of such a situation. People should not forget that when the SPLM/A relocated to Equatoria its strength dwindled. Many left for refugee camps while some simply left for their home areas.
In the period of the SPLM/A relocation to Equatoria my brother Ateny would like people to believe that Equatorians were reluctant to join the SPLM/A to tilt the balance in their favour. In his Column on March 4, 2013 Ateny said, “At that time, if Equatorians were to join the SPLM/A for the mere fact that the SPLM/A training camps have been moved to Equatoria, I bet the situation would have been different now”. This is nothing but a grossly misleading assertion.
When the SPLM/A strength was dwindling and in the face of onslaught of the enemy there was no one other than the elders from Equatoria who took the lead in mobilization. Elders Elioba James Surur, Daniel Jumi and Dr Philip Tongun took it upon themselves as a national duty to rally fervently the youth of Equatoria for the liberation effort. The youth of Equatoria responded positively by joining the SPLM/A in droves while others opted for life of refuge with some others switching sides.
The elders of Equatoria did a marvelous job but are they recognized. With the exception of elder Elioba James Surur appointed as a member in the Council of States, a person like Dr Philip Tongun, who had actively participated in the mobilisation of Equatoria youth for the liberation effort, has been completely forgotten.
Mainly as foot soldiers Equatorians played decisive roles in the battles for the capture of Kapoeta, Torit, Kaya, Yei, Yambio and Equatorians were in Eastern Sudan battling the enemy courageously. It is only a myth to consider Equatorians as non active participants in the protracted liberation war. Promotion of Equatorians to higher ranks might have been a problem for Equatorians to appear prominent in the SPLM/A given the revelation of institutionalized marginalization of people of Equatoria.
Indeed I agree with my brother Ateny Wek Ateny that land grabbing is the most obsessive issue of concern in the whole of Equatoria and he has given examples of land grabbing. However, leaving the reality on the ground alone he has politicized land grabbing. Ateny wrote that the perceived land grabbing issue is a mere political ploy aimed at keeping South Sudanese categorized between the landowners and grabbers. Brother Ateny went on to say in his Column on March 5, 2013 that, “It is the language coined by the Equatoria elite for advocacy sake”. I think this is an insult to the ordinary men and women whose plots of land have been grabbed at gun point.
To say land grabbing has been coined by Equatorian elite must be music to the ears of the criminal land grabbers. For those who are ignorant of the reality on the ground evidence abound for people who do not have legal entitlement to land terrorizing legal owners. It seems brother Ateny is out of touch with the reality on the ground. Crooks in land deals should not be a justification for ignoring the claims of legitimate landowners.
Land grabbing should not only be seen as it is all about crooked land deals. A distinction must be made. Brother Ateny seems to lean more to the political aspect of land grabbing than to the legal side. For example, a land grabber who terrorized the owner with a gun had no legal documents for the plot of land with ramshackle huts he rented out to earn not less than 20,000SSP a month. The land grabber could only produce a summon requesting him to appear before the court of law as his only legal document entitling him to the land. What does brother Ateny say about this? Is there any politics here?
Nation building and national unity is not promoted by ignoring problems or brushing them aside with the hope that time will be the healer. This attitude only polarizes people hence diminished interest in unity.
At the end of my comment, I have to say I enjoy reading the Column of my friend Ateny Wek Ateny. He is an independent-minded individual and is confident to stick out his neck. Although I disagree with my friend Ateny in some of his analysis of topical issues I respect him for not being a sycophant.
In all Ateny’s advice to Equatorians seems to suggest Equatorians do not have a cause for concern. According to him Equatorians are not marginalized but are a problem unto themselves. Brother Ateny has reduced land grabbing to squatting which seems to be easier to handle. However, when a squatter uses a firearm to continue squatting will that not fall under land grabbing?
I hope Ateny will not be too biased towards land grabbers who are mostly non Equatorians as he is. Obviously there are greedy money-minded Equatorians who do not care but for themselves. Those are not helpful to Equatoria in particular and to South Sudan in general.
As South Sudanese there is a lot to learn from each other in our diverse views of nationalism, regionalism and tribalism. When people talk of nationalism they may mistakenly be promoting tribalism and those talking of regionalism may be promoting nationalism in diversity. Each may stick to their guns. However, how do we break the stalemate? Well, there is no any other way except through a dialogue for a better understanding of the various viewpoints and in appreciating diversities as a source of strength but not weakness. Only the inflexible or self-conceited may be a problem in nation building and in promoting national unity.
The main challenge is egoism in blindfolded support for kith and kin at the expense of nation building and national unity.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org