By Makwei Achol Thiong
March 16, 2014 - The ongoing conflict in South Sudan quickly spread to Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei states after being quelled in Juba. It was in Jonglei that the fleeing leaders accused of attempting a coup by government surfaced. On the 18th December 2013, Dr. Riek Machar arrived to Bor by three boats, according to eyewitnesses and sparked a serious battle at the key quarter of the ministries located on the main docking site. Defected soldiers aligned to Machar and led by division eighth commander Gen. Gatdet Yak dislodged state government officials and pockets of police who maintained loyalty to central government within hours and took control of Bor, the capital of Jonglei state.
Since then, Bor town has changed hands four times, a record Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile state, is yet to level or break. The violence that raged through Bor left at least 2,000 people - nearly all civilians, dead forced hundreds of thousands others away from their homes.
Before mid-December outbreak of violence in Juba, Jonglei state has never been at peace since the signing of CPA. The scale of brutality among tribes for cattle raiding, child abduction and retaliatory attacks was a worrying factor of instability in Jonglei state recognized even at international level. Therefore, the incident of December 18th was not surprising given how tribal identity outshines national distinctiveness in South Sudan. Despite all cases of inter-communal violence in Jonglei state, December 18th 2013 became the worst violence that has hit the state capital Bor since the signing of Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005.
After being recaptured by government forces on 18th January 2014 from rebels, Bor has remained peaceful and calm. With hopes lost due to devastation, civilians especially men started returning Bor as early as 19th January with the anticipation of starting life from scratch as houses, shops, institutions (both public & private) and infrastructure were uncompromised through looting or demolition by the rebels. Schools got destroyed and after the devastation of Dr. John Garang Memorial University of Science & Technology, it was renamed on the sign board as Ngun-Deng University by the rebels. I just wonder whether Ngun-Deng would be pleased (if that was the intention of naming an institution after him) as glasses, computers, printers were not spared at the University.
But let us focus on the theme of this article. Care-taker governor, Gen. John Koang Nyuon visited Bor immediately after government forces flashed out rebels in January and ordered return of civil servants to work in Bor but little has been done by the highest office in the state to fully relocate to the capital and administrative city of Jonglei state.
Time and again, the government of the biggest state of the Republic of South Sudan has been reduced to a stature of coordination in Juba. The funny thing is that, there are three governments currently controlling Jonglei; two are presently based in coordination office in Juba and one works in Bor. The Juba governments are headed by Director of the coordination office Ustaz Ali Atem and the other by the Care-taker governor himself. The third and only one in Bor, is always headed by a minister at a time - meaning, when that minister in Bor retires to Juba, another one would take over as "acting governor" of caretaker governor Gen. John Kong Nyuon.
Coordination in Juba, as the name suggests, is supposed to be official workplace of the Director of coordination. The office of Caretaker governor Gen. John Kong, his ministers and state MPs dragging feet in Juba have to relocate to Bor. Presence of two governors for Jonglei (one in coordination office and the other in Bor) will always derail decision making especially at this critical time. Civilians are wandering on what to do as there are no shelters, clean water, enough food, etc in Bor. Rains are fast approaching but scattered governments of Jonglei state behave as if the year 2014 will not have rainy season.
Despite the collection of corpses (which is still ongoing) and overwhelming return of civilian population to Bor over the past few weeks, the decision to move to Bor remains a peripheral one amidst relative calm for governor Kong and his ministers and state MPs. The promises of transporting the civil servants to Bor from Juba stopped in few days after few chartered trips in a circular signed by the secretary General Prof. Arop Leek.
Before the start of payment of the salaries for the month of January, coordination office turned into Egyptians’ Tahrir square except that there was no violence as civil servants converge every morning hoping that their names would be displayed on the board for possible repatriation to Bor. Local officials allege that the flight schedules have been suspended by the "High Committee." The reason given was that people find their own ways of coming back to Juba after witnessing the devastation in Bor. It may be true that some people find their own ways of returning to Juba or Lakes state when they are flown to Bor. However, stopping flight arrangements for taking the civil servants to Bor would have not have been the immediate option the "High Committee" would have taken. Instead members of the High Committee should have identified the factor behind dissertation of Bor even after the security is guaranteed by the SPLA forces. The army has moved beyond Twic East County to Gadiang, some 90 km north of the state capital.
Among the reasons people dissert Bor are absence of food to eat, lack of better accommodating facilities, presence of corpses in most parts of the town and limited business activities especially in the department of catering. Tea sipping characterizes the day because it is cheap and easy to prepare. Some of these problems are being solved. Collection and burial of the corpses is an example.
The questions are, is the top leadership of Jonglei state not convinced about current stability in Bor? If yes, then why did the secretary general order all the civil servants to report to Bor amidst tense security situation? If no, then, what is the government of Jonglei state doing in Juba amidst calls from the president of the Republic of South Sudan, Gen. Salva Kiir Mayardit to see governors of the Upper Nile region (Jonglei, Upper Nile & Unity) return to their administrative towns after they were liberated from the rebels?
The choice of continuing to remain in Juba even by the State Crisis Management Committee – a body destined for Jonglei and task with helping the IDPs and other people affected by the war. The psychology of people currently is that, as the governor and some of his top ministers and MPs remain in Juba, then the security isn’t guaranteed in Bor. Therefore, civilian population will not be encouraged to remain in Bor if by accident they got themselves there. They would not be motivated to remain in their houses and similarly, NGOs would be reserved to move to Bor and everything will be motionless.
Even those ministers and MPs who willingly go to Bor also finds it difficult to run the affairs of their offices while the government’s main stream remains unwilling to leave Juba. If orders are issued in Juba without the whole government moving to implement them in Jonglei, then the whole leadership would be some sort of indirect rule. That would means changing the name of acting governor in Bor to something like governor general, God forbids, that we had during British times.
The IDPs in Mingkaman, UNMISS camp and other hideout places stands a danger of facing mountains of challenges especially now that rainy season is approaching.
Without shelter, congestion - which compromises hygiene and sanitation, lack of enough clean water and food, Bor would remain a no-go zone for citizens. The government of Jonglei state should put in consideration measures of encouraging the IDPs returns home by being exemplary rather than obstructing shown by caretaker governor Kong and his ministers and MPs in this difficult situation.
The Care-Taker governor should move to the state capital - Bor, in order to streamline service delivery to the affected and traumatized displaced and returnees civilian population of Jonglei state including those trapped in UNbases.
By fully relocating to Bor, the state government should encourage the IDPs return to their houses by making key facilities such as schools, hospital, domestic water supply system, etc fully operational.
The Care-taker governor should urgently appoint state Minister of Education in order to plan appropriately for the children who are out of schools to resume their studies. Most of these children have remained out of schools since the outbreak of violence and even those counties which have not experience mass displacement of civilians needs proper educational plans from the ministry. Most schools in other states have no carrying capacity to accommodate all the displaced students and pupils from Jonglei. There would otherwise be no reason important institutions like schools are not made functional in Bor as calm has already returned.
Influence NGOs and other aid agencies to response as urgently as possible to the returnees who would be going back to their houses. Major areas of relief assistance include hygiene & Sanitation, clean water, food and other non-food items such as mosquito nets.
Embark on the need of having conflict management rallies for mentoring the returnees so that hatred and conflict is not prolonged among the civil population. The right message and interpretation of the current conflict should be well presented so that the returnees will not continue to perceive it as conflict between certain ethnic communities but rather a political dissatisfaction of a certain group against members of their own party. This is necessary because returnees are expected to go back to their houses irrespective of their tribe, religion or political affiliation.
Finally, in order to avoid administrative discrepancies created by operating the same leadership in two different places with three heads, the Care-taker governor should reconcile his conflicting ideas of "not going" and "going" to Bor. The Care-taker governor should return to the state headquarters so that processes of rebuilding Jonglei state aren’t overshadowed by continuous consultations in a highly congested coordination office.
Makwei Achol Thiong is a South Sudanese from Jonglei state. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org