BY: Amma Emmanuel
The people of Raga, Western Bhar el Ghazel, like any other agricultural community in South Sudan, are a peace-loving and law-abiding society. For decades, they coexisted in peace and harmony alongside their neighbors from Aweil. Raga people respectfully hosted them when they came and sold their cattle in Raga Market and received competitive deals on agricultural products when they returned back home.
In general, the mistreatment of people not from the area, as the case might be somewhere else in the country, was unheard of.
Furthermore, people of Raga of all faiths— Christians, Muslims, or those who believe in superstition— are god-loving people. They fear and believe in God’s punishment above all man-made rules or regulations.
That is illustrated in the event that, until recently, women left their homes unlocked when they went out to market or left their kids unattended when visiting neighbors or relatives. Likewise, prisons—until recently—were roofed with grass and inmates transported from other areas to occupy empty cells.
It is for these reasons that Raga was the exemplar in discussions about peace and security in Greater Bahr el Ghazal. In sum, these are the norms in Raga and the ways in which 17 tribes peacefully existed with their neighbors.
Moreover, this is how they managed to be the greatest suppliers of agricultural products to various parts of Greater Bahr el Ghazal, reaching as far as Southern Kurdufan and Darfur. Unfortunately, some perceive this to be a sign of inability and cowardice.
When everyone’s right is respected and protected and their lives free from fear, to them, it is a weakness. When God bestowed on his people an abundance of land and valuable resources—from forestry to copper, uranium, and petroleum—they believed they should be entitled to own and enjoy them due to their role as liberators.
Hence, land grabbing and occupation are the new and acceptable practices initiated by Jieng Council of Elders (JEC), facilitated by the government, and executed by security organs—institutions whose lust for money has led the country to its current dire economic situation.
This is what liberation meant to JCE and resulted in the establishment order that divided the country into 28 states.
The main goal of the establishment order was to institutionalize land-grabbing and target other communities’ resources. If this is not the case, then why rush and not reach out to all the stakeholders—as dictated by our Constitution—in order to issue thorough, concrete, and researched results that satisfy all.
And how can the people of South Sudan be convinced that the main vision of the SPLM and its founder, the late Dr. John Garang, of taking towns to rural areas meant taking Raga to Lol or Western Aweil, or meant in any way carving up oil-rich areas in Unity and Upper Nile states and annexing them to other territories of the JCE’s choice?
Did the shadow government in Juba, the JCE, intend to damage the legacy of this great man by alluding to this establishment order as an implementation of his vision?
Is it not absurd to connect what Dr. Garang meant by moving towns to rural areas to this ill, destructive ambition?
The people of Raga unanimously rejected the establishment order from day one. They believed and continue to believe that there will be no harmony among and peace between two ethnically and culturally divergent groups when brought to live together in one area, especially when forced; people should have learned from examples of pastoralists in Western Equatoria and, once again, when President Kiir ordered the pastoralists in central Equatoria to move northward.
They maintain that imposing and implementing this order will add the area and Western Bahr el Ghazal, in general, to the already collapsing regions of Upper Nile, Unity, and Equatoria. They wrote memo after memo to the President and the Parliament in Juba; held talks in Wau; and sent a delegation to Juba to explain their position to no avail.
Lastly, they decided to take matters into their own hands in the form of the famous attack and capture of Raga in under one hour, thereby making their voices heard.
The unexpected attack took Juba by surprise. It took the government in Juba some time to release a statement regarding the alleged identity of the attackers who overran the military and administrative headquarters in no time.
In their statement, which came days after the incident, they talked about the group of bandits behind the attack. In another statement, they claimed them to be a group of terrorists—loyal to Ali Tamim—who intended to annex Raga to Darfur.
In 2011, when South Sudan seceded from Sudan, the people of Raga unanimously voted for the secession. Thus, it is absurd to now accuse them of wanting to be annexed to Darfur due to their rejection of policies that were maliciously created to ruin their lives and that of future generations.
This is an allegation that was fabricated to conceal the huge defeat inflicted upon the army they continue to call the “gallant forces.” The swift capture of Raga was an embarrassment to the governments in Juba and Raga and a symbol of the Lions’ growing vigilance.
Taban Deng, upon his visit to Khartoum in August, promised to solve the issue of Sudanese rebel groups—including the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM)—in South Sudanese territory within 21 days. Accordingly, in October, Kuol Manyang, the Minister of Defence, gave them 30 days to leave the country.
JEM—a Sudanese rebel group founded by the late Dr. Khalil Ibrahim, who was killed in an air strike by the Khartoum government—is being sponsored by the government in Juba and fights for and beside the SPLA in Unity, Upper Nile, and recently in Raga.
Dr. Khalil was known to be a leading figure in the National Islamic Front (NIF), founded by Dr. Hassan El-Turabi, which declared a holy war on South Sudanese people during the liberation war. In that case, if the National Congress Party (NCP) and the government in Khartoum categorized JEM as a terrorist movement, who is to blame for supporting and accommodating terrorists and, thus, betraying the South Sudanese people?
And is the government aware of the atrocities these mercenaries have committed against our people in these regions or is it of no concern because they do not constitute part of the lands considered sacred by the President and his Chief of Staff?
These people—whom JEM and other rebel groups from Sudan have looted, raped, and killed and whose homes they have reduced to ashes—are sons and daughters of this great country. They fought for this country, voted for its independence, and remained loyal to it; they deserve protection and respect.
This is what our Constitution dictates and our religious beliefs teach us. Therefore, any form of discrimination will not be acceptable and a double standard in the treatment of citizens denounced and rejected.
The shooting and killing of innocent civilians while they are exercising their constitutional and human rights in a peaceful demonstration—whether in Wau, Torit, or Warrap—is unwarranted and a violation of freedom of speech.
It is unprecedented, even during the worst era of NIF in Khartoum, that we experienced such brutality. Above all, it is ridiculous for the President of the Republic to salute and embrace such killings instead of comforting the grieved and pursuing justice.
I cannot imagine the repercussions of the massacre of 2012 if it were to have occurred in Madding Aweil or Warrap. This crime deserves condemnation from the international community and the issuance of criminal indictments by the International Criminal Court (ICC). It will remain in the memories of the people of Western Bahr el Ghazal for years to come.
Why are the people of Raga deemed rebels and traitors who wanted to sell the country to Khartoum when they oppose ill-advised decisions by the JCE, while a peaceful solution is sought and an advisory position is created when Abel Baggi Ayii in North Aweil rebels against injustices of Juba?
The people of Raga do not need the counsel of Ali Tamim, just as they did not seek his guidance in voting for independence in 2011—when they overwhelmingly voted for the South to secede.
Yes, Tamim is from Raga and may have pledged to al Bashir and prayed behind El-Turabi—just as Abdalla Deng Nyal, Mongu Ajack, or Suliman Jula and other South Sudanese had done before independence—but, above all, he is a South Sudanese who is free to choose whatever religion to follow and place to reside.
That which the people of Raga, Malakal, and Bantiu will not accept is meddling in their affairs, annexing their lands, and/or using them to achieve any political gains that do not serve South Sudan and its people.
Folks, neither Malong and Mathing Anynor nor the JCE and the 28 states will bring peace to this country; kneeling and kissing Uhuru Kenyatta and Hailemariam Desalegn’s feet will never bring peace; and ordering police to shoot and kill criminals in Juba will not restore law and order in the capital.
Above all, a National Dialogue that is not inclusive of all political parties will never be successful and, correspondingly, bring about peace.
This country will not see peace if we do not embrace one another and uphold legislation that enforces equal treatment irrespective of religious affiliation or linguistic differences.
Lastly, peace cannot be realized under government malice and corruption.
Mr. President, the ship is sinking! Let go of all these deterrents to peace before it is too late.