After the independence of South Sudan in 2011 there was no doubt that the new nascent country and nation did have a need for new arrangements in its most if not all its life aspects and particularly in governing systems and institutions that were mostly designed by the former Khartoum regimes to keep the South Sudanese as second class citizens, dominated politically, economically and culturally per Islamic Sharia laws. Such needed arrangements if carefully formulated and enacted, they would of course define South Sudan new ways of life and that would very much reflect the huge cost and sacrifices it paid in its long struggle against the North Sudan domination and unjust governing systems. However, few months after the independence there were clear indicators that what appear to be unfolding is a complete different path.
Right from start, the rearrangement of the inherited 10 states of South Sudan from Omer Al-Bashir former 26 states of Sudan should have been one of the many priorities the ruling SPLM party should have embarked on when the nation was not yet fully rocked by the vice of tribalism that was fanned to the max by the architects of the 2013 crisis. Were the SPLM leaders honest and serious in their liberation claim, there never was a doubt that with good faith and without malice, the new division or the rearrangement of the 10 states should have been carefully studied first and the tribal territories should have been rightly and clearly defined while the consequences of such a sensitive endeavor should have been seriously considered before decreeing it into law but that was far from being the reality.
The problem of course is not the need to divide the country Into 32 or 40 states if such a decision was fair and haven’t annexed some tribes’ lands and territories to others , but the problem is the malice and the grave injustice that were underneath such an abrupt, hasty and politically motivated decision of 2015 presidential decree that divided the 10 states to 28 and then later fragmented even further to 32 states. Triggered by his former deputy turned foe and rebels leader, Dr. Machar introduction of his 21 states plan and other set of arrangements in governance, constitutional and institutional reforms seen by Kiir regime as a boost to Machar’s political competitive advantage and a better strategy to dismantle his regime, though wasting no time, Kiir abruptly introduce his 28 states as rewards and bargains for political and military support which he needed most as a counter-plan to Machar advance and new strategy. That was the straw that broke the Camel’s back and which reached its peak of troubles and bloodshed in part of Bhar El-Gazhal, Upper Nile and Unity States were the annexed tribal territories caused ethnic clashes that resulted in 100s causalities.
Well, it has been three years since the introduction of the 32 states and if we can’t imagine how the perception and the minds of people have stuck with these states for the last 3 years then the reality that we cannot ignore is that the metaphors, the physical structures and the demographics of these states have definitely changed. In other words, there is no doubt the new owners have changed the platforms of those annexed lands and territories and a decision to make them abandon their new gains and lands won’t pass without a bullet and a bloodshed and at the same token, the former owners would not rest until they get back their rightful lands and territories. That’s volatile situation which requires that Kiir and the opposition alike must have the political wisdom that would resolve this matter in a manner that would achieve justice and peace and not in irresponsible way that could take the country back to war. Give back the land to its original owners as evidenced by findings and history and archived documentation. Sudan, Egypt and Britain if need be should be involved in this process for their undisputed knowledge of the territories and tribal boundaries of South Sudan.
Nothing new in South Sudan when it comes to land and ownership and obviously, we know who used to live here and there for the last 50 years and neither Kiir nor Machar can change that fact or have a right to manipulate the land of South Sudan for political gain. The land and territorial annexation are a grave injustice and we can’t expect a lasting peace between the neighboring tribes and clans pitted by politicians through such an injustice. These tribes have been living and coexisted in peace and harmony, where they had intermarriages, social, trade and communal ties until the politicians came and disrupted their peace by introducing tribalism and sectarianism as the new way of politics. Now the peripherals of the country are burning and the people there are finishing each other while the politicians who are behind all these miserable situations are enjoying their peaceful and luxurious life in Juba. Such a contradiction triggers the question of what it means to be a representative or a leader of people in South Sudan? The so-called leaders don’t feel the agonies of their people anymore, in fact, the become the very source of their people continuous suffering
All that South Sudan needs is smart and wise politicians who first know peace is paramount for success of any country, that no economy can function well without peace, political stability and security, no development or prosperity without an inclusive and lasting peace. I agree with the IGAD and the ABC conclusion that the decision on the number of the states and the disputes in tribal boundaries are all political and I am confident that Kiir and Machar can resolve these conflicts just the same way they have introduced them. It is not the number of the states, added or subtracted, but it is whether such an approach will achieve justice and peace. The Government and the opposition just need the political will and serious desire to open a new bright and peaceful chapter for South Sudan in the year 2020.
Eng. Chuar Juet Jock
Author of the “In a Nutshell” Book series