Home | Comment & Analysis    Wednesday 17 March 2021

Eye-witness account of Aweil West crisis

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By Garang Kuot Kuot

Five days ago, Match 13, 2021, we accompanied Comrade Stephen Wieu Guot, the newly appointed Commissioner of Aweil West County to Nyamlell where he was scheduled to assume his official duties as a Commissioner. Below is a detailed account of what transpired on that day.

Where to Raise the County’s Flag

On Mach 6, 2021, during the swearing-in ceremony of the State government, Governor Tong Akeen Ngor, gave a verbal directive to Commissioners of five Counties of new boundaries and where they would be opening and closing their flags. Every County was affected but the worst affected County was Aweil West. According to Governor’s directive, two chieftainships, Chimel Kuac and Ajuet Mawein Diing, were curbed to Aweil Municipality. This directive was outrightly rejected by Aweil West County Commissioner, Stephen Wieu Guot. The result was a press statement that Hon. Stephen Wieu made soon after the swearing-in where he publicly rejected the Governor’s decision. The matter reached South Sudan Presidency and it was amicably resolved. The Governor’s verbal directive was reversed and each Commissioner was allowed to open and close his or her flag at original border points as per presidential decree returning the country back to ten States, 79 Counties and their respective Payams. Everyone was happy with this amicable resolution of the matter.

The Twist in a Reversed Governor’s Verbal Directive

On Friday, March 13, at around 9:00 am, the Commissioner’s fleet of 7 vehicles assembled at South Sudan Hotel and his entire accompanying delegation took off for Nyamlell. The convoy was asked to leave and wait at the Aweil West border point while the Commissioner travels to State Secretariat General to meet and leave together with a government delegation. I was part of the team that left with the convoy. We arrived at the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC) office just before the airport road where we found members of the Ajuet community waiting with a bull they brought to honour their new Commissioner at their border.

After about half an hour later, the convoy of the government delegation, along with the Commissioner arrived at the border point where the Ajuet community and Commissioner’s delegation were waiting. At that point, the community was happy to see their Commissioner arrived. There were singing and ululation all over the place. The arriving vehicles stopped and the Commissioner got out of his car. The bull was brought down and as it was the norm, the Commissioner came directly trying to jump over the bull to indicate that he had finally stepped into his County’s territory. But, just as the Commissioner was about to jump over the bull, and to the dismay of the community and all those who were present, he was grabbed by State Security Advisor from behind and pull him back. The Security Advisor told him that he had not yet reached his County’s border and so he could not jump over the bull.

The Crisis

When the State Security Advisor held the Commissioner back, stopping him from jumping over the bull, the crisis began. The Commissioner questioned the Security Advisor why he could not jump over the bull when he had reached his County’s widely known border. The Security Advisor told him that the designated place as Aweil West County border was a public power station and that was where he should go and jump over the bull and open the flag. The Commissioner told him that every previous Commissioner of Aweil West County had always jumped over the bull at the RRC area, open and close their flags there. He asked him to explain what had changed. The Security Advisor told him that it was a government policy and that he, the Commissioner, would have to travel all the way up to the public power station where he should jump over the bull and open his flag.

The Ajuet community which brought the bull and which had always brought the bull in the same place couldn’t take the insult that was unfolding in their very eyes. They asked the Security Advisor to explain to them when, why and who redrew their border. The verbal fight ensued earnestly and at that point, it was difficult to control the situation. The Commissioner made it category clear that he would rather walk on foot to Nyamlell than accepting the unilateral redraw of the border of Aweil West County. On their part, the Ajuet community members said that the Commissioner would never move an inch beyond the borderline without opening a flag. That no one would redraw their border without their consent.

The verbal fight and standoff took about an hour. Thankfully, no one raised a hand to hit the other and the huge national security team that was brought by the government acted professionally by not forcefully intervening as that would have worsened the situation because the community and Commissioner’s accompanying delegation were extremely angry.

The Lengthy Standoff

After about one hour of the standoff, the community couldn’t take it anymore. The Ajuet Community brought down their bull for a second time and ordered the Commissioner to jump over it. The Commissioner jumped over the bull in watched of Security Advisor and his team. The Commissioner was taken to his vehicle and the flag was opened by the people. This was a near confrontation point, people had finally and sadly taken the matter into their own hands.

But just as the Commissioner’s vehicle was about to move, the Security Advisor and State National Security Director run and stood directly in front of the Commissioner’s vehicle. They said the car was not going to move with the flag open. At that point, the angry community and accompanying delegation told them to get out of the way or be crushed not by the vehicle but by the people themselves. The violent was about to ensue.

Seeing the level the situation reaching, the Security Advisor angrily withdrew the government delegation and security agencies to return to Aweil and leave the Commissioner to go on his own. He announced that the government delegation was no longer going to be part of the Commissioner’s travel to Aweil West. The community and those present didn’t care less.

Reception at Udhum Town

The fleet of Commissioner’s vehicle left the RRC area where the people opened the flag and the convoy headed to Uthum without any security. Arriving at Uthum town of Chimel section, the home town of the Commissioner, we found a huge crowd of people waiting to receive the Commissioner, their son. We all got out of the vehicles and the Commissioner joined the crowd to celebrate. He was crowned with a traditional hat made out of ostrich feathers (local known as Ajiim) and he marched along with the crown as the people sing the song of his great grandfather, paramount Chief Kuac Kuac (Kuac Mayil). As we were walking along the street heading to the grave of Late Paramount Chief, Kuac Kuac, the government delegation which abandoned the Commissioner and went back to Aweil, along with a huge national security team, suddenly arrived. They briefly stopped and the security personnel tried to intimidate those taking photos and videos with their phones. When they realized no one was giving them attention, they violently grabbed one man who was taking photos and dragged him to their vehicle. But they immediately released him and took away his phone. While they were doing their harassment, the people were just singing and the Commissioner continued walking in the middle of the crowd continuing his journey to the grave of Late Chief Kuac Kuac.

The government delegation was obviously outrage and ashamed by the people’s defiant. They abruptly left the Commissioner and his team in Uthum and speeded towards Nyamlell. After the event in Uthum was over, the Commissioner and his team took off for Wadwil. Thankfully, the South Sudan Defense Force (SSPF) squad which was deployed in the Udhum area joined the convoy and took over Commissioner’s security, the army led the way. The Commissioner and accompanying delegation finally had a protection force.

The Mysterious or Suspicious Incident

When we arrived at Panrak village, about 15 or 20 minutes from Udhum, three of our vehicles, including that of Commissioner, all five-door land cruisers, suddenly had flattened wheels. Coincidently or mysteriously, flatten wheels were all back ones on the left side of the vehicles. We had no evidence to accuse anyone of foul play but the whole matter was suspicious. We stopped the convoy and the wheels were changed as SSPF soldiers deployed around.

When the wheels were changed, we took off for Wedweil. Arriving in Wadwil, we found a small number of people who were greeted by the Commissioner as we passed by. But we learned that someone allegedly told the people who had gathered to welcome the Commissioner to go back because the Commissioner’s arrival was postponed. We left Wadwil and headed to Nyamlell. Arriving at Nyamlell roundabout at the Marol Market, we found a big crowd of people waiting to receive the Commissioner. We jumped down and the Commissioner greeted the crowd.

We took off for County Headquarters. At the County Headquarters, the government delegation, led by Security Advisor tried subtle techniques to make it appear that the reception of the Commissioner was low key. County Administrators were communicating with Commissioner’s team and they stood their ground. As civil servants, they didn’t want to be dragged into politics.

The Aweil West Headquarters - Nyamlell

We finally arrived at the County Headquarters at around 2:00 PM and the Commissioner was warmly and happily received by Chiefs and the crowd that had been waiting for him since morning. After a lengthy security meeting, the event finally began. The Security Advisor had already changed the program and had prepared the list of speakers.

Fortunately, it turned out; the people he had prepared to speak didn’t speak a partisan language. Everyone spoke a language of peace and unity. The Commissioner did not express his anger about the day’s frustrating events. Instead, he also spoke about peace, unity and service delivery to the people. The speeches were good and uniting. After the event, the boiling blood in everyone was finally down.

Observations:
There were several things I observed that are worth mentioning but I will only put down three observations. The reason for including these observations is because society gets affected if the wrong things are seen and ignored. The three observations include the following:
1. State Protocol: During the rally, I observed that State protocol was turned upside down. There is no way a State Security Advisor represents a State government or Governor for that matter in a political rally in the presence of State Minister of Local Government and Law Enforcement Agencies. During the reception rally in Nyamlell, there were three State Ministers in attendance, including the Minister of Local Government and Law Enforcement Agencies. But it was the State Security Advisor who represented the State Government. This was wrong according to government protocol. The Minister of Local Government and Law Enforcement Agencies should have represented the State government during the event instead of the Security Advisor.
2. Politicization of Civil Service: The Security Advisor and his team tried to use civil servants to spoil the reception of an officially appointed Commissioner. Civil servants are supposed to be none partisans. Like armed forces, they work with any political authority brought by the law. But the efforts made in Aweil West last week to try and pressure civil servants into fulfilling some political motives were wrong and condemnable. Civil servants must never be politicized because that can easily affect the delivery of services to the grassroots communities.
3. Politicization of National Security: National Security is not a partisan force; it is a highly trained intelligent agency whose task is to collect information and protects the people of South Sudan regardless of their political affiliations. During the fight over where to raise the flag, National Security was withdrawn hence compromising the security of the Commissioner and his team. It was as if National Security was a partisan army. Additionally, in Nyamlell, I was shocked to see a State National Security Director assuming a politician status. It has never happened before that a National Security Director assumes the role of a politician to a point of becoming one of the key speakers who addressed a political rally and to even clothing with a decorated traditional dress alongside executive members. On Friday, the National Security Director was treated like a Minister, beginning with sitting arrangement, being part of carefully selected key speakers and being one of those who had to be clothed with decorated sheet according to tradition. This is wrong, National Security, as per the constitution, must remain a professional and independent institution that protects the people of South Sudan through intelligence gathering. They are not supposed to involve in politics as he did in Nyamlell.

Who is Behind this Unfortunate Situation:

Having watched and analyzed what is happening in Northern Bahr El Ghazal State, I have come to the conclusion that the matter I narrated above has nothing to do with the SPLM (IG) trying to derail the implementation of the revitalized peace agreement. Instead, it is about personalities trying to accomplish personal motives using SPLM (IG) as a cover-up. It is becoming apparent that certain personalities in Northern Bahr El Ghazal State have personal issues with Hon. Commissioner, Stephen Wieu Guot and these personalities are trying to use SPLM (IG) as a cover to execute their personal agenda. Others want to create their new political constituency outside the laws of the country.

Early December 2020, SPLM (IO) held a huge national conference in Juba but there was no security incident throughout the event and after. This indicates that the SPLM (IG) is innocent in Northern Bahr El Ghazal recent political crisis, especially in Aweil West. Given what we now know, it is recommendable that the SPLM (IG) should identify the people behind Friday, March 13, incident and hold them accountable. The SPLM (IG) should also make these personalities understand the terms and provisions of the R-ARCISS. These people should also be made to understand that Hon. Stephen Wieu Guot is not SPLM (IO) Commissioner; rather he is a constitutionally mandated government of national unity commissioner of Aweil West County. The personalities trying to create anarchy in Northern Bahr El Ghazal State should be identified and made to account. Politics will be put to action during the elections but during this transitional period, parties’ collective focus should be on reconciliation, promoting national unity, development and provision of basic services to the people.

Recommendation:
The developing political situation in Northern Bahr El Ghazal State is serious and shouldn’t be ignored any longer. Given what I personally witnessed on Friday, I must alert the Presidency, especially President Kiir and FVP Dr Riek to investigate this developing danger. The spirit of peace averted the worst on Friday but I am convinced that the State government has uglier plans that may plug this State into crisis. I strongly recommend that the Presidency intervenes and investigate the motives behind Friday’s crisis and hold those responsible accountable.

Conclusion:
While last Friday’s events were unfortunate, the people and government officials should be thanked for exercising restrain despite unprecedented anger. Everyone was bitter, a lot of bad words were thrown around but no one raised a hand in an attempt to hit or harm the other. The security officers who were present must also be thanked, they stayed away from the verbal fight between the people and the government; that is how it is supposed to be.

Friday’s event should be a wakeup call for the people of Aweil to realize that their peace is in danger and it requires all of them to unite and demand justice against those who want to subject our people to security danger. Aweil has remained peaceful since 1982 but certain individuals want to revert this historic legacy. You, the people should demand accountability against those who nearly plug the State into bloodshed on Friday.

Finally, Commissioner, Stephen Wieu Guot is a Commissioner of the people. This was demonstrated when people and not the government took him home on Friday, March 13. For this reason, he should be supported by all and sundry so that he can succeed in providing much needed basic services to the people of Aweil West County.



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