Governor, VP exemplify Forgiveness in Easter Message

Archbishop and bishops pray for Peter Kuol Chol Awan and his comrades. Kuol Chol is the successor to the late Gen. George Athor Deng, in Bor on April 3, 2012

“This thing is not in our culture. It is a habit of Western people to openly confess their mistakes… (quotes not verbatim) But if this is what people want, then, my brother Riek, let us do it. So if there is anybody here or from Nuer that I have wronged in the past, I ask for forgiveness,” said Jonglei Governor, Kuol Manyang  Juuk, in a highly attended workshop in Dr. John Garang Hall, South Sudan Hotel, Bor, on April 3, 2012. The planning workshop marked the launching of the peace project in Jonglei State by the Presidential Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Tolerance, chaired by His Grace Dr. Daniel Deng Bul, Archbishop of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan.

This was in reaction to Dr. Riek Machar’s repeated apology and request for forgiveness to the people of Bor in particular due to the 1991 massacres and of South Sudan in general, for all the atrocities associated with him and his forces during and after the split of the SPLA during the war of liberation. Dr. Riek repeated what Gov. Kuol first deemed to have been ‘said too many times’, every time the VP speaks to audience of Bor origin. In spite of Kuol seemingly reservation on that culture of apology and reconciliation, he later gave in under the heavy load of peace and reconciliation that was hanging over every attendant in the hall. Peace seemed to have descended from Heaven as every participant’s body language was shouting, “Let’s speak out, let’s confess our sins.”

In the course of the VP’s speech, new development cropped up as Peter Kuol Chol Awan stepped up and joined the VP in a chorus of confession followed by intercession from the bishops for forgiveness, a spiritual and mutual pardon from above and from below, respectively. “I ask the people of Jonglei State, especially Greater Fangak, to forgive us and embrace peace. We are here for peace.” Kuol Chol Awan is the man who was appointed to replace the late George Athor Deng, who was killed late last year. “I was just somebody of the lower rank in the hierarchy when people called me and made me the successor of George Athor. So instead of continue fighting the war, I asked them to lay down their arms and join our brothers in Juba for peace. That was wisdom from God.” Kuol Awan confessed and then hugged Hon. Gier Chuang Aluong, MP from Pigi County, who was alleged to have bad brotherly blood with Athor.

Peter Kuol Chol Awan, the leader of George Athor's rebels raises up his hands in a sign of surrender to peace as Dr. Riek and Gov. Kuol Manyang embrace each other in front of the Archbishop and a hall full of peacemakers in Bor on April 3, 2012 (Photo by J. Penn de Ngong, Sec. Gen. of Jonglei Civil Society Group).

Generally, the mood of reconciliation was adjusted opportunistically by one Martha, a Nuer Musician in her prime, who mixed messages of peace, forgiveness and reconciliation in a chorus of the names of Nuer,Murle and Dinka. It was irresistible. I felt like shouting out some anonymous names that I might have wronged. But I found nobody in my grudge notebook whom to confess and apologize to. I only found in my bitter memories the Arabs, but then I was too late. I should have done that long ago in Naivasha and Nairobi when we penned the war from the war of weapons to war of words. Nevertheless, I still have to apologize on behalf of my community. That is if unknowingly my relative or tribesman has stepped on the toe of the other tribesman. Similarly, I take this opportunity to ask for forgiveness from whoever that has hurt me in terms of my heart, my hut, my cow, my mother, brother, sister and my father who was killed in the 1991… I ask for a word of condolence from your uncle, please, just as my uncle has done it on our behalf, please. Thanks to the wise Vice President and the gallant governor, a former SPLA senior commander, whose patriotic addiction to the liberation war made him seen as an enemy in the eyes of the local people, especially the Bor folks, who were the nucleus of the mobilization by then and are the epicentre of the demobilization by now.

However, I am very crossed with the distant internet critics who jumped into analysis yet they were not part of the attendance in that hall of apology and reconciliation in Bor. I do not like critics but I do want their critiques. But not the type of critique I read on Mr. X’s piece of mind. Not the criticism I heard from Mr. Y’s foul mouth the other day. I like politics but I hate politicking, especially this guy and his dirty heat. Why should somebody think if peace is allowed in Jonglei State in particular and in Greater Upper Nile in general, somebody will not win elections somewhere or inherit a seat thereof? How come such thoughts are allowed to invade our politics too soon like now, especially even before the blood of our martyrs is dried up under the trees and in the trenches of the war of liberation! If such a person is here to turn our coexistence as one people into his/her existence as one person, may the Almighty God ignore Jesus’s Easter appeal to “forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”, but take such a person(s) to Somalia, where they would be compatible with sectional and sectarian politics out there.

Politics of 2015 aside, don’t you think it is prudent at this time for our once blind leaders, who later saw the light, to now come up and get saved before they get served by their people they once misled and bled? Don’t you think it is high time we called ourselves a people of a nation? This is Easter. And this piece is my sermon. It was stimulated by my colleague, Akol Wek, who woke me up on Easter Sunday with this SMS.

We know, as the governor mentioned, it is hard to confess and forgive, but which is harder: to forgive and forget the wrongs committed last time or the wrongs being committed this time? I mean, if Jesus Christ could forgive those who are in action of hitting the nails into his palm on the cross now, then why is it impossible to do so to those who crucified our relatives sometimes back?

Gov. Kuol Manyang (current governor), Sultan Ismail Konyi, Michael Mario (both former governors of Jonglei State) and others raise up their joint hands in a show for peace, reconciliation and forgiveness in front of the Presidential Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Tolerance in South Sudan Hotel, Bor, on April 3, 2012

Jesus has resurrected. It is a sign of victory. I think the SPLA has something in common with this Easter, especially in the northerly direction. And if we could win in the war of guns, why not also in the war of love? Since we are able as a nation to defend our territory to the extent of bringing down a pilotless metallic wizard, an ‘Iran-made iron messenger’, the semblance of American drone sent to spy on behalf of the Sudan Intelligence. The most advance jet fighter, MIG29, was brought down by the SPLA, besides some bodies lying here and there are a sign of an Easter victory. A victory against the enemies of God’s people, the enemies who had been crucified on the wrong cross like the thieves besides Jesus.

Well, to conclude, more than this victory is needed amongst ourselves as individuals and communities of South Sudan.  We need peace, forgiveness and tolerance. We need development. In short, we need to shoot down the drones and MIG29s, which are inside our hearts as individuals and communities of South Sudan. Who and how will this be done? We in the Jonglei Civil Society Group here are doing it in our villages. How about you over?