By Justin Tombe Demetry, MAR/19/2016, SSN;
A denial letter written by Joseph Athian Angok, According to the Dawn Newspaper published on March 9, 2016 in Juba under the title, “Bor, Padang Communities Deny Land Grabbing Allegations,” turns out to be a form of a letter that leaves one in a sense of pity if not bewilderment. In that interesting letter, the community of Bor and Padang Dinka strongly denied the land grabbing allegations in Rajaf East that were labeled against them by the SPLA generals, terming the allegations as untrue and unacceptable.
In the statement extended to the Dawn Newspaper signed by the chiefs of the two communities who said, they would like to clarify to the public that, they are not land grabbers. The statement reads: “We, the chiefs of the two above mentioned communities, would like to clarify to the public that, what the two generals, Marial Chanuong and Thomas Cirilo said is not true, and completely not acceptable, when they referred to the two communities as land grabbers, and called their chiefs ring leaders.”
The chiefs reiterated that they are not land grabbers and that they’ve followed the legal procedures to acquire land, categorically describing the name ‘land grabbers’ as rude language.
The teamed-up community said they submitted their request for land to the then Central Equatoria State who gave them an approval and transferred them to Rajaf East Payam authorities to allocate land for the displaced people from the two communities to live in for a short time. As such, the Rajaf East Executive Director by name Simon Peter Johnson gave approval to these two communities, and charged them 50,000 (Fifty Thousand) South Sudanese Pounds for each community as fees for the land; and therefore, Padang Community paid its due fees on February 9, 2015; whereas Bor Community paid its due fees on May 15, 2015.
In the statement, the chiefs revealed that, while they were doing some preparations to clear the area allocated to them; in the course of doing so, they were surprised by a huge number of the body guards of the two generals, who then arrested some of their chiefs. They have now appealed to both Jubek State and Central authorities to intervene in the case.
This interesting denial letter can be summed up into three important entities which are: The rightful acquisition of land for displaced persons, payment of the required fees for the said land, and the arrest made due to land grabbing.
In the first place, I would like to express my sympathy for the members from the two communities who were forced to be displaced away from their own localities. As my response to Joseph Athian Angok, the writer; as well as the response to the chiefs of the two communities; I would like to introduce myself as one of the natives; or in other words, one of the victims of the area or land under siege.
Just to give you a hint about the receptive nature of the very village or community you are in dispute with; be informed that this very community have accommodated not only internally displaced persons, but refugees from the neighboring countries who have lived peacefully without any form of hurdles until the right time came for them to return back to where they came from.
Apart from some of the groups from Eastern Equatoria that were forced to come to the government controlled areas during the war (1983-2005), let alone those who came before, the last group that I clearly remember were the displaced citizens that came to that same area from the village of Ngagnala, when the SPLA advanced to their area around late 1980s, and displaced them to Juba.
By then, those displaced persons from Lokoya tribe settled in, and were assisted by the non-governmental organizations. By then, Juba was under the government of Equatoria Region; and the government establishment through the Juba City Council approached the chiefs. Thereafter, the chiefs together with the local community allocated a designated area on temporary basis for the displaced persons.
The displaced persons were allowed to erect their camps assisted by the NGOs, and allowed to cultivate crops and even build tukuls; but should get permission in the event that they would like to plant a tree. Building a foundation or erecting a building was out of question. This had always been the case back in the day.
When those displaced persons came to the area in the late 1980s, by then Gen. Thomas Cirilo was an officer in the Sudan Armed Forces, who was influential and had a say in the village affairs before his heroic departure to join the SPLA struggle. Despite the fact that Uncle Thomas Cirilo had government forces under his command in the outskirts of Juba Airport, he never had any quarrel with the displaced persons.
On the other hand, Gen. Peter Cirilo who was also a retired governor and general in the Sudan Armed forces was by then highly respected by the army command in Juba despite his retirement from the army. Gen. Peter had a farm in Gumbo which likewise accommodated the displaced persons.
My own dad who is one of the responsible figures from the area whose farm is adjacent to Uncle Peter Cirilo, also accommodated various groups of displaced citizens; and despite being a senior government employee with good connections, he did not use any means to quarrel with the displaced person, but had to legally evict those who attempted to illegally confiscate the land on several occasions.
All those named figures have not chased away any displaced person simply because those displaced people were there on temporary basis, and have no intention of retention of the land; neither have they even gotten engaged in demarcation or illicit land business as those types of practices were not even known or heard of.
The resentment that developed recently is simply because the community is now dealing with a different ball game altogether, which is associated with some hidden agenda – coupled with immorally unwelcomed practice of illegal land business.
If the two communities of Bor and Padang would like to dispute that they are displaced persons, what does the displaced person have to do with legal acquisition of the land that involves payment of the fees without the involvement of the land owners? On the other hand, where on earth would a displaced person pay huge amount of money to get land; and on top of it erect not temporary, but concrete structures?
Since land for the displaced are supposed to be for temporary settlement, it is supposed to be free and shouldn’t require ‘legal acquisition’ at all; so long as the right channels are undertaken, so as to allow temporary settlement in the designated land approved by the land owners. With regards to the Gwuduge land issue, this has not been the case whatsoever.
If the then Central Equatoria State authority referred you to the Payam Administrator, then that same administrator should have handled that issue with the local chief of that particular area or village.
If the claim is that chief Lado Bureng was the one who allocated the village of Gwuduge for temporary settlement, then you need to know that, the two communities plus the Payam Administrator by the name Simon Peter Johnson have dealt with a wrong chief in a joint malfeasance practice altogether.
For your information, Gwuduge is a village within the Tokiman community that has its own separate village chief; hence, even the paramount chief cannot decide on this alone. Whether the two communities of Bor and Padang now know who the right chief of the area is or not, we have faith in them; nonetheless, be reminded also that, bribing a chief have ended up with those Southern Sudanese chiefs whom history have taught us that, they were allegedly bribed by the former Arab masters through gifts such as bicycles, radios and few cash. Those were the things of the past.
Even though we respect our chiefs, they don’t have an absolute say in the decision making as far as community land is concern. As a matter of fact, that community land belongs to individual families; and they were never a no man’s land that any administrator or a chief can allocate at will. If such a practice might have happened somewhere, it is their decision to do so.
That being said, too bad to inform you that, the two generals, Marial Chanuong and Thomas Cirilo did the right thing by making an arrest to prevent land grabbing because such practices are the very acts that tarnishes the image of your community that have shed blood with the rest because of this very land you attempted to grab.
I have written on this similar topic under the following link for you to understand the history of how this community managed to protect their ancestral land for ages; as well as the acts of tarnishing your community’s name by creating unnecessary animosity through such practice: http://www.southsudannation.com/condemnation-of-the-recent-land-grabbing-in-gwuduge-village-tokiman-rajaf-payam-juba/
I hope the two communities have now learned that, they have taken a wrong approach to get a place for the internally displaced persons instead of insisting that, the communities have legally acquired land, and have paid for it; which literally means nothing else but ownership of the land – especially when concrete structures were about to be erected.
If those are truly displaced persons seeking temporary places; and still have that amount of money to erect concrete structures, then instead of wasting money in a place that will end up being taken away; it is better to be appropriately invested in a rightfully own place by following appropriate channels that will not amount to deceit by those who commit gross misconduct by misleading the two communities to a wrong place; thereby associating the communities with nothing but land grabbers.
I wish the community all the best in the pursuit of a temporary place to live, and may peace reign in South Sudan.
Justin Tombe Demetry