By Magok Alier Akuot
January 19, 2014 - Last night-Brighton in England, UK I watched folks come and go holding hands and enjoying life as though it won’t get any better the following day. The nights are as peaceful the daytimes although the weekends are full of life. These folks I watched freely crisscrossing the busy Brighton Streets were as happy as the town itself. I thought about how they had gone through much pain, struggle and suffering centuries ago-how Brighton used to be known as a fishing village in the 16th century and housing 400 fishermen and sixty boats, a town that was later given city status in 2000 by Queen Elizabeth II as part of millennium celebrations. Today as I watched these folks walk the streets of Brighton, I read the happiness and the love they have gotten for their town.
I thought of the 1629 Charles I dissolution of parliament and personal rule slogan-of British Civil wars and how they oversaw all challenges within and outside to found one of the powerful western nations-a nation known both for good and bad, a nation whose education has attracted people of all walks of life. I thought of how Aligo and I-the only South Sudanese at Sussex have become part of this world-fitting in so easily as if we walked from Juba town to Konyo-Konyo.
I thought of the two ladies Aligo and I got at the shop next to his residence. Suggestively, these ladies were going to one of those clubs at the seafront or had just been there. They were smiling with freshness of people who live in a secure town-a town which dawns with topics of accountability and people’s welfare on agenda. I thought of Brighton as a sample of UK towns whose voices of the citizens ring in leaders’ ears.
The euphoria of this reflection sharpened memories about a nation I had left four months ago-of a town I had started to build myself into a better citizen I dreamt to be. I revisited people’s dreams-their hopes, aspirations and vision. I revisited the discussion I had with Pedro-my roommate with whom I shared countless cultural, social and political issues. I recalled the disturbing memories of our disagreement culturally on logical points, of how I shared disturbing political moments in my nascent nation, and how I told him I had fears the disagreement between Kiir and Riek is ugly and may not be as safe as here In Britain where folks would disagree with David Cameron on important political concerns but would candidly take them as reference points to adjust to the common good of Britons. Pedro and I said prayerful wishes hoping things would be fine contrary to my fears.
I thought of too many things and would go on thinking calculating the amount of lives lost and those subjected to wanton suffering due to this senseless on-going conflict. Then there was a moment of silence-my heart pumped heavily, head spilled, mind suddenly whirled ,legs too heavy to carry me along and eyes wet unable to see. For five minutes I had left Brighton with its peacefulness and gone searching for a lost vision-a lost dream in a shamed nation.
Finally I thought of the conversation I had with mum-of how she sounded half-dead but alive. she brought out the bitterness of displacement which suggested the memories of the 1991 had been re-sharpened in her. She is one of those people displaced from Bor town. And as painful as this could be to anyone, this innocent woman had started living in a nation which she had rightly fought for-a nation for which she toiled in the bush seeing only but a nightmare of the South Sudanese struggle. She hoped one day-like King’s day, freedom and equality shall reign.
But as I spoke to her-in her new found home-a refugee camp in Uganda, she sounded with bitterness crying for justice against betrayal, deceit, conspiracy, and hypocrisy. She sounded with bitterness of a chickenpox sickness which Peter, my brother, later emphasised was severe and had kept her on hunger strike for six days. Peter asked me to convince her to eat something in order to be well on her feet to which I responded. I begged her to be strong and to eat something to keep her alive. I even lied to her saying things were getting better and that it was a matter of days and she would be back to Bor. She was unfriendly in hearing this cheap reasoning and ended the call, and that was when I realised she was greatly hurt.
And as I stared into the screen of the phone, I remembered how painful the betrayal, deceit, conspiracy and hypocrisy have been not only to mum but to everyone caught up in this violence-how their dreams, hopes and vision of a growing nation have been shattered by two selfish and self-rewarding leaders in the personalities of Kiir and Riek.
I thought of those innocent 1000 lives of men, women and children lost in these ethnicitized violence since one month ago. I thought of those more than two-hundred (200+) men, women and children lost in a ferry while running for their lives from Malakal. Their death is as painful as the death of that one man who courageously sailed us along overcoming all hardships but who silently died without a last word to the nation-a man who never had to fight to reward himself but to liberate the marginalised people in Sudan-a man with whom both Kiir and Riek disagreed at points of victory. I thought of a 1991 fall-out between Riek and Garang and of a 2004 fall-out between Kiir and Garang, I thought of how those disagreements were candidly used to revisit policies of national triumph leading us to date. I thought of Kiir and Riek in love with Garang’s vision but failing far below the metre to achieve it. And then I thought of them inhibiting different political ambitions but subjectively falling within a family of fallacious personalised unanimity.
I revisited numerous coup accusations against Dr. Majak, against Garang’s boys and against Riek during Kiir’s visit to China, and for which he politically cancelled his longer trip. I thought of cabinet reshuffle and the disagreement with Riek on party policies-on chairmanship. Did you hear of a term ‘Garang’s boys’? I flipped through theorised mental pages only to come up with no understanding of why some freedom fighters would be classified as though they are prodigals?
I looked back at Riek’s admission of Bor massacre and his apology to the victims albeit to politicians. And of his desire to replace Kiir as the next president first by becoming the Party chairman. Of the press conference organised by Riek and his cohorts including Garang’s widow-how they brought out legitimate issues which have gone amiss and of how I admired their strategy of inter-party dialogue. I watched Wani Igga term the group ‘disgruntled former ministers’ who cannot affect the planned SPLM National Liberation Council (NLC) meeting. Then I thought of Kiir deliver an awful speech which provoked Riek with such urgency of wanting to explode in that room. Then there was this episode of both Kiir and Riek as two opportunists looking to amass wealth which came to mind. I held fingers between my teeth wanting to bite with bitterness of a shamed citizen wanting best for his nation ---then I imagined Garang was alive to see how his so-called deputies are ruining everything he fought and died for and especially how they are and have indeed taken people back to the olden days of run-and-hide in the displaced or refugee camps.
Then I imagined the story of mum is as thoughtful as that of a kid who lives in UNMISS compound and on the streets of Juba competing with dogs on leftovers to sustain life-it is a story of a man who is wondering what to tell his kids if they wake up and ask ‘dad we need biscuits, milk, we need to go to the shop’. It is a story of a young man or woman whose stability has been shattered –it is a story of a woman who is learning to hate her neighbours because she is made to believe they are her enemies-it is a story of a man and a woman who have individually lost their loved ones to this senseless violence staged by Kiir and countered by Riek. It is a story of those generals killed undeservingly, it is a story of that innocent solider who was shot on the back of his neck in an ambush on the road to Bor-it is a story of those political detainees who are being presented to the world as root cause of the violence and who the world has learnt to have had no visible or invisible hand in the violence.
But like Britain, America, France, Russia or South Africa to mention but a few–the story of South Sudanese, as I thought, would not be the same in a couple of years. Nations have gone through many pains, trying moments and tribulations and have triumphed at the end of the tunnel. They have come out victorious and set an admired democratic governance system. I had this unconvincing self-belief that the people of South Sudan have learnt and come out clean to the extent of alienating themselves from the trap of Kiir and Riek. They know, as I thought, an opportunity of free people at last awaits, they know too well that many political bargains have been made and produced no tentative outcomes. They know how Kiir has failed the nation lately, and they know how, on the advice of Uganda’s Museveni, Kiir intends to cling to power. They know Riek is also another failed man who is always getting carried away by this cheap prophecy of Ngun-Deng. That opportunity, as I thought with memories of everyone in mind, could change the status quo and set the nation on gainful business like never before which is why they need to realise the power of choice they ought to make in a leader who will genuinely revisit Garang’s vision of a new Sudan.
Ah, it could be as peaceful as here in Brighton you know if we intelligently make better choices avoiding double standards or hypocrisy-of course no such thing as ethnic differences could even be a bar to realising the South Sudanese dream. And we could as well see folks hand-in-hand with one another enjoying life as though it can never be any better the next day. We could see and live in a world of fun like those two ladies Aligo and I got at the shop enjoying the beauty and happiness of life as it opens up to them. That is the nation this innocent woman, that longing kid in the anguish of hunger, that widowed woman, that stranded man kept in the wonder of loneliness of life because his wife is dead-wants to live in and hold leaders account for their decisions, actions, or omissions.
The author is a South Sudanese Master of Laws student at the University of Sussex
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org