Response to the Open Letter to Jieng Council of Elders (JCE) by Bill Andress and the Coalition of Advocates for South Sudan (CASS)
REPUBLIC OF SOUTH SUDAN
JIENG COUNCIL OF ELDERS (JCE)
Dear Bill and Members of the CASS,
March 12, 2016(Nyamilepedia) —— This letter is to acknowledge the receipt of your open letter to the Jieng Council of Elders (JCE) dated February 20, 2016. We certainly appreciate and welcome constructive dialogue on all issues concerning our country, especially on matters related to the restoration of peace. While your efforts are appreciated, it doesn’t really take any serious effort to uncover your thinly veiled hypocrisy and unforgivable level of ignorance and naivety as conveyed in your letter. We have keenly followed your debate starting from the drafting of this letter all the way to its approval and those members who forcefully argued against the CASS sending this letter were right.
This is not to criticize your internal disorganization and contradictions; it is simply an observation to drive a bigger point home, which is that we know you as a group and as individuals. While you are masquerading to be some kind of disinterested individuals whose sole interest is that of peace in South Sudan, your membership unfortunately betrays you as shall be revealed in this letter. We intend in this letter to challenge point by point the allegations you have raised against the JCE in your letter both to allow you to adequately educate yourselves on what the Council is all about and accurately inform the public about what we stand for.
First, Bill you are quoting unspecified Jieng community as having said that, “the JCE is an unelected, self-appointed, self-interest group headed by former politicians of Sudan’s Nimeiry and Bashir regimes who do not represent and/or speak on behalf of the entire Jieng community at large.” Bill, so you know we have always admired and appreciate your support to the people of South Sudan. You have worked tirelessly with those of Esther Sprague through Sudan Advocacy Action Forum to support our independence. It is understandable after South Sudan independence you had to find something to do and that is how you got into the CASS. However, you were not elected both as a body and individual members of CASS. We are not in a position to teach you about the freedom of assembly and association with respect to the place of citizens and civil society organizations in America, but in South Sudan, we are granted the right to freely assemble and organize and so we do not really need to be elected by anybody to exist. All we need is a common interest that allows us to do what we believe is in the interest of our people. An elder in Jieng community or African cultural context in general has a right to have a say in the affairs of the community and the government.
This point in your letter is the weakest, uneducated, and utterly shallow and we do not have time for it.
Another uneducated and absurd point is the assertion that JCE is made up of former members of Nimeri and Bashir governments. Not only is this assertion wrong, because we have membership from people of all walks of life, it doesn’t actually make any sense because all South Sudanese were part of the Sudan, including its various governments until the declaration of independence on July 9th, 2011 and so we do not see what is dishonorable about having served in those governments. After all, our late Chairman, Dr. John Garang was both a member in Nimeri’s and Bashir’s governments and so is our current President and other senior South Sudanese officials. South Sudanese served in those governments not as sellouts, but as champions of people’s freedom.
Second, your group claims that, “some prominent members of the group were steadfast opponents of the referendum and independence of South Sudan, while dining with our enemy, President al-Bashir of Sudan, during our struggle”. Really? Where is the evidence? This is another uneducated guess by the group. Not only did our members fight for the rights of South Sudanese people in the Anyanya War and the SPLA, we started fighting for the people of South Sudan before the independence of the Sudan all the way to this day. For you to insult and question the patriotism of people you do not adequately know speaks volumes of a sheer act of ignorance of the highest order.
Thirdly, your group says that, “although this group billed themselves as an independent community based organization, its activities and meddling in the national affairs of the country are detrimental to national unity and nation building”. First of all, a good citizen is supposed to engage sufficiently in the national affairs and we guess that is what your group is trying to do. Given this reality, what is puzzling is why you want to engage in advocating for certain issues in South Sudan and at the same time you are against others who are exactly doing that, advocacy. Isn’t this insincerity at best coupled with misplaced sense of self- righteousness? Again, like any other South Sudanese, we are entitled by our constitution to act as a pressure group and we do not understand why you think it is your right to be against that. Your group claims that we are meddling in the national affairs and such action is detrimental to national unity. This is obviously false. Our national unity was threatened by the struggle for power within the SPLM and subsequent rebellion and ethnic mobilization by Riek Machar. The JCE did not promote fighting within the SPLM nor did it support Riek Machar in declaring a rebellion. Again, this is another act of pretense on your part for you have refused to condemn those who created this crisis and those who continue to rebel against the state, even after the signing of the agreement. These are the people who could be characterized as agents of doom and national disunity.
Since most of your group live in the United States and Canada, it is perhaps important to highlight what our role has been, especially in regards to the peace process. First of all, when it became evident that the political class had failed in their attempt to keep the nation together, we took the initiative as elders, first of all to dispel the widely believed misconception that the conflict was between the Nuer and Jieng nationalities. The conflict was never an ethnic conflict; it was a power struggle within the SPLM that had nothing to do with innocent Nuers and Jieng. As a result of our concerted efforts, no Jieng civilians took up arms against the Nuer; instead, we encouraged our community to accommodate the displaced Nuer civilians in Twic, Western Lakes, Eastern Lakes and Jonglei states. This is not an act of promoting disunity, but rather a sincere attempt to preserve the little that had remained of our national fabric.
Another important effort regards our meeting with the elders of the Greater Equatoria in 2014. When the enemies of peace were circulating rumors that the Jieng people wanted to attack Equatorians, at the behest of the then Central Equatoria state Government we met and had serious discussions with the Equatorian elders and a serious situation was diffused and we managed to persuade both the Jieng people and the Equatorians that violence was not the best way to settle disputes and we encouraged our Jieng pastoralists to leave and return to their home areas with their cattle. This was not an act detrimental to our national unity, but rather a work of nationalism and this averted the spread of this senseless war to the Equatoria. Riek Machar and his group have tried their best to incite the Equatorians against Jieng and the nation, but we managed to prevent this. In your book, this is interference in national affairs, in our book however, it is an effort to help restore peace.
In June 2015, when all the peace efforts stalled, we reached out to our brothers from the Nuer community without the full knowledge of the SPLM-IO leadership through the Moi African Institute and we agreed that the conflict is not between the Nuer and Jieng nationalities and that it is a political struggle for power. The spirit with which we dialogued and negotiated the way forward, could not be characterized as a work of people trying to destroy national unity, it is indeed an act of nationalism. We successfully prevented the spoilers of peace from exploiting our ethnicities as the basis for fighting and this should be commended, not derided.
We have reached out and met with some elders from the Shilluk and Mundari communities, and recently with the three communities of Fertit, Luo and Jieng of the newly created Wau State. We do all these in the name of saving our country from further crisis and so for those of you who are fed by the international media, these activities are not covered, what you hear are all the negative attributes about us. We don’t regret your ignorance; we blame the war that has kept you away from your country. We also blame those who intentionally give you false information about the relationship between the government and Jieng Council of Elders (JCE).
Bill, you and your group have falsely accused the Council as having rejected the peace agreement when you assert that, “the JCE, with the backing of some military generals, immediately rejected the signed peace agreement as” an imposed peace agreement”.” This is not really true. Where is the evidence for this? Indeed, we came out strongly against the draft agreement and it was our national duty to do that, because we have sworn to defend our nation against external aggression, to reject some of the provisions of the agreement because we believed they had infringed on our sovereignty. However, when the president signed the agreement, we supported his decision and issued a press statement. As such, your allegation is unfounded and it can be treated as an act of preconception and prejudice against the Council as it is far removed from any facts.
Your point on the 28 states, while it is true that we are advocates of the creation of more states, we do not accept your claim that the decision would lead to tribal warfare. South Sudan has been in the state of inter and intra-tribal warfare and contrary to your perception, the creation of more states, which would lead to self-governance is actually a measured solution against tribal conflict. It is a measure to give minorities their rights to make decisions on their affairs and break the back of perceived marginalization and domination by major tribes. With the exception of minor complaints from some political entrepreneurs and their supporters, most South Sudanese have accepted and welcomed this decision. If taken in the spirit of devolution of power to the subnational and local levels, the decision could make it easy to implement the peace agreement, especially in the war-affected states.
You alleged that, “contrary to the division of the country into tribal enclaves disguised as the “popular demand of 28 states” orchestrated by JCE policy, South Sudanese people are known as hospitable, united, and living side-by-side regardless of their tribal and cultural differences”. Really? So you think that the Council caused all the ethnic conflicts that have been fought since the time immemorial? We agree, South Sudanese are hospitable people, but you cannot blame the conflicts on the Council. The fact that the Nuer, Anyuak, Murle and Jieng peoples of the former Jonglei state have been fighting among themselves has nothing to do with the Council. The intra-communal conflict in Rumbek and other states in Bahr el Ghazal have nothing to do with the Council or establishment of the 28 states. The land conflict between the Ma’di and Acholi communities is not the creation of the Council. The whole civil war, including the massacre of civilians in 1991 and 2013 is not the making of the Council nor has the Council in any way encouraged or influenced any act of violence. Your diagnosis of the problem totally missed the mark and that speaks to your lack of knowledge on the current events in the country.
Whereas your group purports to be “an umbrella organization of South Sudanese communities and friends of South Sudan at large”, you are actually a mouthpiece of both SPLM-IO and the Former Detainees. While we regard you and Esther Sprague as typically naïve American liberals, who really want peace in South Sudan, individuals like David Mabior, Mayom Bol Achuk, Jacob Atem and Joseph Stewarts among others, are known supporters of Dr. Majok Agoot and have organized events for him across America on a number of occasions, particularly after the outbreak of the conflict. People like Jimmy Mulla and William Pay are obviously Riek Machar’s advocates. As such your letter could not be taken seriously because you are a tainted party whose membership is deceptively a civil society groups, but majority of them are supporters of the opposition. In this regard, your message is to be taken within the context of being an official opposition mouthpiece. This is not to paint with a broad brush the whole group, because there are other objective citizens and friends in your membership that we greatly admire for their courage and dedication to serve our people.
In your concluding statement you said, “given the fragility of the current peace agreement and in the interest of the suffering, ordinary citizens of South Sudan, we strongly urge the JCE to desist from advocating policies that threaten the unity of the people of South Sudan and the spirit of nation building”. Your call is noble because we all want peace in South Sudan, but one of your colleagues has forcefully argued, how do you call for peace on one hand, while launching unprovoked attack on another? This is simply what is called hypocrisy. We urge you to know more about the Council, its membership and its objective before you reach a
judgmental decision. We couldn’t help, but notice the tone of your message could simply have been verbatim from a certain member of the political detainees.
In conclusion, we urge you and your group to strategically direct your efforts in a way that will ensure the return of peace and stability to our war-torn nation. Towards this end, it is important that you do not pick unnecessary fight with people you do not know well as is the case here with JCE. Moreover, the quest for peace and reconciliation in South Sudan is a challenging task that certainly requires collaborative efforts amongst different stakeholders and we suggest that you and your group concentrate on building strong networks to give peace a chance. It is obvious that any blatant ignorance dressed as a shrewd and sincere agenda for peace cannot really get South Sudan out of the current vicious cycle of violence.
Signed on behalf of Jieng Council of Elders (JCE):
Justice Ambrose Riny Thiik, Co-Chairman
Hon. Joshua Dau Diu, Co-Chairman
Hon. Aldo Ajou Deng, Member
African Union Envoy
Sudan Special Envoy
UN Security Africa Affairs; US State Department