An open letter to Governor Matur Chut Dhuol, of Western Lakes state

Posted: October 1, 2018 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Junub Sudan

(If you are in Rumbek, could you please forward this open letter to the Governor?)

By Willy Mayom Maker,British Columbia, Canada

Mr. Governor,

Monday, October 1, 2018 (PW) — The dinosaur kingdom was like Rumbek. Dinosaurs were big and powerful compared to other animals. But the dinosaurs fought each other constantly. While they were busy killing each other, other animals were adapting and readapting to the changing environment. When the great destruction struck the land, all the dinosaurs were wiped out, and all other animals survived.

Well, Rumbek was once powerful. Giants like Wuol Athian and others, who defeated Turko-Egyptian rulers, hailed from Rumbek. Rumbek Secondary School was the envy of the country. Chiefs, like your father, Chut Dhuol, Majok Derder and others were dispatched by the government to travel throughout the Dinka land to solve tribal court cases that other chiefs weren’t able to solve. No doubt, Rumbek was giant. However, we start fighting each other, just like the dinosaurs. While we are busy killing each other, other tribes are adapting and readapting to the changing environment. Now, the Great destructions have arrived in form of civil wars, guns, religions and laws. Subsequently, other tribes are now surviving, but we seem to be heading in the same direction that the dinosaurs went.

Mr. Governor,

Although we may not extinct physically, like the dinosaurs, our cultures, values and norms are certainly dying. And anyone who has no culture is as good as dead. The disappearance of our values, as Agar, is the main reason why we are in such a mess. People are dying every day in Rumbek. Boys are loitering in the streets, both at home and abroad, begging or pickpocketing. Girls are running here and there. Women are altering their skins, hairs or even private parts. Divorce rate is at its peak. Youngsters don’t respect or even listen to elders. Aparapuool are rustling cattle and killing people. As a result, the entire country looks at us negatively. We are seen as nothing but mad men who are determined to annihilate themselves for no apparent reason. Now other people warn themselves, “Don’t be like the Agar.” Furthermore, in any South Sudanese meeting, when an Agar raises his voice to make a point, he is viewed as if he is going to start the fight: “Don’t bring your Agar violence here,” they would warn him. Our cultural values are vanishing so is our dignity. How did we get here?

Mr. Governor,

Don’t get me wrong. I am not blaming you as a person. It would be unreasonable for me or anybody to blame this on one person. This is a collective failure of the entire society. We are all in this together. We are obliterating our own society in one way or another. An aparapuol who kills, loots or robs is someone else’s son or brother. A policeman, who intentionally releases convicted criminals just because they are related to him, is someone else’s relative. A soldier who, when sent to go and disarm the civilians, and instead he goes and steal villagers’ valuables like cellphones, is someone else’s cousin. A government official who when all the guns are disarmed from the civilians, he steals the guns and ammunition and distributes them to his clansmen, is someone else’s paternal uncle or father. A politician, who steals people’s money, is someone else’s father or uncle. An educated person, like me, who lives abroad but doesn’t want to come home to help in the development, is someone else’s son or brother, too. No one is exempted from this failure. However, when things go wrong or right in any given society, there two entities that citizen blame or praise: government and elders. You are both the governor and the elder; therefore, you are the right person to blame. Moreover, you are a general in the army and the son of a renown paramount chief, Chut Dhuol. You ought to shoulder this burden, Mr. Governor, because all the odds are against you!

Mr. Governor,

Your father, Chief Chut Dhuol Alek, Ajiei-yom (May God rest his sould!), was known to be a humble and fair-minded individual, even in courts. But when it came to those who broke the law or cultural value, he was a maverick. No one messed with Ajiei-yom when it came to the laws or cultural values, even his children. I know this because I watched him in court in Pachong. One time, for example, one of his sons, Macitheth (R.I.P), was accused of rape. Upon hearing this allegation, Chut was furious with his son. “kill him if you catch him stealing or raping,” he told people, “I’ll be responsible for his death.” This was the man who was committed to the law and values that whoever broke them must be brought to justice, even if it was his own son. Obviously, Mr. Governor, I noticed the same values in you, because last week when it was reported that one of your sons or nephews had attack someone in Nairobi, you immediately condemned that violent in an equivocal term. But it’s also fair to say that your own father, Chut, is looking down on you now with mixed feelings: pride and disappointment. On one hand, he is proud because you are leading your people, just like he did. On the other, he is disappointed because, unlike him, the people are in disarray under your leadership. If Chut Dhuol, Malual Arop, Rok Rec, Majok Derder and all other forgone chiefs and elders comes back today, you, Mr. Governor, along with all current chiefs and elders, will answer many questions from them. They would ask: Why is Agar in such a turmoil? How did Killing, revenge-killing, robbing, looting, stealing, raping and cattle-rustling become parts our daily life in Rumbek? How come our cultural values and norms are forsaken? Why are Pakam migrating before our eyes? How did a once giant person suddenly turn to a mere midget? What happen?

These are the questions every elder will grapple with. These are the questions all South Sudanese expect you, the governor, commissioners, chiefs and elders to answer. But the answer is obvious: we are in such a mess simply because we have lost our culture. Culture influences an individual’s life in a variety of ways, including values, views, desires, fears and worries. Belonging to a culture provides people with a sense of identity and purpose. Now we don’t belong anywhere. We are like feathers which fly with the wind or float with the current. Before, youth didn’t consume alcohol; now they do. Before, there was no “unknown killers.” Even if you killed someone, and no witness available, the killer always reported himself to authority or elders so that appropriate measures were taken to purify for the killing and compensate for the lost of life. Now you kill another person just like a fly. I remember the time when a family would close their house full of food with nothing but a grass door (athin) and go to riverbank to spend the entire summer, but no one would touch their belongings. Now people are robbed at gun point in their houses in broad daylight. Before, when you lost a cow or goat, someone will keep it until rightful owner claimed it. Now people are afraid to keep their cattle for the fear of being killed. The cattle, upon which our life depend on, are becoming death traps! What a shame!

Mr. Governor,

Culture is the only highway that can lead you home no matter how far you have travelled. Without it, you will get lost. Now students are sent to study all over the world, if they lack cultural values, most of them may not even study or return home. They will try to adopt other people’s cultures out there. But, again, they may not even cope well with those cultures because the reason which lets them hate their culture will also make them hate any culture. So, they will start abusing substances, commit crimes and end up in jail or kill. But those with strong cultural values always find their way home. For example, I am proud to say that it’s culture that keeps me straight up to now. I left Sudan in the year you and the entire Katiba Twek-twek, I believe, lay ambush at Bhar Na’am and destroyed the convoy that heading to Yirol in 1986 or 87. I was a small boy then, probably age 10 or 11. Since then up to now, I have been away now for 31 years. All this time, what keeps me connected home is culture. Strong cultural values were instilled in me at a very young age. Back then, for example, alcohol consumption was culturally unacceptable for youth. Even elders didn’t drink randomly. There was a protocol to follow. When you reached certain age, usually when all your children had grown up, then other elders would introduce you to the alcohol. You couldn’t just decide to drink on your own. No. That was not acceptable. So, because I grew up out of the country without elders to introduce me to the alcohol, I have never tasted alcohol up to now. This is an example of how culture guides people. Without culture, I might have been a drunkard by now. Culture is very crucial!

Mr. Governor,

We are very similar to the dinosaurs in many ways. Just as the dinosaurs were sectioned into tyrannosaurs, sauropods, ceratopsians, raptors, etc., Agar is also sectioned into Athoi, Dur, Pakam, Nyang etc. We are killing each other according to these sections, just like the dinosaur. We have to turn this around or else we will surely extinct. We need to find way to keep our dwindling culture alive. If we restore our cultural values and norms, half of the problems we are facing now will be solved. We have to retain things we as individuals, or communities, deem worthy of keeping alive. This doesn’t necessarily mean keeping every aspect of our cultural past alive – just those things that work in harmony with the new times or environment. For any culture to survive, it seems that it must adapt. Perhaps that’s what Charles Darwin truly meant when he discussed the ‘survival of the fittest’ (so not necessarily the strongest physically, but those more adaptable). I mean, there’s a reason why cockroaches, frogs and various other insects and animals survived longer than the dinosaurs! We need to adapt if we want to exist as a people!

Unfortunately, our existence is rapped up with the existence of our oppressors. We have been oppressed for too long that we still think like our oppressors, and that what makes harder for us restore our culture. That’s why as soon as we get a little education or move into a city, we forget our culture because someone told us that it is “primitive”. No! There is nothing “primitive” about your culture. This is just a term coined up by your oppressors to control you psychologically so that you can leave your culture and adopt theirs. And while your busy learning their complicated cultures, the oppressors are busy stealing your resources. We go to school to learn English, but ignore our language. Also, we dance discos and forget our dances, like Guak, Kobulo or Magong. Unlike our traditional dances, disco is an exotic dance full of sexuality, because male and female genital line up together and grinding. Very dirty dance! It encourages nothing but laziness and sexuality. No wonder that today youths are lazy and promiscuous! Guaak doesn’t encourage neither laziness nor sexuality. It’s the dance of energy, power and pride. It defines who we are, as Agar. It also sooths and refreshes mind and body. Very healthy! You rarely see a guaak dancer suffering from mental or physical issues. It no surprise that many youths today are lazy, obese, mentally or physically challenged, because they don’t dance guaak. When developed, a guaak dancer could even qualify to be a basketball player who leaps over players to dunk the ball. The NBA is a very lucrative game suitable for Guaak dancers. This is how people adapt, by advancing their locally available resources to fit the world view. Most importantly, this is how you counter-oppress your oppressors.

We also play football, basketball and volleyball, but we ignore our games, like adiir. Do you know adiir is a multimillion sport organization in North America and Europe? They called it Hockey (adiir), dohk is the puck and adigon is the stick. It is the most famous game. Extremely lucrative, too! Every Hockey play gets more than 30 million dollars a year. They have modernized it to fit their environment, so they play it in ice. Just to go and watch the game, people pay thousands of dollars. Our own invention, stolen from us? Hell no! I have never paid a dime to go and watch the hockey, because I know that is adiir which was stolen from me! If we modernize and nationalize adiir, for example, it will be an international sport, just like any other game, but invented in Rumbek. This is how people adapt to the environment, by turning every resource as a means for survival and influence.

Mr. Governor,

The disappearance of our culture is the main cause of our turmoil. If there is any way we can restore our culture, half of the problem we are in today will be solved. We can’t afford to lose our culture, so our cultural values and norms need to be taught in schools. Cultural activities like guaak need to be supported and encouraged along with all other sports activities. Town and cities are the best places where cultural values are not only taught, but also preserved and protected. Our school curriculum should include our dialects. In schools, pupils still learn about our oppressors when they should be learning our giant like Wol Athian and others. Most importantly, governors, elders, chiefs should continuously impose cultural values in all aspects.

Mr. Governor,

If I may, let me shift your attention to aparapuool or gelwong. They are being treated unfairly without understanding the root cause of their behaviour. Yes, they are killing each other. Yes, they are looting and robbing people. Yes, they are attacking government soldiers. But why? It is because they were forced to act that way. For example, when the movement began, their meagre food was forcefully taken by the SPLA soldiers. The cattle, upon which their livelihood defended on, were slaughtered. If an SPLA soldier saw a young man parading his personnel ox (muor-cien), he shot the beast in the head right before the distraught owner. If that was not enough, the aparapuol were forced to carry ammunition on their heads every day. While aparapuool were being killed indirectly by the SPLA, they were also being killed directly by the Khartoum government and rebels who were fighting the SPLA. Instead of protecting them, the SPLA gave the Gelwong guns to fight again heavily armed and well-trained Arab and rebel soldiers. To begin with, war battles traumatized even top soldiers who are trained to cope with this kind of stress. Gelwong were not trained. Obviously, majority of them are suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – a war related mental illness common to those who are exposed to high level of stress. This is adaptation mechanism. When every living creature is exposed to hostile environment, they become hostile in order to survive. This explains the gelwong behaviour. Now the government continues sending heavily armed troops in their villages, and this is traumatizing them even more. That’s why they attack even government soldier. They need to be left alone to recuperate or heal psychologically.

If the government continues sending troop to their villages, they will continue getting wilder and wilder. Instead of sending troops to their villages, send an army of doctors to vaccinate their cattle. Instead of sending tanks, give them tractor and trained them to be self-efficient. Build schools and hospitals. Protect them from rebels and neighbouring tribes. After the provision of these service, the government will be in a right position to negotiate with them to stop the aggression or even surrender their guns. Even the forceful disarmament that is being carried out today is not 100% effective. They are not that dumb to surrender their guns that easily. Thousands of guns are now buried under the ground where the government soldiers will not find them. Disarmament shouldn’t be the first step. First, identify their sources of supply. Where do they get the guns from? Forget about guns! who keeps supplying them with all these bullets? They don’t travel to neighbouring countries to buy the guns and ammunition. They get them from corrupted government officials. So, identify and cutting off the sources of supply is the first step. Then go to Juba to ask for a budget; a couple of hundred thousand will do it. With the money in hand, call all the chiefs, elders and Gelwong to have a dialogue with them. Those who surrender their guns peacefully receive monetary reward. Those who don’t will get their belongings confiscated. In other words, you are encouraging good behaviour and punishing bad one. One by one they will dig up those guns and give them to the government. I know people think that’s a waste of money. It’s not. Economist will tell you that money is being reinvest into the economy. With this trategy, the economy is developing and security is improving; you are ‘killing two birds with one stone.’ This is how to fight uneducated people, not with tanks and gunships, but with great mind and great thinking.

Mr. Governor,

Allow me to shift your attention to youths. The youths are being neglected. For example, you don’t have many young persons in your team, despite the fact that there are highly educated youths out there. Don’t surround yourself with politicians, who first and foremost are eying or undermining your position; instead, surround yourself with educated young men and woman who possess twenty-first century knowledge and skills to get things done. There are thousands of highly educated sons and daughters of Agar living in the Western countries. They are building other people’s countries when they should be in Rumbek to help in the development. Why don’t you make effort to call them to come and help you in the building of our state? You need criminologists to crackdown those criminals, psychologists to study and research the behaviour of today’s youth, and financial advisors who will go to Juba the claim the rightful share of the state. Most importantly, you need business minded people who will come and take over the business sector in Rumbek. When I visited last year, I was embarrassed to see all big businesses were owned by foreigners. We need to put stop to that. A country with more 80% illiteracy can’t afford to let its educated citizen live outside the country, if development is the first priority. Moreover, Mr. Governor, these people coming from abroad will also come with donors, investors and industries because they have connections in their host countries. If our intention is not self aggrandization, then every governor and commissioner should surround themselves, not with relative and friends, but with highly educated young men and women. That’s how we will develop our state politically, socially and economically.

Unfortunately, many people who are in the diaspora want to go home, but they are afraid for their safety. Some unlucky people have become the victim of police brutality in Juba or Rumbek. Many of us have been away for a long time, so it’s easy to break minor rules. For example, one lady left Canada for Rumbek. She went to the market wearing a very short skirt. As a result, she was caught by the police, beaten and taken to jail. The lady tried to explain to the police that she didn’t know the dress code and that she was willing to go and change her cloth. To no avail. In fact, when the police learned that she came from abroad, the beat and embarrassed her even harsher. “Don’t bring your Western prostitution here,” they told her. Up to now, that lady swears that she is not stepping her feet in Rumbek’s soil ever again. This is very unfortunate when you visit your homeland after a long time and then you are treated so badly to the point that you don’t want to go back again to see your relative. At lease, the police should be considerate and give those who come from outside a month or so to readjust and relearn basic local rules and regulations before being subjected to severe punishment for petty offences. Additionally, during my visits, I also observed that when someone from abroad visits, people get threatened for some reason. They think we are coming to steal their jobs. “Cak jal ben bak loiloi kua ben lohm? (Have you come to take our jobs?)” they would say. We all due respect to those who think like that. No. We are just going to see our relatives. Why would someone leave West where all the good paying jobs are in order to look for a job in South Sudan. It’s like leaving the river and travel to the desert to look for water. It doesn’t make sense. If some one goes to South Sudan, he is a patriot going to help his people and country. And for the record, educated people don’t take jobs from anybody; they create jobs for anybody to benefit from.

In conclusion, we need to come together as one people and build our state. The notion that we are Agar, Jurbel Atuot or Gok is no longer working in the twenty-first century. There is a reason why The United State and the United Kingdom are the most powerful countries on earth: it’s because they stay united irrespective of their differences. We need to unite. We also need to maintain our cultures and adapt them to fit the current world view. Government officials and elders should play their roles. We need to develop our state politically, socially and economically.

The author, Willy Mayom, resides in British Columbia, Canada. He can be reach at willymayom@yahoo.ca

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