An Open Letter To The People Of Lakes State

"Unnecessarily Deep-rooted Hatred, Empty Pride and Unhealthy Competitions are bringing us quickly to Doom!"

 By Deng M. Koch,

Dear my people of Lakes state, first before I bring your attention into the heart of my message, kindly allow me to highlight the following story:

Once upon a time, a group of nine individuals (men) set out deep into the surrounding forest near their village with the purpose of harvesting wild honey located in a hollow of a very big tree previously known to them.  Not known to them, however, was the fact that in the very hollow in the trunk of the tree ‘resided’ a very big Viper (Snake) with deadly venom, which kills instantly once it bites and injects poisonous into human or animal blood system.

The men arrived at their intended destination under the big tree, and as is in line with the crude traditional ways of extracting honey, started a fire and a thick smoke began billowing, and the men positioned themselves on the tree at the mouth of the hollow in the tree trunk. The aim is usually to pass fire with smoke up to the tree and insert smoke into the trunk’s hollow and scare bees away from the honey-rich hive. The honey is then extracted and  passed down the same line of people on the tree to the last person on the ground under the tree, who then packages the sweet substance into containers.

The expert “master honey extractor” on top of the tree inserted fire and smoke into the tree and the poor bees quickly made way for his hand to grab the honey, but the Viper, alerted by smoke and movement near the hollow was already angered by the intrusion into its territory and hence was on its striking position; the poor guy’s hand was bitten by the deadly snake which he could not see because it was dark in the middle of the night.

Nonetheless, the bitten man had a bad heart and didn’t want to die alone, so he said to the one next to him, “please get hold of this fire thing and continue to harvest the Honey, something has fallen to my eye; let me go down the tree so I can wash it off.” His unsuspecting friend quickly took up the deadly position and as he rushed his hand into the trunk of the tree, another deadly strike met his hand at the entrance! The same story of excusing oneself was done by the second man as he too realised it was a deadly snake bite and hence did not want to die alone just as the first victim of the snake did. Number three, four, five, six and seven all followed in the same way and were all bitten and as they climbed down the tree, they all succumbed to the Viper’s venom and died.

When it came to number eight, a man of good heart and full of love for others, he was in the same fashion, bitten in the hand and as soon as he realized it was a deadly snake bite, he shouted in agony, “Oh God, my God, why would you allow the Satanic Viper to finish my people like this!” His crying in despair alerted the number 9, the last man who was standing; he quickly turned and inspected all those others previously bitten and found out they had all kicked the bucket!

Alas, bad heart and ill intentions of the first seven victims made it possible for the snake to annihilate almost the entire group! Thanks God the 8th victim had pure in heart, loving and caring for others’ welfare; his warning stopped the last member of the group from falling into the same abyss of tragedy. He dared not to approach the death trap, which finished his friends! So the number 9 was saved by number 8 and he, number 9, lived to tell the story in which 8 of his companions died.

So, my people of Lakes state, haven’t we allowed the “Viper snake” of hatred, tribalism propelled by tribal or clannish chauvinism and hegemony with all its by-products of cattle rustling, highway banditry, targeted cold-blooded murders of innocent, including sleeping victims, to finish us individual by individual, clan by clan and county by county?

For far too long we have been burying our heads in the sand, pretending that the escalating violence was a “normal traditional practice of community’s rivalries over pastures and watering points for their cattle”. Now that towns such as Cueibet, Rumbek the capital of the state, Pacong, Wulu and you name them all, as well as along the High way serving five states, the Greater Bahr El Ghazal highway from Juba – Yirol - Rumbek – Tonj – Wau – Aweil and which branches off in Rumbek to Bentiu, had been turned into human Abettors by gunmen from the very “normally rivalling community groups” in the state, hadn’t the chickens returned home to Roost?

There is nowhere the story of a single snake killing 8 people out of 9 is better reflected in practical terms than in our volatile Lakes State in the Republic of South Sudan! The South Sudanese public and the world community are reeling to absorb and comprehend the scale and frequency of death, destruction or looting of properties of innocent victims coming out in the new Country’s centrally located Lakes State on daily basis. People there are almost psychologically resigning to the fact that their lives could easily be terminated at any time of the day and that living to see the next day, week, month or a year is a privilege; a privilege granted not by the divine powers as is usually the case with humanity’s beliefs, but rather by the decision and will of criminal human hunters who initiate killing of unsuspecting innocent people at will; or act in the name of Revenging and counter-revenging their lost loved ones, regardless of the circumstances leading to such loses.

None is safe anymore in Lakes State; and age, gender, occupation, status or physical ability no longer exempts one from falling victim to the raging practice of innocent human beings being elimination! More questions than answers abounds as to how and why the people of the once glorious province of South Sudan have allowed themselves to fall so lowest.

But none, including the author, has the real and convincing answers to these questions, hence the search and guessing for answers to the questions and solutions to the escalating destruction of lives and properties in the volatile state is ongoing. As the communities are confused and the core of their social fabrics in tatters, our state politicians are in disarray with no unity of purpose forged amongst themselves, and “bunch of self-hating idiots” we have become in the eyes of South Sudanese. Practically we are a major source of sympathy for the well-wishers and a bunch of laughing stock in the eyes of scorners and haters!

None in the Republic of South Sudan but the very people of Lakes State themselves can bring an end once and for all to their mini-wars and unnecessary death tolls. The national government, already stretched thin by other more pressing national emergencies can only facilitate and where necessary, impose in collaboration with local institutions of governance and people in the state, the rule of law and Justice for the victims. Any perception that the solution is entirely external is void of logic. We must thus put our house in order and cease idle whining and lamentation about the menacing problems.

Things are not being helped by the fact that the state Assembly, a Legislature that was tasked with formulating laws and policy direction has become nothing more than a gossip house! They no longer know what to do nor what not to do, a vast majority of them have become Residents of Juba by choice or against their will as talks of “threat” to their lives, real and imaginary, are ripe in the corridors of lamentation and one no longer understand where the real cause or solutions lies, if the members of the most powerful institution, people with the mandate from their electorates to change course of things in the state, have become ‘roaming’ whiners and like ordinary citizens, helplessly pointing fingers of blame to one man (Caretaker Governor) and shadowy figures! The question is then begging itself, is this one man (Caretaker Governor) the real problem or are we (people of Lakes state) spearing the shadow of unknown animal?

Didn’t we complaint time and again before that the previous Governors were the problem? Were they not removed in their different times of office and did the madness of killing one another stop? How can one person be the problem to the extent that Hundreds of Thousands of citizens in the state are helpless in finding solutions to their issues?

To me, I do think that our individual attitudes as well as collective perceptions and actions, more than anything else, are to blame for the now ensuing mess which left us with nothing but shame of enormous proportion in the eyes of the nation and beyond. When shall we come to our collective senses as people of the volatile Lakes state? Isn’t our dignity and collective image not battered enough and hence the need to quickly salvage what we can before it all together become uselessly too late to do so? There is a fundamental problem of perceptions and understanding within us as a society!

Again, there is an old adage, which goes: “the bigger and influential the position that one occupies in employment, the bigger the size of trousers and shirts one wears.” This simply means people desperately want big positions in order to enrich themselves more than serving the constituents and this seems to be the trend among politicians of Lakes State.

And this may also explain why almost every politician in the state is eyeing the position of governorship, either for him/herself or his/her “Nominee” to fulfil certain interests, be they individual or collective in the case of clan or tribal politicking. A pattern of “See nothing say nothing as long as you are in the state government cabinet; and see everything everywhere and shout the loudest as soon as you are reshuffled out,” has manifested itself ominously amongst the amateurish state politicians since the formation of government in 2005.

There is no doubt the governor, whether in the past, in the present or in the future has and will have his shortcomings just as all other human beings are, but to propagate or assume all the ongoing mess, including rampant cattle rustling, robbery with violence, cold-blooded killing of innocent people and even Hyenas and dogs gone amok in killing or eating people in the state on one man or woman in position of Governor is a mockery to logic and self-defeating to say the least.

Therefore, I humbly call upon you, my people in Lakes state and by extension, in all other violence prone areas in the Republic of South Sudan, to rise to the challenge and stop acts of barbarianism and savagery. It is time each citizen in the affected places of communal violence, cattle rustling and highway banditry begin to ask themselves what criminal acts brought upon them and their communities; and what their obligations to their communities, states and the country at large are.

We all ought to collectively strive to live in peace and harmony and appreciate our cultural and linguistic diversity as an invaluable asset, which we must all work hand-in-hand to preserve. Multicultural society we are and differences in opinion, ways of life and religious beliefs we must accept, as long as they are not detrimental to the security and wellbeing of our country.

Our leaders too at different level of governance need to fully understand and appreciate the needs and challenges pertaining to their constituents and constituencies; formulate clearer roadmaps for both short term and long term solutions to such and adopt consultative approach as opposed to unilateralism in decision making. Decisions which affect or have the potential to affect citizens’ lives are not a matter of a clique rushing with it and excluding others; rather they deserve wider consultation and in the process create collective sense of belonging to and ownership of decision making process and hence acceptance of the outcome. The growing culture of assigning people based on who they know more than what they know is by no mean lesser evil in the debilitating problems of Lakes State and by extension the wider country.

It is my sincere hope and prayer that my people in Lakes state will one day come to their senses and begin to seriously work to restore peace, unity and stability; and regain appreciation and respect by others in the Republic of South Sudan and beyond. The sooner the better for all!

South Sudan, a country for which you (Lakes State people) always walked in the forefront with your compatriot during the liberation struggles of various time, until the people of South Sudan achieved their full independence, need your positive input in the development of the country, not your aimless self-killing. It is thus heart-breaking to witness the deteriorating situation of senseless killing of innocent people and the acceleration of politics of gossiping and sabotage among the political class of the state, thereby in the process leaving the needs of the citizens unattended to.

While the phenomenon of the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a factor in the psychology and actions of individuals in Lakes state, it is not an excuse as it is neither a monopoly of yours nor endemic (confined) to Lakes State; it affects all the post-war communities around the globe and other South Sudanese are no exception! Therefore, let us rid ourselves of this glaring shame we find ourselves in, my people. Dragging down with you the whole community including innocent, vulnerable and helpless children, women, elderly, physically hindered people, and all the people in the society is no noble cause for sensible and objective-oriented men.

 So, to all the warring Gelweng, leave these groups of innocent people as well as innocent travellers through your land out of your self-annihilating fights and think of the future of your children, parents or partners before you act. To local politicians, you can only be a proud leader of the living people, not of the dead; hence it is high time we all pull our acts together without allowing our individual political interests to interfere with the process of restoring peace and harmony to the lives of our people.  Great men and women in the political history are they who were selfless and who suffered in emancipation of their people.  On the other hand, the most reviled are they who were selfishly self-centred, greedy and lustful of power; history is not and will never be so kind to them.

What legacy do we want to leave behind in our communities, state and the beloved country? I leave that for you to digest.

Seriously, I mourn all the slain victims of the senseless inter-community or inter-clan fights, particularly those very innocent victims shot dead in their homes, on the roads etc. The great men who laid the foundation of unity and pride of the people of Lakes State, the like of great chiefs, spear masters, Christian religious leaders, wise and noble men and women of this great but now self-demoting state must be watching down on us in great agony.

But still, it is not and will never be too late to correct the mess and save the peace loving people of South Sudan and the world the heartache and headache of hearing bad news after bad news coming out of Lakes State.

Stop, stop, and stop my people stop the senseless bloodshed now!

“Glory to God in the Highest and Peace on Earth to men who are his friends,” The Friends of God according to Holy Bible, are the righteous who fear God and think of God’s instructions before they act. The instructions of God include “Do not kill” and “love your neighbour as you love yourself”.

 

Deng M. Koch Dengdit,

The Author is the Former Gurtong Peace Trust Correspondent for Australia and now in South Sudan. He can be reached through: deng.koch2014@gmail.com

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