Thomas Cirilo (File Image)
Thomas Cirilo (File Image)

By : Elhag Paul

On 18th July 2020, Equatoria to Equatoria Dialogue (E2ED), an Equatorian social media forum made a declaration of Equatoria Rights on The Voice of Kush Wisdom on Facebook. The document is known as Equatoria People’s Declaration Charter of Rights (EPDCR). This on the back of a blue print which stipulates that the concept of ‘alliance’ is to be the main vehicle for bringing Equatorians together. E2ED refers to this as Equatoria People’s Alliance (EPA). While anything that brings Equatorians together is long overdue and should be applauded given the existential threat facing the region, from President Salva Kiir and the Jieng Council of Elders (JCE). Using the concept of ‘alliance’ as a policy to connect Equatorians is unhelpful because in the short and medium term, it is unworkable and in the long term, it may actually cement the fragmentation of Equatoria that was started by the deposed President of Sudan General Omer El Bashir.

Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines the word ‘alliance’ as “an agreement between countries, political parties etc to work together in order to achieve sth that they want.” From this definition, it is clear Equatoria can use alliance as a policy in working with other regions, for example, Upper Nile and Bahr El Ghazal, but not as a policy of bringing Equatoria together. How can Equatoria ally with itself? Is this feasible? Or am I missing something here. Can someone help? Dr Dario Hakim Nyagamoi in one of the Zoom Town Hall meetings correctly explained that Equatoria has a history going back over 100 years in which it moulded itself into a society with values and specific ways of living; including developing a language that binds them together famously referred to as Juba Arabic. In essence, Equatoria is a well formed community and therefore it constitutes a single social group.

The problem facing Equatoria at the moment is the political divisions tearing it apart and the existential threat it is undergoing by the minute. In order to address this problem, Equatorians need to unite and speak with one voice. So, the policy should be centred around unity and not alliance. In late 1970s and early 1980s Equatoria fought off oppression of Jieng spearheaded by Mr Abel Alier who was the President of High Executive Council of the autonomous region of Southern Sudan by coming together. Equatoria leaders at the time (General Joseph Lagu, Eliaba Surur, Dr Pacifico Ladu Lolik, Morris Lowiya, Joseph Tambura, Dr Samson Kwaje, Remy Oler, Robert Gbandi, Lawrence Modi, George Lotongor, Justice Peter Sule, Martha Modi, Margaret Juan, Mary Kiden who sang the song: ‘We shall never! Never! Never surrender! Surrender!’ which motivated the people, and many others) strategized around unity of Equatoria and this was done through dissemination of liberation literature known as ‘Release’. This ‘release’ which was heavily distributed at night to hundreds of homes in Juba and the district towns conveyed critical information for enlightenment and identifying the solution for problems of Equatoria at the time which was to achieve Kokora: self governance. The outcome as planned was the division of Southern Region into 3 regions based on the 3 provinces of Equatoria, Upper Nile and Bahr El Ghazal as of 1956. The rest is history.

Fast forward to the present, to confront the Jieng policy of pushing Equatorians out of their homes and lands into the neighbouring countries with its existential threat, Equatorians need to unite firmly to see off this aggression. United Equatoria can then be a force to be reckoned with in that it can negotiate with political groups whose policies have interest of Equatoria. This is where alliance should come to play. The current designated policy of E2ED of using alliance as a way of bringing Equatoria together is a misdiagnosis without any tested historical relevance in South Sudan. How can Equatoria ally with itself? Think about this critically. It must be remembered that the experience of Kokora not only pushed the Jieng away, but it also frightened the Arabs. When the deposed President of Sudan General Omer Bashir took power on 30th June 1989, he broke up Equatoria into 3 states (Western Equatoria, Central Equatoria and Eastern Equatoria) to weaken it so that it would not remain strong as in Kokora time to pose problems to Khartoum. The division of Equatoria has since then always been the aim/objective of those who want to conquer it. General Bashir sliced Southern Sudan into 10 states because the Khartoum regime wanted it to be weak and conquerable. Within this thinking the JCE apparatchiks in the Bashir regime promoted the division of Southern Sudan to align it with their own objectives of dividing the people of South Sudan. The reader can check for themselves the prominent Southern Sudanese personalities who were part of this plot. The outcome was and is what is called Western Equatoria State (WES) Central Equatoria State (CES), and Eastern Equatoria State (EES). This division has manifestly affected Equatoria severely and retarded Equatoria’s political development.

Recently following the signing of August 2015 Agreement of Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (ARCISS), the Jieng Council of Elders (JCE) thought to complete the division and destruction of Equatoria, and its name by slicing it further into several statelets technically erasing the name Equatoria out of the politics of South Sudan. From October 2015 until early 2020, the name Equatoria was no longer in existence. The different parts of Equatoria were now known under local names such as Imatong state, Yei state, Yambio state, Maridi state and so on. This was done with complicity of the current Equatorians in the Juba regime.

Therefore, any arrangement in which Equatoria is divided whether administratively, economically, socially or politically is not in the interest of Equatoria. The current administrative division of Equatoria into 3 states done by General Bashir of Sudan with support of JCE during his government and reinstated early this year is not good for the people of Equatoria. This brings us to the notion of ‘alliance’ that is the core policy of E2ED. Taking Equatoria the way it is, suggests that Equatorians do not share the same values and way of life. For example, if Equatoria from west to east share the same way of life there would be no need for alliance. What it needs is unity for its survival because essentially there is not much difference among Equatorians culturally and socially but only politically. Political difference is all right and there is nothing wrong with it. Even within our own families we differ in how we see certain things and how we want things to be done. Now, while such difference is part of life, families and larger social groups with differences usually unite around what ensures their safety and survival. In times of danger, the members come together and close ranks to face the danger as a necessity of survival while shelving their difference.

The process of coming together and closing ranks to face expected danger is maintained through unity and not alliance. The use of the word ‘alliance’ in the context of Equatoria’s internal differences is inappropriate and confusing because it is not relevant and without historical reference. Take for example, when Southern Sudanese as a unit were fighting Khartoum, they did not talk of alliance among themselves. There was no talk of Equatoria allying with Upper Nile and Bhar El Ghazal or vice versa. The reason was simple, Southern Sudan was a single entity and it could not ally with itself. But, there was a talk of alliance with Nuba, Darfur, Blue Nile and so on because these were/are different social groups. The overall emphasis was on unity. Again, when UK, USA and the other Western countries were going into war in the Middle East, each specific country called for unity of its people/citizens first before joining the bigger group of countries in alliance.

What is clear here is that alliance happens among different social groups, and unity happens within a social group. Given this, is the policy of E2ED of alliance being shoved down the throat of people of Equatoria really prudent? Is it useful, leave alone being beneficial for Equatoria? Can the proponents of this policy not see that they are supporting and entrenching divisions in Equatoria? First, they are endorsing the divisive policy of General Bashir and his JCE advisors. Secondly, they are accepting that Equatorians in the superficial 3 states are different people and so they need to ally. Thirdly, although E2ED intents to unify Equatoria, they are going around it wrongly because unfortunately there is no genuine and honest dialogue in that forum. Everything is done through manipulation to achieve selfish interest of few.

E2ED by emphasising the difference of WES, CES and EES and wrongly insisting that Equatoria needs alliance, is working against the long term interest of Equatoria. What is needed now is unity exactly like the unity that brought Kokora. The future of Equatoria can only be secured through unity. Anything else is a distraction and waste of time.

However, if the proponents of this policy of alliance deliberately continue with this strategy then it can only be explained as a political move for a specific political objective of short term whose outcome is known to the pushers. So, could this be a policy of the proponents to pursue their personal political interest at the expense of the overall interest of Equatoria? Could this be the vehicle to ride into Juba? I don’t know but time will tell.

The argument mounted by the proponents of the policy of alliance that Equatorians in all the other politico-military organisations can be brought together under alliance is neither here nor there. Frankly speaking, it is too pedantic. The reason is simple. The Equatorians in those organisations are governed by the policies and procedures of those organisations whose aims and objectives have nothing to do with Equatoria. Those Equatorians too have accepted wilfully the policies of those organisations and can not be assumed to be loyal to Equatoria only. Is it reasonable to assume that Wani Igga, or Henry Odwar and so on can command the Equatorians in SPLM/A-IG and SPLM/A-IO? Were it to be so simple, the Equatorian soldiers in both organisations would not be killing their brothers and sisters in Kajo_Keji, Yei, Lainya, Lasu, Lokiliri, Nesitu etc. The Equatorians in those organisations believe in the ideologies of those organisations and it is not feasible to expect people governed by conflicting policies to ally with each other specially when those in question do not have power within those organisations.

What is needed in such a situation like now in Equatoria is proper dialogue to raise awareness and consciousness for those Equatorians in the wrong organisations to join their brothers and sisters in the organisations that promote their interest. Hence, the importance and necessity of a policy of uniting Equatorians for their own survival. Conscious Equatorians will quit those organisations abusing them and their people. For example, General Thomas Cirillo fought for South Sudan, but when he realised that SPLM/A was not good for the people of South Sudan including Equatoria he quit the SPLM/A and dedicated himself to free ‘all’ the people of South Sudan. Please see his resignation speech in this link: https://paanluelwel.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/thomas-cirilo-spla-deputy-chief-of-staff-for-logistics-resigns-from-the-spla.pdf The problem of existential threat facing Equatoria as a national issue is well covered in Cirillo’s resignation letter. He writes in clause 2, “The president and these SPLA officers have systematically frustrated the implementation of the peace agreement and pursued the agenda of Jieng Council of Elders (JCE) of ethnic cleansing, forceful displacement of people from their ancestral lands and ethnic domination.” In this resignation letter what comes clear is that the General reached high level of consciousness and he acted based on his awareness of the issues afflicting South Sudan.

So, it is this process of consciousness and awareness raising that Equatorians should be pursuing to achieve unity rather than the fallacy of alliance, which actually encourages and maintains the current divisions and in the long term endangers the interest of Equatoria. When E2ED came into existence, Equatorians flocked to it, in large numbers because the Zoom Town Hall meetings were providing a space for Equatorians to dialogue and understand their predicament. This process inevitably might have led to bringing Equatorians from the various political parties into the conclusion that as a social group, Equatorians need each other and therefore must unite and act for its own survival. Unfortunately, the process was cut short with the forum being corralled into pursuing unhelpful policies.

E2ED with its current policies may be unknowingly sowing the seeds of a conflict among Equatorians. All those people supporting the misguided policies of E2ED should think carefully about how the various Equatorian fighters on the ground can be handled. Any addition or introduction of new fighting force is likely to lead into a vicious conflict of survival among these groups, with an outcome that Equatorians will regret. In that the current main objective of rescuing Equatoira will actually become the accelerator for its own destruction with its nemesis the JCE emerging victorious. Equatoria at the moment is crowded with various armies under different command. There is no space for any new force and even if there is a space; none of the neighbouring countries can help. Which means the scarce support available now will have to be divided between many opposing forces leading into ineffective resistance against the Juba regime.

Therefore, unity of Equatorians and not ‘alliance’ of Equatoria, is the only thing that can remove the existential threat facing Equatoria. To achieve this, Equatorians need to dialogue freely with each other without any manipulations to raise consciousness and awareness of their problem for them to willingly come together and act collectively in their best interest as they did during the struggle for Kokora. This process requires leaders with qualities of integrity, collaboration, tolerance, honesty, networking, humility and consensus management as demonstrated by leaders of Kokora mentioned above. Selfishness, manipulations, lies, autocracy, reckless ambitions and so on have no place in uniting people in times of crisis as it is now in Equatoria.

[Truth hurts but it is also liberating]

Elhag Paul

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