Ruweng County Citizens Petition President Kiir against Internal Occupation of Ruweng Territory by State Governor; Demand a New State
To: Salva Kiir Mayardit, President of the Peoples’ Republic of South Sudan, and Chairman of SPLM and C-in-C of SPLA
Dear Mr. President,
March 22, 2011 (SSNA) — We, the undersigned citizens of Ruweng County and South Sudan, would like to take this special opportunity to congratulate you, the Government and the people of the Peoples’ Republic of South Sudan, for the peaceful conduct and conclusion of the historic referendum in accordance with the CPA which gave our people the right to self-determination. Such a peaceful and dignified conclusion and the potential for independence on Saturday, July 9th, 2011, have significantly boosted the hope of our people, something that has never been seen in generations. We particularly salute you for your wise leadership during these tempting and difficult times. We hope and pray that the rest of other equally thorny issues, including the Abyei Referendum and border demarcation, will be agreed upon and implemented in a spirit of cooperation and mutual understanding. We also salute all our heroes and sheroes; both fallen and alive, for their valour and sacrifices in blood and limbs for liberty, justice, and dignity of our people. May the collective will of our people prevail and live on forever.
Appeal against the Commandeering of Ruweng Territory by Governor Taban
In our earlier petitions to your office we voiced a number of concerns, including the fact that our Ruweng territory was, and still, is being commandeered by Governor Taban who pays no attention to the Panaruu community’s grievances. Not only has Taban built his mansion in the heart of Ruweng County, he has also invited some of his Jekany Nuer community members to permanently settle at Wanh Danluel, which he has renamed Manga and made it a Payam of his Jekany Nuer Guit County. We understand that the signing of the CPA has brought greater understanding and coexistence among our communities in South Sudan. However, there are traditional boundary markings or indicia or lines showing which land belongs to which community. Despite the present of these traditional boundaries, Gov. Taban has encouraged the citizens of Guit County to settle and inhabit the Ruweng territory against the consent of our people; a move which is unsettling to Panaruu Community because it springs back the bitter memories of the 1990s when armed forces under the command of Brigadier Gen. Taban Deng Gai (then the Governor of Bentiu) often unleashed deadly attacks and occupied the Ruweng territory between 1991 and1999. As if that was not enough, Gov. Taban has unrelentlessly pursued his agenda.
He has since endeavored to do it again, even at a much larger scale by continuing to use both overt and covert strategies to oppress our community. He continues to execute his invidious agenda: his pursuit and intent to subjugate the Panaruu community. The citizens of Ruweng County have presented these issues and urged Gov. Taban numerous times that such a move is provocative and that it would create unnecessary conflict between Guit County and Ruweng County. Yet such peaceful communications have since fallen on deaf ears.
Land issues and rights thereof, lie in the heart of our struggle. We cannot absolutely tolerate any act of land grabbing that is currently taking place in Unity State. The elders had raised this issue before you, Mr. President, during your visit to Pariang in 2008. For all intent and purposes however, the issue seemed to have been pushed to the periphery: brushed aside as something of less importance, if any. But, we understand that the underlying issues were then of a greater concern, especially with respect to external issues that frequently flooded your desk. But now that the lion seems to have let us off its jaws, at least for now, it is time that we deal with internal issues head-on because what matters in the end depends on our internal solidarity. This is an issue of significant concern and pressing urgency. Surface and subsurface rights were not only among the reasons our people took up arms to liberate themselves but are issues of natural justice. In other words, we fought to liberate ourselves from total oppression by the brutal regimes that have come and gone from Khartoum. It would be a contradiction in terms to replace oppression with another form of oppression, albeit, wrapped in a different color.
Furthermore, it is important to note that Governor Taban has redrawn the state map. According to the new map, he has ensured that Rubkona County cuts through the territory between Ruweng County and Biemnom County and as a result, has completely severed the territorial links between the two Dinka territories in Unity State. In essence, they have curved the popular Ngol toiches into the Nuer territory. As evidence, we show you a series of maps, old and new maps, all of which are attached to this petition. In fact, redrawing the map in this illegal manner is not only a recipe for disaster; it is going to make it difficult for the citizens of Unity State to build a cohesive and peaceful relationship. For reasons known only to him, Gov. Taban seems to have found a knack of going out there, preaching to Panaruu community that they should not listen to the Vice President of the Peoples’ Republic of South Sudan, Dr. Riek Machar, because he falsely argues that Riek is the most dangerous person who would destroy Ruweng County if given an opportunity, and that he, Gov. Taban, is the only protector of Ruweng people’s interests. That statement is not only misplaced, it is also not supported by known facts, and we would like to make it unequivocally clear that no one should be so naïve as to believe these hypocritical gestures seriously. Governor Taban lacks both the virtues of heart and mind to lead and govern fairly since he does not have the interests of the people at heart. In fact he is anti-Panaruu people. And he is truly not what he claims to be. Afterall, are the Panaruu people incapable of getting their redress through political or legal process? Why would one man who pays no attention to their concerns be in charge of guarding their interests? The irony is this: while he preaches one thing to his colleagues and Panaruu community about the viciousness of Dr. Riek, he is meeting secretly at nights with his Jekany Nuer community preaching how terrible the Panaruu people can be. He preaches that if Panaruu people are not constrained, they would take over Political power in the State of Western Upper (styled Unity State), something he will never want to see, as long as he remains the unquestionable Czar of the State. His goal is to ensure that the Ruweng community is shut out of as many opportunities as possible including denying them their proprietary rights in land. We suspect this explains why there a number of Nuer students who are studying in China, Malaysia and elsewhere but not even a single Dinka from the State has been given an opportunity of this kind. Now, are these acts reflective of a person who claims to safeguard the interests of the Dinka people against the majority domination in the state?
Without the protection of both private and communal property, this hard won freedom would be far from complete. It would in fact be a sham if those new comrades in power are to suddenly assume the position of the yester-years’ oppressors themselves. As Nelson Mandela had always said, there is no such a thing as part freedom. There is either total freedom or no freedom! Similarly, we cannot claim to have freed ourselves completely if this freedom was a license to grab, confiscate and commandeer the rights and freedoms of others. To be free, said Mandela, “is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Gov. Taban, with the backing of his Jekany Nuer community and vice versa, is now leading the way in depriving the Panaruu community of the freedom which the community has disproportionately fought for. This is the same struggle that he himself betrayed when he joined Khartoum in the 1990s and he has neither audacity nor moral authority to claim that he fought for it. He can preach it elsewhere but not on our watch!
We urgently invoke your intervention in this burning issue.
Petition to Create a New State for Ruweng, Biemnom and Abyei Counties
As the dawn of our independence and our people’s sovereignty is imminent, this historic milestone requires that we remain vigilant and watchful against many odds that come with the ensuing euphoria. We reckon that sovereignty alone is not enough. We should translate into practical programs the sacrosanct ideals for which we spent more than half a century fighting. In fact, the bottleneck of this struggle does not just consist of having our own country but rather in taking immediate steps to ensure that our nascent nation peacefully and successfully transitions from being a politically dependent society to being a sovereign; politically vibrant and prosperous state; a nation founded upon democratic principles, ideals, enduring values, and inclusive institutional structures that foster respect for human dignity. The new State’s leadership should foster and encourage our people to feast on their variety, diversity, vibrancy and wealth.
Self-determination as expressed and realised in the form of free and democratic value implies a bottom-up approach rather than a top down approach. Our nascent nation therefore ought to be a people-centred-state as opposed to an elite-centred-state. This will afford the people an opportunity to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural destiny in accordance with their informed will and conscience. Accordingly, the inevitable imperative is that, not only does this obligate us to create an inclusive government which is structured in accordance with the framework of our extant diversity; we also need to restructure the system of governance in order to facilitate and smoothen the running of our institutions (both public and private) and sharing of resources; thus avoiding the creation of a centre-periphery paradigm that had befallen the old Sudan. We should take these concerns seriously because when people are aware of their tragic history and aware that the past events may creep back into the ranks and file, they are compelled to take steps that may help them avoid the repetition of such a tragic history. This necessarily follows that our national leadership ought to be pragmatic for reasoned expositions dictate that such risks and pitfalls should be avoided at all costs.
In this regard, there is no gainsaying that the political antagonism that exists in Unity State should be cured once and for all. Ruweng and Biemnom counties have endured enough to continue being part of Unity state, and history is our witness. Dr. John Garang knew that in order to build a cohesive state; communities that easily coalesce should be put together. This makes governance and sharing of resources easier and more manageable. The 1999 Pachong Framework was intended to both retroactively and prospectively avoid the evil that is slowly creeping into our state at the moment.
Ruweng and Biemnom counties originally belonged to Bhar el Ghazel before 1905. But in that year, Twic, Pariang and Biemnom were administratively transferred to southern Kordofan. Nevertheless, in 1928, Chief Ryan Gorkwei of Twic, Chief Bilkwei of Panaruu and Chief Kur Kuot of Alor (Biemnhom) decided to transfer their communities back to the South. Chief Arop of Abyei meanwhile decided to keep his people in Kordofan. Yet, because the colonial authorities were not concerned about the welfare of the people they so careless kept on shifting, they decided to annex Biemnom and Pariang to Western Upper Nile where they have remained hitherto. Twic meanwhile was transferred to Bhar el Ghazal. We believed that was a strategic blunder on the part of the colonial administration and such administrative errors should be corrected at this critical moment.
While our minimum expectation is a transfer back to Bhar el Ghazal (Warrap State), we are appealing that your administration should create a new state comprising of Ruweng, Biemnom and Abyei (and Twic if they so agree) counties. This fact was wisely foreseen by Dr. Garang, hence the reason for the Pachong Framework of 1999 in which these communities were once again put together. It was the colonialists who messed it up and the 1999 Pachong Framework was thus intended to cure the maladies left behind by the British Colonial Administration. We politely repeat that the art of nation-building dictates that administrative units should be structured in such a way that communities that can easily forge an understanding due to their communalities should compose a political unit.
Seen from this perspective, we hold that the Colonial Administration got it right initially when it made Ruweng and Biemnom counties part of Bhar el Ghazel, but their second decision, of arbitrarily jumbling these communities with those in Western Upper Nile, was not just a blunt mistake but an error of judgement on their part. The history of marginalization, discrimination, annexation, and massacre in Western Upper Nile against the Dinka, is beyond the realm of this petition but it ought to be taken into account, if not the overriding consideration, in this regard.
We are therefore appealing that Ruweng, Biemnom counties and Abyei should be put together to comprise a state. These communities, commonly known as Northwestern Dinka, alongside their sisterly neighbour of Twic, have long traditions of co-existence and natural extension of shared land and customs and can therefore coalesce peacefully. The sacrifices made by our brothers and sisters during the 55 years of struggle should be final. They fought for a complete freedom. We hope you will listen to the voices of our people.
Judging from the last six years, we can now conclude that things have not been moving in the right direction in Unity State as expected. But, with a few months left for South Sudan to become an independent country, we believe that a better day and future has dawned over in our land. However, Ruweng County continues to suffer from discrimination, annexation of its land, and is denied the opportunity to enjoy its share of peace dividends. Despite the fact that 70% of the oil produced in the state comes from the region, Ruweng County remains the poorest county in South Sudan. It has no hospitals, adequate schools and teachers. In fact the school curriculum is still taught in Arabic, which is not the case in the rest of the state and across South Sudan in general.
Nonetheless, we would like to say it with crystal clarity that we do not suggest that we are predicting an episode of genocide between Nuer and Dinka. Our respective communities have had amendable, though friction-filled, co-existence over decades. It is therefore possible that with good leadership with a watchful eye; a leadership that is responsive to the demands of the people in general and minorities in particular, there is no reason why our communities cannot coexist now as one people and accord each other mutual respect. Yet pseudo-leaders, like Taban, who only understand the philosophy of mob mentality, have tried tooth and nail to obliterate any possible mutual co-existence and replace it with chaos and animosity. By so doing, it would create a hostile environment in which mistrust and hatred will lead to more hostility and unnecessary violence without regard to our shared and collective interests of promoting peace and common national identity in South Sudan. Now, it all rests upon our shoulders as living witnesses of history to foster respectful and peaceful relationships once again; a relationship, whose foundation, more than ever before, is based on collective dreams, common destiny, and a promising vision of providing life and hope again to our people who have suffered untold sufferings throughout the civil war.
Once again, we would like to emphasize that we are deeply disturbed and dismayed by the way in which Governor Taban Deang Gai has been running the State as if it were a personal property. Taban has made all sorts of bad decisions which hurt our citizens severely. Gov. Taban has become a divisive figure in Unity State; causing and inflicting many pains in our community in particular. Taban does not care about the needs and interests of our community nor listens to their crying and agonizing voices. It is this disappointment and frustration which we are compelled to share with the South Sudanese government as we leave you with this question: Where or to whom can minorities present their concerns and grievances, if not the government which as a matter of fact and principle, should protect and safeguard the interests of every citizen?
May God bless our people and the Peoples’ Republic of South Sudan!