The review of Successful Mental Wellbeing Supports for the South Sudanese Australian Young People.

 

Dr William Abur, PhD

Dr William is a lecturer in social work at the National Indigenous Knowledges, Education, Research and Innovation (NIKERI) Institute, an associate member of the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University.

 Introduction

A good number of young people and their families are failing their dreams rapidly in the South Sudanese Australian community due to multiple complex issues facing them. One the big concerns is mental health and wellbeing. This is say simple, but mental health is one of the biggest elephants in the room facing young people and parents in the South Sudanese Australian community. As it was right put by great one of the American philosophers -Frederick Douglass in one of his quotes-“it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” It is better to think about mental health and wellbeing services for the South Sudanese Australians earlier than to wait and try to repair a mentally broken individuals. As a result of this thought provoking, I have conducted searching for successful, inspirational programs or models that intentionally improve the mental wellbeing of black young people in non-black majority countries, but only discovered a small number of programs in America. The reason could be due to the language of mental health or mental wellbeing being unpopular for these programs. However, I suspect that there is also a shortage of programs or models like this for black young people in the western countries where black people are minority in population

There are systematic barriers and lack of cultural responsive mental health treatment are impacting in many black community groups in the western countries including the South Sudanese Australian community (Marrast, et al., 2016). Furthermore, South Sudanese Australian community has faced a high level of scrutiny by media, politicians and the general public because of young people actioning negatively due to some difficulties facing them in their lives. As a result of this, there has been an increment in racial profiling of the South Sudanese Australian community in public including school community. This distressed community and affected young people mental health and wellbeing. Young people in South Sudanese Australian community are affected and often remain anxious in public space. For instance, their level of confidence in public space has dropped, level of anxiety has increase as young people dropped out from school in large numbers, level of bullying in public and social media as increased and level of suicidal thoughts has been reported in community by families and their peer groups (Abur, 2018). Unfortunately, mental health and wellbeing is an area which largely neglected in refugee settlement area. Mental health issues are not addressed within the South Sudanese Australian community (Abur & Mphande, 2019). In order to this support young people from the South Sudanese Australian community, mental health and wellbeing of young people and their families need special consideration. This mean that proper treatment of pre-migration trauma and post-migration trauma much be considered as one of the priorities to be addressed. The consequences of not prioritising mental health issues are greater and significantly increasing from time to time with the South Sudanese Australian populations.

Therefore, this paper provides a brief overview of the ways and programs that may effectively support mental health and wellbeing of young people from the South Sudanese Australian community. The paper reviewed the successful programs for young people in colour international and nationally. First, this paper present a list of promising programs that shown the effective ways of supporting young people in colour to address mental health and wellbeing, educational and as well as cultural issues.  Some of the useful information for service providers and policy makers have been organised in core principles in order for the service providers to the design and make implementation of wellbeing and mentoring initiatives for young people from the South Sudanese Australian community.

Research method

This paper came out from desktop research which is a review of successful mental health and wellbeing programs that intentionally improve the mental wellbeing of black young people in non-black majority countries. There was also a consultation with 19 young people who attended consultation meeting and discussed wellbeing and mental health issues affecting young people from the South Sudanese Australian community. This consultation meeting, there were different themes that emerged from the conversations of young people such as: no mental health or wellbeing services for black young people in Melbourne. There is no place for black young people to go and talk about mental health and wellbeing issues that are bothering them. People are afraid to talk about mental health issues because it is sound stupid. There is no much pride to discuss mental health issues in South Sudanese Australian community because of stigma.

Existing Literature

We already know that young people from the South Sudanese Australian are in disadvantaged position and at risk when they experienced mental health related problems. The biggest elephant in the room of young people from the South Sudanese Australian community is mental health problem (Abur & Mphande, 2019). Many of these young people do not have enough skills to cope with stress, body image, school pressures and other serious mental health issues such as depression, anxiety (Abur & Mphande, 2019). There is an evidence in research that suggests many young people do struggle with mental health and wellbeing issues during their development period (Smith, et al., 2014, Sawyer, et al., 2001). There is a high level of depression, anxiety and other prevalent disorders among young people from high income countries including Australia. Almost of one in five of the population is likely to display some signs and symptoms of mental disorders (Gulliver, et al., 2010).

Young people in black community who experienced mental health issues tends to take self-medication with drugs and alcohol in an attempt to solve their problems on their own(Smith, et al., 2014, Sawyer, et al., 2001). This similar trends is developing or has already appeared with young people from South Sudanese Australian community who are struggling with mental health issues are taking self-medication with drugs and alcohols as way of addressing their mental health problems. The mental health problems from these young people in Melbourne come from a wide range of difficult experiences such racial profiling of their community, targeted bullying in school by bullies and racists to the intergenerational trauma which they young people experienced from their parents who witnessed and traumatised by war as well as difficult live experienced in refugee camps (Abur, 2018, Abur & Mphande, 2019).

There is a great need for young people in the South Sudanese Australian community in Melbourne to adopt mental health and wellbeing programs for young people in African America community that have assisted their young people to address mental health and wellbeing issues. Many young people from South Sudanese Australian community who have experienced racial verification and bullying at schools are struggling with mental health issues, and are not able to seek help from either parents or professional service providers because of negative stigma associating with mental health in their community (Abur & Mphande, 2019, Abur, 2018). What need to be done to supporting young people? There is a need of intervention service to young people in the South Sudanese Australian community.

Promising Programs

  • Peer Mentoring Program: This is a program run under organisation of African communities- uniting the African community under one umbrella in Western Australia. This program shown some positive outcomes in mentoring young people, reconnecting young people with mentors and families (https://oacwa.com.au/ or https://oacwa.com.au/justice-reinvestment-mentor-me-reconnect/)
  • African youth agency of Australia: This is program that provides services to young people and their families under the Horn of Africa Relief & Development Agency (HARDA) in NSW. The program recruit volunteers from mainstream Australian community groups to come and support young people from African Australian community groups activities such swimming lessons. (http://v2.harda.org.au/mental-health-project/)
  • Bounczn Dancing Program: This program provide the student-centred, holistic and community driven dancing activities for young people. It is a registered not for profit company that provide dancing activities to young people. They are committed to providing unique dance experiences to young people that celebrates cultural diversity, health, well-being and community. Wellbeing and fitness class such as dancing class for girls and boys can assist in building self-esteem, confidence leadership skills (https://www.bounczn.com/#intro) .This program can be adopted for the young people from South Sudanese Australian community to engage in such activities that can wellbeing and fitness for both girls and boys to build self-esteem, confidence leadership skills.
  • The OK Program: This program aims at empowering black men and boys to transform their communities. This program has touched the lives of thousands of African-American males from the ages of 12 to 18 in order to reverse the high rates of homicides and incarceration among that population. They have professional team that work collaboratively with young people through mentoring. The mentorship model brings together local police officers, school districts, and the faith-based community with the goal of transforming lives and empowering African-American men and boys to improve their communities.(https://okprogram.org/about#what-we-do)
  • The Black Star Project: This program is committed to improve the quality of life in Black and Latino communities in Chicago. It is now extended as a nationwide program in America that work closely with young people to eliminate racial matters and assist young people to achieve their academic outcomes. The mission of the Black Star project is to provide educational services that help pre-school through college students succeed academically and become knowledgeable and productive citizens with the support of their parents, families, schools and communities. (https://www.blackstarproject.org/index.php/about.html)
  • Tomorrow’s Black Men Programs: This program aim to support and empower young black males through education, self-determination and community building. TBM runs young people‘s positive youth community based mentoring program that provides a variety of positive educational and cultural activities for at-risk youth. TBM also work closely with parents by providing parental activities as recognition of the role play by parents in community. The encouraged parents and community involvement in supporting and working together to making a positive impact in young people’s lives. (https://www.tomorrowsblackmen.org/ )
  • The Mentoring Center: This is a community based program in Oakland, California that provides mentorship to young people in a way which transform their thinking and situations. The mentoring centre program involves a structured curriculum that offers a long-term group mentoring program. Key components of the curriculum focus on character development, cognitive restructuring, spiritual development, life skills training, anger management, and employability skills. The primary audience is youth of colour, who are perceived to be “highly at-risk”. The program’s goal is to reduce the involvement of these youth people in violence-related activities. The Mentoring Center specialised in providing interventions for youth involved in the juvenile justice and criminal justice system, particularly those in correctional settings with continued support after the youth return to the community. (http://www.mentor.org/ or http://mentor.org/#)
  • 100 Black Men: This is an international association that sponsors local mentoring initiatives geared at preparing African American boys to be productive adult citizens in society. The program offers a range of mentoring options, including 1-on-1 and group mentoring efforts. Focusing on the holistic development of adolescents, attention is paid to educational success, civic responsibility, educational attainment, career exploration, and leadership development. The 100 Black Men of America, Inc.’s leadership empowerment focus develops leaders throughout the 100 global network that are prepared and equipped to address critical issues facing communities throughout the world.( https://100blackmen.org/)
  • Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities in England and Wales: this program look at the impact of issues such as racism and discrimination, and then provide key mental health statistics for specific BAME communities. What work in this program is that young people in black community and other minorities community groups are supported by the organisations by addressing issues of  mental health stigma, racism and discrimination, criminal justice system, social and economic inequalities and other factors.(https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/b/black-asian-and-minority-ethnic-bame-communities)
  • Black Thrive – A Partnership for Black Wellbeing: Black Thrive program take a holistic approach to addressing the causes of mental ill health in black community in UK. This program assisted people from black community to access to housing, education, employment and so on, can have an impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing. Black thrive closely with Black communities and service providers to reduce the inequality and injustices experienced by Black people in mental health services. (https://www.blackthrive.org.uk/why-black-thrive)
  • Get Loud about Mental Health for Black Canadians: this program encourage young people in black community to speak louder about mental health issues in their community.  There is misunderstanding in the community about mental health issues and barriers to accessing services leave Black Canadians struggling in silence. (https://www.evas.ca/blog/getloud-about-mental-health-for-black-canadians/).

 

Principle 1: Creating culturally safe support program for young people and community

Creating program that can assist young people to connect, understand, embrace and appreciate their own culture can reduce stigma associating with stereotyping and racial profiling which affected the wellbeing and confidence of young people from the South Sudanese Australian community. There are useful elements in any culture that can give young person as sense of purpose and meaning in different aspect of life. Culture is defined as knowledge, social activities, and the interpretation of life or worldview with which individuals or groups associate, as well as an understanding of their society (Abur, 2019). There are cultural safe program run by African American community that connect young people to their African cultures. Such program assist young people from black American to understand, connect with their culture, history as black African American and assist to understand their identity and self-esteem. The example of such as program in America for African migrants that want their young people to be connected with their own culture in Africa is Black Youth Can Now Take Free Trips to Africa (https://www.forbes.com/sites/janicegassam/2020/02/22/black-youth-can-now-take-free-trips-to-africa/#25c783cc42fa)

Recommendation: Young people are influenced by culture and environment of where they grow up, live and have connection. Young people at risks of poor behaviours or violence behaviours in school are more likely to benefits from connecting with their own culture heritage (Noguera, 2003). Many young people from the South Sudanese Australian community who are caught between two cultures and that is Australian’s culture and South Sudanese’s culture would benefit from the program that connect them and teach them with their own culture. Accessing cultural and social connections enhances the well-being and health of people through daily contact and support for social issues (Abur, 2019). Looking at some positive activities in their South Sudanese Australian community and considering visiting Africa or South Sudan as part of discovering of their own culture from the African perspectives. This type of program can assist young people to take pride of their identity and cultural heritage as South Sudanese Australians.

The program will address issues of dislocation and loss between cultures. Other benefits of the program for young people include strengthening their understanding of their culture, increase social awareness and responsibility which may lead to commitment to education and better academic achievement, increase knowledge and awareness about empathy and respect for elder people’s wisdom and experiences. This program will also provide hope for parents and fulfil the desired of those parents from South Sudanese Australian community who want their young people to remain connected with cultural heritage. Many parents from South Sudanese Australian community and African Australian community groups are constantly worried and anxious about the future of their teenagers (Abur, 2019).  Parents know that parenting teenagers in Australia is difficult and different from other own African way of parenting (Abur, 2019, Lewig, et al., 2010).

Principle 2: School based mentoring for girls and boys

There is great possibility that well designed school based mentoring programs can assist young people from the South Sudanese Australian community to remain committed in school. There is a model in America which is successful in engaging young people and their parents to remain committed in school. This model valued a culture of wellbeing, justice and better education outcomes through a provision of radical hope for future. (https://hcz.org/)

Recommendation: The South Sudanese Australian school based mentoring program must aim at academic and wellbeing outcomes of young people. This can be achieved through preparing and supporting peer leaders or peer educators to establish a supported network of young people to address issues of isolation and build connection where young people can meet and talk about wellbeing issues and academic issues. The program can be run separately to accommodate sensitive issues and cultural expectations where girls can talk about girls, business and boys to talks about boys’ business. This model is not new for many South Sudanese parents and community members as it is widely practice in many remote villages in South Sudan. This is where potential leaders are prepare to be leaders among their peer groups and lead networks. People with experiences and knowledge are often invited and asked to speak to the groups on different topics including leadership, wellbeing, how to be good father and how to be good mother when time comes.

Principle 3: Funds and access to funding

Access to funding to support community initiative programs for young people from South Sudanese Australian is problematic. Despite the empirical evidences from research about difficult issues and need to support young people, the community is still struggling to secure enough funding to deliver relevant activities to young people. Lack of funding and sustainable resources in community is part of the problems in the South Sudanese Australian community. Young people who are supported by their families to access and engage in relevant activities are more likely to break law and orders. They are also at high risk of dropping out from school, engage in crimes and tends to consume drugs and alcohol (Abur, 2019, Jarjoura, 2013). Although, some of the programs mentioned above are promising in assisting young people at high risks such as young people in the South Sudanese Australian community in Melbourne, the success of those programs is depending on the finding available.

Recommendation: Securing funds for some of the initiatives above is very critical in delivering programs for young people. There is a great need of advocating for funding on behalf of young people and their families. Access to funds or funding will assist service providers and community members to provide necessary support services to young people who are at risk of mental health problems and are at risk of breaking law that may push them to jail. Some young people are already in prison from the South Sudanese Australian community because of their involvement in negative and criminal activities. These young  people are not connected with their community or families for some reasons (Abur, 2019) Young people who are at high risk of mental health problems and disobeying law and orders their future appears to be more likely in prison than go to university or obtaining better employment (Jarjoura, 2013). Therefore, advocating for funding initiatives is one of the pathways in addressing issues of young people.

Principle 4: Creating opportunity for meaningful mentoring

Although mentoring may not be effectively to some young people, majority of young people who want to acquire some soft skills and leadership skills may somehow benefit a lot from mentorship Meaningful mentoring is not about matching mentors with mentees. It is about guiding, motivation and emotional support which is linked to wellbeing. It is also about creating meaningful relationship between mentor and mentee. A relationship that have an intention of assisting young person with enablers or strategies by engaging young person in a productive activities with clear goals such as becoming a law abiding citizen, connecting with right people to get meaningful job, be in healthy relationship and health environment, caring for yourself and other in your surrounding environment. Research suggests that mentoring effective mentoring has assisted many African America boys who were struggling with difficult issues such as suspension, expulsion and drop out from school (Jarjoura, 2013, Rhodes, 2002). Many young people who encountered with these disproportionately end up in the prisons and some of them growing up without proper connection with parents and their community groups. Many young people in South Sudanese Australian in Melbourne are in similar situations of dropping out from schools, hanging out with wrong crowd, not connecting with their families or parents, struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues (Abur, 2018).

Conclusion

The main question to be addressed in this document is what are the appropriate mental health and wellbeing support programs for black community groups that may be replicated in Melbourne? The following programs appeared to be culturally suitable for black community because they are runs by the black community members.

  1. Black Thrive – A Partnership for Black Wellbeing: This program look at the issues of black community using a holistic approaches in UK such as mental health issues, injustice, unemployment and other form of inequality issues facing members of black community.(https://www.blackthrive.org.uk/why-black-thrive)
  2. Get Loud about Mental Health for Black Canadians: This program raises the awareness and encourage black community members in Canada to speak up loud about mental health and wellbeing related issues. (https://www.evas.ca/blog/getloud-about-mental-health-for-black-canadians/). This will work well in Melbourne as awareness need to be raised about mental health and wellbeing issues  within the  South Sudanese Australian community. Lack of awareness in community and with parents about the danger of mental health problems can be addressed through effective community education to raise awareness about mental health issues including how to spot out the signs and symptoms of mental health problems, and benefits of seeking support service for early intervention. As mental health  problem is one of the biggest elephants in the room, parents and community need to acknowledge that it is a problem and start seeking support service early enough before it is too late. Therefore, it is fundamentally importance for community focus awareness to be launched in South Sudanese Australian community to awareness that can assist in reducing stigma of mental health issues. The community mental health invention awareness can assist parents and community members with strategies that can improve level of mental health literacy in the South Sudanese Australian community.
  3. Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities in England and Wales: this program supported members of black community and other minority group who experienced some difficulties including mental health issues, discrimination and racism. (https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/b/black-asian-and-minority-ethnic-bame-communities). What work well in this program is that young people in black community and other minority community groups are supported by the organisations by addressing issues of mental health stigma, racism and discrimination, criminal justice system, social and economic inequalities and other factors?   This could work well with the young people from South Sudanese Australians if there is a program that could listen to them and support them what their mental health and wellbeing issues.

 

In conclusion, young people in disadvantaged and socioeconomic community groups do need support services that can give them better opportunities for their future while supporting them to go through mental health and other wellbeing issues. Therefore, young people from South Sudanese Australian community are more likely to benefit from mentoring and wellbeing programs similar to the above mentioned models to assist them with mental health and wellbeing related issues. These models have assisted young people in black community by exposing boys and girls who are at high risks to the programs that give them hope and aspirations for their futures. It is critical that mental health and wellbeing issues can be identified early enough and addressed them before it is too late for young person to be assisted.

This paper recommended programs that provide activities to support young people with skills that may assist them to deal with mental health issues and allow young people to develop self-esteem and readiness to follow their educational gaols or dreams. Lack of supporting programs and instability in family can affect young people’s wellbeing, schooling as well as employment opportunity. Engaging young people in the programs that can support their mental health and wellbeing are very important in changing the difficult situation of young people from the South Sudanese Australians in Melbourne. One of the solutions or strategies that need to be considered by the service providers that are or want to work with the South Sudanese Australians in Melbourne, is to empower community and young people to remain resilience in toxic environment of racial vilification. This can be done learning strategies that can assist to manage and cope well in difficult situations. Also learn some strategies that can assist remain focus on positive outcomes. One of the positive outcomes is for young people on education and employment as strategies that may assist them to engage positively.

 

 

 

 

Reference

 

Abur, w (2019) A New Life with Opportunities and Challenges: The settlement experiences of South Sudanese-Australians, Africa World Books Pty Ltd

Abur, W. (2018). Settlement strategies for the South Sudanese community in Melbourne: an analysis of employment and sport participation, PhD’s thesis, Victoria University <http://vuir.vu.edu.au/36189/>

Abur, W. (2018). Systemic vilification and racism are affecting on the South Sudanese community in Australia. International Journal of Scientific Research, 7(11), 47-52.

Abur, W., & Mphande, C. (2019). Mental Health and Wellbeing of South Sudanese-Australians. Journal of Asian and African Studies, 0021909619880294.

Gulliver, A., Griffiths, K. M., & Christensen, H. (2010). Perceived barriers and facilitators to mental health help-seeking in young people: a systematic review. BMC psychiatry, 10(1), 113.

Jarjoura, G. R. (2013). Effective strategies for mentoring African American boys. Washington, DC: American Institute for Research, 1-9.

Lawrence, D., Johnson, S., Hafekost, J., Boterhoven de Haan, K., Sawyer, M., Ainley, J., & Zubrick, S. R. (2015). The mental health of children and adolescents: Report on the second Australian child and adolescent survey of mental health and wellbeing.

Lewig, K., Arney, F., & Salveron, M. (2010). Challenges to parenting in a new culture: Implications for child and family welfare, Evaluation and program planning, 33(3), 324-332.

Marrast, L., Himmelstein, D. U., & Woolhandler, S. (2016). Racial and ethnic disparities in mental health care for children and young adults: A national study. International Journal of Health Services, 46(4), 810-824.

Noguera, P. A. (2003). The trouble with Black boys: The role and influence of environmental and cultural factors on the academic performance of African American males. Urban education, 38(4), 431-459.

Rhodes, J.E. (2002). Stand by me: The risks and rewards of mentoring today’s youth. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Sawyer, M. G., Arney, F. M., Baghurst, P. A., Clark, J. J., Graetz, B. W., Kosky, R. J., … & Rey, J. M. (2001). The mental health of young people in Australia: key findings from the child and adolescent component of the national survey of mental health and well‐being. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 35(6), 806-814.

Smith, E., Jones, T., Ward, R., Dixon, J., Mitchell, A., & Hillier, L. (2014). From blues to rainbows: The mental health and well-being of gender diverse and transgender young people in Australia. Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS), La Trobe University.

I read a cut-rate anecdote by someone who insinuated that President Salva did Dr. John Garang a favour by sticking by him during the liberation days.

That Garang’s people should reciprocate to follow President Salva Kiir Mayardit. I have heard this cheap argument before from people who are educated who should be more politically informed.

These questions should bring your conscience to live before I put my option forward:

1. Did the liberation struggle by South Sudanese start with Dr. John Garang’s era?
2. Did Dr. John Garang fight a personal war?
3. In any case, if Garang’s people have to pay for whatever went wrong in the liberation struggle, then why didn’t they inherit leadership?

As one reels with the above questions, I would like to state my hunch on this emotive subject as follow.

First of all, when Dr. John Garang led the liberation struggle, he did it as a national leader nominated by his peers to lead liberation of his people. There was nowhere or time where people of Twi or Bor were consulted if they approved of Garang’s leadership of the movement. Instead, he had an adversary from his community in the person of Akuot Atem de Mayen… who had different political lineup and approach in mind. Uncle Akuot Atem did not make it..and that was treated as a consequence of his political decision. He died in the hands of SPLM/A and Anya Anya II men. No community took responsibility or offense in his demise apart from personal grieve to loss of his dear life and his potential contribution to the movement. Akuot’s sons remained in the lines of liberation struggle. In fact, I remember his son singing with us, a song that derided Akuotdit. To him, I presume, the vision of Dr. John Garang was stronger than his tribulation presented by the fate that had befallen his father. That was true for most liberators who fell out of favor with the SPLM/A. Their kins and kith stayed true to the cause of liberation struggle. The cause was greater than individual’s predicaments. Moreover, no one had exception in the liberation except those who had chosen to stay by the fence in their comfort to be liberated. Dr. John Garang had his biological brothers, Deng Mabior and Malual Mabior, fighting in different fronts of the New Sudan. I do not think they or any other South Sudanese fought because their brother, relative or acquaintance was in leadership of the Movement. They had contextualized liberation in their own terms..and were thanking Dr. John Garang like most other Sudanese for having articulated the vision, led the war and provided logistics at no cost on our future. And indeed, Dr. John Garang did that without a favour on himself, for the benefits of presidency never acrued to him, his immediate family and or his community.

Yes, uncle Arok Thon Arok, Majier Gai Ayuel and many junior officers from Garang’s constituency found themselves at odd with the movement for reasons that were personal or institutional. They were not treated differently. In fact, Salva Kiir, carried out their arrests. Something that cannot be done today, given how being from President’s family or lineage makes one qualify for presidential treatment.

Garang and by extension, his community never saw the liberation struggle or its agenda as their own. Instead, Dr. Garang saw himself duty-bound to liberate his people not for his benefit but to engender a foundation of a society that avails opportunities to its people without institutionalized constrictions to them, by way of laws or perceptions of their origins, faith, look or creeds. This was system being perpetually advanced and imposed on our people by our archenemies.

So, instead Garang did South Sudanese a favour by liberating them not the other way. A forbearance being begged from him to get them to see the lights of freedom. As Lualdit one time insinuated that Garang was being gaurded so that he could not abandon that weighty responsibility before him. We all knew it, it was Garang and only him in those prevailing circumstances that could liberate us. Now, we have a head of State, National Ministers, Managing Directors of Oil Companies, Millionaires and so forth, thanks be to Dr. John Garang who made this happen.

Any bothersome cheap talk therefore, which insinuates that anybody did Dr. John Garang a favour by following him in the bushes during liberation struggle is foolhardy. Others have even gone further to imply that if President Salva Kiir did not stand with Garang, the movement would have run-out of fuel and crashed on its face. This is simply not untrue. Instead, if Salva Kiir did not stick with Garang, he would not be the President of the Republic of South Sudan. He would have come back to negotiate his reintegration as a militia leader of some kind of outfit with his head down in shame. Commander Salva was never more priced than Kerubino Kuanyin Bol, William Nyuon Bany, Arok Thon or Martin Majier Gai or even Dr. Riek and Dr. Lam. He just happened to be another member of Political Military High Command. He would have been replaced by another more competent officer, for example. Therefore, his responsibility as a head of State cannot be discounted because of his participation in the liberation struggle.

Without sense of contradiction, I would like to state that, no one followed Dr. John Garang as a son of Awulian, Patem, Pan de Ayen. Neither because he was a son of Gak Malual Kuol, Kongor, Padol, Pareng. Not at a glimpse would it be because he was from Twi, Bor or a Dinka. It was his vision and articulation of freedom agenda on behalf of the oppressed that precipitated loyalty and stamina to follow him. Any predisposition otherwise is opportunistic and naive of those that have hijacked people’s cause. Different groups of people had different liberation goals that took them to Ethiopia. Dr. Garang instead coalesced all these predicaments into a bigger cause to address those pigeonholes of injustices.

For example, Anya Anya II led by Bagat Aguek were protesting killings of their own people with impunity by the Misirya and untamed continuous encroachment on their ancestral land. People of Mading Aweil went to Ethiopia to acquire guns to protect themselves against maralhiin, people of Bor went to Bongo to get guns to protect themselves against marauding Murle militias. Panruu and Nuer of Bentiu went to Bilpham to get guns to guard themselves and their properties against Rizigat that were being used as proxies to displace them to create space for Oil exploration and name many more. The elites and students who were politically informed protested different mistreatments of South Sudanese in urban centres. That caused them to flee to Ethiopia in search for arms to turn around state of their perceived or real grievances. Non of them went to Ethiopia to certain Dinka man in the name of Dr. John Garang.

For the record, the movement was first dominated by Nuer followed by Bor and then Apadang upon arrival of 104 and 105 at Ethiopian borders to join elements of Anya Anya II mostly from Nuer, Shilluks and Apadang.

Upon training and graduation of Jamus and Tiger, Bor took numbers superiority which was consolidated by 11,000 recruits that became part of Koryom. The other 2,000 in Koryom mainly came from Bailiet, Panruu, Nasir, Bentiu, Akobo, and Malakal (Shilluks) of Upper Nile.
Anya Anya II fall out with SPLM/A later affected mobilization from Nuer communities in general. It was however reversed after integration of Gordon Koang Chol in 1988.
The 200 students that came with Lual Diing Wol to join Tiger and Jamus, and few Anya Anya II with Peter Bol Ayomnok were the first representatives from Aweil. A good number of students led by ustadh Daniel Ayual Makoi from Rumbek and Yirol responded to the call for liberation to join Tiger and Tumsah. Bol Madut and Malong Awan with their militia groups could not cross to Ethiopia until elements of Jamus under the command of Kawac Makuei, Bagat Aguek, Deng Aloor and Peter Bol went to escort them. Aweil and Gogrial swell their numbers significantly upon arrival of 11,000 recruits that became Muor Muor. At the start of the movement, mobilization of peasants had significant response from Aweil because of Maralhiin, Baliet because of Anya Anya II, Bor because of Murle and Panruu and Bentiu because of Rizigats and the rest had to be recruited over time.
That’s a bit of digression.

The reason for these skechy details, is to remind those with unfounded predilection that anybody did a favour to Dr. John Garang by sticking with him during the liberation struggle. Instead, Dr. John Garang was begged by his colleagues in the underground movement to take leadership of the liberation because of his unique exposure both in Anya Anya and in the United States of America. Garang answered to different frustrations that were being experience by South Sudanese at different corners of the country at the time. We owe him a big thank you, because he answered this call with distinction. The same people should stop bothering Garang’s relatives or community that they should follow President Salva because he stood. Instead, they should thank Dr. John Garang and his family, if necessary because, he has made him rule South Sudan, which his own admission, he did not expect.

Dr. John Garang amalgamated our various grievances into a political cause that was translatable and interpretable in geopolitical and global political terms. It won us unrelated and unconditional military support from allies. It finally gave us sovereignty. Garang’himself, did not earn a month’s salary for the first vice President and the President of the Government of South Sudan. He hunted down an animal called freedom from 22 years until it fell..skinned it, had it cooked and handed it over to junubiin.

People started partying in the spoils without recourse of thoughts. Now, like any other party, there’s a responsibility that comes with excesses and someone wants Dr. John Garang’s community on his behalf to bear responsibility..come on junubiin. Connect your consumption with responsibility, and if I may paraphrase Francis Mading et al, ” Take Power as a Responsibility, not just a privilege.”
When you hold power, be responsible to bear the consequences of it. People will call you names and hold you to account for their grievances, because that power is theirs!
That is the meaning of public Responsibility and Accountability.

BY DENG DIAR-MANYOK

THE WOMEN’S FATE IN SOUTH SUDAN ARE IN QUESTION!

THE WOMEN’S FATE IN SOUTH SUDAN ARE IN QUESTION! The Women are the biggest losers in South Sudan, and time and time again they have never learned to change their status economically politically, socially and educationally. A woman carries your little one in the womb for good nine months and once carried you. They gave birth or some died during the process of delivering. Some make it through the process only to have some ruthless raiders take your baby away and you became childless in the blink of an eye. surprisingly, women don’t speak up, come out and stand up for themselves. In such a terrible incident as having your child taken from you, you can lose your husband or brother in the process trying to pursue the abductors and you lose your immediate family and partner on top of the baby. The horror of the brutality and social injustice continues over and over again. nobody can ask nor is willing to investigate the pernicious physical and emotional effects on such barbaric deeds which leads to untold emotional and psychological damages in women and parents. It is very painful to even imagine that we are facing such a corrupt world. your child most likely will be under the influence to continue the cycle of inflicting pain of untold sufferings to other families that could be his/her own blood. The grief and sorrows will never get cured with what is still happening and will carry over still after you are to your own grave. That’s the painful story of a lawless society like South Sudan, which breaks my heart from its instability and insensitivity in relations between its people. the greed for power has reached its peak. Politicians fights for position in Juba, as being appointed at any level in the government has lost all honorability. I resigned my job at the Ministry of Justice because of the corrupt, unstable politics I witnessed. I could see societies were grossly misinformed and misguided about politics. In South Sudan, poor massive populations are fooled to the point the party they align with results in their own death and before that comes about, they are instructed to dig their own graves. They celebrate with no foundation or understanding of the god given, life encompassing principles of happy living. The only people who can mourn your passing on in such a state are those who can overlook the lies and corruption happening. To all South Sudanese communities both at home, in the diaspora and over the entire World. If you are behind the News or don’t have any clue about the ongoing pernicious activities and Fighting happening, as with Families I posted about and mentioned previously who have had their children abducted and responded in the Murlei Land region. The Conflicts are sparked as revenge attacks. The Lou Nuer youths and the other thousands of the post abducted children and wives families members pursuing their abducted children and wives mission resulted to an invasion of Murlei land as Murlei bandits resisted and caused more casualties to the families of abducted children. Once the child is abducted, the situation appears hopeless. The causes or the genesis of the conflict began, on February 15th, 2020 that, the armed Murlei militias had broken into a Church, where two famous Chiefs daughter and son were getting married in the Church, the wedding ceremony was well attended in Lou Nuer village. The Murlei men Suddenly broke into the church and they started to shooting and slaughtering people including the priests. They also slaughtered the groom and they abducted the Newly wed bride. They left dozens of the attendees killed and dead in the Holy place, Murlei raiders took the bride ’s maids and flower Girls and went onward toward Pibor, the Home of criminals. The retaliation followed and that’s what’s sparked the conflict, I don’t blame the Lou Nuer nor the ten of thousand families of the victims who desperately want their beloved abducted girls restored back to them. From the Human rights perspective, Murlei culture of violence and child abduction is the major crime worldwide. You as a young analyst who had not gone to the school of politics can Make your own rational analysis or judgement as Human being, what would you do if you are one of the newly wed couples? I think you would seek justice and as per the fact, the justice in South Sudan is at hands of the Lou Nuer youth and other affected Dinka sections has a rights to pursuing their abducted children, young girls and wives and should come together for the sole purpose of positive change. The second fear now is Anyidi Payam, Jur Palek who is hosting some of Murlei militias youths, wives, children and elderly people is rising and gaining momentum in the Jonglei State. If I we were among Juor Palek leaders including Leekrieth, it’s useless after all to host in my backyard and protect such culprits as IDPS when holding the abducted newlywed bride who became a widow on her wedding day as hostage in Anyidi Land. As an English proverb said that, what’s goes around comes around, I think it’s now a right time for the Murlei ethnic to cease such a barbaric culture of child abduction and reckless killings of other communities Yom Deng Bul Is A South Sudanese Human Rights Activist, she’s Famously Known for her Human Rights Perspectives Concept to Champions the Children’s Rights and Protection In the Republic of South Sudan. Yom Is A Postgraduate from the Prestigious University Of Nairobi, Yom Is a Founder and A Director of Achut Foundation (A.F), the Charitable Entity. She’s Currently residing in the U.S. as Political Asylee and Basing In Manhattan, New York, United States of America. You Can Follow Me On Twitter @ Yom Deng (Winner) And On Facebook @Yom Deng Contact email: yombul2015@gmail.com

TRIBUTE Col Amos Ajak Garang: He Sang for Love and Justice by Atem Yaak Atem

Amos Ajak Garang, Police colonel, freedom fighter and famous composer and singer of popular love songs and revolution has died after bravely battling cancer of the throat for a very long time.
Amos Ajak began singing in the late 1950s as a schoolboy at Abwong Elementary School. Abwong to the east of Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile State. Ajak who was born to peasant parents at Pawuoi village in what is today Twi County (Twic East is a misnomer), showed interest in music. That was the time of religious revival among when Ngok Dinka of today’s Bailiet County, when hymn singing was part of that spiritual awakening. Ajak was also a self-taught drummer.
Christian believers of whom some were affiliated to the Presbyterian Church were composing hymns in the vernacular as well as making rendition of martials in which words had to be given biblical terms instead of their original secular lyrics. One of these was “Bäny-dïït de Pinynhom Cɔk Wo Ɣer”, literally, Lord of the World Make Us White [clean].
Today when the SPLA band plays this march, Dinka Christians with no knowledge of the origin of the tune sing it in Dinka, convinced that it is their own chorus that has been adapted by the army. There is a coincidence in this as will be seen later in this appreciation since late Amos Ajak later became choirmaster of the SPLA Band.
Early years
I met Amos Ajak at Atar Intermediate School in 1961 when he was two years my senior. By age, Ajak was much older, probably by seven years.
A quiet, tall and charming youth, nobody remembers having seen or heard Amos Ajak getting into altercation with fellow students or in trouble with school authorities. He was, however, a common figure on school playgrounds as he participated in football, volleyball and Ping Pong as table tennis is known.
Ajak later added Arabic music of Northern Sudanese to his Church-based hymn-singing. He imitated the popular singers of the day, among them Ibrahim Awad, one of the national stars in those days. By lucky coincidence, when the military governor Upper Nile was going by boat up the Nile to open a new hospital in Bentiu in 1961, decided to have a stopover at Atar- 25 miles away from Malakal the provincial capital- where he and his entourage included Ibrahim Awad, disembarked and went straight to the school hall. The young tall, slim and good-looking entertainer offered just one song- a hit at the time- to the students in the company of the headmaster and his teaching staff. The song was “Habibi Janani”- Arabic for “my lover has made me mad [with love”). The free entertainment by the young and popular performer was over. In less half an hour the governor and company were gone to continue their voyage to Adok and then from there by land to Bentiu.
Ibrahim Awad was one the Northern Sudanese singers whose songs Amos Ajak loved to perform to entertain fellow students.
Good at Arabic, both spoken and written, Amos Ajak who was endowed with a melodious voice, would sometimes spend his leisure time singing while seated on the edge of the sandy quay along the White Nile, not far from the school compound. We used the dockside for swimming early mornings and late afternoons when the heat of the day was gradually dissipating.
The turbulent Sixties
The early 1960s were times of political turbulence in the three Southern Provinces of Bahr el Ghazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile. This was the period of the resurgence of the rebellion against the government in Khartoum. Following the takeover of power by the military under General Ibrahim Abboud in 1958, the repressive policies of his regime against the South directly helped rekindle the nationalistic zeal in the then dormant former participants in the Torit mutiny of August 18, 1955 to organise and conduct a guerrilla warfare.
This development that was largely confined to Equatoria Province soon gradually began to engulf the entire Southern Sudan where defections by policemen, civil servants and students helped to swell the ranks of the new insurgency.
After every strike, which were mostly politically motivated, a number of students would be reported missing; they had gone over to the rebels who later adopted the name of Anya Nya, or the snake venom in the Madi language. The most memorable of all those strikes was the 1960 student protests at the government’s decision to turn Sunday, then a day of worship and rest in the South, to a working day, and Friday, the Islamic Sabbath, was officially declared as a day of rest, instead.
In 1962 students all over Southern Sudan and in what was called English pattern (as opposed to “national” schools where Arabic was a medium of instruction) went on strike. After the reopening of schools, a couple of months later that year, a sizeable number of students, especially those aged 16 and above had found their way into the bushes of Southern Sudan to train as guerrilla warriors. Rumbek led the rest of the students in that nationalistic agitation. These young men were to form the nucleus of Anya Nya fighters or scouts. Amos Ajak was one of the students who did not return to school: he had joined the freedom fighters as the rebels were known to their supporters.
But not all who voted with their feet were able to carry guns: weapons were in short supply, and so were food, medicine and clothing. It was decided by the rebel leadership that very young volunteers had to be assigned some roles to play in the war of liberation. Some of those youths were trained as scouts or agents, who were secretly sent to towns to spy on government’s positions and installations, list and keep tabs on the names of Southern Sudanese collaborators with security agents in the Government of Sudan.
In later years, scouts worked closely with chiefs and other traditional leaders to organise food supplies for the fighters or to help in collection of funds that were taken to the Congo for buying weapons from the defeated Simba rebels. The scouts also worked closely with the secret internal cells and assisted nationalists intending to defect to the fighters. Amos Ajak was one of the active scouts in Bor home district, Bor, after returning from the border between Southern Sudan and the Congo, where he had received military training of sorts.
In mid- 1960s the Anya Nya leadership decided that formal education was so important as part of the struggle that some students were allowed to resume schooling.
Amos Ajak returned to town, but unlike most of his comrades, he decided to work in the North where he got a job in a factory. It is to be recalled that some workers contributed parts of their wages for supporting the rebels and the struggle by means collecting money for buying medicine and facilitating couriers. Ajak and his colleagues who worked in the civil service financed the armed struggle via the underground cells in Northern cities, where there was little fear of government spies to uncover their networks and anti-State activities; the bulk of government’s security personnel were concentrated in urban centres of Southern Sudan. The rural population also contributed food and money for the rebels to acquire weapons. At a later stage in the second half of the 1960s young peasants sold some of the livestock, and travelled to the Congo to acquire weapons; some of them underwent military training with Anya Nya, and later participated in pitched battles as well as ambushes, guerrillas’ favourite method.
While in Khartoum North where he worked, Amos Ajak continued his singing as a hobby, receiving no pay for his labour. It was at that time that he composed his famous song “Abängda Yïn Anhiaar”, which became an instant hit when Omdurman Radio, the State broadcaster, began to play it. The lyrics were so moving that some of the listeners were reported to weep when it was being played. With music arranged and supplied by the station orchestra, the song was rated one of the best in languages other than Arabic. Among Ajak became the darling of the youth of both gender.
A rough translation of the name of the song in Dinka goes “I love you our beloved baby”. In fact, “abäng” is a word without a single nearest equivalent in English as the word stands for what one would call typical classical Dinka and very poetical. Without the possessive “da” (our), “abäng” means young, pure, innocent, beloved, pristine, ethereal, seedling, babe, among many others. Paradoxically, the word gets its clear meaning within the context of mourning. In the past, a mother, for instance, who lost a young child would utter heart-rending wail “Abäng-dï mawoou!” repeatedly. “Dï” is possessive for “my”. In this sense “abäng” symbolises the possible best person, idea or object that could be. For one to refer a sweetheart as abäng was to say she was more than darling or even honey. Singing and poetry in Dinka was getting into a new and unchartered territory, linguistically speaking. Amos Ajak was one of the pioneers in the brave new world of spiced metaphors in lyrics.
From a best man to a suitor
Although Amos Ajak had by then established himself as an accomplished composer and singer, with an electrifying voice, he did not give up his job as a factory worker to become a full time performing artist.
A turning point in his personal life, however, happened in 1968 when his friend Kothia Kuany Mabior Juarwel asked him to be his best man at his wedding to Akeer Gak. The bride had her cousin Duoom Arok Goch as her maid of honour.
Those formal relations later mellowed into a firm love between Amos and Duoom, who in less a year became sweet-hearts, wife and husband. In fact, it appears “Abäng-da Yïn Anhiaar” was a courtship song that predated the marriage of the former best man to the former maid of honour. The couples have five daughters and a son, with their own children at the time of Amos Ajak’ passing.
Amos Ajak the cop
Four years after that wedding an agreement that temporarily ended the first civil war was concluded between the government of Jaafar Nimeiri and the rebels of Southern Sudan Liberation Movement, SSLM, and its military wing, Anya Nya. The accord called the Addis Ababa Agreement, had given the former rebels the right to have 6,000 men to be integrated into the regular forces- Army, Police, Prison Service wardens, and Wildlife Department.
The Anya Nya command kept the lists of their sleepers (intelligence jargon for elements belonging to an enemy group operating clandestinely within the territory of their enemy). Some of these secret agents were taken as officers, non-commissioned officers, (NCOs) and men in the new regular forces of the Republic of Sudan. Amos Ajak Garang was absorbed as a sergeant major in the Police force in Juba. He continued to sing to entertain huge gatherings, and always for free. One of these was when he entertained the President of the High Executive Council, Abel Alier, and accompanying VIPs during the inauguration of new studios for Radio Juba in 1975. On that night of celebration, I had the honour of receiving and escorting the VIPs to their seats, a first for me, and which I exceedingly relished.
Rebel for a second time
When the entire Police force under the command of Colonel Makuei Deng Majuch in Bor, the capital of what was Jonglei Province, rebelled in 1984 to join the rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, the SPLA, Amos Ajak Garang was with the force that soon was integrated into the SPLA. Those elements soon took part in battles before they had been given refresher guerrilla tactics or general military training. At the time of his defection Amos Ajak was a sergeant major in the police force.
While in the SPLA, Amos Ajak was waging the liberation struggle using his Kalashnikov rifle as well as his creative mind and golden voice to keep the morale of his fellow combatants high with his inspiring and revolutionary songs.
His comrades and the rest of Radio SPLA listeners fondly remember to this day Ajak’s memorable “Kapoeta”, a song he composed in standard Arabic mainly for the consumption of the oppressors in power in Khartoum.
Ajak composed this expressive cry from the heart after the capture of Kapoeta garrison by the SPLA in later 1980s in a battle in which some of his comrades fell. In part, the songster wonders why he- representing every oppressed and marginalised South Sudanese- should be hungry and naked- metaphorically of course- in his homeland which is very rich in everything. “Asma’ Sauti ana fi Medina Kapoeta” (Hear my Voice in Kapoeta Town) in reality this is and will remain one of the odes to the cause of liberation struggle and its justification.
Poor health
Amos Ajak was not always in good health despite the fact that he had a well built frame. When I met him in Yei after the liberation of that important town a few months earlier in 1997, he was recovering from wounds he sustained after a vehicle he and his colleagues were travelling in had overturned, killing several of them.
During the SPLM-Church dialogue, which resulted in what was later dubbed Kajiko, after the village of that name, and which was the venue of the conference, after which the two bodies endorsed the “Liberation Theology”, I noticed a disturbing trend in the singer: a desire to sing at every interlude. When I privately complained to a mutual friend about what I had observed, he told me that singing was a form of therapy for Ajak. I agreed. That was the last time I saw Amos Ajak Garang.
From that time until the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, CPA, in 2005, Alternate Commander Amos Ajak Garang was the commander of the SPLA Military Band, a position he used not only as a leader but one for training the personnel of the inchoate military organs of prestige and protocols, all symbols of State in the making. The SPLA Military Band plays our national anthem during State functions.
After the end of the armed conflict in 2005, Amos Ajak was one of the former SPLA who became senior officers in the standing Army of Southern Sudan, and later of sovereign South Sudan. His rank of alternate commander was converted into that of a full colonel. He was later transferred and deployed as a colonel in the Southern Sudan Police Service, where he served until his death.
Ties going back to parents
Late Amos Ajak Garang had several ties with me, some which, sometimes take me to my childhood in rural Southern Sudan. As a former school-mate he was both a colleague and friend. I still remember him as a warm sensitive, kindly human being. During the last war of liberation, we were comrades-in arms. We also had blood ties.
We often used to address each other as “Molën”, an abbreviated Dinka slang for “Mɛnh de Malën” or child of mother’s sister, to translate it literally. His biological mother was not sister to my mother, but his wife Duoom’s mother, Gak Bior Aguer Ajang, was a distant cousin of my mother Nyanluak Bior Aguek. Not only were the two girls- my mother and Ajak’s mothr in law- from Paan-Bior clan related by blood; they too were next door neighbours in the Piom de Wun Aguer village. The pair was dancing-mates according to cultural trend of their time: a pair of girls would dance with a pair of young men; the sets were often close relatives or friends.
Gak’s father, Bior Aguer, known universally within the community by his personality ox nickname of Bäny de Aliap was in charge of the luak (cattle byre) that housed the Kongor Wut (group of clans) totem in the form of a drum called Mayom. The custody of the emblem of the divinity and its shrine was the responsibility of Bior Bäny de Aliap. (Godfrey Lienhardt, the famous anthropologist visited the luak while he was passing through the area in the early 1950s. In his book, Divinity and Experience: The Religion of the Dinka, Prof Lienhardt narrates a short incident about his visit to the luak).
Personal link
The totem’s abode was known as Luaŋ de Lɔ̈ɔ̈r (Luang de Loor) or the Byre of the Drum. My mother’s name was derived from this building. Nyanluak in some Dinka communities is a name given to a girl born in a luak. My mother was not; she was named after the Luang de Loor in the neighbourhood of her family’s homestead.
Alas, that place and its spiritual symbols have gone, thanks to the work of modern barbarians, who in the moment of their madness turned the Big Houses into ashes in the 1990s. Misguided Christians with very little knowledge of their newly acquired faith and lacking in tolerance of other people’s faiths and their symbols, they destroyed what would qualify for the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation, Unesco, world ‘s heritage sites and objects.
Adieu Molën
I have learned that late Amos Ajak Garang was going through savage ravages of cancer characterised by constant and relentless excruciating pain and agony to his loved ones. When an end to such a long and painful condition comes and prevails, with no hope of reversal is in sight, the inevitable, although premature and unwanted end, might be welcome, sadly. In the same vein there is bound to be some sort of relief, mixed with deep and sincere sorrow for the loss of such a great person and citizen, who made a difference for the better for their country and its people.
I say: Adieu Molën! and may your memory live on for a very long time to come. You deserve to be missed and remembered by family, comrades-in-arms and all those who yearn for freedom and justice, norms you and your comrades fought for and won. You and fellow freedom fighters fought a good fight and the crown is the independence, which we, including the former turncoats, now enjoy and celebrate.
Colonel Amos Ajak Garang died in Juba in 2013. He was buried at Sherikat, a suburb of Juba on the eastern bank of Supiri as the White Nile is known in Bari. This tribute was published in the Citizen daily newspaper, in Juba the same week he died.

TRIBUTE John Luk Jok: a bright and articulate lawyer by Atem Yaak Atem

While I was writing these lines I was- and continue to be- full of sorrow over loss after loss of many people- all over the world in general and South Sudan in particular-due partly to Covid-19 and other causes. Some of the departed South Sudanese public figures were either friends or individuals I have worked with or known for varying lengths of time. Among those who have passed on since early this year- in the order the precedence- are Edward Lino Wuor Abyei; Dr Mansour Khalid- a Sudanese national but a compatriot by deeds and spirit- and former SPLM Politburo member; former Minister for Justice, Paulino Wanawilla; Prof Aggrey Ayuen Majok, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Rumbek of Science and Technology; Justice Bullen Panchol Awal, former Judge of Supreme Court; former Minister for Wildlife and Environment, Jonglei State, Nyang Lul; the immediate serving East African Affairs Minister, John Luk Jok, and General John Diing Deng Arok, formerly of South Sudan Prison Service. The last two passed away the same day on June 2, 2020.

I have written full appreciations, each of for the persons named here, but only abridged versions will be released separately, beginning with this tribute.

Student days

Most members of South Sudan’s members of the ruling elites are likely to have known each other during their school days, in the region’s bushes or in exile during the two civil wars of the 1960s and that one from 1983-2005.

I first met John Luk Jok Ruach at Rumbek Secondary School, then relocated to Omdurman in Northern Sudan towards the end of 1960s because of the then prevailing insecurity in Southern Sudan. We went to the University of Khartoum but to separate faculties; he at Law while I was at Arts. Although we remotely knew each other, one would not claim any form of friendship existed between us during those student days.

Before his admission to the university, John Luk, Hussein Ajuong (from Renk), Timothy Tot Chol, and Abraham Kot, among others, had already been taken as the first batch of new public administrators- provincial and district administration- when the Government of Southern Region was formed in March 1972.

After obtaining his law degree in the second half of the 1970s, John Luk made history in then sub-national entity, Southern Region, as one of the two graduates to enter politics almost straight from college. The other was his fellow law graduate, Hugo Dhol Achuil Aleu, who was appointed in 1978 as commissioner of Lakes Province by the newly elected President of the High Executive Council, Joseph Lagu.

While John Luk was a member of the legislative body, the People’s Regional Assembly, where he represented public administrators, I was with the press. Although my assignments as a reporter and later as an editor, took me to follow debate in the House’s press gallery, I don’t remember ever listening to John Luk taking part. But I learned from his fellow legislators that he was a keen observer of parliamentary procedures, and that he was a bright and competent debater, who used cogent arguments in defence of his position.

John Luk the politician, was known to have been a protégé of the President of the High Executive Council, Abel Alier, and Peter Gatkuoth Gual, who like John Luk hailed from Akobo District. Peter Gatkuoth, after whom Luk had named one of his sons, Peter, was a widely respected politician for his fairness, intellectual acumen and staunch patriotism. Gatkuoth and his colleague, Hilary Paulo Logali, whom he succeeded at the Finance and Economic Development Ministry, have been described by those who knew them as the Presidents Southern Sudan never had. The two politicians who were staunch supporters of the SPLM/A died before the region gained its independence in 2011.

Fellow students in the UK

In 1981, John Luk and I were travelling to study in London, both of us for the second year as students.  He was going to begin a post graduate degree study in law at the London School of Economics. I was in transit to Cardiff, where I was to do a research for a post graduate degree in media at the University of Wales.

There is a local saying that when two or more persons are faced with a common problem, their hardship usually brings them closer together. This is what happened to John Luk and me in September 1982. We had booked a Khartoum-London flight of Sudan Airways. Since our flight was scheduled for early morning departure, we would wake up and prepare for a taxi drive to the airport around three in the morning.

For about four consecutive days, we had to return to the hotel where we were living after we had been informed the flight we were to board had been cancelled. Reasons for cancellations were always different but flimsy and hardly convincing. These including claims such as weather being not good or at other, that one the aircraft’s engines had developed a technical problem. It was very exhausting and financially draining. Our shared disappointment built in each of us a kind of solidarity: comrades in victimhood. It was widely believed that the airline’s management were conducting a sabotage mission against the government of President Jaafar Nimeiri, in the hope that the disgruntled populace would rise and rid themselves of the system.

By the time we arrived London, we had become friends. Since we were going to study in different cities, we only met whenever I went to London for matters related to my research or for a break. When his family joined him some months later, I would stay with him at his rented house in Brixton, a suburb in southern London.

During those brief stays, from time to time I learned a lot- from my conversation with Luk- about laws governing natural resources, as well as how countries rich in natural resources, apportion national wealth accruing from wealth such as minerals. Elites from the former Southern Region had particular interest in the knowledge of percentages allotted to a central government, and its regions, particularly the area where such resources like oil are located. At the time the Government of Sudan was doing what was in their power to deny the South its rightful share of revenue from the oil that had been found in Bentiu District, renamed Unity by Nimeiri for the purpose of obscuring the place of origin- Southern Region. Late William Kon Bior, Luk’s colleague at the Faculty of Law was also studying Law of the Sea with special emphasis with carriage of goods, a field related to what Luk was studying. Southern Sudan had a bright future considering that its citizens were acquiring technical skills that were going to be of paramount importance in the development of the region and its future. Juba had invested in its citizens. The challenge then as is now remains: do we utilise skills paid for by our taxpayers? In a few cases, the answer may be yes. John Luk could be cited as one of those exceptions because he happened to have been appointed to where his expertise could come in handy: Ministry of Legal Affairs.

I was not surprised later after the region became a sovereign State to learn that John Luk was one of the architects behind the creation of the “sovereign fund”, money from oil revenue set aside for future generations and their benefit. The scheme was conceived and spelled out on the Norwegian model.

Events in London to remember

During one of my visits to London, as usual I put up with Luk’s family. One morning as he was waiting for a telephone call from overseas, I volunteered to take his two children to their school, which was a walking distance from home. When we reached the school’s gate other children were entering the compound. Brixton at the time had a sizeable population of people of African descent, most of them from West Indies. The presence of the West Indian in the area was also reflected in the number of their children in the school Luk’s boys attended.

For the first few minutes the boys and I passed through a bevy of generally happy schoolchildren, without anything untoward. But after we had left the gate behind us and a few steps towards the classroom buildings, where I was intending to leave the boys and then return home, a boy of about eight years old stopped, stepped forward and pointed at me as he was shouting “Nigger!” Although he had a slightly lighter skin colour, he was of mixed race. Surprised by the unexpected and unprovoked rudeness I was unprepared for an appropriate response. For Ruach, it was a reflex.

“Why do you call my uncle like that…” Before he could finish his angry words Ruach had already slapped hard his colleague on the left check. I was having a full blown fight and altercation on my watch. I quickly rushed to separate them, with a rebuke to Ruach that it was not good for him to resort to force. As Ruach was fuming with anger, three of his friends, who were all whites, joined- showing an open solidarity with him- as they walked into parade ground. It was time for me to return home.

Days later when I narrated the incident to a fellow Southern Sudanese, the answer was a compliment to Ruach, of course, in absentia, who according to him had done “the right thing. He is a typical Southern Sudanese. That is what we are; proud not ready to accept an insult lying down. I am proud of him. You should have complimented him.” I prefer here to withhold the response I gave to that friend’s remarks.

A row in a sitting room

That incident involving children was of minor significance compared to the following story. While I was preparing to report to the SPLM/A headquarters, I moved to London where I was going to spend the few days there before my departure. That was in May 1984. As usual I put up with John Luk and his family.

Most of us- former students- had by that time dissolved our underground political organisation- the Sudan Revolutionary Movement – to transform it to a chapter of the SPLM in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. John Luk’s residence sometimes served as a venue for meetings as well as other social events as most of the members lived outside London.

One after noon, a semi-official meeting related to the affairs of the SPLM took place in Luk’s house. We were about 10. The only person whose name I will reveal was one of my trusted friends, John Ruach Jal, who like me was staying with the Luk’s family at that time. He had come- for the meeting- from Liverpool where he and his family lived. As we were talking, Rhoda, Luk’s wife, was preparing a meal for us in the kitchen very close to the lounge, and as such she could clearly hear our voice, especially as tempers were rising unexpectedly.

In the middle of the talk that was supposed to be quiet and friendly, John Luk began to raise his voice. He was questioning one of our comrades over a matter related to the affairs of the organisation, this time the SPLM.

Worried about what she had noted as out of the ordinary, Rhoda came out of the kitchen to politely tell Luk that a quarrel with visitors or guests in one’s own home was unacceptable and had to stop. But Luk politely waved her away and continued with the sensitive subject. His words were more of a reprimand to our comrade than they would be under a normal conversation.

For fear of a possible inaccuracy in a verbatim recall and rendering of the quotations from what John Luk was saying to the colleague, I will here have to paraphrase the substance of the topic and John Luk’s message. Likewise, I will be concealing some of the facts that may give away the person John Luk was arguing with.

When the SPLM/A was formed, its leaders had to solicit for both diplomatic and material support for its cause. Chapters abroad had to acquire rented spaces and facilities for their activities. That required funds from both members, supporters, foreign or Sudanese.

In London a mzungu businessman gave financial assistance to the SPLM Chapter. The amount received was too small by corporate standards, but since the needs for the office that had just been established were modest, so the gifted amount could be judged to be quite sufficient, at least for the time being. The funds were strictly for official use, not for personal benefit of any member of the movement. Without any known exception, all the members of the chapter had their different sources of income for their individual needs, including livelihood. None of us was rich, but neither a pauper, desperate for daily bread.

The donor was a crafty person. He told- separately and secretly- several members of the chapter’s steering committee, of which John Luk was one, the amount of money he had given to the organisation. The businessman then instructed his secretary to do likewise before she could hand out the money to a nominated member one behalf of the chapter.

In the house the member of the committee who had signed for the donated money declared an amount that was about 20 percent short of the figure the businessman had disclosed to the other members. Matters came to head when John Luk asked his colleague to explain the discrepancy. When his colleague was firm that the sum he had declared was the exact money he had signed for and received from the secretary, Luk was not convinced. He continued to ask question after question, concluding the session with a lecture: the SPLM/A was waging the liberation war to end a bad system of rule in Sudan, and that it was regrettable that fraudulent practices had been detected at such an early stage of the revolutionary fervour.

Since none of us sitting and quietly listening had attempted to say a word to contradict or request Luk from grousing, Rhoda, who didn’t have a clue about the problem, had no single ally, with the exception of the one receiving the lecture from John Luk on probity and trust. To Luk, those norms were some of the principal objectives the SPLM/A was fighting to achieve.

It was time for the meal to be served. Days later I was gone to Africa. A couple of months after that I learned that the problem had been solved by means of what was called a refund, repayment, return- I am not sure the exact word that was used to describe the remedial settlement. That was became possible thanks to Luk’s decision to dispense with civility, which could have been maintained at the expense of lofty principles.

SPLA Penal and Disciplinary Laws

At the formation of the SPLM/A, Martin Majier Gai, a former magistrate, legislator and minister in Government of Southern Sudan in Juba, was appointed as the head the Legal Affairs and Administration. It was his office that drafted the SPLA Disciplinary and Penal Laws of 1984. Martin Majier and John Luk were credited with softening the originally harsh tone of the laws that were designed to guide the conduct of the war. The laws assigned the SPLA fighters as well as the civil population the responsibility of protecting the environment in general and the wildlife in particular, which with the availability of man guns in war zones would be vulnerable to poaching and large scale slaughter for food.

Days of split within the SPLM/A

During the split within the SPLM/A of 1991, John Luk was with the Nasir faction led by Riek Machar while I remained with what was known the movement’s mainstream or Torit faction under John Garang. When the rupture occurred while I was at Kapoeta, where Garang and most of the members of the leadership were preparing for a scheduled meeting in which the commanders at Nasir were expected to attend.

At that time members of my nuclear family was among the thousands of Sudanese refugees who had fled from western Ethiopia- after the change of regime there- to Nasir across the border. Although there were flights operated by international humanitarian NGOs between Nasir and Kapoeta, my family, who were with very young children including a two-month old daughter, were unable to find seats on those planes, to join me in Kapoeta. They remained at Nasir from 1991 to 1994.

For much of that time I was living in the displaced persons’ camp at Ame in Eastern Equatoria, where I had to depend on the generosity of two friends and their families since I was not receiving relief food rations. (Although food and other necessities were given to the displaced persons on the basis of headcounts, the corrupt camp administration denied persons without families their share).

In 1993, a friend, Dr Lual A. L. Deng secured me a consultancy at the African Development Bank in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, where he was a senior executive member. While in transit in Nairobi, I was able to meet members of the Nasir faction. I had to seek their approval to grant me a written permission to facilitate family reunion.

To state that relations between the two factions were not good at that material moment would be an understatement: raw emotions on both sides were very high. It was therefore natural my visit to their humanitarian office in the Kenyan capital was a trying time for me and the friend I had requested to accompany me to what we considered as a lion’s den.

In the factional fighting that erupted immediately after the declaration of the abortive overthrow of Garang, thousands of people, mostly civilians, died in the ensuring fighting and later in the retaliatory skirmishes. Loss of hundreds of thousands of livestock in the affected areas were stolen, leaving their owners destitute. The resulting insecurity also created what was later called Hunger Triangle- Waat, Ayod and Kongor, my native home area. Figures from the reports from humanitarian organisations about death from famine and disease vary, but they are very high; in hundreds of thousands of people of all ages and gender.

On a personal note, such devastating losses in human lives, affected me as I lost many members of my extended family. Those included my elderly step-mother, her daughter (my half-sister) with her husband and their four children, my two elder brothers, of whom one of them lost six of his children; while three of my nieces all under the 14 were abducted. The losses also included several cousins and their families.

Just a day before my visit to the Relief Association for South Sudan (RASS) office, my colleague, Cdr Meshach Madol Yol. * and I were walking on Nairobi’s Denis Pritt Road when we suddenly came face to face with John Luk, Simon Mori Diduma, Gordon Koang Chol, Barry Wanji, and other senior members in the Nasir faction’s leadership. Could we detour to avoid meeting them? No. It was too late to come face to face with them, as they were about two metres away, walking to their cars parked nearby. There was also some hesitation on the other side until John Luk shouted “Hi my friends Atem and Brezhenev!”1 John Luk had broken the ice, so to speak. We were soon hugging each other, the Sudanese way.

As were about to leave for our separate directions, Barry Wanji2, who was a member of the Nasir faction, and who was with the group we had accidentally met, got hold of my hand and pulled me aside. What he wanted to tell Meshach and me was how puzzled he was. He told us he couldn’t believe his eyes seeing us greeting each other as we, on both side of the political and military divides, behaved as if we were the best friends ever at the time when nobody (on both sides) was prepared to put aside the conflict with its bleeding wounds since the August 28, 1991, the date when the BBC’s correspondent in Nasir town, Collin Blaine, reported the announcement of Garang’s overthrow as the leader of the founding leader of SPLM/A. What its leaders later dubbed as a creeping revolution was soon followed by heavy fighting with an immense loss of many lives and unleashing of anarchy- lasting a more than four years- at the theatre of fighting, mainly in Jonglei Province.

Time is the greatest healer of wounds and broken hearts. A couple of years after that John Luk and some of his colleagues re-joined the SPLM/A mainstream. He did the right thing by establishing a centre for documentation: he created an assignment for himself that gave him a sense of independence, not someone seeking for an assignment. Documentation was in itself a service to society since the war had largely destroyed important documents in major towns of Southern Sudan.

The centre produced a monthly magazine, South Sudan Post in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Some years later John Luk offered me a job as a consulting editor on the magazine he founded and ran in Nairobi. The fees I was receiving became a source of income in a Nairobi in which life for most of the refugees was most brutish and almost short. My co-worker was Stephen Tut Puol, who instantly became a friend to me. We are still good pals to this day.

While on the publication I learned that John Luk would only supervise a staff member when that person appeared to be in need of help or couching on the job, but on the whole he would give everyone working with him a lot of room for taking an initiative or action. I learned also that John Luk was a widely read person, who effectively and judiciously applied the vast amount of knowledge he had accumulated over the years of study and voracious reading of serious authors and their works.

Both friends and adversaries admitted John Luk’s brilliance and clarity of thought. During negotiations, for example, friends and allies welcomed those attributes, while opponents dreaded them like lethal weapons.

Last meeting

In the second half of 2016 I met John Luk in Nairobi, where I was passing in transit from Uganda on my way to Australia. He and his colleagues who were arrested and detained- after being accused of an attempt to overthrow the government in Juba-and later released to Kenya after the charges had been dismissed by court.

Consistent with my habit of collecting a few choicest paperbacks and ties as gifts to friends on my return home from a long visit to a foreign country, that time I gave Luk a copy of The Road to Ruin: How Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin Destroy Their Own Government, an expose by an Australian journalist, Niki Savva. The book is about how a chief of staff, an office holder we in South Sudan usually call either as office manager or private secretary, ran the office of the former Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, in a manner that even ministers could be denied seeing their boss. Friends advised the prime minister that such insubordination by the chief of staff had created bad feelings within the government and outside it, and that such behaviour would bring ruin or his downfall. The advice of those friends and from party senior advisers went unheeded. Soon, a colleague their ruling party challenged the prime minister for the post. At the party boardroom the majority of the MPs voted out the prime minister. The way his office was run had alienated and angered a lot of colleagues. It is a book with good lessons for nearly everyone in public life, whether corporate, political or in life in general.

I knew the story would not be a surprise to John Luk; he must have read similar abuses of public office of a similar nature by public servants worldwide. When I gave him the book I added “Please pass it to some of your friends after you are through with it.” Until his passing I haven’t had any feedback on the book from him or whether he had lent it to any of his colleagues, especially after he later re-joined the government in accordance with the terms of the peace agreement of 2016.     

Not the time for criticism

I have read some writings critical of late John Luk at the time he was Minister for Justice and Constitutional Development. Such criticisms, along the line of the one published in the recent edition of the Kenyan Daily Nation, cite some changes to the constitution of South Sudan, especially the sections that removed some powers from state governors to the country’s executive head of State as a point of censure for his role.

Like the rest of us, John Luk erred in his public life. But writers of such complaints unfortunately don’t mention anything about his courage to acknowledge the mistake he made and went out publicly with a written apology. It is human to make mistakes, but it requires honesty and huge amount of moral courage for one to admit an error, intended or inadvertent.

It is rare for many politicians to admit their shortcomings. John Luk will go down in our history as one of the few people of my generation to own up. This is important considering that until recent times, in some Nilotic societies it was not considered to be “manly” (my apologies for the use of this sexist word) for one to publicly declare mea culpa (through my fault) as it was considered to be a form of weakness. John Luk was such a civilised person that there was no room in his mind to accommodate obsolete concepts and practices which are in conflict with modernity and a changed world.

Finally, it is not only in bad taste to lash out at a deceased person- who will not be able to defend themselves- at the time his family, colleagues and the country are mourning his loss; in many cultures the world over, this is not done as it is inappropriate soon after the demise of the person, no matter how that person was regarded in life.

Atem Yaak Atem is a South Sudanese journalist and author.

1Meshach Madol Yol, is a telecommunication engineer who trained in the former Soviet Union was my deputy while we were running Radio SPLA. It was from that Soviet background where he acquired the nickname of Brezhnev, who was one of the prominent leaders of the former the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Meshach Madol received military training at the SPLA officers’ centre during the war and was commissioned captain. Captain Meshach Madol Yol later served in Western Upper Zone as deputy to Major Riek Machar. He is currently a senior director in the Department of Telecommunications within the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in Juba.

2Barry Wanji was an academic and a firebrand revolutionary. He was a friend to me. In 1985 Barry Wani and I attended SPLA batch three officers’ course, known as Shield Three. Some of my colleagues during the 1985 military training included Gen Obuto Mete Mamur, late Gen Philip Chol Biowei, late Cdr Majok Ayuen Kur, Judge Ayuel Parmena Bul.     

Commemorating the 37th Anniversary of SPLM/A Day Online To the men and women of our country,

Biong Deng Biong
We are going to reflect on the historical struggle for the people of South Sudan in the fight for independence. South Sudanese people from all the corners of the country endured great challenges to create the South Sudan we know today. The SPLM/A-led struggle that steered South Sudan to independence was a culmination of previous struggles.
On 16 May 1983, Battalion 105 mutinied in Bor. This was later echoed by battalions 104, 106, and 107 in Ayod, Pibor, and Kapoeta, respectively. The message of the people’s struggle was later echoed in all marginalised areas of Sudan.
We are going to reflect on this day not as SPLM/A day but as the day South Sudanese people from all walks of life, regardless of religion, ethnicity, or political affiliation, united against injustice and marginalisation.
The focus of our reflection will be on the suffering we all endured during the struggle. Some special guests will share their experiences of the protracted struggle for independence in South Sudan.
The main purpose of this reflection will be to remind ourselves that our collective sufferings and efforts brought us to where we are today. The people who were born on the day Anyanya One took arms in 1956 are now in their early sixties. The people who were born on 16 May 1983 will turn 37 this year. The SPLM/A-promised seeds (child soldiers/red army) are in their forties and are yet to be sowed. The children born on 9 January 2005, when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed, are now 15 years old and are either growing up in refugee camps or living at the edge of the country. The children born as South Sudanese people voted in a referendum to decide their final destiny from 9 to 15 January 2011 destiny are now 9 years old and are yet to experience South Sudan at peace. South Sudan has lost generations to war, illiteracy, economic exploitation, and more.
To guide our reflection, a set of questions will be drafted and forwarded to those who have expressed interest in the discussion.

SPLM/A 37th Anniversary Guiding Questions

1) What does this day mean to you?

2) What were some of your most memorable experiences during the struggle?

3) Why did we fight for the independence of South Sudan?

4) Have we achieved the aims and objectives of the liberation struggle?

5) What are the impacts of extended wars on South Sudanese people?

6) When and how will the South Sudanese diaspora contribute to development in South Sudan?

7) How can the South Sudanese Government attract local and foreign investors?

8) What role can technology play in the development of our country?

9) Have regularly updating government systems and departments been established?

9) How do we treat our people in need (people with disabilities, orphaned children, elderly people)?

10) What roles did local chiefs play during the struggle? What roles are they playing now?

11) Hon Chol Tong Myai says, “We are the foreign governors governing you.” What is your response to this statement?

12) How are South Sudanese people perceived by our regional and international supporters?

Please don,t hesitate to send answers to info@africaworldbooks.com

The Pain of Peace Without Handshakes By Stephen Par Kuol

“2020 is a year to stay alive, not a year for making a profit”

-Jack Ma.

The people of South Sudan have chosen the year 2020, aka, (the twin year) as a year of peace, reconciliation, social cohesion, and national healing. Call it a year of hugs and handshakes, if you will. I have been amazed by the humbling gestures of handshakes with former adversaries as we embark on this tumultuous journey of peacebuilding. Alas, those tender handshakes have been short-lived by this pandemic, dreadfully known as Noble Virus (COVID-19)!! The virus has come and the world will not be the same again! The rest is a history of a protracted misery. The monstrous beast has created a permanent climate of terror in which even our own limbs will never trust one another any time soon. Under its gloomy silhouette, dreams are shattered and hopes are dashed. All humanity has taken for granted since times immemorial are painfully compromised.

The deadly pandemic has globally struck through the hearts of all human institutions including those that link us with the high (warship houses). In my case as a practicing Presbyterian, my handshake tradition after every Sunday Service is painfully surrendered to the demons of Corona Virus. Cunning the worlds at will, the noble virus first goes for the elites and nobilities wherever it sets its grips. It has belittled kings and queens as it roams its world in defiance of medical science and modern technology. That way, it has trembled the core of even the most powerful Kingdoms and supper powers of our lifetime. You name it; the Corona Virus has spared no single aspect of human life. Besides the million lives, it has so far claimed globally, the invincible human tormentor has miserably robbed us of the most indispensable values of social life. In an extremely agonizing bout, it has replaced all kinds of social intimacies with an antisocial barrier called social distancing. Even more biologically torturous, it has replaced the natural air for our nostrils with nose numbing and suffocating masks. Any social congregation in the form of weddings, religious gatherings, cultural festivals, and funeral rites become breeding grounds for this invisible predator to spread its poisonous offsprings as it continues to expand its infectious network.

Economically, this pandemic of doom and death has superimposed its own microeconomics situation in which even the oxygen is no longer free as it takes a mask that costs money to breathe and function in public where the human breath is dreaded like the venom of a desert snake. As days turned into weeks, and weeks into months without a glimpse of hope at sight, we are desperately adopting some socially inconvenient ways for life to continue. For the worst part, it is a life without fun and funds. There is no fun without funds, they say in the cooperate world. That is why the alien world where its origin is traced is currently compelled to reopen up and die doing it (die making the funds). As for us in the conflict-ravaged South Sudan, whether we do or don’t, there are no funds to make in our ailing economy. Our socioeconomic capital is in our relentless effort to bring peace back to our country and that is what we must die doing within these social red tapes imposed by COVID 19. Jack Ma has summed it all up by articulating the heart wrecking truth that 2020 is not a year to thrive, but a year to survive. Let us do just that in order to be the fittest in this painful social evolution under the Corona Virus. In my humble book, it is a year to reconcile, build peace without handshakes, and stay alive!!

The author is a freelance writer and the Minister of Peace Building in the Revitalized Government of National Unity (RTGONU). He can be reached via: kuolpar@yahoo.com

The Agony of Losing our War Veterans to Senseless Tribal Conflict in South SudanThursday, May 21, 20

Biong Deng Biong

Thursday, May 21, 2020 (PW) On May 13 2020, just three days before May 16 National celebration, a veteran revolutionary was inoffensively gunned down in his home village of Mayen Jur (Apuk Giir Thiik), while he was undertaking his regular family duties. The alleged attackers, who massacred more than 26 civilians and inflicted injuries on many more members of Mayen Jurvillage, are thought to be from the neighbouring tribe of BullNuer.

The motive of the aggressors is not yet known, and the National Government in Juba has as yet said nothing concerning the tragic incident. However, in recent years the Bull Nuer tribesmen have been predisposed to such attacks, mainly blamed on cattle raiding or incidences of revenge.

The late veteran, whose name is withheld for privacy reasons, was a freedom fighter who took arms against Khartoum to contest the prejudice. He volunteered his life alongside many of his comrades to begin what would famously become known as SPLA/M. For 21 years he fought against the dictatorial Khartoum regime, endangering his life to secure south Sudanese freedom. His contributions toward present-day sovereign South Sudan are unquestionable. I, along with many other children, was kept alive during the war because of his efforts. He brought us freedom. His alleged killers were likely among people whose lives he so gallantly fought to save.

Having accomplished his mission of freeing South Sudan, he retired to his village, only to be exterminated by his people. It was the murder of a national hero, three days before the 37th Anniversary commemoration of the liberation of his beloved country and people for whom he had invested so much.

Concurrently to this tragic event, my bleeding Facebook newsfeed bears witness to the Luo Nuer siege; a brutal village slaughter by another neighbouring tribe, the Murle. Hundreds of guiltless lives are believed to have been cruelly stolen by Murle hitmen. Disturbingly, this is not the first time, and the reason for the bloodshed has not been confirmed. Juba claimed that it was revenge.

Barely a week ago, Twic Mayardit also sustained attacks from neighbouring Bull Nuer. This community has lost many lives in recent years due to cross border Bull Nuer attacks. Like other cross tribal attacks, Juba has not condemned, nor made any effort to care for, the civilians. Nevertheless, what made me shudder about this particular attack is the worrying statement I read on social media: “Twic Mayardit must be destroyed by all means…for peace to come to South Sudan. Congratulations to men who took the fight to the hearts of enemies”. This statement was made by a person believed to be from Bull Nuer, the alleged attacking tribe.

This incident, among many others, causes me to conclude that South Sudanese society is in danger of total moral collapse.

The question must then be asked; what happened to the proud South Sudanese moral values which not only governed and protected them for so many years but made them one of the most gratified people in Africa? What happened to our proud culture where absolute respect, honesty, purity, unselfishness, and love were paramount?

Here is my take on the matter.

Historical Context

For centuries, South Sudanese tribes have coexisted peacefully with minimum conflict. Traditional authorities swiftly and timely handled disputes with support from distinguished elders. Any crime committed by neighbouring tribal men in a territory that was not theirs was not handled with violence or revenge. Cross-cultural meetings would be called to resolve issues peacefully. The action was only required if the victim/s felt that their request for a dispute resolution had been ignored or mishandled. The Government would then enforce a law as an intervention in restoring peace, but this was infrequent.

So why was this possible then and not now?

Most South Sudanese tribes were guided by principles, set standards and taboos. Some of the guiding rules were absolute honesty, respect, purity, unselfishness, and love. Any dishonesty was severely punished. In many tribes, anyone who committed murder would be considered impure until he/she had been through the justice system, and racial cleansing was conducted. Deceitfulness was uncommon for the same reason. Individuals could end up as outcasts due to the breach of these guiding principles/standards.

Additionally, intermarriage was common, especially among the elite, which helped to oust any cross -tribe conflict.

Equally, the Government was quick to act because if they did not, they would be held accountable by the traditional leaders who were powerful and influential. However, all this changed within the last fifty years of the South Sudan War. But why?

The following is my perspective:

South Sudan war

For almost fifty years, South Sudanese cultures and tribes have been subjected to sustainable cruelty and oppression, which has placed enormous pressure on social systems and brought moral standards and principles to a breaking point. Ultimately, elders and traditional leaders lost their power and voice, giving way to a culture of revenge and violence. Survival of the fittest, to be precise, emerged as the new normal.

Weak Traditional Authority.

The Government of the South Sudanese did not empower traditional authorities when the war ended. People were more likely to listen to their local chiefs than Government authorities. Chiefs are more suited to depose the conflict by talking to their counterparts across the border. The tribesmen disobey weak leaders.

Poverty and Hopelessness

As a result of war, much South Sudanese wealth was wiped out. Subsequently, people adopted hand-to-mouth living. With surging poverty and hopelessness, anything is possible. A darker side of human nature emerges. People are susceptive to bribery and may resort to antisocial or criminal behaviour to fulfil basic needs. It used to be divide and control, but what we are experiencing now is, deprive and control. People are so hopeless that they will do anything to survive, henceforth cattle raiding has become attractive.

Lack of Education

Due to the lack of education, tribesmen are not aware that peaceful coexistence has more advantages than a life of violence. Enduring war since the Anyanya 1, Anyanya 2, SPLA/M, to the 2013 civil war and up until the present, has left people in the dark, not aware of the benefits of a free world.

Lack of leadership

In Shuluk culture, when a king dies, there follows an official lawless period between the time of the King’s death and the new King’s election. During this period, the tribesmen and women would do any unlawful thing without being held accountable.

I believe we might be in the period of lawlessness when it comes to tribal conflicts. It is unheard of to arrest or hold people to justice in a court of law, even when it involves the loss of many lives.

Juba has chosen to remain silent on most tribal conflicts. Ateny Wek, the GoSS spokesperson, has recently blamed the Lou Nuer attack on revenge by Murle. My question would then be, is revenge lawful? And if not, why is the Government watching the loss of innocent lives and taking no action?

Moreover, due to decades of civil war, local leadership was disrupted at the grassroots level, leaving a huge vacuum. Since then, structural/ethnic leadership has never returned to this ground level. Consequently, groups or individuals are acting loose, sometimes used by politicians for political gain. A community without leadership is like a river without a source.

Uncontrolled ownership of Weapons

Buying a gun in South Sudan, I believe, is as cheap as purchasing a cup of tea and very unregulated, as is the South Sudanesealcohol market. Increased lethal weapons in the hands of civilians are more dangerous than a coup by a properly trained army. Armed civilians will always misuse guns for wrong reasons, and innocent lives always pay the price.

Lack of Law Enforcement

Kenya, like any other African country, faces tribal disputes, but with their strong leadership and respect to the rule of law, tribal wars are always handled swiftly. Perpetrators are still held accountable. The case of South Sudan is not unique; there must be leaders willing to use force to keep law and order.

Politics and proxy war

The Juba government is widely blamed for its lack of response. More so, there have been accusations of politicians fighting a proxy war through tribes. Recently, Lou Nuer accused Juba of arming Murle to attack them. On the other hand, Bull Nuer attackers are always blamed on Dr Machar’s proxy war on President Kiir’s tribes.

The truth might never be revealed, but civilians are paying a heavy price.

What is needed?

South Sudanese inside South Sudan and around the globe need moral rearmament. The decades of war have taken a negative toll on us. We seem to have lost love for each other and the nation. We have lost our moral standards. Our unity which made us stand centuries of aggression, starting from the colonisation period to the Al Bashir regime, is distant history.

So how do we address these issues and begin the process of restoration?

Role of Every South Sudanese individual.

The healing journey must first begin with a changing of self, which can then shift to others. Gandhi rightfully put it that we must be the change we wish to see. I am a part of the problem, and therefore I should also be part of the solution. There is no way we can create change if we do not transform our attitudes and how we act toward others.

In my own life, I have many things for which to apologise and to put right. Therefore, I must start with myself first, and so it is with any other South Sudanese person. We all have things to address within ourselves and in our relationships. When we are honest with ourselves and admit we have not loved as best we could; growth begins to take place.

After we intentionally commit to a positive mindset, we naturally influence our family and friends. If our immediate circle practices absolute love, respect, honesty, purity, and unselfishness, this will then have a positive effect on the local community. Over time, a ripple effect will occur and bring change to the entire nation.

Role of Government of South Sudan

Government of South Sudan, like any other government, carry the ultimate responsibility of all its citizens. One life loss unjustly is too many. The Government could take control as follows:

Provide Ethical leadership– Lead by example- All leaders must be held to a high level of integrity and ethical practice. Ethical leadership is needed from the national level down to the county level and villages. Civilian lives and their properties need to be protected. Security is paramount to everything we need and long for in South Sudan.

Enforce law – All criminal acts must be brought to justice, even if a group of people or community commits crimes. A single community should never hold the national government hostage.

Stop proxy war – Juba needs to hold accountable any politician that is proven to be modelling or fuelling tribal conflict for their political gain.

Reduce poverty– prosperous communities are always peaceful. Thus, the Government needs to work hard to reduce poverty. Providing better security, for example, could promote trade which could encourage more farming, resulting in poverty reduction and the circle continue.

Empower Traditional leaders – empowered traditional leaders are better influencers at the grassroots level. They could more positively implement the national plan at their level than political appointees.

Support Civil Education – Very few citizens in villages know what Juba is trying to achieve. They need to be educated of the benefit of being a nationalist and the importance of peaceful coexistence. They do not need a formal education to learn these things. Public campaigns through media and government appointees can share this message.

Provide Hope – Importantly, Juba needs to provide hope to the country. A hopeless society always disintegrates into chaos and statelessness. Even small actions, like the recent announcement of road construction, would give greater hope to the people in villages.

The story of a murdered veteran who sacrificed his life for, and was then betrayed by his countrymen, is a testimony to the growing moral bankruptcy in South Sudan.

As people of Mayen Jur were mourning their losses while in displacement from their village, Lou Nuer was undergoing a siege by a neighbouring tribe, the Murle.

Barely two weeks earlier, another tribe, Twic Mayardit, sustained weeks of attack from Bull Nuer, the same tribe who recently attacked people of Mayen Jur, Apuk Giir Thiik. We naturally question how centuries of proud South Sudanese moral values disintegrated. Decades of war, poverty and bad governance are mainly to blame for the erosion of ethics and traditional ethical systems.

However, morality begins with the individual. With good personal choices and attitudes, one’s integrity can positively impact family and friends, and in turn, the wider community. The Government also has a more significant role in demonstrating leadership and leading by example, in areas such as civic education and law enforcement, and by providing morale, empowering traditional authorities, creating a poverty-free society, control weapon and stopping a proxy war.

These changes are actions recommended that the Government can take; as long-term and practical steps to restore the moral standards in South Sudanese society.

I wish all South Sudan pleasant hearth during this unprecedented COVID – 19 times. May you all be safe.

The author, Biong Deng Biong, is an Executive Officer with Edmund Rice Services Ltd. He currently resides in Melbourne, Australia can be reached via his email: Biong Biong <biongdeng@icloud.com>.

 

 

 

THE AFRICAN GANG NARRATIVE, IS IT AN APOLOGY OR A PITY FROM THE FORMER PRIME MINISTER MALCOLM TURNBULL?

While I acknowledge what Malcolm Turnbull may or might have been through, I truly believed that his recent turn of the political bull’s eye to his mates in the Liberal party over ‘the politically infectious African gang narrative’ is an affirmation that some politicians indeed does and continue to wage fear and hate to weaponise on the minority groups. This comes as not a surprise to an average African Australian who bear the brand of this miscalculated mischief and whose lives, careers, and potentially their aspirations are shattered by this unfortunate utterances. This is to reaffirm that we’re caught up in a society where elites intend to go against the nature and use our differences to win the gold just by hurting others. About couple years ago, Malcolm Turnbull’s message to the 25M Australians that young people of the African descent had a gang issue in Melbourne and which he now described as ‘clumsy remarks’ from his then minister Mr Dutton was not only outrageous but equally manifested his inability to protect our multiculturalism. Clearly, this wasn’t an apology and even if it was, then, in the words of Magret Lee, ‘an apology is a lovely perfume, it can transform the clumsiest moment into a gracious gift’, therefore, can this clumsiness be made calmly genuine to offer an apology? Could it be in his written memoir? You wonder if he were to return to politics, will he surely reiterates what he has just alluded to? Will, there be a lesson learned or a change of tone by his colleagues or is it just too little too late? Well, that’s a food for thought! I remember In the summer of 2017 three years ago, we resettled to Melbourne from a refugee camp, we were so elated to be here, and that will always be. We arrived at the time when the gang crime’s issue flooded the TV screens from the “Apex’s gang, to the Africans’ gang and then later to the Sudanese gang lately sugarcoated as Blood Driller Killers aka BDK, all these descriptions were from the lazy tabloids backed up by ‘the clumsy politicians’ to suit their interests, hence the former Prime Minister’s latest revelations is an assurance to Australians that truly African Australians are law abiding citizens who happens to be victims of greedy elites in politics and I’m certainly convinced that the African gang’s narrative as portrayed to be has always been untrue but a political tool. Finally, as much as Australia may be the largest or even the proudest multicultural society on earth, our political discourse must be inextricably linked with our multiculturalism where ideas and policies reflects the needs of the common citizens not those that divides us and gives racism a chance. Be always cautious; racism is an invisible war, it is one of the most tormenting forms of mental torture of the modern society, others might’ve escaped atomic bombs, wars but at times, they may find it more harder to deal with racism. Deng Lual DeNuun is an activist and political commentator, he’s a Victorian South Sudanese.

Thought for today

I appreciate all the messages of congratulations which have been pouring in for the last few days. However, I doubt we will achieve anything. In fact I am being set up to fail.
I was going to turn down the portfolio but after many Comrades pleaded with me, I decided to take up the post. My position remains the same despite accepting to participate in the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGONU); we should congratulate ourselves when we free our citizens from the refugee camps and the Internally Displaced Peoples’ (IDP) camps.
It is difficult to fathom how after eight (8) months of the pre-interim plus two (2) extensions we have not been able to implement Security Arrangements, we would suddenly find the will to implement them in the next thirty-six (36) months. There are even more critical tasks to be addressed during this Interim Period. We should have started our work in the Ministries after disarmament of civilians, demilitarization of Juba and other major towns and so on. If the C-in-C is against change, there is little we can do. Furthermore, the intransigence of our partners in peace is well documented.
It is also difficult to fathom how the R-TGONU will survive beyond six (6) months before it implodes under it’s own weight; five (5) VPs, thirty-five (35) Ministers, nine (9) D/Ministers, five hundred and fifty (550) MPs, thirteen (13) Governors with their Ministers, MPs, Commissioners. Then there is the Public Service and the Organized Forces.
Where will we get money to sustain this huge machine?
The oil prices have dropped to a new low and the donors will not fund a government run by the same sanctioned financial criminals. It is the same on the IO side; with some of the people who have looted the National Pre-transition Committee (NPTC) money during the eight (8) months pre-interim – plus two extensions – are among the IO appointees. There is not a single provision of the Agreement which has been implemented. It has instead continuously been dismantled from the day it was signed. If we are not using the Agreement as our road map for the peace process, how will we arrive at peace? The SPLM-IO has surrendered and all we have done is legitimize the status quo for another 3 years – within which the hardliners, most of whom have returned on the regime’s ticket – will precipitate another conflict. The seeds of intercommunal violence are all over and will not take much for it to be politicized into tribal war.
I am only going to Juba because of the popular demand for my return. I will help our people see the realities on the ground and continue to speak truth to power. With the political appointment, I will capture some attention and use it to capture the imagination of the public. I will not go to Juba with the delusion that I will be able to change things in any grand way. It is not a matter of plugging the right people into positions. I will do what I can within the constraints of what we are calling a unity government and resign if we fail to implement the security arrangements in the next eight (8) months- something which should have been completed before we start our work.
I am certain that the regime will not implement the Agreement, or President Salva Kiir would have cut his losses and implemented Chapter II – Permanent Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements. It is not the Deputy Minister of Interior – as an individual – who will bring peace from his home. This idea is a continuation of the untenable status quo and countless Ministers have been set up to fail in this way.
It is mischief!
There is still an uphill struggle before us to implement the negotiated peace settlement. It is the only way we can bring about fundamental change in our country. We must all be part of the peace process and all Junubeen – South Sudanese in vernacular – must be part of this and are indeed stakeholders in this peace. The SPLM-IO cannot do it alone, the SPLM-IG cannot do it alone, SSOA cannot do it alone, FDs cannot do it alone; the Ministry of Interior alone will not bring peace, there is no single movement great enough to bring peace on its own. Nothing short of the full implementation of the Agreement in letter and in spirit will bring peace. The current peace Agreement we are struggling to implement is an opportunity for our civil population to rise up – in a non-violent way – to assert their hard won independence. An uprising out of abject poverty and the brutal status quo, a political uprising and not a violent revolution.
A luta continua!
Cpt. Mabior Garang Mobile Office 15/03/2020