Jok Madut Jok
In my "free country," South Sudan, there is very little such thing as freedom. This the morning of December 31st, I arrived in Wau, hoping to celebrate the reception of the new year with my family, I had the misfortune of arriving at Wau airport on the same day that our President was also due there, coming from his Christmas holiday in Akon. As soon as I landed, I was met by my two brothers who came to pick me up. They greeted and returned to the vehicle while I waited for my bags. When I got out of the airport compound and walked to the vehicle that was waiting for me, I found that my two brothers were attacked and being beaten by an SPLA unit, supposedly stationed there to secure the airport for the arrival of our President.
Naturally, I walked over to see why they were being beaten and the soldiers automatically turned on me. I was brutally attacked, my arms tight by several men, a blow to the side of my head with the butt of a gun and several punches straight onto both of my eyes, no questions asked, not even any accusations of wrong doing. I was tortured properly while I had quickly shown the soldiers my identity card, demonstrating that I am a senior official in the national government, undersecretary in the Ministry of Culture, and the ID was thrown away and several men wrestled me to the ground, onto that red dust of Wau, my blue suit and all.
Here is South Sudan, our new country, the one we could not wait to gain independence, is now where such actions have become so common place. What happened to the good old system, where a soldier, once having witnessed a suspicious behavior on the part of the civilian, asking him or her to identify themselves, detain them if need be, interrogate them, or take them to court? What is the cause of this torture first and questions later philosophy?
With my bloodied eyes, bruised face and a concussion, I was left shocked and in pain, but after two hours of questioning, I was eventually let go, no explanation, no apologies. So the physical pain was unbearable, but it was nothing compared to the pain in the soul of a citizen, whose travels abroad and the abuses we encountered in Foreign countries, the Egyptian racism, northern Sudanese prejudices, the abuses of the Kenyan police or immigration officers in Europe, were all endured because of the dream of a homeland, a free one such as we do have now.
We used to beat our chests that we too have a homeland and we will one day return. So indeed we returned, full of hope and enthusiasm to build our nation. But with this, the physical pain, the humiliation bear no weight compared to the silent cries, "why, why, at home, in the country I have yearned for all my life?" It is especially painful and worrying that it all unfolded right in front of army officers forming a jeering spectator of my abuse, of a civilian being treated worse than one of those thieving dogs that the entire neighborhood wants to kill. And here I was, someone who is supposedly their colleague in the service of the same nation these soldiers work for, appointed by the same president they were supposedly protecting.
With the responsibility of a senior civil servant, I was being hit, kicked, called a "traitor from Khartoum," I held to my commitment to respect our men and women in uniform, and I but expected the soldiers to uphold their responsibility. Respecting the uniform of my country's army, an emblem of sovereignty, I did not dare hit back at the soldiers, but instead of my response being seen as a sign of submission to my nation, the soldiers read it as cowardice or weakness.
Now all of this will probably be investigated and apologies will be issued, but nothing will take away the pain of humiliation. The physical pain I endured on that Saturday morning on New Year's Eve will surely heal and life will go on. What will remain most unbearable are the humiliation and the emotional pain of being assaulted by the people I least expected to do it. I am most pained the sense of worry for my country. If a peoples’ army, one of the strongest pillars of a nation can treat citizens, the very reason for its existence, in this manner, where is the future of such an army and what is the fate of the nation? If this sort of thing happens to a senior government official, what should we imagine happens to ordinary citizens, people who do not even have identity cards to quickly show who they are?
In South Sudan, even in the face of a calamity, one can't help laugh at the same time, a kind of laughter out of pity for us all. As I was seated on the floor, being interrogated, several drunken soldiers, the ones "protecting" our leader, kept interrupting their officer with really disorderly behavior, and instead of the officer reprimanding them, he told me "you see, they may be drunk, but that is how we liberated this country."
There is that phrase again, so commonly used as justification for misconduct. "We liberated it" is now thrown in your face left and right, even if it means taking the liberty to be drunk on the job, loot public property, claim entitlement for a job one is not qualified for, beat or even shoot to kill civilians, over nonsense. Liberators? To what end?