By Gatkhor Puol Tangtony
The president and his aids have really been following the fight in the social media given the fact that the group who support dredging has two different views. It has been a fierce battle over the last few months mostly in WhatsApp groups, Twitter and Facebook where most of the views were exchanged in regard to Jonglei Canal Resumption and the dredging of Nam River whereby the dredge took the leads in the debate.
Today July 9, 2022; the President of the republic freezes the project given the concern of the nationwide criticism of the project until credible, professional evidence-based studies are carried out. Quoting from the President’s speech, page 5, paragraph 3; the three last lines:
“Those who support dredging see it as a permanent solution to the persistent floods in the low lying areas. Others in the same group see it (dredging) as a mean of opening our water ways for river transport that will ease transportation bottlenecks in the country”.
Although government might have taken scientific studies and a rescue plan, president view it unsatisfactory to the eyes of South Sudanese citizens. As mentioned above on the title, the plan of Naam dredging is not a new event. In 1998 when the dredging plans was initiated by the government in the state, due to resistance from the rebel group, the project failed. In 1999 when Peter Gatdet rebel from Paulino Matip to SPLA most of Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) Garrisons outside Bentiu were surrounded by SPLA whereby most of the SAF troops in those garrisons lost their lives because there were no escape route to Bentiu. The typical example was Wangkei which experienced the toughest assaults from both sides where so many lives from both sides died. The surrounded trenched battalion of SAF in Wangkei fought for months. Government tried sending ground forces and air forces and couldn’t recue because there was no route to Wangkei either by road or river. SAF Battalion was having the ration of two years plan, Ammunitions and medicines. Their mission was a unknown suicide mission. Gatdet tried to make plan B by digging the diagonal trenches so that they are able to fight a dog fight within their trenches. When the government in Khartoum learnt the plan B would work out, they sent two warship and two excavators from Kosti through the Nile heavily equipped with modern sophisticated weapons. They tried their way to Wagkei throught Naam river. This voyage was one of the toughest journey two of the warning sides have ever experienced. Gatdet lost so many troops as well as the SAF. When the operation commander from SAF gave up in Rubnyegai after two of their excavators destroyed; giving the excuse that they can’t move anymore, so many warplanes including gunships brought another commander to replace the previous and was told not to report back unless he comes with the trapped battalion. They forcefully welded their destroyed excavators and continue the journey. They successfully reach Wagkei after some months of fierce battles. Upon their arrival, they found less than 30 solders in Wagei and all of them including the commanding officer were wounded. This was a brief story of Naam River I know. In 2006 when South got its autonomous government, Gen. Taban Deng put the dredging (clearance) of Naam River as a top priority, due to the lack of enough funds; it has not gotten its executions.
Flooding of 2020-2022
Due to the change of the subject of Naam clearance for economical purpose as quoted above in president nation address into mitigation of floods by the state government for easy mobilization of funds which led into volunteer provision of Machines by Egyptian government coupled with Jonglei Project Resumption was what triggered all the messes we have today. Should the state government sticks on the subject of clearing Naam for easy access of goods into state capital; there won’t be a suspension of the project. I have said this in several arguments that the state government put a wrong replacement of the subject. No matter how deep we can dig the river, the volume of water which covered the 80% of Unity State won’t reduce by 30%. In this regards I want to inform the public that the dredging of Naam was a good one to the people of Unity State and South Sudanese at large given the commercial aspect of it. Throughout the year of 2021 – 2022, the people of Bentiu and their government were surviving on local made Canoes and the UN relief. There was no access to the state through river transport, no land transport. The local Canoes can’t provide enough stocks for the entire population of the state; and those who got trapped in the Southern part of the State are unspoken of. If our national government is mindful of her citizens, they would have the rescue plan to save lives.
Relocations of Displaced Population:
Professor John Akec Proposes a relocation of the people of Unity State into safe harbor which he didn’t specify like some of the senior government officials with the same idea. Taking the case of Jonglei in 2020, when the community of Bor submerged in water, most of their livestock died. The few which were rescued by boats to Juba were later taken to Eastern Equatoria for pasture. What happens was that, the farmers and the pastoralist never stayed peacefully. So many people lives lost and so many livestocks disappeared. The government of Eastern Equatoria and her citizen ask the national government to intervene. The national government ordered all cattle be taken back to their state of origin which was none other than Jonglei which is still under water. Was that a solution? Absolutely not.
To conclude, the government shouldn’t rely much on the fear that they don’t have budget for rescuing the situations. They have to make a quick plan of channeling water to our common deserts like in the case of Greater Jonglei so that the people of Jonglei stay in Jonglei and vice versa.
Naam River clearance should be reconsidered.
Ustaz Gatkhor Puol Tangtony