By Professor Deng Awur Wenyin, SEPT/01/2016, SSN;
It was Sunday August 21st, 2016. The 11 o’clock English service was on in Juba All Saints’ Cathedral. The preacher was Jackson Moses Pitia, Dean of the Cathedral. The main readings were Psalms 46: 1-11, Jeremiah 1: 4-10, Hebrews 12: 18-29 and Luke 13:10-17. The theme of Pitia’s sermon was: “God is our refuge and strength”. The topical example he gave is the exodus of South Sudanese to other countries as refugees, because of the civil strife which started on December 15th, 2013. He said we inside the country and refugees, our prayers strengthen us.
All the churches in their different denominations and the mosques, have been preaching for peace, forgiveness and reconciliation. Some of the preachers even weep in their preaching and prayers. Indeed, our religious institutions are working for peace.
The most senior priest in the service was Assistant Bishop Frazer Yugu. As it is the rule in the Church, the duty was on Bishop Yugu to make the benediction. Normally this authority who closes the service and dismisses the congregation, would make some comments and commendations on the sermon, or at least say something in the form of an announcement.
Bishop Yugu commended Dean Pitia for the splendid sermon by asking the congregation the usual questions: What is this current war for? Who is fighting who? And why? He made a brief analysis of the wars which were fought by South Sudanese from 1955 to 2011 and then declared: any South Sudanese who fought and died in any of those wars, is a martyr.
Then, by way of distinction, he furthermore declared: any South Sudanese who is fighting and killed in an internal war after 2011, dies a tribesman.
When I tried to work out the rationale of that statement, it means to me that the qualification for martyrdom is for a South Sudanese who fought and got killed in a war against foreign invasion. For some of our younger generation who might not have been exposed to our history of resistance and struggle, foreign invasions in our land go back as far as 1821. The start was the Turco – Egyptian invasion led by Mohammed Ali Pasha. At that time the Sudan was a loose territory without strict borders.
That period (1821 – 1881) lasted for 60 years. It was the then southern Sudanese who suffered most because slave trade was applied on them. Then came the Mahdist revolution or the Mahdiya (1881 -1899). Instead of the revolution being a salvation for all the Sudanese, the Mahdists expanded the slave trade in the whole of southern Sudan. The Mahdists reigned for 18 years.
Then came the Anglo – Egyptian reconquest of the Sudan (1899 – 1956) in which the official name of the country became the Anglo – Egyptian Sudan. That period was 57 years. Then came the period which the northern Sudanese called independence (1956 – 2011). That period was 55 years.
It was supposed to be genuine independence for all of us but alas, the old treatment of southerners and outlook of the Turco – Egyptian, Mahdists and Anglo – Egyptian Sudan periods, did not change. In fact the South Sudanese had forecasted and therefore the new struggle started in August 1955, just some four months to independence.
So from 1821 – 2011 there was good cause to continue fighting. With that historical background of having resisted all sorts of foreign invasions and mistreatment for 190 years, why are our people killing themselves these days?
It is unfortunate that historical tribal competitions, ambitions and rivalries have been brought to town to be used for attaining political power. Attainment of political power has its own history in the European civilization.
Great Britain, Germany, France, Belgium and Portugal scrambled for Africa and established the European model of rule. On independence that model was inherited, thus in Africa today we have elections, legislatures, cabinets and judiciaries. The United Nations (UN), which was a result of the European wars which they call World Wars One and Two, has accepted as the standard the European model of acquiring power.
Tribes like the Jieeng (Dinka), Nuer, Chollo (Shilluk), Mundari, Murle, Otuho (Latuka), Boya, Didinga and Toposa, just to mention a few, should not import their cultural conflicts to the town. For example the Jieeng and Nuer have a long history of fighting among themselves in the toch (open plains and swamps) where their cattle graze.
Also cattle rustling is a factor. There they do not fight over any power but mainly for acquisition and control of pastures and watering places. Let the reader be informed that the Jieeng (Jaang in Nuer) and the Nuer are first cousins.
Some individuals would distort that fact but to no success. Observe their languages, names and initiation system, respectively. For example, the forehead marks of my Agaar section of the Jieeng are the same ones on the Nuer foreheads.
Even these tribes know when and where to fight. In December 2013 when the fighting broke out in Juba, the fighting which was, because of Riek and Kiir, taken to be a Jieeng–Nuer war, some individuals from my hometown, Rumbek, tried to mobilise the Agaar youth for war against the Nuer.
But the youth and elders wanted to know where the Nuers were attacking from. When the answer was Juba, they said no, they can’t be mobilized for that war because their Nuers attack from Bentiu, not Juba. The essence was that the fighting in Juba was a government affair, not their customary war.
Regrettably, the Lou Nuer do not see the logic of the Agaar: they have allowed themselves to be manipulated by Dr Riek Machar, wading all the way from Leer in Bentiu area on the West Nile, to raise the white army (jech mabor) to fight the Jaang. It seems to me the Bentiu youth tend to think like the Agaar. This is because Dr Riek could not raise a White army in Bentiu area.
I would like to underline a point which I think is important. Though the Jieeng and Nuer were the majority in the SPLA liberation war, the war which culminated in the independence, nevertheless South Sudan is not a country for two tribes alone so as to compete over it. The country belongs to all the tribes.
Since we have inherited the European mode of governance from the Sudan, we want a political leader to come to power through the will of the people.
In 1978 the people of the then Southern Region of the Sudan, through their Regional Assembly, elected Gen. Joseph Lagu president of the High Executive Council (HEC). Majority of the Jieeng members of the Assembly voted against their tribesman, Moulana Abel Alier and instead voted for Gen. Lagu.
Lagu’s Ma’adi tribe is a minute one on the Ugandan border but notwithstanding, he was elected because of his role in the Anya-Nya Liberation Movement. Gen. Lagu did not organize a fight to be president but presented himself humbly to the people’s representatives.
In conclusion, a question to you, the reader, and to myself as well, is Bishop Yugu right or wrong when he makes a distinction between a person who died in a liberation war, and a person who dies after the liberation wars, in these trivial wars, as a tribesman?
For my part, before I choose, I would like to ascertain the precise meaning of martyr. A dictionary meaning of the word is that a martyr is a “person who … dies for a cause or belief.”
What is the cause or reason to fight to die after the liberation? Riek? Or who? What is the belief to fight to die for? Folktales about Ngun-Deng?
Therefore, I entirely agree with my bishop that those who died during the liberation wars, are martyrs but those who are dying in these uncalled for internal wars, are dying as tribesmen. William Deng Nhial, Aggrey Jadein, Ezboni Mondiri, Dominic Muorwel Malou, Fr Saterlino Lohure and many others died in the struggle while poor. Their riches is July 9th 2011.
Of course Bishop Yugu didn’t make that judgment out of the blue. He is a well-informed bishop about topical issues. He and some of us are aware that, many individuals, civil societies and even the government, have been describing this Riek’s war as a senseless war.
Then he logically concludes that someone who fights and dies in these senseless Riek’s war can’t be a martyr. Such a person would be like an animal killed not according to Jewish or Islamic rituals. The meat of such an animal can’t be eaten by a Jew because it is unclean and a Muslim can’t eat it as well because it is fatis or not pure, because it is not halal. In Islam halal is something allowed and haram is something prohibited. Any unclean meat or thing in Judaism and Islam is negis or nasty.
In our Christian faith taking someone’s life is a sin.
The Nation Mirror daily of August 30th, 2016 had the following title for its editorial: “Can we stop killing ourselves?” My answer: Yes we can. But how and when?