July 4, 2014 (JUBA) – A South Sudanese editor said he would not respond to a summons by security officials over the federalism debate, raising fears of further tensions over the controversial matter.
- South Sudanese men read newspapers in Juba on 10 July 2011, the day after independence from Sudan (Source: Phil Moore / AFP)
“They asked me to go and see them on Wednesday but I did not go. If they want to arrest me, let them come. They will find me here. I am not going anywhere and I will not go to them,” Nhial Bol Akeen, the Citizen newspaper’s editor-in-chief, told Sudan Tribune on Friday.
Akeen, a veteran journalist, said he was summoned by security operatives and asked to go with the heads of the different media houses currently operating in the country.
“They asked me to go with others but I told them point blank that I am responsible for others. If they want they can call them but I cannot take them,” he said.
On 2 July, however, the information ministry issued a statement clarifying that the government had not prevented the media or members of the public from openly debating on federalism and that such debates would help shape opinions for informed decision-making processes.
CALLS FOR FREE DEBATE
Meanwhile a senior government official warned that those opposed to the use of the word federalism will be held accountable should more violence break out in Greater Equatoria region.
“It was the same behavior and attitude of not accepting responsibility for the malaise of this country that led to the outbreak of the current senseless war in Greater Upper Nile,” said Lual Acuek Deng.
“I take this opportunity to appeal to our colleagues in the development policy forum community to reach out to all concerned, including the president of the Republic, to allow for free debate about the type of federalism that would suit the objective conditions of South Sudan,” added the former Sudanese minister for petroleum and energy.
ONE KILLED OVER FEDERALISM
South Sudanese security agents killed a person and injured another in Western Equatoria state after a dispute erupted over a federalism debate in Maridi county, located over 190km west Juba, officials told Sudan Tribune on Friday.
“I want to inform you that Security personnel shot dead a young man yesterday here in Maridi. Another one was also injured. There was no reason for shooting them. Their crime was speaking about federal system in a bar,” an area lawmaker said by phone.
The soldiers were allegedly offended by the discussions and demanded that those involved follow them to the military barracks, but the latter reportedly declined these orders.
“This angered the soldiers and it was during the process when the young men decided to leave where they were seated and run into different directions. The soldiers then started shooting at them, resulting into the death of one of them and another one was injured,” said the MP.
He said the situation in Maridi town had remained tense throughout Friday night, with very limited movements.
Charles Barnaba Kisanga, the state information minister, separately confirmed the incident, which reportedly caused panic among town residents and forced some of the people to flee their homes.
“Yes there was an incident yesterday at about 10:00pm but the situation is now under control. The county commissioner and the security forces are conducting [an] investigation to establish the facts,” Kisanga said.
“There are no details but the general view from the area is that the incident was over federalism debate. It created tension and people fled their homes but it is now calm. People have started returning to their homes,” he added.
State officials said security forces were yet to establish identities of those involved with several residents accusing government of doing very little to calm down such a precarious situation.
Critics also blamed the police of using clumsy tactics, such as mass roundups as a ploy to claim their presence in the area and free most of them; an approach they say breeds more resentment.
This was the first incident to occur after President Salva Kiir recently criticised politicians from Equatoria region for championing calls for federalism and that they were simply “set up” by former vice-president-turned rebel leader Riek Machar to “divide internal front”.
Religious leaders called for calm and urged politicians to show leadership and allow free debate over the type and system of governance demanded by citizens instead of suppressing them.
“This is unfortunate development and I called on our people to exercise restraint. The politicians with their statements are lighting the firebox if they are not very, very careful. They need to show strong leadership and open up public debate so that people themselves discuss among themselves to be able to know the type of the governance system they want to be adopted,” said Episcopal Pastor Samuel Duku.
“Allowing public debate will also help the government to explain to the people an alternative system,” he added.
In May, Kiir told the country’s lawmakers that citizens be allowed to decide on the federal system of governance, which should not be imposed onto them. Debate on the matter has, however, attracted several controversies as the country grapples with its ongoing conflict.