Friday, 13 November 2015

South Sudan: Honouring the dead

Dr John Garang de Mabior's tomb
South Sudan is a country that knows hardship. For decades the people were oppressed, deprived of opportunities, taken for slavery and brutally murdered by colonialists and the Khartoum regime.  Though hardship and suffering is still prevalent, it does not mean that the country should neglect remembering, honouring and making peace with the past and even the present.

The country lacks an official memorial or remembrance day to honour the dead of the previous wars.  On July 30th, Martyrs' Day, Dr John Garang is remembered. On May 16th, the formation of the SPLM/A in 1983, is commemorated. 

Besides those days, South Sudan has a myriad of other days it commemorates or celebrates something but no day is dedicated to remembering the veterans and all the service men and women who contributed to the struggle. Countries such as the United Kingdom remember and honour their service men and women every year and many who do not take that two minute silence at 11am, are quickly castigated. If you're a public figure and you're not seen wearing your remembrance poppy, you're quickly castigated for that too. 

Though the UK's Remembrance Day tends to overlook the contribution and efforts of men and women from the former colonies to World War I and II, I still admire the sense of unity this day creates and the level of respect offered to the veterans. Just to add, my passion about the contribution of Blacks and Asians during the previous wars, led me to send out a series of tweets a few years ago. I even tweeted about actor Wendell Pierce's dad, Amos Pierce Junior, who fought in Saipan in World War II. Actor Wendell Pierce saw this, thanked me and retweeted my tweets, and followed me on Twitter ever since. 

Most people still remember South Sudan's Independence Day on July 9th 2011, and how jubilant and ready everyone was to have a fresh new start, after decades and generations of difficulties. However, not much has changed and one could argue that things are even worse for Southerners. 

Kleptocrats who felt entitled to money and power have been leading the country since the CPA was implemented. They are still here. Those who don't have the jobs that they previously had, are now at war with the government. 

These people have unfortunately only helped themselves, their families and their circle of friends. It's all down to entitlement. They view their sacrifice or contribution deems them worthy of endless rewards, even if it is unethical and unfair. Therefore it's not a surprise that many South Sudanese are left on the sidelines, particularly veterans, and widows and orphans of unknown service men. They are left to fend for themselves because they are not getting the support they deserve, whether it be educational, financial, medical and more. 

We have this habit of remembering key figures of the liberation struggle. We also have this habit of attempting to distort the past, and giving some figures more credit and recognition than they really deserve. 

Of course it is important we remember the key figures during the struggle, but the war effort was the effort of many, and not the few. Without that effort, South Sudan would not be here today.

It's important to have a memorial not only out of respect for those who have given for the country, but also because: 
  • it serves as a reminder of the past, so that it is never forgotten, 
  • allows relatives and the community to gather at a place and mourn victims (particularly those who have died and their bodies have never been retrieved for burial at a specific place),
  • allows everyone's contributions to be highlighted, which is another important step in promoting reconciliation, forging a national identity, and a sense of unity.
This is why I am happy to also bring attention to the existence of Remembering Ones We Lost, a site which lists the names of victims of all conflicts in South Sudan since Anyanya I. The site also acknowledges the dead of smaller and more local conflicts. Now this is may not be a memorial where we can lay flowers and pay our respects, but it does allow us to remember the names of those who have died.