Saturday, February 27, 2010

Lessons from Sun-Air Boeing 737 Carrying Sudan Presidential Advisor Involved in Near Mid-Air Collision during Landing in Khartoum Airport

By John A. Akec
Source of Photo:

On Friday 26 February 2010 I was in Juba International Airport when I waved a colleague off as he boarded Sun-Air Boeing 737. About 20 minutes or so later I watched the Boeing 737 speeding across the runway before taking off gracefully into sky with a banging roar of a distance thunder.

For less than half a minute I held my breath as the technological wonder, the Boeing 737, penetrated the clouds over East of Juba city; twisting as it went in North Easterly direction with its nose pointing upwards to avoid coming close to Jebel [Mount] Lado. I could not help but admire human ingenuity and fine engineering that has allowed man to navigate the treacherous skies with such confidence so that he can get to destinations thousands of miles away in matter of hours instead of days, months, even years.

Beside internet and mobile phone, aviation industry is one of the prime enablers of globalization. However, there is a flip side to it. Safety rules must be adhered to religiously by all concerned from passengers to pilots, from ground crew to flight engineers and air hostesses in order to continue to maintain high reliability required of air travel where accidents are rare but costly when they happen. This is easy said than done, especially in the third world countries like Sudan. And here is one scary tell-tale sign of poor safety in Sudan aviation services.

On following morning (Saturday 27th Feb 2010) the colleague whom I waved off at Juba International Airport phoned to inform me how close their flight on Friday came to the brink of disaster during the landing at Khartoum International Airport. As the Sun-Air Boeing 737 was about to land, he narrated, another plane was taking off. Realizing that, the pilot of Sun-Air Boeing 737 pulled up to avoid colliding with the plane that was taking off. He then quickly dived downwards to resume the aborted landing. As a result, the aircraft’s front underway carriage hid the ground before the back carriage. The pilot struggled to control the aircraft until it came to a standstill. The passengers were shocked and scared out of their wits.

Later on the day, the passengers learned that the pilot of Sun-Air Boeing 737 was instructed by the aviation control to delay landing for 10 minutes in order to allow another aircraft to take off on the same runway. However, according to this source, the pilot ignored the advice and attempted to land, narrowly missing coming into mid-air collision with the aircraft taking off. Instead of aborting the landing, the pilot resumed landing in the middle runway, almost loosing control. By these actions, the aircraft and passengers where exposed to a double risk.

On board the Boeing 737 was Dr. Mansur Khalid, a leading member of Sudan People Libration Movement and Sudan presidential advisor, and other notables including Khartoum University law professor, Akolda Mading Tier, who is also a member of National Election Commission.

At the time when international aviation safety experts have warned of treacherous African skies, Sudan has had a fair share of aviation disasters involving passenger planes in recent years.

On July 8th, 2003, Sudan Airways Flight 139 (Boeing 737-200) crashed in Port Sudan, with exception of a 2-year old, all 117 passengers on board died. On June 10th 2008 Sudan Airways Flight 109 (Airbus A310-324) crashed during landing in Khartoum International Airport. About 30 passengers died and 178 survived. It was on its way from Amman in Jordan. Bad weather was blamed. There were numerous accidents involving crash of cargo planes in 2008 that lead to dismissal of director of Aviation in Khartoum International Airport by presidential decree.

In South Sudan, South Sudan Air Connection Beechcraft 1900 crashed near Rumbek in the morning of 2 May 2008, killing 21 passengers including South Sudan defence minister and South Sudan presidential advisor.

Sudan internal aviation industry has expanded markedly in recent years as demand for air travel increased due to rising spending power attributable to oil-driven economic boom. The airliners currently operating in the East African country include: Sudan Airways (the ailing national carrier that has been privatized with barely noticeable improvement in operating performance), Air West, Azza Transport, Blue Bird Aviation, Dove Air Service, Feeder Air Line, Marsland Aviation, Mid Airline, Bentiu Air, Nova Airline, and Sun-Air, among others.

One significant problem with Sudan aviation industry is that many of the airliners own old and creaky aircrafts, many of which have origin in countries of the old Soviet Union. Security is lax in some smaller airports due to lack of x-ray and other scanning equipment. Moreover, passengers can carry as much hand luggage as they can muster, in contrast with recently internationally adopted limit of 2 (one of which should be a laptop).

On the positive side, the newly formed privately own carriers are serious to make money and hence try to be punctual, unlike Sudan Airways which is still dodged by problems of punctuality and arbitrary cancelation of flights. This has eroded passengers’ confidence in Sudan Airways despite being regarded as more safe.

Amongst airliners serving Juba are Marsland Aviation, Feeder Airline, Sudan Airways, and Sun Air. Marsland Aviation and Sun Air are close competitors, offering flights to and from Khartoum on a daily basis. The former (Marsland) is famed for economy and availability, but perceived by passengers as less safe because of its ailing aircrafts. UN personnel have been advised not to fly on Marsland. The latter (SUN Air) is known for higher quality aircrafts, tight punctuality, and higher fares. Because, it has relatively new equipment, those who can afford choose it for safety reasons. The latest incident involving Sun-Air on Friday will undermine this hardly earned safety image of Sun-Air.

Was the Sun-Air pilot being diligent or negligent? We can never know unless a thorough investigation is carried out and results made public. It is highly likely he was being careless and irresponsible, having decided to acquire the same attitude as motorists in the streets of Khartoum who are fond of cutting corners and flouting road traffic rules. Air aviation cannot afford this sort of lax attitude to aviation traffic rules. On the other hand, there could be serious problems with aviation control service in Khartoum International airport that has let to pilot’s confusion.

Whatever the reasons, this incident will do nothing to alley fears of Sudan poor aviation safety records. Aviation decisions-makers need to move quickly to close up the hole. And Juba government needs to be concerned in regards to these developments and take steps to investigate the incident to determine the cause of the confusion against the current aviation control practices in Khartoum International Airport.

For South Sudan, it is high time for the government of the autonomous region to come up with clear vision regarding the future of aviation industry in our region. How to create safe skies and attract investment to the sector must be a top priority of such a vision.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

SPLM Independent Candidates (IDC's) add taste to what would have been a dull electioneering process

By John A. Akec

Elections can be exciting only if they promise change for the better. It is very rare that citizens rush to any polls in order to maintain the status quo, especially given the glaring shortcomings of sort seen in the current government of South Sudan (GOSS). Any election whose outcomes can be predicted with certainty and precision is anything but interesting.

There is no doubt that there will be those amongst South Sudanese who would argue that “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know”- meaning we better cling to the disappointing status quo than trusting our future in the hands of candidates not blessed by the SPLM’s leading body. However, humanity would be condemned to backwaters of unbearable political stagnation if great majority of free nations were to subscribe to such a reactionary mantra.

Yet, paradoxically enough, the majority of candidates blessed by the SPLM political bureau (SPLM PB) are those who have supervised over a government that has delivered pitiful socio-economic dividend to South Sudan at a price of five. Namely, the patchy services the current government of South Sudan prides itself in are incomparable to the billions dollars of oil money spent and five years in the office. All things being equal, a different composition of the SPLM government could have delivered far better peace dividends given same resources, power, and time.

I believe many South Sudanese will view the current debate on the right of SPLM independent candidate to contest against the candidates that have been hand-picked by SPLM PB, through the lenses of giving people more opportunities to elect into power better change-makers than the narrow menu of “yes men and women” being offered by SPLM political bureau (PB).

There are 340 in total SPLM candidates contesting independently (IDCs), including 6 contesting for positions of governors in Upper Nile, Jonglie, Eastern Equatoria, Unity, Central Equatoria, and Northern Bhar El Ghazal States. In a move that made National Congress Party (NCP) looks more like a saint in tackling the issue of independent candidates in the party, SPLM PB met on 16 February in Juba and issued a brave statement declaring an automatic end of SPLM membership for all those candidates insisting on going it alone without the SPLM PB’s stamp of approval. A painful shot in the foot for the party’s ruling minority clique.

On their part, a leading SPLM independent candidate, Alfred Ladu Gore, and an advisor to President of Government of South Sudan on diplomatic affairs, described SPLM Secretary General, Pagan Amum, as a failure and demanded his resignation. And as the electoral campaign kicked off over South Sudan, many independent candidates have already reported incidents of harassment from the very government dominated by their own party.

In Northern Bhar El Ghazal, a rally organised by the independent candidate general Dau Aturjuong was dismantled by the police and security intelligence on the behest of governor Paul Malong Awan. In Bantiu, Angelina Teny rally was harassed by police and yet managed to address some 1,200 supporters who turned up at a stadium.

What we see taking place in SPLM is not new. The party historically has never embraced meritocracy as the main criterion for creating leaders in its ranks. More often than not, personal preferences, favouritism, and other hard to account for factors contributed to rise of many of current SPLM leaders to position of power. Independent thinking or pure individual competence have never been the main ladders to power positions in SPLM. In fact, independent thinking and individual competence had contributed to falling out of a very significant number of SPLM members with the leadership. Thus, the action of SPLM PB against party’s independent candidates is precisely to maintain the status quo: everything stays the same.

And as GOSS President Slava Kiir Mayardit campaign’s trail sets off today, the onlookers could hardly fail to notice that it was without his deputy, Dr. Riek Machar Teny. And without a shred of doubt, this election journey has started on a wrong footing for Salva Kiir Mayardit, given the controversy the selection process has already sparked, which is aggravated further by the repressive actions of police and security forces in South Sudan against independent candidates as well as against candidates of other political parties. Skeptics may view this as setting the scene for a likely “Karazaic election” in April in South Sudan. A bad prospect for a government to be borne out of such controversy.

Already, the incumbent SPLM government has lost many teeth to this early democratic exercise as party’s democratic credentials wear thin in the face of competition from within and from without. Indeed, it would be interesting to know how many teeth would be left at the end of this campaign trail, under the current SPLM PB stewardship.

In one way or the other, a political change is being set in motion, whether SPLM PB likes it or not. The independent candidates have added a sweet taste to what would have been a predictable and dull electioneering. They are a dim hope in dark skies of political stagnation.

Many SPLM faithfuls (and indeed South Sudanese citizens dreaming for a change of guards) are now pining hope on independent candidates (IDC's) to end the domination of SPLM PB by a self-serving clique.

Most likely, the IDC's will give SPLM PB a bleeding nose, and hopefully, bring about the long awaited change within the party.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Political Freedom in South Sudan is being repressed by “Invisible Hand”

By John A. Akec

The little yet influential book of Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, should make a good reading for many South Sudanese during these testing times of count down to elections, if only to be reminded of its key theme: for some to be [free] is to be like oppressor. This time- tested premise by Freire speaks of the melanoma suffered by many of the former freedom fighters turned-rulers who emerge from years of struggle against oppression of man by man, and having internalized the oppressor’s consciousness, turn against their fellow men and women to dehumanize them and unleach on them the most attrocious acts of repression as a way of expressing their attainment of freedom. Namely, do the oppressor's job on his behalf.

Apart from the usual suspects, namely the men in the uniform, one would also count the apologists of the status quo in all their colours and guises. They, too, are caught between the choice of ejecting the oppressor’s image within or keeping him; between standing in solidarity with the oppressed to transform the oppressive reality, and alienating the oppressed to shut up; between rejecting the culture of silence, and embracing it; just to enumerate only a few of the dilemmas faced by the liberator in oppressor’s uniform as expounded in the book of the Brazilian educational philosopher, Paulo Friere.

Goodbye Freire, you have opened our eyes. We now know, and can tell where all this oppressive reality is originating from. Still we would like to admit that it is always murky for most of us. And the fear of freedom in our midst is real, alive, and kicking.

To get to the point, there have been many incidents of harassment of political activists, mainly from opposition parties, and journalists in South Sudan in the last few months. Most of these harassments are election-related. Cases in point were arrest of members of SPLM Democratic Change in Malakal and Yei. Reports on arbitrary arrests of members of South Sudan Democratic Forum (SSDF), and Unified Democratic Party (UDP); the rounding up, beating, and detention in Aweil of 13 supporters of SPLM independent candidate, Akuei Aturjuong. Their names were published in the Citizen newspaper, yet the governor Paul Malong Awan, whose candidacy for governorship is being challenged by Aturjong flatly denied the accusations. I believe those who did these acts did them in the name of patroitism, and nationalism. They did them out of sense of duty. Plain wrong.

Speaking in an interview with the Citizen (February 9, 2010), James Wani Iga, Deputy SPLM Chairman, and leader of South Sudan Legislative Assembly minimized the acts of arbitrary arrests reported in the press as “individual incidents that do not constitute a trend by the government.” He then sent a very soft message of assurance to the perpetrators by adding: “We have issued clear instructions to all the departments to allow all to practice political work in freedom without any intervention.” He could not give any information on the specific punitive measures being taken against these violators of human rights. One reckons this message is music in the ears of the repressors, and a nightmare redoubled for those on the receiving end.

As dominant and ruling political party in South Sudan, SPLM is finding itself playing the role of a judge, jury, and defendant at same time. And this is not working out very well. Having acquired an image of being the champion of basic freedoms at a national level, the party has been struggling to practice what it preaches in South Sudan where it has the upper hand.

And to prove Freire right, it seems SPLM has internalized the oppressor’s image, the NCP's. And so for a significant proportion of South Sudanese people, SPLM is the look-alike of the NCP in South Sudan. SPLM government is imitating many of NCP’s oppressive ways: repressing basic freedoms and denying the fact; financing and facilitating supportive demonstrations, and refusing or oppressing the dissenting protests.

If anyone is in doubt, let them recall the shooting of students and youth demonstrations in Yambio and Juba. Contrast that with those organised by SPLM party to mobilize moral support for GOSS in its fight against NCP. And so any anti-GOSS protest is criminalized. All pro-GOSS demonstrations are legalized. NCP invents. SPLM borrows. Under such circumistances, how can anyone tell who is who? Or who is what?

Therefore, these days you could recognize the voice of Dr. Nafi Ali Nafi in the person of SPLM Secretary General, Pagan Amum, in cajoling and threatening the independent candidates in his party. Dr. Nafi was quoted by the press saying that: "those who will defy the decision by the NCP leadership on choice of electoral candidates will suffer." Secretary General Pagan Amum threatened his party members with dismissal from the Party, before softening up under intense criticism by independent candidates and party's grassroot. There is one thing that escaped SPLM SG about South Sudanese: they have stronger democratic culture than North and can defy any attempt to replicate in the South the open repression that is practiced by NCP on the Northern Sudanese and anyone in Khartoum.

We will also count ourselves naïve if we believe that SPLM is going to grant us basic freedoms in a platter without being challenged to clean up its act. This would be true irrespective of whether or not we are members of SPLM, members of other parties, or neutral citizens; or whether or not we are supporters of SPLM, or its staunchest critics. We have to struggle hard in order to push back the invissible hand that is repressing us.

And for freedom to be truly authentic, it ought to be freedom for all. Here, there are no exceptions such as denying those whom we regard as less nationalistic than ourselves the platform to practice political freedom in order to advance their views and convictions. Doing so would be continuing to internalize the oppressor’s image and thereby undermining our claim of being democratic people, and therefore, fully human.

This noble quest for authentic freedom should commence by recognizing that we as SPLMers and non-SPLMers may linger within us the demons of oppression that need not only to be ejected, but be ejected and slain.

We can go about achieving this goal by spreading the culture of freedom amongst ourselves. One of the influential figures in laying the foundation to modern Western culture of free thought and expression was the French thinker and philosopher, Voltaire (real name Francois Marie Arouet), who is credited with a quote taken from a letter to one Monsieur l'abbé: “I may disagree with what you have to say, but I am ready to die to defend your right to say it. “

Hence, let us use the word freedom to mean freedom for us, freedom for others like us, and last but not least, freedom for others unlike us.