Political Freedom in South Sudan is being repressed by “Invisible Hand”
The little yet influential book of Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, should make a good reading for many South Sudanese during these testing times of count down to elections, if only to be reminded of its key theme: for some to be [free] is to be like oppressor. This time- tested premise by Freire speaks of the melanoma suffered by many of the former freedom fighters turned-rulers who emerge from years of struggle against oppression of man by man, and having internalized the oppressor’s consciousness, turn against their fellow men and women to dehumanize them and unleach on them the most attrocious acts of repression as a way of expressing their attainment of freedom. Namely, do the oppressor's job on his behalf.
Apart from the usual suspects, namely the men in the uniform, one would also count the apologists of the status quo in all their colours and guises. They, too, are caught between the choice of ejecting the oppressor’s image within or keeping him; between standing in solidarity with the oppressed to transform the oppressive reality, and alienating the oppressed to shut up; between rejecting the culture of silence, and embracing it; just to enumerate only a few of the dilemmas faced by the liberator in oppressor’s uniform as expounded in the book of the Brazilian educational philosopher, Paulo Friere.
Goodbye Freire, you have opened our eyes. We now know, and can tell where all this oppressive reality is originating from. Still we would like to admit that it is always murky for most of us. And the fear of freedom in our midst is real, alive, and kicking.
To get to the point, there have been many incidents of harassment of political activists, mainly from opposition parties, and journalists in South Sudan in the last few months. Most of these harassments are election-related. Cases in point were arrest of members of SPLM Democratic Change in Malakal and Yei. Reports on arbitrary arrests of members of South Sudan Democratic Forum (SSDF), and Unified Democratic Party (UDP); the rounding up, beating, and detention in Aweil of 13 supporters of SPLM independent candidate, Akuei Aturjuong. Their names were published in the Citizen newspaper, yet the governor Paul Malong Awan, whose candidacy for governorship is being challenged by Aturjong flatly denied the accusations. I believe those who did these acts did them in the name of patroitism, and nationalism. They did them out of sense of duty. Plain wrong.
Speaking in an interview with the Citizen (February 9, 2010), James Wani Iga, Deputy SPLM Chairman, and leader of South Sudan Legislative Assembly minimized the acts of arbitrary arrests reported in the press as “individual incidents that do not constitute a trend by the government.” He then sent a very soft message of assurance to the perpetrators by adding: “We have issued clear instructions to all the departments to allow all to practice political work in freedom without any intervention.” He could not give any information on the specific punitive measures being taken against these violators of human rights. One reckons this message is music in the ears of the repressors, and a nightmare redoubled for those on the receiving end.
As dominant and ruling political party in South Sudan, SPLM is finding itself playing the role of a judge, jury, and defendant at same time. And this is not working out very well. Having acquired an image of being the champion of basic freedoms at a national level, the party has been struggling to practice what it preaches in South Sudan where it has the upper hand.
And to prove Freire right, it seems SPLM has internalized the oppressor’s image, the NCP's. And so for a significant proportion of South Sudanese people, SPLM is the look-alike of the NCP in South Sudan. SPLM government is imitating many of NCP’s oppressive ways: repressing basic freedoms and denying the fact; financing and facilitating supportive demonstrations, and refusing or oppressing the dissenting protests.
If anyone is in doubt, let them recall the shooting of students and youth demonstrations in Yambio and Juba. Contrast that with those organised by SPLM party to mobilize moral support for GOSS in its fight against NCP. And so any anti-GOSS protest is criminalized. All pro-GOSS demonstrations are legalized. NCP invents. SPLM borrows. Under such circumistances, how can anyone tell who is who? Or who is what?
Therefore, these days you could recognize the voice of Dr. Nafi Ali Nafi in the person of SPLM Secretary General, Pagan Amum, in cajoling and threatening the independent candidates in his party. Dr. Nafi was quoted by the press saying that: "those who will defy the decision by the NCP leadership on choice of electoral candidates will suffer." Secretary General Pagan Amum threatened his party members with dismissal from the Party, before softening up under intense criticism by independent candidates and party's grassroot. There is one thing that escaped SPLM SG about South Sudanese: they have stronger democratic culture than North and can defy any attempt to replicate in the South the open repression that is practiced by NCP on the Northern Sudanese and anyone in Khartoum.
We will also count ourselves naïve if we believe that SPLM is going to grant us basic freedoms in a platter without being challenged to clean up its act. This would be true irrespective of whether or not we are members of SPLM, members of other parties, or neutral citizens; or whether or not we are supporters of SPLM, or its staunchest critics. We have to struggle hard in order to push back the invissible hand that is repressing us.
And for freedom to be truly authentic, it ought to be freedom for all. Here, there are no exceptions such as denying those whom we regard as less nationalistic than ourselves the platform to practice political freedom in order to advance their views and convictions. Doing so would be continuing to internalize the oppressor’s image and thereby undermining our claim of being democratic people, and therefore, fully human.
This noble quest for authentic freedom should commence by recognizing that we as SPLMers and non-SPLMers may linger within us the demons of oppression that need not only to be ejected, but be ejected and slain.
We can go about achieving this goal by spreading the culture of freedom amongst ourselves. One of the influential figures in laying the foundation to modern Western culture of free thought and expression was the French thinker and philosopher, Voltaire (real name Francois Marie Arouet), who is credited with a quote taken from a letter to one Monsieur l'abbé: “I may disagree with what you have to say, but I am ready to die to defend your right to say it. “
Hence, let us use the word freedom to mean freedom for us, freedom for others like us, and last but not least, freedom for others unlike us.