By Dr. Sallah Lasu
20th November, 2023. The revitalized agreement for resolution of conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) in its Roadmap to expedite implementation of the remaining key components underscores the importance of holding the general elections in the country slated for December 2024. This will mark a critical paradigm shift to democratic governance and multi-party-political dispensation in the country. As anticipated, there is expected to be a bee-hive of inclusive political engagement at all levels of governance architecture. The inclusive criteria for political participation is a necessary and sufficient condition to ensure citizens from all walks of life can freely participate in the electoral process.
With this backdrop, as South Sudan is preparing for the upcoming general elections, there is a question lingering in the minds of all concerned citizens of Wonduruba Administrative Payam (WAP) that begs for an obvious answer. Those individuals who yearn for peace, security and stability to foster development are asking; “Is Wonduruba Administrative Payam ready for the 2024 general elections”? For those who have been keenly following the unfolding events in Wonduruba in the pre-CPA and post-CPA era, will undoubtedly agree with me that Wonduruba is far away from being READY for the 2024 elections. Before I walk you through a plethora of reasons to justify this honest answer, let me bring you up to speed with regards to the brief administrative and political profile of Wonduruba Administrative Payam.
WAP is apparently a Payam without a County in Central Equatoria State, geographically located to the West of Juba County and borders Rokon Payam to the north, Maridi County to the west and Lainya and Yei counties respectively to the south. Demographically, the population of Wonduruba Administrative Payam is estimated to be 37,000 people, most of whom are currently living in Wonduruba. However, it is estimated that more than 10,000 people are living in displacement in various areas inside the country with others in refugee settlement, especially following the re-eruption of the armed conflict in 2016.
Wonduruba Administrative Payam was part of Juba County before 2004. It was later joined with Lainya, Kenyi, Mukaya and Kupera to form what was dubbed Pojulu County” as the latter Payams were administratively under Yei River County. The county was renamed Lainya County (which was believed to be the center and the better option to be the headquarters) by the stakeholders from the 5 Payams (comprising Wonduruba, Lainya, Kenyi, Mukaya and Kupera). Subsequently, Wonduruba officially became part of the Constituency number 28 Lainya North in the files/records of then southern Sudan Electoral Commission as opposed to the Constituency number 10 Juba West.
In light of this changes, some leaders from Wonduruba rejected the idea; citing that they would prefer to maintain Wonduruba’s historical and geographical designation under Juba County and under Constituency number 10 Juba West. This disagreement took a violent tone when some individuals from the aforementioned group in arbitrarily way laid an ambush on the convoy of late Dr. Samson Kwaje Lukare, the former national minister of Agriculture and a member of the National Liberation Council and political Bureau of the SPLM/A with sinister intent to eliminate him and enforce their choice to maintain Wonduruba under Juba County. The attack on the convoy resulted in the death of three people with others sustaining injures including Dr. Samson Kwaje who had a gunshot injury on the right shoulder. This created unprecedented tension between the two rival political groups. Following these unpleasant socio-political developments, the then Governor of Central Equatoria State, Major General Clement Wani Konga in November, 2009 reacted by placing the administration of Wonduruba Payam under his office to diffuse the simmering tension between the two groups. A period of relative calm and tranquility ensued. As result of the fatal incident that also caused injuries, with the exception of Moje Boma, Wonduruba did not participate in the 2010 general elections. However, the socio-political situation further took a nose-dive following the death of Dr. Samson Kwaje Lukare in Nairobi while undergoing treatment. Unfortunately, his demise has left a big gap in the resolution of the conflict through local conflict resolution mechanisms. As such animosities among and between the two groups and community members intensified creating political schism and breaking of social fabric in the community. Almost soon after, a situation of massive displacement of the community members precipitated, which reached its height in the 2016 conflict. Wonduruba community leaders made exhaustive efforts to resolve the impasse but all in futility as they seem to have only managed to bury the contentious issues with sand soil.
Notwithstanding, after the signing of the agreement for the resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS) in 2015, there was a notable breakthrough in the mending of the relationship between the two groups when Wonduruba became a fully pledged county of its own under the former 32 states governance system, which was a popular demand by the concerned Wonduruba citizens for the resolution of conflict in Wonduruba. During this period some semblance of normalcy was being restored to the area, although the demand for justice and true reconciliation appeared to remain only in words and not in deeds. Paradoxically, the signing of R-ARCISS in September 2018 became like sand soil poured into a sauce’ prepared for the people of Wonduruba because of the exclusion of Wonduruba intellectuals in the crucial stages of the peace talks. As such the status of Wonduruba was not considered nor given a blink of the eye when the 32 states governance system was dissolved and the previous 10 states model of local governance was re-adapted. This has isolated Wonduruba from consideration as a distinct county in the formation of the RTGONU. The question not asked that time was, what is the status of Wonduruba given that the country was returning to 10 states (79 Counties); It was not only until 2021 when the government of Central Equatoria State under the leadership of H.E Emmanuel Adil Anthony was reminded that Wonduruba was left in limbo without an acceptably recognized local governance structure as no any party to the agreement had paid attention to that aspect. Hence, the governor promptly acted on this issue by placing WAP under the governor’s office and appointed a Coordinator to administer the affairs of Wonduruba as it was previously done during the previous Governor Maj. Gen. Clement Wani Konga’s leadership.
It is worth noting that WAP is one of the least developed administrative units in Central Equatoria State. Currently, there is only one functional health facility, the Wonduruba Primary Health Centre (PHCC) and three primary schools that are functional. The health, education and other socioeconomic and physical infrastructures remain a major challenge to meet the exponentially increasing number of returnees, IDPs and the Host community.
With this narrative, let us revert to answer the question of whether Wonduruba is ready or not for the upcoming 2024 general elections. I trust you are not that shy to confidently agree with me that, Wonduruba is NOT READY! Much as the Administrative Payam under the office of the governor of CES has offered hope and significant glimmer of unity to people of Wonduruba, it is a temporary solution aimed to keep ameliorating possible tension and indifference among the conflicting parties. It is worth mentioning that this temporary solution has evidently paved way for delivery of basic social services such as health and education, just like it is done in other counties in the state, and the people of Wonduruba are grateful for that.
However, there is seemingly a political time bomb on which we are obliviously sitting on, and that is the question of Geographical CONSTITUENCY under which Wonduruba belongs. Any concerned citizen would ask; now that the wind of elections’ is blowing fast and as scheduled for December 2024, under which constituency shall Wonduruba people vote or be voted into office? This question awakens the conscience of every peace-loving citizen of Wonduruba. I may not be mistaken to allude to the practical reality that WAP has no constituency to vote under. This is the fact that we must FACE HEAD ON and with confidence. This is because any attempt to place Wonduruba under either constituency 28 Lainya North or under Constituency number 10 Juba West without adequate consultative process involving all stakeholders of Wonduruba could reopen many already healing wounds, igniting controversy, that ultimately would take Wonduruba back to square one.
It should not be misconceived that WAP is ready for the anticipated 2024 general elections. There is need for the government of Central Equatoria State and Government of South Sudan under the leadership of H.E President Salva Kiir to take the issue of WAP seriously and lay down practical mechanisms to resolve the question of political representation by allocating a constituency for Wonduruba before the General elections (which is only eleven months away from now), otherwise the participation of WAP in the upcoming general elections still remains cloudy. This concern has been raised but it has unfortunately also been successfully ignored for nearly a year.
From my interaction with many concerned stakeholders of Wonduruba Administrative Payam, the recommendations that can hold water when implemented are:
- Since WAP is now independent from Juba and Lainya Counties, let a constituency be created for Wonduruba Administrative Payam.
- In the event that the creation of a constituency in Wonduruba Administrative Payam is not feasible based on the criteria for the establishment of a constituency, then let Wonduruba Administrative Payam be allowed to move out from Juba County and Lainya County with two constituencies as their own to effective partake of the elections.
- Establishment of WAP as a County to ensure long lasting and sustainable peace, social cohesion for unity and security in the area. This has been a popular call by the people of Wonduruba. It was experimented to offer a lasting solution during the 32 states arrangement.
Failure to recognize the issue of constituency and county for the people of Wonduruba would be tantamount to allowing the history of the 2010 general elections to repeat itself, as WAP which is currently under the office of the governor of Central Equatoria State may have no constituency to vote in. It is however, my conviction that Wonduruba Administrative Payam has a strong pedigree of intellectuals with wide political and other professional experiences to effectively lobby for establishment of a separate constituency to encourage our Wonduruba community members to profile their candidates of choice to compete as national and state level legislators from the different political parties in a fair, free and credible elections.
Pen ultimately, treat this article as whistleblowing and informative piece for the concerned state and national authorities to take administrative steps towards the resolution of conflict in Wonduruba.
Dr. Sallah Lasu,
Concerned citizen of Wonduruba Administrative Payam,
Central Equatoria State.
The writer is reachable via: firstname.lastname@example.org