BY: Jay Johnson, SOUTH SUDANESE, MAR/23/2013, SSN;
The recent call and push for federal system of government in the Republic of South Sudan by Equatoria governors, politicians, intellectuals, as well as the assertion of right of self-determination for the eventual independent Republic of Equatoria (ROE) or Democratic Republic of Lado Enclave (DROLE) has been based in part, on the alleged Dinka political domination, systematic discrimination and marginalization of Equatorians, colonization and occupation of the Equatoria region by Western NiloticS and Dinka in particular.
Whether the people of Equatoria region have genuine social, economic or political grievances against Dinka and Western NiloticS is beyond the scope of this article. Put it differently, I defer to challenge or affirm these grievances given time constraints. I will however, address the question of land grabbing or more broadly the alleged occupation and colonization of the Equatoria region by Dinka.
Sudan Second Civil war (1983 – 2005)
It is worth to remind the readers that war has consequences, one of which is the displacement of population, either within or outside the border of the state. This displacement phenomenon was undoubtedly felt and experience by people of South Sudan as the civil war intensified and became sectarian during the early and late 1990s. Millions and Thousands of civilianS were forced out of their ancestral land. Most sought refuge in big towns of Juba, Malakal and Wau. Others went north and settled in Khartoum, Port Sudan or Kosti. Hundreds of thousands fled to East African nations of Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda from where majority were permanently resettled to North America, Europe and Australia either through Kenya, Ethiopia or Egypt.
Others as we know were internally displaced, mostly to Equatoria region given its strategic location and proximity to Uganda and Kenya. The settlement of Equatoria region by internally displaced Dinka and other Western Nilotic population took place within the context of war. Put it simply, there was no grand plan to invade the Equatoria region and specifically, Magwi County by Bor Dinka IDPS. The war forced them to sought refuge in the border region of Equatoria and Nimule town in particular.
Thousands and hundreds of South Sudanese who fled during the war are still living in their host nations of Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, North America, Australia and Western Europe. Ironically, they do not face eviction threat or harassment contrary to what their Dinka and western Nilotic counterparts experience in Equatoria region. They do have rights under international laws and treaties governing refugees or displaced person to either remain where they are or repatriate home voluntarily.
And why in the world should these people (IDPS) be called squatters and land grabbers in their own country? The eviction threats, land grabbing and Squatters nonsense campaign have been particularly spearheaded by the Bari and Madi communities more so than any other community in Equatoria region. Is there any evidence of land grabbing and occupation? Or is the presence of Dinka people in Equatoria region being used as pretext of starting another Kokora?
These communities and their elites need to be reminded that the Equatoria region and the state of Central Equatoria is still part of the Republic of South Sudan. It is obvious that the Bari and Madi elites are pushing for an independent Republic of Lado Enclave. I do not intend to argue for or against the idea of an independent Equatoria region in this article. To do this would require a separate article on my part for which I am neither prepared nor have the time to make the argument either way.
My argument is that the people of Upper Nile and Bahr El Ghazel regions like people of Equatoria region are citizens of the Republic of South Sudan. Therefore, it is invalid and irrelevant to label and consider these citizens as Squatters, Land grabbers, occupiers or colonizers, when they are in fact exercising their rights to live, work, or travel within the defined borders of the state in which they hold citizenship.
Until such time when the Equatoria region becomes an independent nation whether through the barrel of gun or through diplomatic means, they should cease this persistent harassment directed against former internally displaced persons of Dinka and Western Nilotic origin.
Kokora will no longer go unchallenged at this time and moment in an independent Republic of South Sudan. The first Kokora of 1980s should be treated as a shameful historical footnote that should never be revisited. The people of Upper Nile and Bahr el Ghazel region do not want to relive the humiliating experience of the Kokora when thousands of them were shamelessly evicted from their own country (Sudan) and region (South Sudan).
The notion of Equatoria region for Equatorians only is not only discriminatory but illegal under international law. Modern nations and states do not restrict the movement of its citizens within her borders. Equatoria can either succeed or else should accept to live in peace with their fellow Western Nilotic as citizens of African nation.
The transitional constitution of the Republic of South Sudan (2011) contains Bill of rights and the right to freedom of movement, travel and residence. Specifically, Chapter 2: section 2 & 27, explicitly stated that “the rights and freedom of individuals and groups enshrined in this bill shall be respected, upheld and promoted by all organs and agencies of government and by all persons.”
Section 27 further went on to unequivocally state that “every citizen shall have the right to freedom of movement and liberty to choose his or her residence except for reasons of public health and safety as shall be regulated by the law.”
All levels of governments and individuals within the borders of Republic of South Sudan have legal obligation to respect, uphold, promote and enforce all the provisions of the constitution without prejudice. Citizens of the Republic of South Sudan have right to live, reside, move and travel wherever they choose without undue interference from the government, agencies, groups or individuals.
The Madi and Bari communities as well as Central Equatoria State, Magwi and Juba counties have legal obligation not only to respect, enforce this provision but to protect the rights of any persons residing within their respective jurisdictions.
As a new member of the United Nations, the Republic of South Sudan has an obligation to promote and enforce the United Nations declarations and laws. The right to mobility (article 12) stated that “everyone lawfully within the territory of the state shall within that territory have the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his or her residence. It went on to say that citizens of state have the freedoms to travel, reside and work in any part of state where one choose within in the define border.
If the Equatorian elites see the transition constitution of Republic of South Sudan as a Dinka political playbook, then they should respect the United Nations mobility right under article 12. World bodies and institutions like United Nations will become critical as the call and push for an independent Republic of Equatoria or Democratic Republic of Lado Enclave (DROLE) by Equatorian elites gathered momentum in the coming seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years or centuries.
I personally do not see the possibility of an independent Equatoria region. The Equatorian elites are dating themselves. Available data on independent ethnic movement is very discouraging and disappointing to say the least. The people of Equatoria region are better off perusing government reform with other regions. Political reforms cannot be achieved overnight. Politics is a hard, cruel and unforgiving game that requires focus, perseverance, determination and unity.
The Equatoria demand for federal system or independence is unrealistic. It is a hit-and-run strategy which will not produce the desired results and outcomes. It took South Sudan 55 years to get their independence from Sudan. So the Equatorians must prepare for 100 years of struggle if they genuinely believe in their call for an independent nation.
Is there land grabbing in Equatoria region and South Sudan?
Land grabbing can be defined as large scale acquisition of land through buying or leasing by domestic and international companies for commercial purpose. And absolutely, there is land grab in Equatoria region in particular and South Sudan in general. However, a Dinka or Western Nilotic civilian residing in Equatoria region cannot be considered a land grabber or squatter when in fact as is the case here, their presence took place within the context of war and citizenship.
As citizens displaced by war, they have right to live, work and move anywhere within the defined territory of the Republic of South Sudan. Whether they should go home or remain where they currently reside is their individual and collective decision. No one should tell them what to do. It would also be disingenuous to see them as either domestic or foreign corporations who lease, buy or grab Madi and Bari land for commercial uses.
Obviously, foreign investment companies, South Sudanese and Equatoria elites in particular are the real perpetuators of land grabbing. The Equatorians intellectuals do not, out of dishonesty want to point fingers to themselves and their leaders but they want to use Dinka as scapegoats as they attempt to break away from the nation. Nor do they want to acknowledge the fishy and fictitious foreign commercial deals made in some instances, without the knowledge and consent of the local community.
Land grab statistics in South Sudan is alarming and disappointing. According to November 4th 2011 report by Norwegian People Aid, foreign investors have acquired a total of 5.74 million hectares of land between 2007 and 2010 for agriculture, biofuel, tourism and conservation investments.
You tell me what the total hectares of land are now in 2013.
Majority of foreign deals occurred mostly in Equatoria region, Jonglei and Western Upper Nile. Put it simply, 10% of South Sudan land has been illegally or legally leased to foreign corporations without the knowledge or consent of the communities in which they took place. The lands deals in question are about 57,400 kilometer square, which is more than the total land mass of the country of Rwanda.
Examples of Land grab in Equatoria (Central Equatoria State)
The Mukaya Payam, Lainya county of Central Equatoria State: this is one of the well publicized and outrageous land grab examples in Equatoria region. As reported by Oakland Institute, the deal was done on the back of Pojulu community of Mukaya Payam by fictitious Mukaya Payam cooperative with American New York based Investment Company, The Nile Trading and Development.
It was a 49-year lease of 600,000 hectares of land with option of additional 400,000 hectares of land. The company obtained exclusive rights to exploit the natural resources in the covered area. The price was 75,000 South Sudanese pounds ($25,000), translated as $16 per hectare of land. The signatories were allegedly Magistrate James Yosia Ramadalla for Mukaya Payam cooperative and Mr. Douglas for Nile Trading and Development.
May be some of you know Mr. James Yosia Ramadalla in person. He lives in Juba but somehow allegedly manages to auction off the community land without their knowledge and consent.
Parjok and Owiny kibul of Magwi County: is another case of land grab in the state of Eastern Equatoria. The Uganda Defense forces were reported to have engaged in illegal logging of teak and appropriation of South Sudan land to Uganda peasants and farmers.
Apparently we did not hear any cries of land grab from Equatorian elites in any of these cases. But they have been crying blood and wine accusing South Sudanese IDPS of Dinka background of land grabbing and occupation as pretext of their hatred of Jieng people.
And as reported by the Norwegian People Aid (NPA) and Oakland Institute (OI), the Mukaya Payam land deal was not done by Dinka politicians or generals, but by the Equatorians themselves.
There are other cases of land grab in Western Equatoria, Central equatoria, Jonglei and Western upper Nile that require separate article to discuss. Land grab is immoral and illegal practice, which is being perpetuated in large part by Equatorian elites at the back of their respective communities. It is a multi-million dollar scam which is unfairly blamed not only on the Dinka politicians and generals but on the poor and innocent IDPS in the region.
Somehow, it seems that all Madi and Bari people were living in Nimule and Juba before the war. And who was then living in the villages if everyone claims to have lived in these towns?
It is possible that these illegal deals might have been discovered and addressed satisfactorily for which the author is not aware of. But the point is to show to the Equatorian elites some examples of land grabs in their backyards. They either intentionally over look them or were not aware of their occurrance.
Perhaps the Equatorian elites need to tell us, the public, how much Equatorian, Bari and Madi lands have been grabbed, squatted on or occupied by Dinka and other Western Nilotic? Quite often, it is easy to claim victim-hood and wrongdoing, and sometimes difficult to substantiate or provide the proof of the alleged crime. What percentage of Madi or Bari land is Nimule or Juba town? Is the town of Nimule 30% or 50% of Madi land?
South Sudanese citizens of Dinka and Western Nilotic origin in Equatoria region cannot be reasonably and objectively labeled as land grabbers when in fact they did not appropriate any piece of native land. I have been to Juba, Nimule, Yei, Kapoeta, Torit, Yambio and Kaya. The Dinka population in these towns is residing within boundary limits of these respective towns. None of them own any land in the adjacent and surrounding villages.
Dinka IDPS in Equatoria region in general and Central Equatoria State in particular are citizens of the Republic of South Sudan. They have right to freedom of movement and residence as guaranteed by United Nations declaration, article 12 (mobility right) and as enshrined in the transitional constitution of the Republic of South Sudan (chapter 2; section 2 & 27).
The Equatorian elites can either declare unilateral independence or else they ought to stop land grabbing, Squatting, occupation and colonization nonsense!
Jay Johnson is a former SPLA freedom fighter. He participated in many battles in Equatoria region including the capture of Nimule and the failed Juba town liberation during the early and late 1990s. He can be reach at email@example.com