Wau — Senior officials from South Sudan's Western Bahr el Ghazal on Sunday rejected claims arguing that the state's administration had done little to sensitise the local population about the benefits attached to the cabinet's decision to relocate the headquarters of Wau County.
John Peter Miskin resigned as the Commissioner of Wau County over the announcement in October and in December protests against the move were dealt with violently by police killing a number of people. Twenty protestors were killed in demonstrations on 8, 9 and 18 December, according to government figures.
Former commissioner Miskin, however, has claimed that the true death toll was much higher.
Further violence in Farajallah village, located in the Bagari district, 48 miles from Wau town, claimed the lives of 26 innocent people, all members of Dinka ethnic group from the three different states of the greater Bahr el Ghazal region. Bagari is the proposed new location of Wau County's administrative headquarters
On 24 December, South Sudan's President and the Governor's of Warrap, Lakes and Northern Bahr el Ghazal all visited Wau to try and calm tensions and back the decision to relocate the headquarters.
Since the turn of the year local leaders have attempted to rebuild peace between their communities. The Balanda community, who live in Bagari have distanced themselves from the killings which took place in the Farajallah area on the district.
South Sudan's ruling party - the SPLM - has long advocated "taking the town to the people" by providing services in rural areas.
According to Western Bahr el Ghazal's Security Adviser, Rizik Dominic Samuel, "there is nothing which the government did not do" to make citizens aware of the reasons behind the transfer.
"All efforts were exerted to sensitise community members. Specialised committees were formed and carried out their tasks. There was a committee on security headed by myself. There was a committee on peace and reconciliation headed by comrade Effesio Kon Uguak, as an adviser on peace and reconciliations. We all traveled and held series of meetings with different groups of people in Bagari," Samuel explained in an interview with Sudan Tribune on Sunday.
Samuel accused some people "with special interests" of instigating the protests, which led to the deaths of the 20 protestors and the killing of 26 innocent civilians in Farajalah.
"It is not that the issue of relocation of Wau County was not understood. Our people know very well that the government has a clear policy which gives priority to taking towns to our people in the rural areas so that rural-urban migration is reduced by taking services to them. This was why cabinet sat and decided to relocate county headquarters", he said.
The official further explained that the decision of the cabinet to relocate the county headquarters was not only meant for Wau County administrative headquarters, but would also affect Jur River County.
"There were two county headquarters in Wau town. There was Jur River and Wau. Jur River County received the cabinet decision and moved to Nyinakok but people with special interest in Wau County instigated youth to protest. They refused to attend dialogue meetings. So it is not correct that the government did not educate local population about importance of the transfer", he said
Some of the state's politicians had a problem accepting mistakes, he said, adding that the earlier problems are raised the easier it will be to resolve them.
"Most of the failures come from people who have a habit of making excuses. Our people seem to have developed [a] mentality that makes them think that their own failures to differentiate common interests from individual political differences is made by other people. It is high time they stop blaming others for their own failures. If you do your own assessment, you will find that most people are good at making excuses, at blaming others for their own failures. Excuses are the tools a person with no purpose or vision uses to build great monuments of emptiness", he explained.
Two state journalists have been arrested in Wau following the failure of the state broadcaster to show a speech by Kiir when he visited Western Bahr el Ghazal on 24 December, Reuters has reported.
International press freedom watch dog - the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) - said in a statement that the arrests were probably a campaign to stop the media from investigating the recent violence.
Authorities have been concerned by a video passed on to Al Jazeera television that appeared to show the police firing on unarmed protestors on 9 December in Wau town, local journalists told CPJ.
Security agents have attempted to pressure reporters in Wau to find out who had provided the footage to the international media.
Western Bahr El Ghazal state's minister of information, Derrick Alfred Uya, however, claims that the senior state reporters were detained over "administrative issues", referring to the failure to broadcast Kiir's visit in December.
"They were arrested simply because when the president arrived here in Wau on December 22, 2012, he gave a very, very important speech," Uya told Reuters.
The detained journalists are Louis Pasquale, director-general of the state broadcaster in Western Bahr el Ghazal, and Ashab Khamis, director of state television, according the CPJ.
Tom Rhodes, CPJ's East Africa Consultant said in a statement on Friday: "We call on authorities to release Louis Pasquale and Ashab Khamis immediately, and allow journalists to cover events in the state without facing intimidation or arrest."
The arrests in Wau comes almost exactly a month after the assassination of Isaiah Ding Abraham Chan Awuol, a regular political commentator in the South Sudanese press and on online forums, including Sudan Tribune.
Awuol, who was known in his writing as Isaiah Abraham, was a vocal critic of Salva Kiir and his government. Two arrests have been made in relation to Awuol's murder, which family and friends of the late writer say could have been conducted by elements related to South Sudan's security forces.
The 18-month old nation has struggled to accord its citizens the freedoms fought for during decades of civil war.
Last year, a newspaper was closed down after it criticised President Kiir for allowing his daughter to marry an Ethiopian. Many South Sudanese journalists complain of persecution at the hands of the security services.
Despite former rebels - the SPLM - governing South Sudan since 2005, the country operates with no media laws, leaving media groups and journalists unsure of where they stand in terms of libel, red lines and other issues.
Press freedom groups note that South Sudan government and security services are largely made up of veterans from the civil war who are not used to scrutiny.
In the 2011-2012 press freedom index, Reporters Without Borders ranked South Sudan 111th out of 179 countries.