BY: Dr. LAKO Jada Kwajok, UK, AUG/18/2016, SSN;
“We don’t like you. My plan would have been to order the South Sudanese soldiers to capture the airstrips in Torit, Juba, Bahr Al-Ghazal and Upper Nile so that no government aeroplanes would land. We would then capture the steamer, and then declare our intention to secede from you [Northerners]. We are not politicians nor do we know politics. We do not like you at all – we cannot forget the atrocities that you committed against our ancestors. If it means death, so be it!”
The above are the words of our hero, Daniel Jumi Tongun during his interrogation in the aftermath of the Torit Mutiny on 18/08/1955. The British lured the Equatoria Corps mutineers into surrendering to the Sudanese government.
All those who surrendered totaling 300 soldiers including the leader of the revolt, Lieutenant Ronaldo Loyela were summarily executed by firing squads. Those were the esteemed martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the independence of South Sudan. Their colleagues who never trusted the British and hence didn’t surrender withdrew to the mountains and later formed the nucleus for the Anya-Nya movement.
Daniel Jumi Tongun and Marko Rume were arrested following the discovery of a telegram linking them to the mutineers. The two only escaped execution because 10 to 20 of the accused who were brought to testify against them, denied ever knowing the two suspects.
It was a display of bravery and readiness for self-sacrifice on both sides. On one hand, the mutineers knew they were in deep trouble but that didn’t make them betray their civilian leaders. On the other hand, the two leaders exhibited unwavering stance and were not afraid to tell the Jallaba exactly what Southerners felt about them.
Before the mutiny, it was known to few people that Tongun did write a letter to the Equatoria Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) in Torit urging them to postpone their plan to a later date. He advised them to wait for the return of the leading Southern members of parliament like Benjamin Lwoki and Buth Diu Thung who were in Khartoum at the time.
But tensions reached a boiling point following the evacuation of families of the northern soldiers, the ordering of the No. 2 company of the Equatoria Corps to travel to Khartoum and the arrest of Lieutenant Emilio Taffeng; one of the few high-ranking Southern officer.
These events prompted the Equatoria Corps NCOs to proceed with the execution of their plan without heeding the advice of their civilian leaders.
Resistance to foreign invasion or intrusion was a common denominator in the relation between the various communities of South Sudan and all the aliens.
However, the Torit mutiny was the first concerted effort by the Southerners against foreign rule. It ushered in a new dawn of collective endeavours by all the communities towards the realisation of the independence of South Sudan.
That era also witnessed the emergence of the spirit of national unity and a belief that our destinies as different tribes are intertwined.
South Sudanese national unity was though in its early stages of evolution and many would have expected it to grow much stronger as communities establish more ties through learning each other languages, the development of a common language (for example Arabi Juba), intermarriages and commercial activities among other factors.
Alas! The progression everyone expected became a sort of regression and those early stages in mid-1950’s turned out to be the golden era of South Sudanese national unity. The question that comes to mind is what went wrong?!
I believe three factors bear much of the blame for the demise of South Sudanese national unity.
The initial damage to our national unity occurred with the signing of the Addis Ababa Peace Agreement (AAPA) on March 12, 1972. Although General Joseph Lagu, the leader of the Southern Sudan Liberation Movement (SSLM) included Joseph Oduho (one of the hawks) in the negotiating team, people in Equatoria remained skeptical about the peace process.
Some South Sudanese politicians including members of the SSLM who were staunch supporters of South Sudan’s independence like Eliaba Surur, refused to endorse the peace initiative. Tongun thought that Aggrey Jaden, former President of the Southern Sudan Provisional Government and Francis Mayar, a lawyer who lived in Kinshasa should have headed the peace delegation to Addis Ababa.
Tongun and Chief Lolik Lado of Liria were dismayed by Abel Alier leading the government delegation. Lolik asserted that by sitting on the side of Northerners, “Alier made it easier for the North to get more from the South and difficult for the South to get more from the North.”
Many South Sudanese are still oblivious about the reason why Alier was chosen by Numeiri to lead the government delegation. From the Northerners’ perspective, it made sense because Regional Autonomy for the South was Alier’s idea in the first place and he was known to be a strong supporter of the unity of Sudan.
Nevertheless, Alier could have garnered support for his administration by fostering the fragile national unity through inclusive and equitable policies. Instead, he pursued a tribalistic policy turning Southern Sudan into a brutal police authority under his Chief of Police Ruben Mag.
The Kokora (re-division) movement in Equatoria was the natural result of Alier’s failed policies.
The emergence of SPLM/SPLA in 1983 was met with little enthusiasm if at all in Equatoria. Dr John Garang was never a well-known political figure in South Sudan before 1983.
There hadn’t been any covert mobilisation of the masses or enlightenment about the objectives of the movement.
The fact that it resorted to looting, rape and unlawful killings of members of the other ethnicities made many people particularly the Equatorians believe that the SPLM/SPLA is a tribal movement bent on settling grudges with the Equatorians for bringing about Kokora.
Additionally, two more reasons contributed to the limited recruitment of the Equatorians into the movement. The name of the movement and its objectives were a big problem for them. How could they sacrifice their lives for the liberation of Sudan when they have fought for nearly two decades to secede from it?!
And to a lesser extent, the general impression that the SPLM/SPLA was a communist movement didn’t help in attracting recruits in Equatoria to join it. Having many known communists at the helm, the formation of the Red Army and allegiance to the former Soviet Union and its allies were enough evidence to back their belief.
During the early stages of the movement, Garang used to persuade the secessionists that they can fight up to Kosti at the borders with the North and leave those who were for the liberation of the whole Sudan to proceed northward.
It was misleading and dishonest as there can’t be two objectives for a liberation movement.
A few years ago, I watched a video clip shown inadvertently by General Malaak Ayuen over SSTV where Garang questioned the wisdom of the Bashir’s government in striking a deal with Dr Riek Machar, the secessionist while continuing to fight him the unionist.
The truth of the matter is that Garang was a unionist and many SPLM/SPLA cadres still believe in the New Sudan vision. From the outset, the New Sudan vision appeared unachievable to many people especially those who know the intricacies of the Sudanese society and politics.
But most worryingly it was irreconcilable with the demand of the Equatorians and others for total independence from the North. With such a conflict of objectives, national unity became a casualty of all the eventualities.
With President Kiir at the helm in Juba following the independence of South Sudan, the tide could have been turned favouring a cohesive society which would ultimately salvage our national unity.
Kiir had the perfect circumstances at the beginning of his reign for a successful or even an iconic Presidency. He took charge of a country that owed no loans to any foreign governments or international monetary institutions. A government that had billions of US Dollars of oil revenues stashed in its coffers, vast untapped natural resources and a reasonable number of technocrats to lead the modernisation process.
Apart from the Abyei issue which is a little bit complicated, the rest of the territorial claims against our neighbours are amenable to amicable solutions. Only a few countries in the world received the kind of support we enjoyed at the United Nations at the time of joining it. All the major world powers and the international organisations were backing us.
What else would any President hope for? People were overly happy with their newly earned freedom and would have excused the President for any petty shortcomings.
Well, rather than using the massive oil revenues to launch a robust economic development and growth, he squandered the billions of Dollars through corruption that is unheard of in modern history. Tribalism and nepotism became the order of the day.
The enthusiasm that filled the hearts of the young graduates and the young entrepreneurs during the celebration of the first independence day soon settled into a profound despair in the face of unemployment and lack of business opportunities.
The Juba massacre of the Nuer civilians that plunged the country into a civil war was a tremendous blow to national unity. And it didn’t end there as numerous atrocities were also committed by the SPLA against the other Non-Jieng communities.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the President didn’t relent in pursuing his divisive policies that saw the establishment of the illegal 28 new states. In doing so, he hammered the last nail in the coffin of national unity.
South Sudan will never be at peace in the absence of a system of governance that is acceptable to all the communities. Those who think they possess the power to maintain the status quo are just deceiving themselves and postponing the inevitable.
As we can see now, the communities that were considered in the past to be noncombatant have taken up arms to defend themselves and the war has spread to every and each corner of South Sudan.
The current regime has clearly failed and continuing the same system of governance would fall within the definition of insanity which is repeating the same thing with the hope of getting a different result.
In the first place, we must understand that technically South Sudan is not a nation but a group of mini-nations or tribes trying to live together in a territory that was “tailored” for them by the colonialists. There is no doubt that some of the tribes in Equatoria would have preferred to live together with their brethren across the borders in Uganda and the DRC.
The same applies to the Nuer and the Anuak people who probably would have opted for their communities to be within one territory in each case rather than being divided between Ethiopia and South Sudan.
Hence, it’s imperative that we adopt the system of governance that would meet the aspirations of all the communities in South Sudan.
In a world of reason, federalism would have been the right choice to address the need for devolution of power from the centre to the states. But the events that have occurred which were often beyond reason and the magnitude of the damage inflicted on the social fabric of the country – showed that the situation requires more than federalism as a solution.
Now in South Sudan, we have people who were made refugees three times in their lifetime. They were refugees in the neighbouring countries during the Anya-Nya War, through the SPLM/SPLA War and finally in the current Kiir’s War.
When are they going to live peacefully and enjoy life in their God-given land?! Father Saturnino Lohure must be stirring in his grave of what has become of South Sudan.
The only system of governance that would bring about a lasting peace in South Sudan is a confederation of states. Switzerland is a Confederate state and ranks No. 8 on the list of the richest countries in the world. Belgium is a hybrid of a federation and a confederation and remains one of the most stable and advanced countries of the world.
In the case of Serbia and Montenegro, despite sharing the same ancestry and ethnicity, yet they initially chose a confederation which subsequently became two independent states.
Looking around the world, one cannot help admiring the Swiss Confederacy that has been there since 1291.
Dr. Lako Jada Kwajok
( 1 ) The First Sudanese Civil War – by Scopas S. Poggo, Assistant Professor of African American and African Studies at Ohio State University, Mansfield campus.
( 2 ) War and Peace in the Sudan 1955 – 1972, by Cecil Eprile.