BY: Jwothab Amum Ajak, UK, FEB/19/2013, SSN;
Post-apartheid South Africa’s (SA) outstanding gifts to the world are believed to be: A most liberal constitution and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, TRC. Mandela of course is the man behind all the two monumental achievements. Reconciliation has worked in SA. Evidence many countries adopted the same or similar model to the SA’s TRC. And I believe the same holds true here too. We are all Mandela. So let us give our country a reconciliation model adopted and fashioned to our own needs. Let us champion the cause of reconciliation and stir its waters towards a national miracle healing.
Dear reader, beneath please you will find the reasons and arguments to prove our point for why the country needs a reconciliation. They say “no news is good news”. What I mean is that as all is quiet in the previous theaters of inter communal violence and bloodshed of 2011 and down. Then this is something to share, something so comforting. Thanks of course are due to our gallant SPLA forces. Together with police and other security and intelligence organs, they have notably, besides successfully maintaining law and order; have warded off inter-communal cycle of revenge-driven attacks which had followed the trails of tribal militia. Also they brought to an end the flow of cattle-rustling, which was a native habitat in those regions of the country.
But the fact that the army is still pinned down there, on what seems to be a long haul, a standoff holding the communities from any confrontation, is a stark reminder that the situation is still fragile, despite the appearance of calm. What has happened is just a lull in violence resulting from disarmament of the communities and also due to the physical presence of security organs serving as deterrence and a buffer between the communities.
Hence “all is quiet” may be deceptive. Beneath the surface is a simmering tension that goes undetected by our human radar. Thus let us not derive much satisfaction from the prevailing status quo of peace, security and stability. Lest we deceive ourselves into thinking that everything is fine from the fact that guns are silent.
The armed forces physical presence on the ground there is likened to an adult in a roomful of children. So long the forces are there the room is quiet and order is maintained. But is that all enough? And for how long and at what cost? And let us ask the rhetorical questions of: Guess what if the forces are not there? Or what if they blink or look the other way? Violence breakout can recur and peace, security and stability situation-returning to normal – could evaporate once again. The end result or goal objective we are seeking, still far-fetched. That is to say for those communities to link and live together in peace. Security, law and order have not and will not guarantee that 100 percent.
The threat is not in how to stop violence when it occurs; on the contrary the authorities all over -this time, I believe –are ready and prepared with all the necessary fire fighting management strategies of security, law and order to meet and contain any outbreak of violence. Rather the real critical challenge is to turn the precarious temporary peace ushered in, into a lasting one in order to avert and prevent, as humanly as possible, the violence, from breaking out altogether in the future.
We cannot settle for disarmament, law and order strategies, as the only right strategies, and leave things like old bitter historical animosities, wounds, hurts, suspicions and distrust to fester with time. Security strategies of disarmament, law and order are effective in curbing violence and in dealing with its spill over symptoms. They are not the long- term strategies that will assist the people to come close and live together peacefully. That will happen when the problem or conflict is solved and former adversarial groups have been reconciled. Neither party any longer harbors any hatred or grievances towards the other.
Some people who follow the disarmament assert the claim, not substantiated, that some individuals in some or all communities were giving a way only their ‘surplus’ or ‘old’ type of weapons but still not out of use. Communities between and among themselves are also trading accusations that the other has not fully cooperated, as expected, in willingly and voluntarily surrendering their weapons. Just the belief that disarmament has not been credible even though it is a perception is just enough to send parties not only worrying but on a weapon purchase spree. People don’t want to be taken off guard when they have something to fear from the other party for which they keep the weapon.
Even though we do not share the opinion of those who maintain that the process somehow reek hypocrisy in some places and lack credibility in others. Yet, a ‘clean’ certificate of credibility for the communities indicating that all arms out there were genuinely collected should not be hurriedly bestowed upon them, at least for the time being. Simply for the reason that there is no way to judge the outcome and guarantee that the process was accomplished satisfactorily. Therefore maintaining a healthy dose of suspicion or doubt for the credibility of the outcome is a must for security reasons, otherwise we may be in for many surprises, if we take the whole process for granted as such.
The focus on collecting modern weapons from shotguns through automatic assault rifles to high-powered military-style guns is understandable- to remove the mass killing weapons capable of mowing down large number of people in the span of less than a minute. But killing is killing. It matters less whether you die being killed by a modern weapon or a traditional one.
That is to say as long as traditional weapons are still in the hands of individuals, for obvious reasons, nothing can prevent future episodes of communal violence to recur in spite of disarmament. In case of a flare up communities can resort to fighting with traditional weapons such as spears, machetes, arrows, sticks etc., which were the means and norms till our recent past of tribal warfare.
Another point that can still defeats the policy of disarmament and makes it a non-starter is that the country is awash with illegal arms, easily to exchange hands. Black-marketing in weapons trading, another source, will always be there as long as there is a demand. The supply must meet the demand. It is law simple. People are not dumb. They in stealth will go on purchasing, replacing, and replenishing their dwindled stocks and equally hiding their new acquired arms away from the eyes and reach of the authorities. They will go on dodging and subverting any disarmament efforts. Simply because they are still not convinced the problem has been solved and the disarmament has not been proven cut-and-dried genuine by all sides.
But even removing arms from individual or communities will not solve the problem, because it is not the root cause of the problem. And until we get to know the root of the problem of internecine community violence, disarmament will be of little or of no avail. For instance an individual acquires a weapon because she or he is driven more or less by a feeling of insecurity and wants to protect himself or herself against a real or imagined threat. So if that person is provided with the necessary security then you have removed the reason for him to acquire an arm. What applies to individuals applies to the communities as well.
To prevent any ambiguity we need to reassert a point that the precautionary measures of peace-keeping efforts of security, law and order maintenance together with the disarmament of the communities were and are still relevant as indispensable effective first steps priority measures. But only from one dimension and one level – stopping and containing violence. Look! In spite of them we are not yet in a position to say with certainty that we are and will remain impervious to internecine communal violence breakout or leakage here and there. They alone avail little to prevent violence from recurring or to help people to live together and relate to each other harmoniously.
Intertribal conflicts are not only a security problem. They are a political problem and few others as well. Therefore they are deeper to be solved by military, security, law and order strategies alone. Security, law and order, alone will not change an iota what is a hard-to-break, life-time violent cultural ways or habits as well as certain tribal assumptions or perspectives.
In order to bring us the desired lasting peace, what we need -to add to weapons collection and to the ongoing security and peace keeping efforts is a cultural change. Mind-set changes against culture of violence have to take place. The learning must go side by side with an effective deterrent law to stop people taking the law into their hands and using violence to settle disputes or for whatever reason. But for change to materialize we need to work hard at a deeper level and remove the entrenched old customs habits and values.
Also there is an apparent bottom line disadvantage with the security, law and order measures particularly if they are kept on long enough. They will by default drive the disputant communities that hailed from different tribes and languages to end up physically or mentally being divided and polarized in different directions or sphere of influence. That ominous scenario if allowed to happen, eventually will throw us into a messy situation that will harm the chances of harmonious shared living and peaceful coexistence and could steal our children shared future of prosperity. That will end the country nowhere.
We need to awaken the real sense of citizenship. And nothing will do that better than a grand national reconciliation as called on by Dr. Riek Machar the Vice President of the republic. Our people after decades of war, turmoil and unrest are yearning for peace. So let us add our voice to the VP initiative, which I believe to be of the entire leadership of the country. President Mayardit mentioned it in a number of speeches. The last was in New Year Message.
Dr Machar started right when he apologized on behalf of his former commanders and troops for the human rights atrocities and killings they visited on the people of Bor. Even though he had not personally ordered or directed them to do so, yet the saying goes “the buck stops here,” with him as a leader, which means being a leader things end with him and he has to acknowledge things as they happened and take action/responsibility to address them.
We have a fat chance now to politically capitalize and make full use of the temporary peace and safe environment, the good news I mentioned earlier, to bring the communities to the table for mutual understanding, dialogue and reconciliation. Thus cement and secure a lasting and stable peace.
As the saying goes you can drive a horse to the river but you cannot make it drink. Bringing a lasting peace has to come willingly from the communities themselves. Communities cannot be forced by outsiders, no matter who that outsider is, government or somebody else, to live in peace. Government and others can cooperatively pool their efforts and resources to help communities do their bid with peace, dialogue and reconciliation. Our people are not alien or foreigners to each other. They are citizens of one and the same nation. Hence it is their fate to work out how they are going to live respecting one another for who they are.
Without reconciliation and acceptance of cultural diversity and of each and every other to live together in harmony; the communities are more likely than ever to revert back to settling scores and grievances using violence. But if we achieved reconciliation then we will be telling a different story tomorrow, not of violence and destruction but of development and prosperity.
Definitely, in every tribe/community, we are not short of people, in league with the devil. I mean the tribal zealots, the bad apples. Across the board these radical militant elements were able in the past to fan and incite hatred and communal violence.
I bet you not to under estimate their influence to once again in future manipulate tribal feelings of pride and other cheapest sentiments of hatred, bitterness and animosities to rally some misguided community members for confrontation. Thus we may see another attempt to derail the existing peace and exacerbate communal division. Consequently turning the clock back to a period in our history where each tribe or traditional society was a state and a nation on its own. That would be a great leap backward. To a place and a time we don’t want to travel too.
Inter-communal strives are not a big deal, if we look at it with an open mind, as part of our past which ought to disappear in the world of today. They can be resolved provides we apply the appropriate problem-solving mechanisms and tools such as dialogue and peaceful reconciliation. Unfortunately our biggest problem is that we have been schooled in denial of problems or in paying them the usual lip service of belittling and not worth bothering about etc. Until they become overwhelming destructive and to our society detriment latter on.
We don’t want to see another retaliatory violent attack, claiming more lives and properties happening once more before our own eyes and that of the world. Also with each conflict taking a sharp dive for the worst with community relationship and inflicting farther serious damage on the nation’s self- image. Politically the country is getting the image of a worst tribal society governed by out-dated traditional values and norms. Hence the call for reconciliation is becoming more urgent to prevent any future tragedy.
Particularly the vicious circle of communal attacks, perceived as self-defense or for the return of cattle in a previous raid, became meticulously planned, well-armed and well organised-involving a large number of people. Worst markedly violent and bloody. It is going to get worst in any future confrontation.
A grand reconciliation engaging the whole nation is the promising best way for a sustainable peace that will go far enough to address the underlying issues or causes of the conflict and remove them roots and branches period. If right thereafter restoring peace and security (mission successfully accomplished) we came up with reconciliation or any other more enduring political and economic solutions, then that could have gone to relieve our fighting forces, and could have been spared them long time ago the overstay in those trouble spots.
With Peaceful dialogue models such as the TRC of South Africa or other problem-solving mechanisms, if they could see the light of the day, will put further touches in our house order. By achieving a sustainable enduring peace we help ourselves and our country. It is the responsibility of all of us to make our country safe and secure. Thus it is time to get on board of the reconciliation initiative and become part of the solution to communal strives.
In short there seems to be an overwhelming consensus on reconciliation. So let us give it a prominent place not only in our political discussion but also as a first prime national priority in the development and reconstruction programs. And let us prove to be people who can walk our talk and practice what we preach.
So as we keep our hope alive of communities free from violent conflicts nevertheless we should not be impatient for quick results. We should bear in mind that our country was born from the womb of conflict. It is just still a baby. Also we have to put into consideration that reconciliation is a challenging process, not a onetime simple event as such it will no doubt takes time and efforts as well as resources, worth it. However, the most important thing is that we should now begin reconciliation, so to speak, with ourselves first before going for communal reconciliation.
Peace, dialogue and reconciliation have their rewards and dividends but also they come with a price. In the fringe of tribal politics and in the continuous skirmishes and battles for the hearts, minds and souls of the tribes/communities; many advocates of tolerance, pragmatic, non-violent, and non-confrontational approach lost the game to strong tribal militant opponents who see the world from the premise of “we”, our tribe against the “other” tribe. I have no idea how many, but I know for sure some few who were disdainfully subjected to a fierce campaign of smear and character assassination and were tainted as not tough enough or when not outright accused of compromising the tribe’s rights and interests.
This is not a good conclusion but is important to remind ourselves that reconciliation and peace-making is not for the faint-hearted. It comes with a heavy price. But we are not faint-hearted persons.