Independent Administrative Areas – A Leaf from Colonial Legacy of ‘Divide to Rule’

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Dr Peter Adwok Nyaba

Reflecting on Prof. John Lonsdale’s statement of wisdom that “The Africans used to live together as negotiating ethnicities until the colonial rule turned them into competing tribes”, it will not be difficult to discern the vacuity and vanity behind decision to establish independent administrative areas (IAA) in Ruweng and Pibor in Unity and Jonglei States respectively, and the recent call in a memorandum to President Salva Kiir Mayardit by Hon. Rev. Joshua Dau Dieu to establish the Chollo Kingdom as an IAA within Upper Nile State. Not only does it tend to alienate some communities, it also creates an ambivalent sense of fraternity and belonging.

The people of southern Sudan and other peripheral Sudan fought the war of national liberation in Southern Sudan (1983-2011) ostensibly to destroy and reconstruct the Sudanese polity wrongly defined as Arab and Islamic notwithstanding its racial, religious, linguistic and cultural multiplicities. The war, though, was executed unfortunately outside its political and ideological context. In the southern Sudan, it produced a political military elite completely alienated from the masses of the people in terms of absence of a clear socioeconomic and cultural development trajectory. Thus, immediately after the comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) this elite morphed into a parasitic capitalist class dependent on its relation to state and its resources to reproduce itself through primitive accumulation of wealth in collaboration with the regional and international comprador capitalism in the context of extraction and plunder of South Sudan natural resources.

The process of primitive accumulation of wealth, drawn mainly out of state resources, is by its logics competitive and conflictual. It therefore triggered within this elitist class bitter political struggle for power in order to control and monopolize these resources. Because of the general ignorance and backward nature of the political culture in South Sudan, the resultant conflict appeared along clan, sectional ethnic and provincial contours throughout South Sudan. This plunged the country into civil war and its attendant acute social, economic and political crisis that turned the South Sudanese people against each other in clan, sectional and ethnic conflicts.

The idea, and the republican decrees, establishing the IAA for Ruweng Dinka in Unity state, and Pibor in Jonglei state is nothing but a confirmation of the regime’s political bankruptcy and its inability to address the contradictions in society consequent to sociocultural diversity. In 2012 political power shifted from the SPLM, as the ruling party, to the Jieng Council of Elders (JCE), this emasculated and rendered dysfunctional the state institutions. Since then, the fate of any matter involving Dinka and their neighbours was decided in a manner that appears to confirm the primacy of Jieng (read parasitic capitalist class) social, economic and political interests over the others.

In the Unity state, the Pan Aru, Alor and Ruweng sections lived together with the Nuer neighbours. This ethnic configuration and demography were never source of problem between the Dinka and Nuer in Unity state. It was the misuse of state’s economic and political resources leading to marginalization of the Dinka by Governor Taban Deng Gai, which triggered the problem between the two ethnic communities. When the people of Unity State rose against Governor Taban Deng Gai, trouncing him in the party elections for party leadership in the state, President Salva Kiir stepped in to protect and impose Taban Deng Gai. He was only removed in 2013 though in another context that precipitated the December violent eruption. This proves beyond doubt that inter- and intra-ethnic relations in an area is a function of governing system’s ability to dispense justice and equity in the distribution of resources.

Therefore, the creation of Ruweng Independent Administrative Area in Unity state ostensibly to insulate and protect the minority Dinka sections from the Nuer is a ploy to perpetuate the extraction and plunder of resources, corruption and destruction of the environment. The Dinka people in Unity state or Bentiu district of Upper Nile province had long time ago reached a stable equilibrium of socioeconomic and cultural interactions with their Nuer neighbours. The same could be said of the different social and cultural formations in South Sudan and other parts of Africa; they had attained stable equilibrium through negotiations for commodity exchange, etc., which colonialism disturbed and destroyed in the context of divide to conquer.

Central Upper Nile State created in the context of 32-states dispensation was ostensibly to politically empower the Padang sections of Upper Nile [Abailang, Ager, Nyiel, Dongjol, Ngok] and Luach and Paweny brought in deliberately from Jonglei state to boost the Jieng demography in Upper Nile state and to occupy the Chollo ancestral lands east of the Nile river. This socio-political construction completely uprooted and forcefully displaced the Chollo people living on the east bank of river Nile all the way from Tonga in the south to Dethwok in the north, and along the Sobat river from Obango in the west to Bunglay in the east. The Chollo people from these areas are now either in UNMISS Protection of Civilians centre in Malakal or in the refugee camps in the White Nile state in the Sudan. The 32-states was an attempt to re-engineer the colonial policy of separate and uneven development of people who have as I said attained since times immemorial stable equilibrium in their relations.

The Pibor Independent Administrative Area curbed out of Jonglei state in 2014 vide a peace agreement between Cobra Battalion rebels and the Government of the Republic of South Sudan ostensibly to resolve the resource-based conflicts and problem of cattle rustling and child-women abduction scourge between the Murle, Dinka and Nuer in the state. No walls were erected to insulated the communities from each other instead conflicts escalated unabated extending even to the areas of Suri, Jie and Toposa, while the local political and military elite basked in the power and its perks. Somebody confidently declared that the formation of PIAA was to protect the minority tribes.

This could not have more misleading and deceptive a decision. There are many small ethnic communities which are not visible in the counties they cohabit with relative larger ethnic communities. Koma with Nuers in Maiwut, Tenet with Otuho in Torit, the Suri with Murle in Pibor, and the tiny groups in Raga and Wau counties are cases in point yet they have not been

marked for protection or sociocultural preservation in an independent administrative area. This establishment of PIAA in my opinion must be linked to the occurrence of gold and other minerals in the Boma plateau suggesting that somebody is strategically positioning self in the context of developing and exploiting those deposits.

In a memorandum dated presumably on 04/07/2020 addressed to President Salva Kiir, Hon. Rev. Joshua Dau had this to say “The most ideal and appropriate arrangement would be to grant Chollo Kingdom an administrative area or state as a recognition of their autonomous existence since colonial era as borders stood in 1956.” This is a plan that drops from the blue skies; the Chollo have, and will, never ask for an administrative area to separate them from their Dinka neighbours. In fact, what most Chollo would cherish now, after this dispersal at the hands of state agents, is an opportunity to return to their ancestral homes.

Indeed, poignant to the story that took the rounds in 1983 of two southerners meeting in Kosti and the conversation about what was happening prompting the question whether or not there was a government in Khartoum, the Chollo people, used to their indigenous system of governance do not put law into their hand, but instead wait for authority’s intervention. They are still waiting to know the reason that made Obango and adjacent areas part of Jonglei state. Hon. Rev. Joshua Dau is one of the architects of the Padang Dinka claim of the Chollo land east of the Nile river since 1980. His memorandum comes in that context. He succinctly writes, “It is however, acceptable that any Shilluk: individual or family that have migrated and settled as citizens in the eastern part of the Nile such as in Renk, Melut, Malakal, Atar, etc are entitled to stay and to enjoy their social as well as equal political rights and privileges like all other citizens in the same area. The rights of all citizens are regulated and guaranteed by law.”

Viewed literally, the IAA as well as Rev. Joshua’s memo to President Kiir, appear like an expression of vain glory or something devoid of implications. However, given the present context of socioeconomic and political development of South Sudan, and the manner the parasitic capitalist is deeply involved in the process of mortgaging the country’s resources, the hidden sinister content of IAA is embedded in the speculation over land as a potential for mechanized commercial agricultural and livestock ranching. Joshua’s design to dispossess the Chollo of their ancestral land on the eastern bank of the Nile comes not in the context of population explosion of the Padang Dinka but in the context of clearing this land and adjacent Dinka lands for some Arab and Middle Eastern investors in commercial agricultural production.

The establishment of independent administrative areas, whatever that means, is a leaf borrowed from the colonial policy of ‘divide to rule’, capture and control their natural resources particularly land – the most important means of production. The primary objective of the scheme is to sustain the regime in power as its elements engage in the extraction and plunder of the natural resources, while the people have the illusion of exercising power. The PIAA was established in 2014, nevertheless, the area had not faired any better than other areas of South Sudan in terms of social and economic development or improved security and the rule of law. The material condition of the people in the area: Murle, Anywaa and Suri have not changed or improved. The area only witnessed change of leaders in succession.

The other objectives link to the reluctance to fully implement the R-ARCSS, which in turn means the status quo may obtain ad infinitum short of another violent explosion because the regime has absorbed the opposition, to some extent including the SPLM/A-IO. To sustain a perpetual instability in the system the idea of IAAs become plausible as a means to whet the appetite for power of the elites from the smaller ethnic communities. That was the essence of Hon. Rev. Joshua Dau’s memorandum to the president of the republic. The coming period is likely to witness more memoranda. Since like the 32-states, the national government only paid salaries, the proliferation of the IAAs will translate to more economic burden for the masses of the people. We soon shall be approaching Hobbes state of nature where citizens’ lives remain solitary, ignorant, poor, brutish and short.

The creation of independent administrative areas is a dangerous scheme. It is the work of JCE, co-chaired by Hon. Rev. Joshua Dau, agents of parasitic capitalist penetration of South Sudan. Its negativity lies in the manner it differentiates instead of integrating; divides instead of uniting our people and consolidating our fraternal relation in the context of nation building. The scheme conflicts our people in order to cause displacement and immense suffering while leaving their land to prospective investors. It is anti-people and should be rejected in its entirety.

 

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