Disclaimer: These opinions expressed in this interview with Honorable Tor Deng Mawien are his own words and do not reflect the view of the Ramciel Magazine.
A conversation with Honorable Tor Deng Mawien. Honorable Tor served as Governor of Warrap State, Deputy Speaker of the South Sudan Legislative Assembly, and Advisor to President Salva Kiir on decentralization. By Ramciel Magazine’s Deng Mayik Atem, Juba, South Sudan, August 22-23, 2021.
RM: Who is Tor Deng Mawien, and when did you join politics?
HTDM: I joined the government in 1998 as a minister of Health in what was then Warrap State. Then, in 2000, I was relieved of office and returned to the NCP party’s general headquarters in the specialized secretarial office for political and organization. I worked there until 2001. Then, in 2001, I was appointed again as deputy governor and minister of the Infrastructure of Warrap State. Comrade Machar Achiek Adaria was from Tonj, and I was his deputy. Then, in 2002, he (Machar) was relieved from the office, and I was designated governor, and then I was relieved. But Deng Mawien was the next appointed governor of Warrap State. He and I share names, but we are not related. He is from Kuacjok.
In 2004, I was appointed again as a full governor of Warrap State through 2005 during the six-month interim period of C.P.A. and before the Interim Period. The late Dr. John Garang decided to relieve all the governors of the ten states. He replaced us with political supervisors or caretaker governors except for General Clement Wani Kanga of Central Equatoria.
In 2005, I was appointed deputy speaker, although the position of deputy speaker was not mentioned in the C.P.A. This is because there wasn’t such a position in the C.P.A. But the SPLM, and because of their partnership with the National Congress Party, agreed to that position.
RM: What motivated you personally to go into politics?
HTDM: What motivated me is a long history. When we were in a senior secondary school in 1976, we were young recruits of the Sudan Communist Party. At that time, Dr. Yusuf Bashar was academic secretary. When it came to allocating chances or opportunities for learning abroad, especially scholarships to attend schools abroad, he always focused on northerners by saying southerners are born communists and, therefore, don’t need much training in communist ideologies. So, I told him, Dr. Yusuf, “Doctrine must go hand-in-hand with knowledge. Yes, I am a communist, but I am not a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. I needed the training to have the skill to put together with the ideology to have a position in the community and talk to the people like they would say Doctor X was here treating people. They will be happy, and if they are so glad, people will listen to you.”
So, we needed to receive equal opportunity as Sudanese in general. Excluding us was something we saw as segregation and discrimination. When this thing continued, we had no choice but to defect from the Sudan Communist Party, and we formed our party in South Sudan. We called it “NAM,” the Nationalists Action Movement. A comrade led it from Western Equatoria, Ustaz Tarestizeo Ahmed. Tarestizeo Ahmed, I and Edward Lino, Santo Madison, Bol Makeng Yuol, currently in the SPLM Secretariat, and even Samuel Gai Tut were our members. We were active and were the ones who made ready the ground for the Unity Movement that created the mutiny, especially among the youths who like to strike.
We led protests against the drawing of a new border between the North and the south of Sudan. The drawing of those borders had created a problem that we are still facing today. Now, we still have a conflict of the contesting areas between North and south. Also, we led a strike and demonstrations against Nimeiry’s decision to make kacha or deportation of those who came to stay in Khartoum, especially Southerners. Especially he enacted the September Law (Islamic Sharia). His administration started to deport Darfurians, South Sudanese, and others, and those allowed to stay in the capital of Khartoum were always accused of being a thief, and their hands were chopped off.
Also, we struck because of the oil being described as some hundred kilometers south of Khartoum, and this is the oil in Bentiu that they are describing. We also led the strike against the Jonglei Canal. I was a political activist during my youth, and I am a career politician.
RM: Do you think that South Sudan will survive and become a viable nation?
HTDM: Yes. And well, this time of difficulty is a natural thing. Every Country in the world passed through tough times or hurdles. This tribulate; each Country went through such a thing, even the United States went through the same situation. The American Civil War was called a war for unity. When the southern states were defeated, that brought what the United States is now. So, the same thing is what we are undergoing currently, but it is not permanent. It will go away.
South Sudan is endowed with many resources, including animals, soil, urban land, gold, gas, uranium, fishery, agriculture, and more. When South Sudan successfully utilizes its mineral resources and has developed well-planned agriculture, not only will our country be standing on its feet, but it will be the breadbasket of the region, if not the whole continent of Africa.
RM: Is there a trick to get Dinka and Nuer to work together?
HTDM: These are all divisive ideas; when you encourage the other tribes to unite against the Dinka and Nuer, you encourage tribal and regional divisions. If you single out the two tribes, Dinka and Nuer, out of the sixty-four, what would be the guarantee the sixty-two will not gang up against both Dinka and Nuer? What makes you think they will be in harmony without Dinka and Nuer? They will still complain, especially the minor tribes, about the domination of the others; for example, in Equatoria, about the Zande and Topasa because those are the most prominent tribes.
Then there is the question of what a tribe is. Here in Juba, it is assumed that Bari is a big group. They are big because of what is called “the Bari speaking group.” Bari-speaking groups are not all Bari; for instance, Mundari is an independent tribe, but they speak a Bari language. When you subtract the Bari speaking group from the Bari tribe, then the tribe is a little one.
The best way forward is to work together for the peaceful coexistence of these sixty-four tribes, and to build a spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood is the best option than building blocks or highlands of tribes to fight each other.
RM: What are a few of the landmarks in our nation’s short history that you would like to draw attention to? Which leaders do you want to remind us to celebrate?
Aliab revolution leaders such as Kon Anok Ngengeer
Ali Abdellah Thiep stagged a resistance against Colonizers.
Nuer Spiritual leader’s son Aguak Ngundeng brought down a helicopter by a Boloong (wooden- atoal). The Britons were surprised what sort of weapon was used by the Nuer warriors. Aguek Ngundeng climates up the tree, and he knocks down the plane. That weapon used to bring down the Helicopter is now kept in the British archive.
In Western Equatoria: King Gbudwe of Azande stagged a resistance, and he was fought by the two giant nations of France and the British before he was defeated.
Those of Madut Chan and the soldier’s rebellion of 1955 were pure soldiers without much support from ordinary citizens.
Those of William Deng Nhial, Aggrey Jaden, Father Santurino, Joseph Oduho, Bona Malwal,
Abel Alier, Joseph Lagu, Martin Majier Gai, Peter Gatkuoth
Anya Anya one
Those of Abur Nhial-Matoug, Albino Akol Akol, of course of the Salva Kiir, John Garang was young and their foot soldiers.
Those of Dr. John Garang, Kuerbino Kuanyin Bol, William Nyuon, Arok Thon Arok, Salva Kiir, and others. They established the Movement, fought bravely, and negotiated the peace deal successfully to the interest of the South Sudanese citizens by creating a forum that ended the war once and for all between the North and South by calling for Self-Determination in a Machakos Protocol. The C.P.A. was concluded in Naivasha in 2005, the leader of the Movement (SPLA/M), Dr. John Garang, suddenly died in a helicopter crash when he was coming from Kampala to the New Site in South Sudan.
Salva Kiir Mayardit took the banner, and Salva Kiir proved to be honest and brave, patriotic South Sudanese, but the Arabs and not the Arabs in the North, but the Arabs in the Arab world tried many ways to keep Sudan as one Country. Those of late Muammar Gaddafi, King of Saudi Arabian, Qatar, and Kuwait, were helping northerners convince Southerners to keep and maintain the unity of Sudan and refrain from the division of the Country. But Salva Kiir consistently and persistently stood his ground by saying, only you people, I am just only a guard to guard the implementation of the peace agreement, and the final say is with the people of South Sudan. But I want to tell you, people, that the decision is not mine, my conclusion is only one come the 9th of January 2011, and the referendum is not conducted and the Sunrise in the morning up to the Sunset and the referenda is not started, what will happen, I will not be responsible, so that statement made the northerners to accept the conduction of the referendum because the statement mean there will be a war. So Salva Kiir managed to manage the difficult period, which was the interim period of six years. He managed wisely, carefully, and bravely with all the odds with the North; he endured very patiently enough because his eye was on the referendum. He never minded any other things, and he was only eyeing the referendum, and he raised the flag of the new nation and was the one who proclaimed the independence of the new Republic and pulled down the then the flag of Sudan. He held and gave it to President Omer el Bashir, and he raised the new banner of now-independent South Sudan. So, he manages a big and most significant landmark that could be attributed to him.
Because Salva Kiir and the independence of South Sudan are inseparable, he fought two civil wars, and he never enjoyed his youthfulness, or he enjoyed his marriage life, and even now, he is not enjoying his old age. But he had devoted all his lifetime to the case of South Sudan. So, he is outstanding, like the late William Deng Nhial.
RM: Is Salva Kiir a father of the nation?
HTDM: Of course, he’s the father of the nation. He who raised the flag and proclaimed the Country’s independence is the father and founder of the nation? Dr. John Garang founded the Movement. However, the person who realized the country, who brought it to reality, is Salva Kiir.
RM: How was your working relationship with both Presidents Salva Kiir and President Bashir? Some people say that you are the most potent presidential advisor to President Kiir and that nothing goes to him without stopping on your desk. They say that you are the determining factor regarding how things are coordinated around President Kiir. Is this true?
HTDM: You cannot prevent people from thinking whether it is a reality or not, but my relation with Kiir is cordial. Kiir was the one who conceded when President Bashir asked him that he wanted the deputy speaker of the South Sudan Legislative Assembly to be allocated to the National Congress Party. And Bashir had a candidate for the position; his name was Tor Deng Mawien. “Do you know him?” He asked Kiir.
“Yes. I know him. Tor Deng Mawien and I came from the same area,” President Kiir responded.
Then Bashir asked him again, “Will you work with him?”
“Yes, why not?” Kiir agreed. Had Salva Kiir refused, I would not have been the deputy speaker of the South Sudan Legislative Assembly. After I resigned from the NCP, he saw how I managed the partnership and the coalition between the SPLM and the NCP, how I ordered it.
I asked the South Sudanese members of the NCP, which came first, South Sudan or the political party we belonged to? Every one of them agreed with me that South Sudan came first. We were born in South Sudan; all our ancestors were born and died in the land of South Sudan, and now what was dividing us was just different opinions because some of us wanted to join the NCP, and some were SPLM members. But we belong to the same land, and we are one people at the end of the day. Therefore, in our work in the Assembly, we must work as a group, not as opposites. We were like one body in the Assembly, the NCP members in South Sudan, and the SPLM members, which was because of me. I managed to bring everyone together, and we discussed any bill brought to benefit the people of South Sudan. Of course, there was a lot of tension at that time, and it was a challenging time. The SPLA soldiers were eyeing us as the enemies and traitors who fought against them. Now we were to share power with them, but I tried my best to make them feel that we were their brothers and sisters and not their enemies. That was one of the achievements in my working relationship with president Kiir and others in South Sudan, especially in the South Sudan Legislative Assembly.
RM: Are you and Salva Kiir related?
HTDM: Yes. Of course, we are cousins, and we are from the same area.
RM: Reconciliation and healing: If reconciliation was conducted right after South Sudan’s independence, could it have helped prevent the conflict?
HTDM: Absolutely! Reconciliation and healing were some of the most important provisions of the C.P.A. It was supposed to be conducted before the secession of South Sudan. It was going to be the reconciliation and the healing of the whole Country of Sudan.
What prevented it from being conducted at that time was the war in Darfur. You cannot make reconciliation and healing in one part of the Country while the other is bleeding? So, the process was postponed until the case of Darfur was settled, when Sudan was free from any conflict.
Unfortunately, it didn’t happen until the referendum came, and the South voted overwhelmingly for independence. Independence was proclaimed, so now it became reconciling among South Sudanese, some of whom did bad things against our people during the struggle. For instance, the 1991 incident/mutiny by Dr. Riek Machar, Dr. Lam Akol, and company. They defected from the Movement.
In late 2011, after the Proclamation of Independence, the committee was formed headed by Dr. Riek Machar, then vice president of the Republic, and I was his deputy. The committee was big enough, and we were planning to invite some prominent peace award holders like Bishop Tutu and other leaders or peacemakers in the world. So, we extended them the invitations.
But what happened in due course of this, Dr. Riek had a different motive altogether. He was acting as if he was doing reconciliation, but he was aiming at two things: he was after or pursuing the forgiveness of Bor people because of the massacre he committed in 1991 in Bor. He wanted Bor people to forgive him, and that’s what he meant by the reconciliation. His goal for the reconciliation and healing was for him to come back as a clean person in the eyes of the South Sudanese such that he could run to be the President of the country when the election came.
RM: Why was it a bad idea for Dr. Riek to have a desire to run for the presidency? After all, he has every right to run for the President of South Sudan.
HTDM: Well, he should have done it differently. First of all, it would have been good to make a comprehensive peace, reconciliation, and healing of all South Sudanese people. We should talk, listen, and forgive each other and go back to coexisting and brotherhood. Then he can make his political agenda clear, but he should not have sandwiched his political motive along with this noble program of reconciliation and healing. Unfortunately, when people knew what he was aiming at, the committee was dissolved. It led to his dismissal as vice president of South Sudan, which led to the fighting in December 2013.
What Riek wanted was to take over power quickly; he wanted a shortcut because he became impatient. He thought that at the time, Nuer Militias were the majority in the army. After General Paulino Matiop, his rival was gone, Dr. Riek Machar became the lone leader in the Nuer community.
Besides the army, many Nuer were in organized forces such as police, wildlife, Army, Prison ward, and National Security. He thought that people would come out and stage a coup by chasing away the Dinka and that with the Dinka gone, the other tribes would not resist.
It is only the Dinka who will withstand, but what Riek thought wasn’t correct. The opposite happened. The majority of the Nuer on whom he was depending were defeated, and they ran away.
People went to him and asked him to negotiate and address the grudges and inconveniences amicably and peacefully. These were political issues, and they needed to be settled politically and not by force. He accepted that request, which led to the signing of the Compromise Agreement in 2015. But Dr. Riek delayed coming to Juba so that the national unity government couldn’t be formed. Instead, in 2016, he tried again to make a palace coup, which led to the fight in J1. So many young people died, especially on his side. So many soldiers lost their lives. He went back again to the bush.
Now he has again been brought back, and we don’t know what’s in his mind? But hopefully, he will fully implement the recently Revitalized Agreement of Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan.
RM: Perhaps you can tell us a bit about the 1947 Juba Conference compared to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (C.P.A.). Primarily, looking back to the conference of 1947, could things have worked out differently at the conference?
What is your thought?
HTDM: Well, the 1947 Juba Conference was way different than the 2005 C.P.A.
There was no balance in the 1947 Juba Conference because South Sudanese were negotiating with the highly skilled Arab northerners. However, compared to the 2005 Naivasha negotiation, South Sudanese were highly confident, if not superior, to their northern counterparts.
Although the Northerners had tried to do the same tactics that were done in the 1947 Juba conference, it did not work well because there was balance in the standard, especially the educational background, which was not existing with our people in 1947. In the negotiations that led to the signing of the C.P.A., the Arabs were surprised by the capacity of the South Sudanese intellectuals when they reached the agreement on wealth sharing, especially the sharing of the oil revenues, primarily produced in the Southern part the Country.
This notion of sharing the oil revenue fifty-fifty with Southern Sudan getting 50% and the rest of the Country with 50% wasn’t received well by the northern leaders and even the ordinary people. People protested that how come a part of a country be given fifty percent of the oil revenues and the large part comprised of the Central, East, north, and western Sudan are given fifty percent? So, I and Professor Moses Machar were called to a meeting at the Graduate Club or in Arabic it is called “Nadia Karahrachgen.” It is one of the historical sites where those of Ali Abdellah-Thiep started the white banner to resistance against the colonial rule, and we were there to meet the Sudanese government’s negotiating team who just returned from the peace negotiations in Naivasha, Kenya.
The negotiating team was called to enlighten people about how they reached and accepted such a deal with the Rebels, especially the wealth-sharing protocol. So, one of the negotiators said, ha, you guys are still holding the mentality of 1947, but today’s Junubian are pretty different from Southerners of 1947. The Southerners are even teaching us about certain things about this oil. Items which we were not prepared for, they brought them up during the negotiations. So, don’t assume that it is more accessible work than we are doing now. So that’s why I concluded that there was no balance if you compare 1947 and 2005, especially in the early 2000s when the conventional negotiation started and led to the signing of the C.P.A. in 2005. The negotiation was well balanced; South Sudanese were well informed about everything, and they delivered very well.
RM: Let’s talk about the political theory behind our nation and the Republic of South Sudan Constitution. How might the constitution be altered to better deal with tribal and regional differences? Since you were a part of the reviewing committee, what have you done to address the issues raised by certain quarters in South Sudan regarding federalism? People want a system of federalism. What kind of a governance system do we have in South Sudan?
HTDM: Well, the definition of South Sudan is that it is constitutionally territorial comprised of ten states in the first interim constitution 2005, and again we amended in 2005 up to the Proclamation of Independence.
On the 9th of July 2011, the interim constitution was maintained because any government’s main objectives or goals are to keep territorial integrity and the unity of the people. Adopting this democratic, decentralized system of governance was meant to address this question of nationalities. These nationalities’ dialects are recognized and upgraded to be languages regardless of how small or more significant the tribe is, so their cultures could be developed such that no one culture can be dominant; that’s also why English was chosen to be the official national language of South Sudan because we want the language that brings people together. So, instead of saying let us introduce Dinka, Nuer, Bari, or any other language of South Sudan. In Malaysia, for example, they went the other way. Even though there are different ethnicities in the county, Malaysian is the official language. In Uganda, Buganda is a tribe, and its language is the official language being spoken countrywide (besides Kiswahili/Swahili). The same thing in India, its official language, is Hindi, although millions don’t say it. Of course, in India, English is also an official language.
RM: This will lead us to a follow-up question regarding recent development from the Western Bahr el Ghazal state where Governor Mayar Achor declared that Lou should be the official name for the Jur-Chol people and that Jurchol was a nickname given to the Lou people by their neighbors, the Dinka. Should their wish be recognized by the government of South Sudan? What is your take on that?
HTDM: This question of tribalism and how it should be addressed. Well, it had already been addressed with the things cherished in the constitution and the main thing now when it comes to political decentralization. Each one of the states elects their governor; they select their member of the state of Assembly. They were supposed to elect their counties commissioners, but when the election came in 2010, it stopped only at the state level and wasn’t carried down to the county level. So next time it will be administrated at the county level. So, the county commissioners will no longer be appointed by the states’ governors. The commissioners will be elected by their constituents just like the governors are elected the whole state. So that commissioners will have space there can work without fear of being removed by the governor. An elected official is answerable to the people who elected them, but the commissioners will cooperate and coordinate with the governors.
When it comes to this question, rather the “Jur-Chol of Wau should be called L.O.U. or not.” This took us a very long debate; first of all, we told them that point-blank historically, we were already being called Jurchol, which you people accepted. When they colonized, the Turks or Egyptians ruled. In 1889, the Ango-Egyptians came and defeated Mahdist and Sudan fell under Anglo-Egyptian Condominium rule. At that time, they were also called Jur-chol. When the British divided South Sudan into three provinces of Bahr El Ghazal, Equatoria, and Upper Nile, they created districts within these provinces. One of the districts of Bahr el Ghazal is called Jur River District. The Jur River District, which is still established in Wau, comprises non-Jur people. That district includes Tonj and Gogrial, the two areas put together and were named Jur River District. So, when they tried to bring it up here in the National Legislative Assembly, we told them it was not valid. We didn’t name the area Jur-Chol. We are the citizens of the Jur River District, and we are not Jurs, but we accepted it. Now, you want to change and call it Lou District. Who gave this river to be yours? It was a colonizer who gave this name Jur, and it is God-given because we are the inhabitants of the area along the bank of the river and second to that when it comes to this name Lou, it is not only for Jur alone, even the Dinka and Nuer are included. The Lou mean Nilotics, especially the tribe along the river Nile. Even here in Equatoria, we have Acholi, and even Acholi of Uganda are part of the Lou tribe plus the Lou of Kenya.
RM: Development in South Sudan: There have been no ambitious recent protects except the current Bor-Road, which is Chinese investment in our Infrastructure. For a while, the Chinese have been doing their part. Are Americans and Westerners also welcome to participate and invest in South Sudan? Do you think South Sudan has enough resources to keep other countries, especially China, the United States, and perhaps the European Union, involved in our nation’s development?
HTDM: The development opportunities are vast, and it can accommodate as many as want to take part. The only problem is that the investments of westerners, Europeans, and Northern Americans—particularly the United States—are highly connected with their governments; and it is the policy of their governments that they their investments come with certain preconditions, preconditions such as human rights, democracy, and many other things.
These things couldn’t be done overnight; they needed a slow and gradual process. Young nations couldn’t be fully-blown democratic drastically. They go through so many hurdles until they become fully aware, and awareness is essential. Although our people have their natural democratic ways of electing or selecting their chiefs, they don’t vote using the ballot box. Anyone contesting for the chieftain comes up and stands on a line, his opponent on another line. Their supporters line up behind the candidate of their choice, and people are counted. He who gets the majority of members becomes the chief of his community. It is a direct democracy.
Our disagreement with the westerners and the United States, in particular, is not our creation; it is their creation. During the peace negotiations, our negotiating team, led by late Dr. John Garang, said all the oil or petroleum contracts signed by the Khartoum government with the Chinese ought to be canceled. We will make new concessions as the owner of the resources, but the Americans themselves refused and advised South Sudan not to chase away the Chinese.
But the South Sudanese knew that the Chinese were arming the Khartoum government during the conflicts. Even when Sudan was under the arms embargo sanction, the Chinese continued to supply the Sudanese army with the latest weapons. Their weapons devastated South Sudan during the Civil War. Therefore, the Chinese company doesn’t deserve to continue drilling for oil in South Sudan. But the Americans have said, “No, you only go and review those contracts with the Chinese. You read the arrangements and make sure you know the contents of those contracts and leave until expired and make Chinese your friends.”
We agreed to follow the Americans’ advice. Now they are charging that we favor China because our relationship with China is effective because of three things:
Americans think we favored the Chinese and that we sidelined them and forgot about their support during back days. This is what they are telling us. But we are telling Americans that the door is open to allow your people to come if you act like the Chinese. Because the Chinese don’t get involved in any country’s internal affairs. The Chinese always come with one particular aim, to invest. But the Americans come with the mentality; they want to share power with the government by dictating things from the government. But we want to execute certain things for ourselves. We shouldn’t be waiting for America to do what they want us to do first while we are hungry, sick, we want education. You want us to be a fully democratic state when we have this high illiteracy rate in South Sudan and the anger. We still have so many challenges. We don’t even have an economy. We don’t have big schemes to produce some cash crops for domestic consumption with a subsistence economy. If there is a surplus, it will be taken to the world market to bring hard currencies to develop our economy further. That is why we favored the Chinese, and we were never given a level ground to compete with the Chinese. Still, we told them no, our environment is already marked for all of you, and you should come. It is not just the oil and gas production industry alone. There are other areas; if you go to the western Bahr el Ghazal, you can find uranium, gold in Kapoeta, agriculture, where you can grow coffee and tea.
Second, Islam will penetrate Africa from the door, which is South Sudan. South Sudan is the door to block Islam away. So, we tell the Americans that the whole of western African is predominately Islam. Almost every nation in the West has the highest Muslim population. Forget North African; they are already Arab and Islamic countries. North Africa is a different case, and back in East Africa here, for instance, Somalia is almost 100% Islamic.
Tell us which country doesn’t have a Muslim population; even in Vatican City, Muslim communities are probably there. There may be some Muslim workers and representatives.
So, Islam is a wave that could not be blocked by South Sudan alone. We said that we would not allow radical Islam to enter South Sudan, but moderate Muslims can; we provide in our constitution the respect of all religions and traditional believers.
RM: Are you interested in how our Country’s culture changes, especially in our young people’s tastes? Do you have some favorite musicians and other South Sudanese artists you recommend? How about authors?
HTDM: Frankly speaking, I am not happy with the way our young generation is conducting themselves. They are copying everything from the West and especially from East Africa without a context. So, they have diluted our cultures, especially the way our people dress. The way they make their hair! All young look mad in the eye of the elders, and this is quite a surprise. The way they dance tells you that our own culture has been disowned. Even our own languages/mother-tongues are lacking, although we are trying here.
We worried about your kids, especially you people in the Diaspora, because we thought you were the people with better chances in the Western World to get an education, to be educated, and come back home to your country and develop your own country and enjoy it. But now we are hearing discouraging news that most young people are getting into all those destructive behaviors, which worry us so much. So, our cultures are being endangered.
RM: The world has changed a great deal in the years since you first became involved in the politics of Sudan. One of the most significant changes has been the development of the internet. Although many South Sudanese are still cut off from those changes, there is a growing awareness of that electronic world. How about you? Are you on social media where people can follow and contact you? Do you have a website? Social media sites? Please share the links.
HTDM: Frankly speaking, I am a computer and technology illiterate because I did not do any course. All I know is just to open Facebook, send messages, or check emails, but the full knowledge of operating is still a challenge. To the people of South Sudan, of course, this technology goes with literacy. Since ninety percent of the South Sudanese population are still illiterate, the use of the internet or other forms of technology, especially their use of applications, is limited. We tried to go for e-government functions, but it became difficult in the states because many officials do not know how to operate the technology.
RM: Any plan of writing a book to share your experiences and knowledge with the next generations?
HTDM: Yes, it is my dream. But I have not fully and finally decided to do so. It is in my plan, and I am still collecting the data.
RM: Any plan or dream of running the higher of office?
HTDM: No. not right now, and maybe later on. Because now, I am in my early 60’s, maybe in my 70’s and if have chance to do so.
RM: What’s your current assignment in the R-Transitional Government of the National Unity?
HTDM.: I don’t have an assignment yet. But I will let you know if I am given a job.
RM: Why did you resign from your party, “the National Congress Party?”
HTDM: I like said in the previous question that I was appointed a Deputy Speaker to the Regional Assembly of Southern Sudan by President Bashir and seconded by President Kiir. However, such a position was not stipulated in the CPA. But the SPLM and because of the partnership in the Unity government with the NCP, the SPLM required to be given the Deputy Speaker in the National Assembly. Also, the NCP demanded the position of Deputy Speaker of the regional Assembly by then Southern Sudan. So, we swapped; Honorable Atem Garang de Kuek went to the National Assembly from the SPLM as a Deputy Speaker, and I came to Southern Sudan’s Assembly as a Deputy Speaker from the NCP. I was the deputy of Comrade James Wani Igga, who was then the Speaker, and Honorable Wani was the one who helped to establish the Assembly. I stayed there in the Assembly from 2005-2007; I decided to resign from the NCP because I was not happy with two things:
One, the NCP wanted me to speak ill about the Abyei. They wanted me to promote their agenda by convincing Southerners that Abyei belongs to the North, which undermines the interest of Abyei as our people. Because the Abyei people and the land both belong to South Sudan, it undermines the interest and brotherhood of South Sudanese with the people of Abyei.
Second, I wasn’t even talking, and although I did like to bring the issue of Abyei to be discussed. I was not included in the committee or the political body that was tasked to monitor the peace implementation. However, I was the senior officer representing the NCP in the Government of South Sudan. I was given a platform then I could handle some cases in South Sudan with the leadership of the SPLM in Juba, but the NCP preferred their people from Northern Sudan to take up the brief concerning Abyei’s issue Southern Sudanese were left out. So, we didn’t have much say in the matter of Abyei.
RM: Maybe, the Northerner NCP members don’t want you to negotiate with your people on their behalf? Because you might sympathize with your people and give up too significant concessions?
HTDM: Yes, that was the case; they thought I would compromise with my people. But to stay where people are always suspicious of you and doubt your actions, you don’t feel comfortable. So, in 2007 I decided to resign. So, I called a press conference, and with me in the press conference, Comrade Malik Agar, Comrade Yasir Said Armani, and Comrade Pagan Amun. I made the statement at the meeting that I resigned officially.
RM: What was the reaction from President Bashir?
HTDM: Well, not President Bashir alone, but almost the whole NCP leadership was shocked. Because they were looking at me as one of their stronger NCP’s South Sudanese leaders, that’s why since in 1998, I didn’t remain in just one position because I was moved from one place to another. So, they were shocked, and they tried to persuade me, but I told them it was too late and I had already made up my mind and had taken a decision.
RM: You made up your mind and decided to resign from your political party, which had entrusted you with a powerful position in South Sudan, and you still relinquish. Does this not fit into what the Northerners used to say, “Southerners are decent intellectuals at day time, but at night they are rebels?”
HTDM: Well, these were things; it was a culture developed during the struggle. The orientation was that the South Sudanese inside were Islamized, and yes, some people joined Islam. But people went as far as for the Arabs to make sure that you have to be stamped on your buttock if you become a Muslim.
RM: Was it that real, or was it just a defamatory conspiracy?
HTDM: It could be a conspiracy. It was a way of discrediting, degrading, and diminishing people’s images so that your people look at you as if you were an enemy. But, unfortunately, up to now, some of the senior members still have the mentality that those who came from the National Congress Party and even including people from the Diaspora, who came from the battlefields, believed the movement had been hijacked by those who came from the NCP and the Diaspora.
RM: SPLA/M is an organization that neglects its kids and raises, hugging, kissing, and feeding others’ children. Have you ever heard that song by Larson Angok?
HTDM: Larson Angok forgot himself. This was the saying that SPLM always failed its children and hugged and kissed the children of others; that statement came from the late Lual Diin Wol or Baba Africa. During the fight for liberation, some leaders left the movement off and on, running outside and back to the movement. They were always welcomed back. So, Larson’s song is based on that saying of Lualdit, but when it comes to himself, to Larson Angok, if you ask him, were you involved in the SPLA? The answer is that he was with us in Khartoum and not in the SPLA/M. When we were appointed, he was the one who always conducted the welcoming parties. He sang so many songs for us and celebrated our appointments. So, he was one of us from Khartoum. If it is true that the SPLM hugged and embraced the children of others, then he was one of the children of the other.
RM: Economics is crucial to any country. You are aware of when oil was discovered. Today, oil is still a significant contributor to our country’s economy. However, we need to develop other industries and resources. What suggestions would you make about the directions Juba should take?
HTDM: Yes. In the first place, South Sudan is a country endowed by God with so many resources. It is a resource-rich country but has not been exploited up to now. We are coming to the oil. Oil is a non-renewable resource. So, we have to diversify our production and our source of revenues by using the proceeds from oil such that we have non-oil generating revenues. From 2005 up to 2021, we never paid attention, but now we have deep major concerns for diversifying production and boosting government services.
RM: When I was a boy, I crossed the Jonglei Canal on my way to Ethiopia. Unfortunately, the canal has never been completed. Do you think that it might still be a partial solution both to the flooding in South Sudan and to improve our relationships with Sudan and Egypt?
HTDM: It is currently a point of discussion, but most people are against it because they don’t benefit from it. First of all, we have the biggest sudd in the region and the world. He is here within Jonglei, and if Jonglei Canal is dug, the Sudd area will dry up, and it may be a desert. A flood is not a disaster to us. It has been living with us for centuries. Is it not a disaster, but the flood is a blessing because it brings fish and grasses for cattle to graze. Does our livelihood depend on it? There is no way we can allow our water to flow Egypt, and then our cattle which are the source of our livelihood would die of neglect. Yes, we can cooperate with Egyptians just like Ethiopia.
RM: What do you predict about South Sudan’s relationship with her other neighbors?
Do you see our region of Africa finding more and more in common, or perhaps divisions, especially about religion or political philosophies, drive the various nations apart?
HTDM: We have already taken steps toward being together. We are full members of the East African Community, and even our people are now in the East Africa Community Assembly. Still, some leaders of the East African Community are pushing for more union, eventually unity. But for the time being, let us have economic cooperation, and at the end of the economic cooperation, we can determine if we move toward complete unity. The fact is that some countries are poor they don’t have reserves to back up their currencies. So, we told them, we were like the European Union, where every country is almost decadent, and their money is substantial then we could make a union, but for the time being, let us deal in the areas of customs and free border movements.
RM: Let’s talk about sectarian fighting in South Sudan and Warrap state. To be specific, what could you do differently to reduce violence in Warrap State if you were reappointed as the Governor?
HTDM: I had this experience when I was a governor of Warrap state in 2008. There was a feud fighting between Aguok and Apuk, so I made a dialogue approach. I approached the chiefs and leaders of Gelweng, cattle camp youths, women, and especially the spear masters who had to audacity to bless the children when they carried out the fighting. I made a big conference, and I decided to take back the authority of the chiefs. Now, you can see those red uniforms of the leaders. I was the one who introduced those uniforms because I said to make chiefs feel powerful and part and partial to the system, they must be given two things: first, they must have uniforms and caps similar to district-administrator officers; Second, they must be paid a salary. Each of them was getting one thousand South Sudanese Pound. “You being the government employee, you must be in charge of your duties because to whom much is given, much is requested.”
Giving them uniforms distinguished their titles, the color and the description of their uniforms for both the executive chiefs and subchiefs: red scarf for executive chefs and subchief wear a black scarf. Now, it is easier the dismissal those who commit crimes. Because when you stripped off the chief of his uniforms and the people learn that he had been relieved of his assignment, the chiefs should avoid or prevent this situation. They start to work hard to follow the government’s line and carry out the direct orders properly, especially in keeping laws and mandates.
I held a conference in Tonj, and it was attended by the President, whereby they reconciled before the President. The blessing water was brought, but the President said he didn’t want the spear master to bless the reconciliation. But instead, he wanted the elders’ women whose husbands died because of the hands for these people to take charge of the blessing. So, we called Mama Ayen Park, the widow of late William Deng Nhial, and Mama Nyandeng Kuerbino, the widow of late Kuerbino Kuanyin Bol, to spray the reconciling communities with the water of blessing.
The societies were peaceful until I left, and there were no fights. So, when I left, I was succeeded by a female governor Madam Nyandeng Malek. There were several issues: First, all the Tonj resolutions of reconciliations were put aside, and they were not followed; second, there was no engagement of the chiefs anymore.
They don’t meet with the governor. However, the chiefs have a forum, Council of the Traditional Authority Leaders COTAL, which I formed when I was governor. In that COTAL, they met annually. The governor must meet with them bi-annually or once a year at the COTAL headquarters. They have not engaged anymore, and their salaries were not given to them anymore. They were canceled on the pretext that “Tor knew where he was bringing this money, but I don’t know where this money came from.” It was the same money for security that I was using to pay the chiefs instead of improving my lifestyle.
RM: So, do you think engaging the traditional authorities could be the better solution for resolving that violence among the cattle-raiding communities?
HTDM: These raiding cattle people, especially the Dinka and Nuer, don’t believe in violence or force and anything forced on them. So, they say let it be; they also retaliate and confront you, but when you dialogue with them seriously and break it down to them why violence is unnecessary, they will understand. Especially when a Dinka person tells you, “That person defeated me with his words,” he is convinced. Therefore, he will not create a problem again, which will build trust between the people. But confrontation will perpetuate the cycle of violence.
RM: Do you think that someday Sudan and South Sudan may re-unite or perhaps develop some form of a special relationship? But, for that to happen, what would have to change in both countries?
HTDM: No. This thing of the reunion is out of the question. But we deserve in the long run is the cooperation between the two countries, especially in the area of security because north and South Sudan have the longest border. The proper security arrangement along the border will be a priority, especially by not allowing the dissent insurgents from either to go to the other country for political refuge and then arrange and launch an attack from the other country. If it happens, it must be stopped, allowing the smooth movement of people and goods and services between two countries because all of us have interests. South Sudan is interested because its oil passes through Khartoum to the Red Sea, and for Khartoum, South Sudan is its biggest market, especially the northern part of South Sudan. Almost five states of South Sudan shared a border with Sudan.
RM: What are your thoughts on Abyei?
HTDM: Abyei’s people and land belong to South Sudan. It was only taken administratively and annexed to Kordofan in 1905. The reasons were obvious; the colonial power was looking for resources. There was this thing called poll taxes where they taxed people or households. They would pick one person from the family to be the taxpayer, or that was rotated among the family—you pay this year, and somebody else from the family will pay next.
There were no roads in 1905, but there were heavy rains and floods almost every year when this poll tax money was taken to the headquarters in Wau. It was a long way from Abyei; to ease the process, the money was redirected through Kordofan, El Obeid, which was a shorter distance and to which transportation was more readily available. That decision was the main reason Abyei was annexed administratively to El Obeid. It was not because of the land or especially the people.
When we, South Sudan, claimed Abyei back, it was given to us after the arbitrations in The Hague. The court acknowledged that the administration of Abyei and its nine Dinka Ngok chiefdoms belong to South Sudan. That’s what we have been after, that Abyei must come back to us. What complicated things more was the discovery of the oil in Abyei. It is the oil that has made the Abyei situation so tricky. Since most oil deposits were discovered in South Sudan, the North wanted to hold on to Abyei to take advantage of South Sudan’s resources.
RM: How many times have you been the Governor of Warrap State? When was the first you were appointed?
HTDM: I have been a governor of Warrap States three-time: First, I was appointed governor in 2002 to replace Machar Achiek Adaria, and then I was relieved; later on, 2004, when there was a general cease-fire, I was reappointed as a governor until we were relieved by the Dr. John Garang when the CPA was signed; the third time I was reappointed governor was in 2008-2010 under the leadership of the SPLM, but when people were getting ready for the 2010 general election.
The Political Bureau decided to form a committee in all states of South Sudan to scrutinize and screen all the candidates for the gubernatorial elections and because of some conspiracies led by some senior politicians in the national government and especially, there were some members of the Political Bureau who played a negative role by influencing those committees during the scrutiny. As a governor, I was audited based on my performance. I was given an approvable rate of 100% in literacy and performance. Still, they realized that I would lead the candidates, which meant I would stay Governor of Warrap State—just like those of Governor Louis Lobong of Eastern Equatoria State. When the scrutiny and screening committee realized that, they gave me zero in popularity. They believed I was not popular and, therefore, a different candidate would be suitable to contest for the Governor of Warrap State.
Given zero in popularity and even though I was a governor! “Come on,” I told them, “Why don’t you at least give me one or two percent? But, of course, I cannot be zero in popularity when I have a wife, mother, children, relatives, friends, and even my governor staff, including my deputy governor, advisors, and ministers. Even a teacher cannot give you zero points on paper you didn’t do anything on it; they might give you a point for writing your name and date on the top of the paper.”
RM: Leadership at the Local level where young men are turned into politicians overnight, such as counties commissioners, and the conflict that rise between the traditional rulers and young politicians. What your take on this matter?
HTDM: Well, indeed, that was one of the great mistakes we committed. When I was in Khartoum in 1994—Sudan was redivided into 46 states. The central government was very mindful because they were not called counties; they were called localities, and localities are the level closest to the people. For instance, let us say Dinka, for example; we don’t want to be tribalist, but let the Dinka society be an example in this scenario. In a Dinka tribe, when you send a young person to deliver a message to the older man, the older adult first will not give regard or consider the statement; second, he will see you or me as disrespecting him because why sending a boy or a young person. But if you send somebody who is almost his age or agemate, he will take the message seriously, and if he needs to ask you something, he will ask you later on. But for us here, we think giving these people positions of County Commissioners is a good fit for the young person because it is where people think they will get better training, which is wrong and opposite. If you want to train them, then make them ministers, but take older people, retired generals from the Army, retired undersecretaries, and retired administrators, you take them to be the County Commissioners because they will command the respect of the communities and the people in that county, because of this entitlement of Ngekdit, Ngekdit, and Ngekdit, their word is adequately heard and abided by. Their orders are carried out.
In our community, age matters. When you take a young person to deal with an age-dominated society, age is a determining factor. So, when you take somebody who is almost a grandson of somebody, how can your grandson now be giving you commands, harassing you, and possibly he doesn’t even speak to you with respect. This is why there is a setback. The political leaders let the young men do all they could, and that’s why there were fights everywhere. After all, people are saying, “These are the young men who are fighting. How come? These young men who are fighting don’t have parents?”
But we neglected the fact that young people listen to their parents and their chiefs. Still, they are not active because the situation had been left for these young politicians at the counties level to deal with the situation. The young people in the rural areas will look at the young man as their agemate, and they don’t listen to him. They would say, “‘ Who he thinks he is? He was one of us recently, and who the hell he thinks he is now?”
RM: One primary source of hard currency in South Sudan is the remittances sent home by those of us living in the Diaspora. My family has asked me for money, and I sent it. Some of it to educate my nieces and nephews, some to build my house in the village, and some for my father so he can buy more cows. What do you think of those three things? Is there a better thing I can do with the money I am sending back to South Sudan? Are there better ways I could invest in my homeland?
HTDM: Well, first, the question of sending money back home? This process has not been organized or legalized, or does it have a legal provision for it? It is done individually without government control. For example, in Khartoum, there was something called Duanna Matterapin. The workers who left Sudan and went to work in the Gulf states, their remittances were remitted through the Central Bank and the Central Bank of Sudan, giving the family of those workers local currencies and adding that to the reserves of the country’s foreign currencies. The same thing with Egypt and other countries.
But in the case of South Sudan and South Sudanese who are sending money back from aboard: those sending money back home were not allowed by law to go out of the country and work and send the money back. They were people like you who were sent by the Movement because you were too young to be in the army, too young to be fighting. Now you’re growing up there and are working, so you send money back to your family individually whatever the reason—whether for them to buy more cows or buy something else to improve their lives. That money is your effort to fill the space that was supposed to be filled by you in the family if you were here. You were supposed to cultivate and do other duties. Instead, you left, and you are sending back money—something to compensate for your absence.
RM: What is the citizenship role of those living in Diaspora? Should we be voting in South Sudan’s elections? Should we have dual citizenship?
HTDM: Coming to voting, it was in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement because people were looking for the opinions of all South Sudanese wherever they were: were they for session or unity of the country.
We have about four or five national elections: a presidential election, National Assembly, members of the Council of States, governors of ten states, state assembly members, seventy-nine county commissioners. This means seventy-nine ballots. You cannot carry all these aboard to look for South Sudanese. Perhaps for the presidential election only, but that is not provided in the constitution.
Second, regarding dual citizenship. This matter has not yet been addressed. We are currently drafting citizenship rules. A citizen defends their country’s territory. If there is external aggression, they support the nation against that danger. A citizen pays taxes to the government to facilitate the work of the common good and the delivery of services. And the citizen is the one who votes. These three are the definitions of a citizen of any country.
When it comes to dual citizenship, especially most of you in Diaspora, you are citizens of your new countries. Some of you have served in the military. You take part in their elections. If you are a citizen of the U.S., you vote for the President of the United States. You may even belong to a political party.
When it comes to taxes, you pay taxes to the government of the country you live and work in.
So, now, we want balance. Yes, by birth, your origins are South Sudanese. Of course, your relatives and family are here, but you as an individual are an American. You see now? Did you get my point? It is going to be addressed legally, and I think before the election comes. Right now, we have American citizens in the National Assembly and the ministries here. However, they still vote in U.S. elections; either they go to the American Embassy here where they cast their votes or travel back to America to vote. Still, they are members of the Assembly.
RM: Finally, is there anything you would like to say to the people of South Sudan that I did not ask you?
HTDM: Not to ask something. But I just want to give my heartfelt greetings, passion, and love to all my brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters in the Diaspora to keep in their minds that there is a South Sudan home. They must hold their cards like other nationals do, as they have seen the Arabs do in the Western World. The Arabs are promoting their cultures; they are promoting the way they dress and how the girls cover their heads, eyes, faces even though the West is resisting them, but they are strong. Holding tight to their cultures, so basically, to their family ties: that is what I want to tell my people over there in the West.
We don’t have this thing if a child reaches the age of eighteen, then they depart, that they are no longer your child if they become an adult. No, we don’t have it here. We have family ties. Even if you are seventy-year-old, you still stay with your family. Even we, the educated elite of South Sudan, are still bound to our traditions. If you go home, even if you are President like Salva Kiir, the elders can still order you to sit down and listen to their words while you are sitting down. And a person could be a mate or lover, and the elders lecture you and could be the ones to decide your marriage.
The elders are the ones who have held on to the culture, and that’s why now in communities—and especially the Dinka community—the divorces and separation are not a lot. Still, lately, divorces are more commonly happening. Still, most in the urban areas, but in the rural areas, it is difficult to divorce because family is made together by the girl’s relatives and relatives of the boy. They are not free to get united in marriage and decide alone to disunite; dismantling the union between you and your husband or wife these are not easy and is unacceptable. So, we have to hold to our cultures to be a strong family, and the strong family always produces strong men who are assets to their communities.
RM: Thank you, Honorable Tor Deng Mawien, for taking the time to meet with us.