opinionBy Justin Ambago Ramba
National reconciliation and healing processes are undoubtedly vital for the reconstruction of an often damaged inter-communal bridges associated with prolonged civil wars as is the case with South Sudan.
Inevitable as they are these concepts can only yield the intended results of consolidating an everlasting peace when and only when they are conducted under ideal political and socioeconomic circumstances and not when everything is chaotic as is the case today in the country.
It is vitally important to mention here that the ruling SPLM party has missed so many golden opportunities where it could have initiated this national reconciliation and healing process. One such opportunity was immediately following the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005 and another was immediately following the official declaration of the country's independence from Sudan in 2011.
This brings us to the central question which is: "why has it taken the South Sudanese leadership all this long to realize the importance of reconciling its communities in order to hasten the healing process when they (SPLM leadership) know very well that it is they who traumatized their own civilians, and unfortunately still continue to do so in a fashion may be only second to the Khartoum 'Jallaba' regime"?!!!.
Those who do not know why the SPLM leadership was insensitive to the citizens' plights will now have the opportunity to get the right picture of how this leadership operates. Unfortunately we will have to accept one bitter fact for throughout the liberation war and all along the years that followed it, South Sudan has been plagued by large scales of inter-communal conflicts. This far no one is surprised when the top leadership came up with the idea to reconcile the country's various communities who remain locked-up in inter-tribal conflicts, albeit very late and after some of the damages have become irreversible.
However it is considered as good politics to give any initiative the benefit of the doubt, but nonetheless to call for national reconciliation and healing process is one thing and to actually achieve and translate it into a livable reality is another. Furthermore judging by the many reactions from the grassroots, it is obvious that for all kinds of reasons many people across the country do not believe that the current leadership is any competent to achieve such a major national goal.
It doesn't really call for any over-stressing that in South Sudan many people today including the country's top politicians and senior government officials still harbor ill-feelings and bitter grudges against one another over negative policies, events and incidences which dominated the two decades of the liberation war. It is in the background of such disturbing facts that people continue to have no faith in this half propaganda and half PR initiative on the so-called national reconciliation.
South Sudan's political wobbliness is deeply rooted in the country's ethnically driven politics, nepotism, and favoritism. Ironically all of these are not new to this part of the world as they have always been there even during the colonial rule and was in fact designed and promoted by the colonialists primarily to promote their policy of divide and rule.
However these three deadly vices [ethnically driven politics, nepotism, and favoritism] became the official way how the various government departments were manned and run from the very day South Sudan gained its first ever autonomy in 1972 following the Addis Ababa Agreement. It will suffice here to recall how by then the former Sudan's Southern Region's police force was practically dominated by one ethnic group.
It wasn't too long before the what used to be known as the Regional Government of Southern Sudan was brought down on its knees by none other than these malpractices that went on to spread like wildfire all over the region. Undoubtedly it was these malpractices that invariably contributed to the dissolution of the Addis Ababa Agreement and together with it went the Regional Government under which these very vices were nurtured and promoted in the first place.
Once back in the bush, the South Sudanese leadership under the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement [SPLM] was vocal about the realization of a New Sudan that is free of all the three vices. However paradoxically as time went it became apparent that even this new leadership was in fact not only deep in, but was actually swimming comfortably in what it sets out to correct.
At this juncture it must be reiterated that almost All the different mutinies, counter-revolutions, disappearances, assassinations, targeted eliminations, court marshaling, the massacre of civilian populations - all were in fact motivated and driven by tribal and clan politics. This kind of revelation leaves no one with clean hands amongst all the combatants, from their top man to the last soldier in the bottom of the hierarchy.
Nonetheless following the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement [CPA], the civilian population was temporarily made to believe that a true new dawn of peace and the rule of law have in fact finally arrived. However thesad events that immediately followed the beginning of the interim period gave the entire structure of governance in South Sudan its life time's blow and shock, for the man who led the people throughout the war and finally signed the peace with Khartoum on their behalf had unfortunately died in a tragic plane crash.
Commander Dr. John Garang de Mabior's untimely death did generate a lot of speculations and still continues to do so up to now. Many conspiracy theories came and went, yet the true story lies far away from everyone's reach. At least that's what we the down-trodden are left with.
Dr. John Garang de Mabior who never lived to witness the kind of government that was formed in Juba and the other ten state capitals of South Sudan indeed left behind him an organization that failed to lead by the ideals he had put on paper or even referred to in his many speeches that he delivered in the International Conferences or while addressing the men and women in arms who served under him or to the South Sudanese intelligentsia in the Diaspora. Yet the question is: 'Had he [John Garang de Mabior] lived, would South Sudan have now embraced democracy and pluralism?!! Had he lived would our politics by now have become non tribal? Those who served under the man and have come to know him well will do to answer these questions.
From August 2005, it did not take too long before the SPLM led government in Juba fell back to the days of the Regional Government under the High Executive Council. All the deadly vices that destroyed the unity of the people of south Sudan under both Abel Alier and Joseph Lagu were soon brought back to life by the new SPLM leadership and their benefactors.
But this time around the new leadership decided to go an extra mile and added yet a new dimension of mega corruption and unprecedented financial mismanagement into the mix, a thing which can only be clearly explained by referring to it as 'an open act of theft'. From day one senior government officials and SPLM party loyalists immediately went on stealing spree. This is evidently documented in the Auditor General's Reports as well as the personal confession of the country's president in which he declared that no less than $4 billion has so far been stolen from the public coffers at his watch.
As such drawing parallels from the above realities it can be concluded that the only positive thing which the people of South Sudan succeeded to do during the two decades of the liberation war was to militarily and diplomatically stand in the face of the enemy. This they did well, however there was and still is the negative side of the story since it can be seen that all the previous tribal differences were sharpened and made to thrive in the bush. Worse still alien cultures like political intolerance, physical elimination of opponents and klepocracy were all adopted as tools for running the liberation struggle.
As eloquently put by the editor in chief of the online southsudannation.com media outlet and I quote:
"Though Machar himself had publicly apologized for and taken complete responsibility for the alleged 'war crimes' he personally commissioned and committed against a particular community (Dinka-Bor), his main overriding worry currently is that his repentance and capitulation to Dinka-Bor community in general, and especially to the widow of Late Dr. John Garang in particular, has opened up a dangerous precedence" . The editorial said.
It also went on to add that: "
Every community (tribe) now has the right to also demand some apology for similar war crimes egregiously inflicted on their people and furthermore, individuals or their relatives, who underwent illegal tortures, imprisonment and other human rights abuses by people now in positions of power during the liberation war, also have the right now to demand some forms of redress".
Now let's move to consider the state's contributions in the general negativism that currently engulfs the country. It is an established fact that the government security and secret agents all across the country are out to eliminate anyone who doesn't agree with the government or criticizes any of its countless sub-standard performances. Opinion writers who toe the state line are tortured, harassed, intimidated or out rightly eliminated. How does the population reconcile with such behaviors and rotten attitudes?
Worse still is that how do we reconcile as a nation when we don't even have a freedom of speech where we can freely express our discontents to make them known to the authorities? How do we as nation reconcile with people who have stolen well over $4 billion from the public, an amount of money which could have been used to build roads, erect the much needed schools, hospitals and provide clean drinking water to our people?
Last but not least, how do we reconcile with a system of governance that resists democratic transformation in the country while it continues to display the worst type of hypocrisy by paying a lip service to pluralism and multiparty democracy? In a hugely deformed society like South Sudan, national healing and reconciliation can only come about after a through political reform and the establishment of viable and functioning democratic institutions.
It's not about how many Desmond Tutus or Tony Bliars we invite to attend our conferences that can make us what we are not. As it cannot also be overemphasized that unless we change what is in us no any external power can do that for us.