By John A. Akec
No one can dispute that South Sudan is one of the few nations on this planet that has offered enormous sacrifices in order to arrive at where it now stands: a sovereign state that has achieved its freedom through blood of its martyrs that culminated in the exercise of the right to self-determination. This right is assured by many UN conventions. For example, Article 1 (1) of International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights states: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”Self-determination, thus, comes loaded with huge responsibilities that are summed up by the innocent-looking but highly significant words of the last sentence of the clause: “By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”So often, as post-independence African history would attest to, it takes generations (and more struggle and further sacrifices) for the nations of post-liberation countries to fully realise this responsibility. That such responsibility is not being realised adequately can be manifested in many obvious cases as well as hidden and subtle ways.As part of this attached responsibility, all national governments (ancient or nascent) are expected to safeguard their citizens’ interests, rights, and lives at all time; not just at home front but also wherever the citizens of the concerned nation are to be found in the global village.SOUTH SUDNANESE IN SUDAN – DO THEY MATTER TO ANYONE?
Having more than a half-million South Sudanese citizens living in the Republic of Sudan (for well known historical reasons, most of which has to do with taking refuge during the long North-South war), one would HAVE thought all government organs in the Republic of South Sudan would do their very best to safeguard the rights and interests of these folk, especially at the time of transition and tensions with the successor state, Sudan.More could have been done to reduce the hardships currently experienced by many caused by transition to independence. Instead, it would seem those who packed and made the exit and are fortunate to hold positions of responsibility in the new Republic, are determined not to look back again at those who lingered behind, whatever the causes and reasons.
CASE IN POINT – NO MONEY TRANSFER MECHANISMS BETWEEN SOUTH SUDAN AND SUDAN, UNTIL NOW
A striking example is the absence of money transfer system between South Sudan and Sudan since South Sudan’s declaration of independence on 9th of July 2011. This was when the government of Sudan decided to stop money transfer from Sudan to South Sudan and vice versa, pending the setting up of international system for money transfer between the two countries. The Bank of South Sudan (BOSS), the South Sudan central bank, was caught by surprise; when its electronic banking system that was run on a server presumably housed and administered by Sudan’s central bank was disconnected, bringing down the electronic transaction system in BOSS for several weeks, before the Bank was able to offer the service again.
Today, nine months since declaration of the independence, South Sudan central bank is yet to set up an international money transfer system to and from Sudan, despite the negative impact the lack of such facility has had on large population of South Sudan nationals still stranded in Sudan.
SOME BASIC FACTS ABOUT COMPOSITION OF SOUTH SUDANESE IN SUDAN
This population is composed mainly of those retired from civil and organized forces in what was North Sudan who are still waiting to receive their retirement pay from Khartoum government; South Sudanese studying in Sudan universities; families split up with of couples working in South Sudan while the rest of family continues to live in Sudan to allow children to complete school or vice versa, that is, the wife and children resetling in the South while the husband stays behind to sell family home or complete other family business; medical students completing houseman ship in Sudanese hospitals; those who have headed to Sudan to Khartoum to seek medical treatment (because they could not afford going to Jordon, India, or Nairobi); self-employed people with vocational skills who are not yet sure if they will find work in their new country and who know how to survive in Sudan; and finally, the hundreds of thousands of poor IDPs who want to leave but have been stranded for months on end to have their turn to be transported by land or river. We are talking of between 500,000 to 700,000 of them, or about 7% of South Sudan population.
‘SUDDEN’ SUSPPENSION OF FLIGHT BETWEEN SUDAN AND SOUTH SUDAN – NOT AGAIN!
As if the above hardship was not enough, the episode was spectacularly repeated last week when the Civil Aviation Authority in the Republic of Sudan notified South Sudan Ministry of Transport on 6th April that it was suspending flights between the two neighbouring countries from 9th April 2012 until the two countries agree on a system of flights that follows international code, implying among other things, passengers should follow proper immigration procedures including issue of visas and possession of valid travel documents. Not again! The news hit South Sudan Ministry of Transport like a thunder bolt- totally unprepared. But no, it is a thunder bolt to be borne solely by many South Sudanese who are still flocking out of Sudan in their hundreds and thousands, everyday, since 2010. And with the drawing close of 9th April 2012 and increasing tensions between two Sudans this announcement was the last straw that broke the back of the helpless South Sudanese still resident in the Republic of Sudan. With no means to receive money from homeland (even by errand as it used to be when there was air travel), most are not allowed to work, many still waiting for pension money, their awes are compounded and getting desperate by day.
Interestingly enough, Madame Agnes Poni Lukudu, the Minister of Transport in the Republic of South Sudan, explicitly placed the blame squarely at the door of Khartoum government “for any inconvenience caused as a result of unilateral decision by it to stop flights between South Sudan and Sudan.” Nowhere in her statement which she delivered at South Sudan Hotel in Dr. John Garang’s Hall last Saturday (7th April 2012) and published by the Citizen newspaper, did the Minister acknowledge the failure of her Ministry in not being proactive enough to take measures well ahead, before the axe of Khartoum could fall on the heads of South Sudanese air travelers, as happened last year when the Bank of South Sudan was caught with no money-transfer arrangement in place at the time Khartoum decided to pull the plug on the nascent nation and had our central bank electronic account frozen. The Khartoum un-decoded message to us in Juba was then, and is now:”Systems for public goods don’t come out of vacuum, somebody somewhere consciously made effort to create them. Now create your own systems. Good riddance!”
Reacting to the circular, all that Madame Lukudu could afford to offer in these circumstances was to advise South Sudan air travelers heading South:”to find alternative routes;” and that “Khartoum will be responsible for any inconvenience caused by this unilateral decision.”
Such a hands-off approach, I confess is not sufficient, and is hardly a reassuring for many South Sudanese who are currently stranded in Khartoum airport, most of whom lack travel documents, let alone having deep pockets enough to get them out of Sudan via other routes.
A week has passed and the Ministry has not made any visible efforts to resolve the problem with Sudan Civil Aviation Authority to allow air travel between two Sudans to resume while the international system is being setup, apart from announcing the bad news to the public.
Moreover, despite the later decision by Sudan Civil Aviation Authority(on the pressure by airline companies) to allow additional one-month grace period for airliners to put their houses in order while flights continue as normal (exceptfor showing an emergency travel form from South Sudan Embassy in Khartoum and vice versa in Juba), reliable sources from airliners say that the Ministry of Transport in South Sudan has paradoxically closed South Sudan airports in the face of commercial passenger planes travelling from Khartoum; ostensibly as an implementaion of the circular of Sudan Civil Aviation Authority! No further information has been released by the Ministry about the progress on negotiations with Sudan Civil Authority (if any). It would appear, therefore, that the Ministry of Transport is not treating flight suspension between Sudan and South Sudan with the urgency and seriousness it deserves.
Admittedly and thankfully, the Ministries of Interior and that of Foreign Affairs in the Republic of South Sudan have sent teams to prepare emergency travelling documents as well as passports for those who are travelling by land, river, and air. However, their efforts can be useful only if South Sudan Ministry of Transport allows the flight to resume sooner than later, pending any agreement about new arrangement with Sudan. That is, no need to tread the same path of Bank of South Sudan.
Failing that, there is no moral equivalence to be relied upon by the Ministry of Transport in being too rigid in implementing Sudan’s government circular to the last letter. But instead, there could be a strong case to argued about the possible failure by the Ministry in the duty of care towards South Sudanese in the Republic of Sudan. Candid analysis will not fail to point out that, in this episode, the Ministry of Transport has been the weakest in link in the chain of events, leading to many South Sudanese air travelers being stranded in Khartoum Airport.
To close, it is worth reminding ourselves that all the Ministers in South Sudan make the following oath before assuming office:
“I [name], do hereby swear by the Almighty God /solemnly affirm/, that as a Minister, I shall be faithful and bear true faith and allegiance to South Sudan and shall diligently and honestly discharge my duties and responsibilities and strive to foster the development and welfare of its people; that I shall obey, preserve and defend the Constitution and abide by the law; and that I shall protect and promote the unity of the people of South Sudan and consolidate the democratic decentralized system of government and preserve the integrity and dignity of the people of South Sudan; so help me God/ God is my witness.” (Article 1 (2) of Interim Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan 2011).
Watching from the margin, and seeing how some of our ministers are willfully failing to honour and internalize their pledges made before assuming office; namely to preserve the dignity of the people of South Sudan (everywhere, with Sudan being a case in point); many of us are bound to shake our heads and rub our chins, thinking: “Joshua, you are being led down. Shake the team up to perform, and get a back-eye!”
God bless South Sudan.