By Philip Thon Aleu
October 23, 2013 - Another deadly attack rattled remote villages in Jonglei state on Sunday in what authorities say is a joint operation by rebels of David Yau Yau and some members of armed Murle cattle raiders.
Of course it is difficult to independently verify who carried out the attack or how many people are killed, how many children abducted and cattle raided. However, it is impossible for David Yau Yau rebels and Murle tribesmen to prove beyond reasonable doubt that they were not involved.
When I phone an eyewitness on Sunday, I was shocked about his description of the style of the attack and the manner in which some children and women were axed to death by attackers. The attackers engaged local police and cattle keepers within the villages leading to indiscriminate killing and burning of huts.
This is the repeat of December 5, 2011 in Jalle Payam of Bor county, neighboring Paker and Ajuong of Twic East county. On February 7, 2012, armed men from Dinka Bor raided a village in Gumuruk of Pibor and dozens were killed and many more raids from either sides. At the time, politicians gave strong worded statements condemning the raid and promising heaven-on-earth that “such attack will never happen again.”
But one year and eleven months later, it is the same story. In 2013, like the previous years, reports of Murle raiders killing and looting cattle in Lou Nuer and vis-versa dominated local and international news headlines. In July 2013, Lou Nuer revenged against the Murle resulting into huge casualties from both sides.
All these attacks happen with full knowledge of local authorities. It is impossible for authorities to deny knowledge of 1,000 armed men leaving a certain Payam to raid another.
Instead of leaders to act as national figures, they behave like tribal representatives. There is no ambition to lead South Sudan as a nation. Everybody wants to gain tribal support in order to be given more chance to remain in his position in order to eat. His chances to loot using political seat increase with vocal criticism about another tribe. These tribal politicians are breeding anarchy for innocent South Sudanese.
Inter-communal raids in South Sudan are not new but Jonglei’s different. Cattle raiding and child abduction were practice in the past but intensified after the 2005. Some people say that it is due to illegal arms in the hands of civilians – awash by SPLM/A and Khartoum government and its affiliated militias during the 1983—2005 civil war. What commentators fail to appreciate is lack of leadership in Jonglei state.
Unlike other states of South Sudan, politicians from Jonglei state (i.e. members of state assembly and national parliament, commissioners, senior civil servants and businessmen) don’t have their families in the villages. It is understandable given the notorious road networks, insecurity and poor social amenities such as hospitals and schools. Unfortunately, these politicians argue that villages should not be deserted.
These politicians mobilized the civilians who were displayed to camps during the war to return home but abandon without protection. They made empty pledges and shamelessly repeat them over time. When I attended a ceremony in Panyagor in February 2012 included local chiefs and politicians, I saw the anger in the eyes of traditional chiefs and hopelessness for the future. Head chief, Manyok Ajak summarized like this:
“If we (traditional chiefs) leave the villages and take our families aboard like you (politicians), whom will you govern,” he said and gazed for a moment.
“I think it is better for you to refuse taking up the responsibilities of representing or ruling the civilians if the government cannot protect women and children,” Manyok added.
After the meeting, I spoke to some elderly men on how this insecurity in Jonglei state could be addressed. They told many unexhausted avenues. I clearly remember one innocent respond.
“Is there a government? Why are children and women killed with impunity?”
According to him, during the British colonial period, perpetuators of crimes were instantly arrested using small police force compared to what South Sudan has today. There were equally no roads and no police cars.
When I met the then deputy of Jonglei state, Hussein Maar Nyout and asked him on the police’s and army’s inability to arrest suspected raiders, he said there are no roads.
“How do raiders move from one point to another? Can’t the police and army move too?,” I asked him. And I will continue to ask, how do raiders move from one point to another? Can’t the police or army move too?
When I called Acting Governor Hussein Maar Monday October 21 to ask him about the future plans to address the insecurity in Jonglei state, he says they don’t resources to do the job.
It is understandable to claim that there are no resources but where and when will the resources come?
Disarmament was launched in March 2012 and is not officially stopped to-date. However, the killings of civilians by raiders from all tribes of Jonglei state continue. On other hand, the army and police give their own excuses as to why they don’t tackle this issue.
I would ask, is there is a leadership in Jonglei state? If there is one, what are they doing? During colonial period, murderers were easily netted and prosecuted, sectional and tribal fights over swampy grazing areas where quelled using minimum resources and police force. One example of effective enforcement of rule of law has remained in a saying to-date: That: “I never heard this sound of the bird that has yelled this morning in the land of my mother Apul.”
It was British colonial police on horses that had surrounded villages in Jonglei state that made the sound during the morning dawn. But since those villagers did not know horse, one man thought it was a sound from a bird. In the morning, the whole village was searched and suspected child abductors arrested.
In those colonial times, the British committed what could be termed as grave human right abuses today including slave trade and summary execution of suspects without fair trail, but it was worth maintaining security for the innocents. No one will condone the re-colonization of South Sudan by British in the 21st century but it is a big hurdle when civilians believe that those colonial periods were better than what we call our government today.
Because there is no political will in Jonglei state, police simply run after raiders for few hours and return with this result saying that “raiders had already gone very far.” Since the suspected raiders don’t cross into another sovereign country, say Ethiopia or Sudan, it become ridiculous to fail justice for the victims of these heinous attacks over and over again.
It does not matter whether the suspected perpetuators of child abduction, indiscriminate killing and cattle raiders are from Dinka Bor, Lou Nuer or Murle tribes, but the government must respond decisively. There has to be leadership. The politicians should either tell the villagers to leave Jonglei state or – quoting head Chief Manyok Ajak, “is better for you (politicians) to refuse taking up the responsibilities of representing or ruling the civilians if the government cannot protect women and children.”
Philip Thon Aleu is a South Sudanese journalist. firstname.lastname@example.org