Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Doleib Hill Crisis: The House of Celebrations and House of Funerals Cannot Live Next to Each Other

By John A. Akec

“We must go back [in history] in order to go forward [to the future]” – Dr. John Garang de Mabior, Naivash, Kenya, 2005.

Big fires start small. Mishandling a disused match can create an inferno in a dry bush that goes on to engulf thousands of acres of land in deadly flames. This eventually puts many lives and property at risk some hundreds of miles away from the scene of the original incident. The history of our world is awash with countless examples from which the wise should learn priceless lessons so as to avoid creating perilous situations, needlessly out of teacup storms.

For instance, on 28 July 1914, Archduke Frank Ferdinand, heir to Austrian-Hungarian throne (composed by then of Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia), and his wife Sophie Ferdinand were driving in their car from a town hall reception while on a formal visit to Sarajevo (in the modern day Yugoslavia); when a Serb nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, shot them dead at point blank range. Ferdinand assassination in Sarajevo set Europe on the road of diplomatic crisis that eventually let to the outbreak of World War I by the end of July of same year. The war lasted four years from 1914 to 1918 and claimed over 16 million lives and wounded 21 others across the world. A year later on (1919), the Treaty of Versailles was concluded that laid the blueprints for free Europe and peaceful world. And because some of signatories did not wholeheartedly embrace the resolutions of Treaty of Versailles, lessons of WW I were lost, and another deadly war, the World War II, had to be fought one more time from 1932 to 1945; leading to another 50 million civilian and 25 million soldiers' deaths.

In fact, we do not need to look farther afield than having a glance at our own backyard for lessons in history. On 17th August 1955, Satarino Oliu, Emilio Tafeng, Ali Ghabtala and others from Equatorian Cop, rebelled in Torit in Southern Sudan and let to the killing of 261 northern Sudanese (including women and children), and 75 Southerners. The rebellion was sparked by an order to move the Equatorian Cop to the North in an atmosphere of great mistrust, a few months before Sudan declared its independence on first January 1956. The rebellion was considered by Sudan’s rulers as a mere security issue and believed they had crashed it at the bud.

However, the Torit mutiny, as we can all testify, was the real mother of all other mutinies that followed in the South afterwards. The small fires (call them the off springs of Torit if you like) along the way included Akobo mutiny in 1974 led by surgeon Bol Kur; Wau Mutiny led by Captain Aguet in Feb 1976, and Bor Mutiny led by Major Kerybino Kuanyin Bol. These were small fires with that eventually let to catastrophic long term consequences to the nation and people caught in them.

Looking back in retrospect, these mutinies represented the tip of an iceberg, and the keys that turned the lock of the floodgate.

This is a rather windy introduction to the incident on 30th April 2010 in Doleib Hill military barrack in Upper Nile State, close to border with Jonglei State in Southern Sudan. It involved the exchange of gun fire between of SPLA forces, some of whom were said to be loyal to George Athor. A score of people were killed and others wounded. Implicated in the incident was the well regarded former SPLA high ranking officer, Maj. General George Athor Deng who was contesting gubernatorial seat for Jonglei State as an independent candidate, but was declared a loser by the National Election Commission. The military spoke person stated that the attack was unprovoked, and that it was instigated by Major General George Athor. On his part, General Athor denied direct involvement, but admitted that those involved were SPLA officers and soldiers who had resisted orders to arrest him. Claims and counter claims. What version should we believe?

Worryingly still, initial announcements to resolve the unfortunate conflict peacefully and amicably between George Athor and his supporters on one the hand, and the South Sudan government had come to a dead end. The conflict has escalated, and claimed more lives in recent days, while the diplomatic tone has begun to give way to hawkish language that will do nothing to alley our fears that we are being driven into the old beaten path from which we had emerged after concluding of Naivasha agreement in 2005. The spirit of Naivasha agreement ought to rebuke us by reminding us that war and violence are futile ways of settling any difference, large or small. The spirit of Naivash should guide us all, as individuals and as authorities.

Yes, the election conduct has left much to be desired. The playing field was not that leveled to all. Some parties had better resources than others. But regarding where we came from, it is a great achievement. And so, like many before me, I would like to warmly congratulate General Kiir Mayardit for his re-election. Congratulations also go to those who won. And for those who lost, let them remember that they will sill have another chance in future to win and to shine. Those who are not satisfied with the results should follow peaceful means to redress their complaints. Yet we must not tolerate the house of celebration to live side by side with the house of mourning. We would like all to celebrate in their own way.

Therefore, we cannot stand idle while this conflict spirals out of control. We must use peaceful means to resolve it. We must also address the root causes of the problem. The government of the day thought they crashed Torit Mutiny only to be proven wrong by the events of history. Major Aguet who rebelled in Wau after killing colleagues including General Emmanuel Abor Nhial was eventually tracked down in Central African Republic, brought back and executed. But did his executioners ask why he did it what he did? Or was Aguet’s mutiny the last? Of course, it was not the last. Numeri thought he crashed Bor Mutiny. Again the events that followed Bor Mutiny recounted a different tale.

The parties involved in this conflict (GOSS and General Athor and his colleagues) should resort to third parties to mediate and to uncover all facts behind this unfortunate incident. AU, friends of Sudan, Sudan peace partners, men and women of good will should intervene. Church leaders and leaders of civil society should raise their voices in respect to this developing situation for the good of the country. Let truth, justice, human rights, freedom for all, and reconciliation be our guide and our sole motivator while we seek acceptable resolution for Doleib Hill crisis.

We have a very rich experience by the way of what violence can bring on a nation. We have lost more than 2 million lives in civil conflict to fight for our freedom. The lessons and mistakes of the past (whether committed by us or by others) are for us to learn from in order to craft a brighter future for ourselves and for our children.

These invaluable lessons of history must not be thrown away.


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