A Message to all Peace-loving Citizens of South Sudan.
By Lucy Ayak Malek, Juba, South Sudan
I take this opportunity to salute all peace-loving people of my motherland South Sudan, as we come to the end of another difficult and challenging year. To most of our fellow countrymen and women facing the numerous hardships of insecurity and instability, hunger, financial uncertainty, discrimination and persecution, I stand in solidarity with you. Over the past few years, I have been known to pen some hard truths through opinion articles, and the current one will not be any different. It’s my belief that every country needs peace in order for its people to live in harmony and prosperity, and whether you support the government or the opposition, or whatever political or armed faction you identify with, we can all agree that peace in South Sudan is long overdue. We can also agree that each of us, especially the protagonists, have a role to play in ensuring peace in a country like ours, torn to pieces by greed and hunger for power.
Needless to say that apportioning blame for this greed and power hunger is a pointless and futile effort at all levels. As leaders, we are culpable for failing to transform ourselves from liberators to statesmen and women, and as common people, we are culpable for the failure to meaningfully transform ourselves from liberation agitators to citizens of a free nation. Each of the above categories has quite a significant role to play in sustainable nation-building, which I must admit, we have all failed to do. There is no doubt other causative factors that are beyond our control, like the regional and global political and economic interests, but it would be foolish to use these to absolve ourselves of any blame.
Many of our liberation war heroes have effectively turned into war lords, leveraging their influence to acquire and maintain political power and amass wealth. I use the term “warlords” deliberately because this is what accurately describes almost all gun wielding militia leaders, they curve out a territory and maintain control over it so they can use that territorial advantage to coerce their way to power and money. They intentionally frustrated the government’s effort to integrate all militias into a national army, because they want to maintain territorial military influence and whenever they don’t get the appointments they want, they instantly exploit that territorial military power to foment ethnic tensions and rebellion in order to force the President’s hand. We have all lost count of how many times some of our so-called leaders have defected and counter-defected over the past 10 years. One day he supports and praises the government of President Kiir, and when appointments are announced and his name doesn’t appear, he immediately announces his defection to the opposition or declares war on the “bad leadership” of the government, it’s a pity!!
The President can be excused for his part in all this because in his capacity as the nation’s chief executive, he tries to play a balancing act, trying to appease the war lords in order to maintain some degree of normalcy so he can execute his mandate for all South Sudanese. This has no doubt been a daunting task because let’s face it, the President is dealing with hungry hyenas whose thirst for power and treasure can never be quenched so long as there is a country called South Sudan that they can exploit. The saddest part in all this is the fact that they have twisted ethnic and tribal allegiances to their advantage. They exploit people’s ignorance and make it appear as though they represent the interests of their kinsmen. Dear fellow citizens, I beg to put it to you that when a warlord goes to negotiate positions in order to stop killing you, he is not negotiating on your behalf, rather, he is using your children’s blood to fill his stomach. All of us are at fault for enabling these war lords because we all have relatives, friends, in-laws, husbands, fathers and brothers who have exploited their capacity to kill innocent people to get their way to political positions.
Thus,I wish to commend President Kiir and his government, for whatever progress they have managed to achieve towards peace, especially in the latest peace effort. He has had to make compromises that he should not be making just to see that he gets war lords to the negotiating table, because I guess he knows the alternative all too well as we all do, if they are not in power, they will be busy in the countryside killing, raping and maiming innocent civilians. Whether you agree with the President’s tactics or not, you will agree that he is operating from an impossible position, balancing national welfare with the threat of armed personal gratification. Just the ability to cede to the concessions demanded by the opposition is a great strength you have exhibited Mr. President. It’s not easy for someone with power to cede any of it. The former Nigerian PresidentOlusegun Obasanjo once demonstrated this when he compared himself with late President Nelson Mandela. Whereas Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years, heroically I might add, he didn’t have much of a choice or power to push through a different scenario to start with, unlike Obasanjo who was in power (1976-1979), then willingly gave it away and ended up in prison. He could have maintained and consolidated his grip on power but he didn’t because of the love for his country. Same thing goes for President Kiir, he has the power but he has CHOSEN to compromise and make concessions for the sake of peace. Can someone ask the war lords what have they had to concede other than just putting a momentary pose to their murderous sprees?
Whether you are supporters of the government or opposition or whatever, we all have to agree that President Kiir has more to lose compared to all other protagonists combined, yet he agrees to compromise and make concessions. I therefore call on the war lords to do the same, make meaningful compromises so we can achieve lasting peace. Because the more you push, the further the country falls into extreme suffering. Whether your ultimate goal is taking over from President Kiir, which is your constitutional right, am afraid if you don’t change your tactics, by the time you come to power, if at all you will ever do, you may find yourselves ruling over a graveyard of your own making.
Amidst the COVID crisis, our people are suffering from biting economic hardship because of the financial constraints related to the conflict, most of the low-laying regions of the north are under water due to months of flooding, health facilities are dilapidated, and children are out of school, yet the money that the government would have used to stock medical supplies, or dig drainage channels, has to be paid in millions to foot the bills of the political stooges you have in hotels for months, because you are prolonging the negotiations in order to secure bigger positions. It’s true that the government and President Kiir should compromise and make concessions as he is expected to, because he also has more to give, and a bigger role to play. But I also challenge you (the war lords) to also give something other than just demanding and demanding and demanding…… You have become a burden to the country and in the process, you have obstructed the peace that you claim to be fighting for. History will judge you very harshly!!
The writer is an advocate for peace in South Sudan