By Akol Lual, Presidential envoy for peace in Jonglei
May 28, 2020 (RB), I have been accused and attacked by feuding groups from Jonglei who are fighting their own dirty little battles, but they want to drag me on their battles, using me as a scapegoat. To put things into perspective, the communal conflict in Jonglei among Murle, Lou Nuer and Dinka Bor is unfortunate. The conflict is affecting the entire country as a result. This communal conflict historically has its deep roots in tradition. However, in modern time, widespread and accessibility to deadly firearms among civilians has intensified the conflict in scale and degree like never before. The death tolls and destruction are devastating as it is unbearable. The solution to bring stability among these communities is to stop the conflict. Sadly enough, some people are frustrating peaceful efforts. They want the conflict to continue.
Worst yet, elites far removed from those communities in towns and Diaspora are the ones standing behind their communities in fueling the conflicts than providing a solution for peaceful coexistence. It is those elites with no concrete planned solution for peaceful coexistence and development who are trying to detract me from my noble efforts through negative smear campaigns. For example, the so-called Murle intellectuals wrote a long open letter disparaging me as Presidential Envoy for Peace in Greater Pibor Administrative Area (GPAA). The open letter was replied by Murle intellectuals including David Yau Yau, dismissing all the allegations labelled against me.
Some elites from Lou Nuer are accusing me and officials of NSS for supplying weapons to Murle and directing Murle attacks against the Lou land and people. And some from Bor community are warning that I am the only obstacle standing between them and Murle, whom they want to wipe out from the face of the earth. These negative smear campaigns are unfortunate at this time when all we need is to work together for a better future to our communities and country.
Now, practically and realistically speaking, how can I stand as a problem to these three feuding elites in town and Diaspora? In the case of Murle, my encounter started as a trial of uncertainties, full of challenges, risky undertaking, and determination and hopes to ensure peace.
The country was on the verge of virtual collapse, as rebellion hit hard. I did not know General David Yau Yau or even saw him before I embarked to approach him. I contacted him and told him I was willing to explore peace with him. He dismissed me outright, but I persisted and told him I wanted to see him, in which he told me I will do that at my own risk. Transportation to his base in Nkongole was a nightmare. The pilot told me since there is no runway in the airstrip there, the plane can only be able to take three passengers.
So, three of us set to the uncertain journey, a translator, an aide and myself. On landing at the airstrip, we were detained by General Yau Yau forces for about forty minutes. Another contingent of soldiers came and drove us far to the bush for a meeting point under a big tree.
There were seated a group of chiefs, men, and women. More scary a group of Riek Machar soldiers also came in, alleging to be bringing supplies, but they were kept separately. According to the translator, when Machar soldiers arrived, some of General Yau Yau soldiers were whispering that since we were government officials, they will hand us to Machar soldiers. The threat was real, but we endured.
We waited for about two hours, seated in almost silence mode, where no one was carrying any sort of conversation given the large gathered crowd. Then, finally, General Yau Yau came and almost instantly, I was swarmed over by the soldiers, grabbing me all over, completely covering me. General Yau Yau asked them to leave me alone. General Yau Yau lieutenant, General Ali, started speaking, recounting countless accusations against government mistreatment of Murle people, particularly the state government in Bor. When General Yau Yau was given a floor, he started with insults, particularly directed toward Dinka people. I somewhat summoned some courage and interrupted him by challenging that he is not a leader if all he could do is insult others. I turned my attention to the chiefs and appealed to them on the importance of peace. The chiefs seemed convinced, one of them, who seemed most respected stood and spoke. He went on to touch General Yau Yau head in a blessing gesture. He then concluded by suggesting that General Yau Yau pursue peace with me and we should two dialogue alone in a separate location. To make the story short, the dialogue for peace started in earnest.
The end result was, we managed to bring a peaceful end to an otherwise deadly armed conflict in South Sudan, dubbed as ‘Yau Yau War.’ It was my efforts, which yielded the establishment of (GPAA) through a peace initiative led by the Church Leadership Mediation Initiative (CLMI). The CLMI was chaired by Bishop Emeritus Paride Taban, which resulted in the Agreement on the resolution of the Conflict in Jonglei state between the government of the Republic of South Sudan and the South Sudan Democratic Movement/South Sudan Defense Army (SSDM/SSDA-Cobra faction). For example, this resolution of the conflict establishes special development funds, “which shall be used for the provision of services, local road networks and infrastructure generally to bridge the gaps of underdevelopment in the area.”
I am not just involved with Murle, but Anyuaks, Jies and Kachipos as well—the communities, which I got deeply and passionately attached to over the years. Through achieving GPAA, the prospect for success among these communities is promising. My goal is to see to it that these communities are uplifted to be in par with the rest of the communities in sharing the peace dividends of our beloved country. Our country is not just for some, but for all to enjoy.
Recently, when I went on national TV and spoke that I am “protecting small tribes,” I don’t want that statement to be misconstrued by some of my brothers from the communities of Lou Nuer and Dinka Bor.
When I was saying my mission is the protection of small tribes, it does not mean supplying them with weapons. Protection means, I want to see peace, development and prosperity among those small tribes. For example, getting an administrative area for them is a great political achievement, leading toward peace and prosperity. In the same national TV interview, I was asked to answer the accusation that I was extracting goal in Murle land, hence, my interest in the area. However, there is never anything of economic and monetary value in Murle land that I know of, which I can personally benefit from. My involvement with people of Murle, Anyuak, Jie, and Kachipo is purely driven by my passion and compassion to see uplifting of the communities in the area.
In my obligation and compassion, I never came short from helping the Nuer people either. Just in December 2013 war in Juba, I remember helping and saving the lives of over 500 Nuers. For example, the wife of Keribino Konyin Bol, Madam Nyandeng Chol Dut Akok called and informed me that some thugs were attacking the house of former minister Gabriel Changson. Without question, I immediately rushed, picked Changson and brought him to the residence of the president in safety. I spent my personal money, helping in transporting some stranded Nuer youth in Juba to go to Ethiopia. Those included the bodyguard of Ambassador Ezekiel Lul, T.J.
In July 2016, J1 battle, I received distress calls from those of Ambassador Ezekiel Lul and Honorable Alfred Lado Gore who were bogged down in the office of Honorable Mayiik Ayii Deng during the ensuing firefights. I had to risk my personal safety to rescue their lives. I ended up playing a big role in calming the firefights in J1 that day. The next day of the fight, I collected some SPLM-IO VIP and generals and put them in the Royal Plaza Hotel. I asked the National Security Service (NSS) to provide them with security; meanwhile, I catered for their accommodations and feedings.
I put more than 150 Nuers in New Sudan Hotel. I told Amin Akasha to feed them and the government would pay him later. I put many more vulnerable Nuers during the battles in different hotels for their own safety. I risked my own life and used my personal resources as a result. I also used the house of Honorable Tut Kew as a centre for rescue and protection of those Nuers who were under attacks by some tribal Dinka armed thugs. Many more people who were witnesses of my acts could attest to these facts. People like Vice President Taban Deng Gai, Honorable John Luk, General Thomas Douth, Ambassador Ezekiel Lul, Honorable Alfred Lado Gore, Honorable Gabriel Changson, Honorable Yien Oral, General Lul Ruei and many more others will testify to these.
Similarly, with the Bor community, I am also doing my utmost best to see a peaceful coexistence with their neighbours. For example, when GPAA was first established, I advised General Yau Yau to develop a strong relationship with the government and people in Jonglei state. I personally took General Yau Yau to Bor, where he publicly pledged cooperation. The first good gesture to test that relationship was to trace and bring back abducted children of Bor. This initiative was warmly welcomed by former Governor of Jonglei State Honorable Philip Aguer Panyang. In that initial attempt, we collected a total of ten abducted children from Colnyang and I personally accompanied General Yau Yau, bringing them back to Bor. In that effect, the government of GPAA led by General Yau Yau passed a law severely punishing those who are caught abducting children. It becomes a routine under PAA to return back abducted children from as far as Central and Eastern Equatoria states.
However, this initiative backfired from within Murles themselves who accused General Yau Yau of being an agent of enemies by taking back children only abducted by Murle, but not bringing back Murles’ abducted children. As a result of their rage, three of General Yau Yau bodyguards were shot dead. So, we are always dangerously threading along with fire for the interest of greater good.
Despite the challenges and huddles, the relationship between Murle and Bor people has developed in a better trajectory to some degree. As we speak, Murle of Kumuruk and Mayabol have created a huge market with Anyidi, Bor South. Murle sells thousands of cattle to Bor people in that market. It is this kind of relationship that we want to see among neighbours. Credit goes to those current local government officials, from both Bor and GPAA who champion such peaceful coexistence.
So, where is my negative role now among these three communities? If all I am doing is assist and promotion of peaceful co-existence.
In conclusions, my goal is, I want to see an end to the senseless communal violence, cattle raiding and child abduction. It is through peaceful coexistence that development will come in for the benefit of all. Agitating and disparaging one another is not the way forward. Success can be achieved through cooperation and working together. I want to see my little efforts being practised and duplicated all over South Sudan, especially by my detractors. The overall goal should be peace and prosperity and together let us work for that and all must join our people peace wagon. I see the solution to the communal conflict in Jonglei as a long term socio-economic transformation, not supplies of weapons. That is why peace is the beginning of this socio-economic transformation.