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Distortion of concept of taking towns to villages in South Sudan

By Jacob K. Lupai

December 14, 2012 (SSNA) -- After the dust of turmoil settles down in South Sudan some people may find themselves in the dock in the International Criminal Court of Human Rights at The Hague for crimes of human rights abuse. There are civil liberty groups which can assign human rights investigators to establish the level of human rights abuse. The human rights investigators could press charges against human rights abuses in South Sudan because South Sudan will not be an exception.

South Sudan hardly has any constitutional or human rights courts and if they exist may either be under-resourced or incapable to handle cases of human rights abuse. This may explain the rampant rise of human rights abuse with much impunity. People in power deliberately engage in human rights abuse because they are sure to get away without being charged. If people were acutely aware of the consequences of their actions, the unprecedented level of human rights abuse could not have been sadly witnessed in South Sudan. However, at the end of the tunnel there is a ray of light.

The turmoil that is engulfing South Sudan should be considered as something temporary. People are already aware of what the problem is. The problem is that the population is in trauma. It is, however, a delight that as the problem has been identified it is half solved.

Concept of taking towns to villages

The concept of taking towns to villages was of Dr John Garang, the iconic, charismatic and visionary leader who was instrumental in bringing independence to South Sudan. It was the concept of a revolutionary who genuinely wanted each and every South Sudanese wherever they were whether in urban or rural areas to enjoy modernism. It was not something to be imposed but a natural development strategy in the national master development plan for the progress of the country.

Basically the concept of taking towns to villages is an attempt to deliver basic services to people nationwide. It is also a solution to rural-urban migration which has its adverse effect on development. It is a well thought out attempt to deliver to the rural areas the same basic services found in towns. It is not necessarily the transfer of a county headquarters to a village but rather to transform the village itself into a vibrant town with or without transferring a county headquarters there.

The concept of taking towns to villages is in reality to transform villages into attractive towns with all the necessary services delivered in a modern town. It is to create and develop towns in the vast rural areas of South Sudan where about 80 per cent of the population lives. The concept is to electrify the rural areas for cottage industries, to bring clean drinking water, health services, education and modern infrastructures to mention but a few to the rural areas for a high standard of living.

For South Sudan the concept of taking towns to villages should be seen as independence dividends and a justification of the costly liberation struggle that lasted for about four decades at the cost of over 2 million dead and 4 million displaced notwithstanding the massive destruction of the rudimentary infrastructures.

Relevance of the concept to South Sudan

When Dr John Garang took the mantle of the liberation struggle he knew that the vast majority of people of South Sudan lived in the rural areas. Dr John Garang also knew that since the British colonial era and the mismanagement of the old Sudan’s affairs in post independence era, South Sudan never tasted modernism. He then carefully developed the concept of taking towns to villages as a strategic acceleration of socio-economic development of South Sudan that had remained one of the most backward and underdeveloped regions on planet earth.

The concept of taking towns to villages is therefore of high relevance to South Sudan in the effort to deliver basic services nationwide. Dr John Garang did not want to see two worlds of prosperity in towns and abject poverty and squalor in rural areas. Truly Dr John Garang was a legend, visionary and charismatic, and had he lived long enough probably people would not have experienced the acute frustration with what is engulfing South Sudan in the post independence era.

Distortion of the concept of taking towns to villages

The poor abstract understanding of the concept of taking towns to villages seems to be causing problems. Also, poor conceptualisation of town-village dichotomy seems to be compounding the problem when people resort to a dogmatic approach with little or no flexibility. For example, in Western Bahr el Ghazal State serious clashes occurred between protestors and security forces in Wau, the capital, because of the imposed transfer of Wau County to a place called Bagari some 12 miles from Wau. Bagari is assumed to be a rural area.

There are conflicting reports of causalities. One source said 10 people died while another talked of 25 dead with many more, about, 21 sustaining injuries. Regardless of causalities it was senseless to hype up the transfer of Wau County the way it was done. The dispute in the transfer of Wau County to Bagari was evidently the result of poor grasp of the concept of taking towns to villages. Bagari is only 12 miles from Wau and should be considered near Wau. How then is Bagari not a suburb of Wau with the expansion of population? Is Bagari really that rural to justify the imposed transfer of Wau County to it in a misguided enthusiasm to put into practice the concept of taking towns to villages?  

The Governor of Western Bahr el Ghazal State had appeared insensitive to the felt needs of his subjects who were strenuously opposing the transfer of Wau County to Bagari. This is evidenced by how the Governor is now backtracking in his approach of using security forces to impose his will. The Governor has established a nine-member committee to investigate the clashes between protestors and security forces (Sudan Tribune, December 12, 2012).

The Governor is now pledging that his administration will seek a peaceful resolution to the dispute arising from the poor decision to transfer Wau County to Bagari. The U-turn of the Governor shows some naivety in not perceiving the strong opposition to the transfer of the county only to turn around for a dialogue after a serious damage has been done. This seems to suggest that the traumatised may not care and indeed can be very dangerous in their ambition as the causalities in Wau show.

The imposed transfer of Wau County to Bagari is at best a distortion of the concept of taking towns to villages. Dialogue and a peaceful resolution of the dispute could have been the appropriate option from the beginning instead of being rigid. The use of excessive force and by using live ammunitions on unarmed civilians exercising their right to express themselves was very regrettable. It was shocking to watch innocent civilians not armed deliberately gunned down by the security forces as shown by Al Jazeerah TV English Channel on 14 December 2012 at 4.00pm local South Sudanese time.

Taking towns to villages

One high profile case of taking towns to villages is the relocation of the national capital from Juba to Ramceil. The national government has used its prerogative to relocate the capital as stipulated in the constitution. The relocation process is at an advanced stage. As the national government has handled the relocation of the capital with sensitivity, there has never been a trouble like that which has been witnessed in Western Bahr el Ghazal State as a result of poor decision to relocate Wau County headquarters. This should be a lesson to all governors who are contemplating to take towns to villages in their states.

With regard to the concept of taking towns to villages it should be the state capital to relocate instead of relocating a county headquarters that shares the capital with the state. County headquarters should be transformed into cities, and payams and bomas into towns respectively. This is when people are serious about taking towns to villages. It will be truly putting into practice Dr John Garang’s noble concept of taking towns to villages for modernism in South Sudan but not the distorted and erroneous concept adopted by Western Bahr el Ghazal State. It is unfortunate that the Governor who seems to have an agenda of his own has tried very hard to mask the agenda with the noble concept that took brains to develop.

Conclusion

The concept of taking towns to villages should not be implemented enthusiastically as in the case of Western Bahr el Ghazal State where unnecessary innocent lives were lost as the Governor ignored the explosive situation created by his rush decision to relocate Wau County to Bagari. Taking towns to villages should be seen as a smooth transformation of the rural areas with equal opportunities for peaceful co-existence and also to make rural-urban migration to nearly zero. With improved infrastructures such as roads urban and rural areas will be a continuous land mass with equitable facilities that the rural folks will have no cause to envy their counterparts in urban areas. In short the concept is that rural areas should be urbanised.

In conclusion, the concept of taking towns to villages should not be politicised. The concept is mainly an economic one to bring material wealth to where poverty exists. In South Sudan poverty is more prevalent in the rural areas which lack employment opportunities and basic services comparable to urban areas. The concept when applied properly is likely to promote national security and unity, and prosperity for all. People’s basic needs are addressed through the delivery of services which are the focus of the concept of taking towns to villages.

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