By Gabriel Omonhinmin
A 20 years old South-Sudanese Human Rights Activist and Young Entrepreneur, Miss Anna Maneno Michael Milla, has lamented the deteriorating political and economic fortunes of her country, after the sudden demise of their leader, John Garang de Mabior in the year 2005, in an helicopter crash. Garang was regarded as the founding father and symbol of unity in today’s South-Sudan. He led the Sudan People’s Liberation Army during the country’s 22 years second Sudanese Civil War.
After the death of Garang, Sylva Kiir Mayardit, the Southern Sudanese rebel leader/politician, who became the civilian President of the country on the 9th of July, 2011, is still occupying the position 11 years after.
Miss. Maneno was in Nigeria as one of the ten winners and recipients of the 2021 edition of the Future Africa Leaders Awards funded by the President of LoveWorld Incorporation, the Christ Embassy Ministry, led by Pastor Chris Oyakhilome. She lamented in an exclusive interview with ThePoint Newspapers in Lagos about the high rate of insecurity and arms proliferations in South Sudan. This ugly situation of the proliferations of light weapons in her country, she stressed, is due to the deliberate refusal of some leaders to adhere to Chapter 2 of the South-Sudanese Revitalized Peace Agreement.
The Revitalized Agreement on the resolution of the conflict in South Sudan was an historic opportunity to put an end to the conflict in that country. The first part of this agreement expressly states, that all parties to the agreement must sincerely commit to reaching an agreement for cease fire. While the second condition is for the international community to support the process. Sadly, the conflict in South-Sudan is continuing to cause terrible suffering for the people of that country, in particular women and children, as more than half of this population is suffering from food insecurity while one third of South-Sudanese remain in displaced or refugee camps.
Although the ceasefire is generally respected, intercommunial and sexual violence have not decreased.
The issue of early girl child’s marriage is another scourge, which requires international attention, according to her. She said the situation is getting to an epidemic proportion, and gradually destroying the future of young girls in South-Sudan if it continues unchecked. The Refugee Problems in the country and the Internally Displaced Persons in most Camps in South-Sudan and outside Sudan is another kettle of fish all together alongside other vices such as sexual violence and prostitutions among other issues, which require global attention.
The 20 years old Miss. Anna Maneno, said “I was just about 2 or 3 years old, when South-Sudanese people lost its founding father and symbol of unity, Dr. John Garang, who died in an helicopter accident. And as a young child then, I saw and could still recollect how people all over the country, grieved over the sudden passage of our leader then in that unfortunate incident. I therefore grew up to know, one of my country’s cardinal values to be one indivisible, peaceful and united South-Sudan.
“Painful as it is today, just some 11 years into the country’s hard fought and hard earned independence, the core values and the South-Sudanese ethos, that were carefully built over the years, are now gradually being eroded by the internal political wrangling in my country. The continuous arms conflicts in some parts of the country, is not only unnecessary it’s uncalled for, not after the heavy price our people have paid for our independence as a country. Especially at this particular stage of South-Sudan development.
Miss. Anna Maneno was however, quick to point out, “I must confess, that the current President of South-Sudan, His Excellency President Sylva Kiir is a very good man, who meant well for my country and the people of South-Sudan. Unfortunately, the problems we have, as they affect governance today in South-Sudan, arise mainly from the people surrounding the President, who are trying to hold him hostage.
These crops of politicians or advisers, constantly make things extremely difficult for the country to achieve good governance. As they constantly express sentiments that push genuine and experienced South-Sudanese people away from the system or corridor of power. These people around the president often times express sentiments such as “where were they, the supposed intruders, when we were in our trenches up in arms as part of the country’s independence arm struggle?”
These types of sentiment often times, force people, who genuinely meant well and are willing and ready to help the country to grow from shying away or refusing to participate out rightly serving the country to the best of their ability. “Another issue which is of great concern to most South-Sudan people is the unfortunate issue of early girl-child marriage, which is almost getting to an epidemic proportion.
The young Human Rights Activist and Entrepreneur, who has just been appointed into the National Parliament of South-Sudan, as an observer, further stressed, “The issue of South-Sudanese cultural values and practices, especially as it affects early girl-child marriage is honestly disturbing. These harmful cultural practices, which the average South-Sudan men and some elderly women do not see anything wrong with, have resulted in most ‘uncles’ whose traditional rights it is, to negotiate and marry out their girls-child, taking undue advantage of the system to their own personal advantage.
They are now in the habit of recklessly given out these children hands in marriage, even before they get to their puberty period.
“In the process, leaving the innocent girl-child, who has no say or option in matters like this, to continue to look on hopelessly and helplessly while other people do whatever they please with their destiny. Unfortunately, most of these Uncles who negotiate the bride price of these children on behalf of their families, end up collecting exorbitant fees as bride price. Anna explained further, the ridiculous bride price they collect at times in the process is as high as $30 to $50,000 U.S. dollars equivalents in South-Sudanese money. This excludes the large number of cattles 300 to 700 they also demand and collect, during such marriage negotiations.
Miss Anna Maneno then emphatically said, although, “I have had the opportunity to relocate to other developed countries of the world to seek greener pasture, I have resolved not to leave South-Sudan, but to stay in the country to help develop South-Sudan to a position, where it will be comparable to other developed countries of the world.
She added “In view of the ugly experiences of the past and the continuation of this practice, which still persist up till this very moment, I am granting you this interview, I will struggle to fight, using the global platform this particular Future Africa Leaders Award has provided me as a base, once I get back to my country. Especially now, that the South-Sudanese government is once again preparing to review its constitution. I will do my very best alongside other well-meaning people in ensuring the inclusion of the clause that will guarantee the Fundamental Human Rights of these little girls. I will work very hard to sensitize other people, who will join me in pushing for the inclusion of this clause in the new constitution that will be reviewed, so that this monumental child abuse of our little girls will be stopped once and for all.
As this is the only way to halt these daily activities of these Uncles, who mindlessly sell their children into slavery in the name of marriages”
Miss Anna Maneno said, “I will continue to thank my mother, who had stood firmly behind me, in my drive to realize my dream as a young South-Sudanese lady. She continued, “According to the South-Sudanese cultural practices, marriage is seen as a major achievement, by ladies. As we speak, most of my relatives have continued to pester me to get married, in the same breath, continue to caution me, to abandon my advocacy for the girl child rights, saying if, “I continue the way and manner I am presently going, I might find it very difficult to get a husband to marry in South-Sudan.
Another interesting angle to girl child experiences in South-Sudan, is the issue of teenage pregnancy and the loss of hope of many little girls, who were caught in these dilemma in most refugee camps across South-Sudan and outside the country. Anna now decided to narrate her personal experiences in life and her experience in the refugee camp where she found herself in neighbouring Uganda in the year 2016, and how she finally managed to get out of the mess scattered.
Hear her: “It is an honour and dream come true for me to be honoured with this year’s edition of the Future Africa Leaders Award. What inspired me most in going for this award is the story of my life. It was while still in my mother’s womb, was when my father rejected me. I love my mother so much, because she did not decide to abort me. Rather, she kept me and mentored me to be an asset to the African continent today.
Now listening to the President of the LoveWorld, Rev. Dr. Chris Oyakhilome, has made me to realize a lot in my life. I have always had the passion to change communities, right from my childhood, from my primary school days to secondary schools, I have always tried to make a point and difference, especially in places where girls and ladies are not visible or present.
“ In 2016, the war in South-Sudan specifically affected my country. People were pushed away to the refugee camps, and I happened to be one of the victims. But nevertheless, I became a victor in the whole process. In the camps, there were a lot of girls, who decided to go for marriage, there were cases of teenage child pregnancy epidemic, a lot of girls and ladies were messed up in the process, as most of them felt the world they were living in then has ended or shattered. It was hard reaching out to these girls then. But fortunately for me I was chosen as one of the little girls, who featured in a film that was celebrated in my country. In the process, most girls came to admired me, and they will always say to me, “I also want to be an actress I want to be like you.”
“I took that, as an opportunity to reach out to these groups of girls, because I knew, when I speak to them, they will listen to my voice. I reached out to these girls, to their mothers and grandmothers, talking to them about education. Even to those girls, who dropped out of school, I use to tell them, after the birth of your child, you can still go back to school to further your education, you now being pregnant is not the end of your life or the end of the world or everything about you.”
“I have always believed that South-Sudan needs elites and among those elites, we must have women. This also inspired me to go and talk to the young girls in my country. I even went a step further, to talk to the elderly, because I knew, it is not easy for one to be pushed to a foreign country where one is kept in the bush. It is usually very difficult to start life from such places. Some of these girls committed suicide, and there were lot of such cases. My team and I therefore, decided to adopt a two way approach to solving these problems. When I eventually returned to South-Sudan, I immediately realized, that my country needed a lot of help. It is true, as we speak now, that the political system in South-Sudan is not upright. But the situation there now, afforded me the opportunity to be the right citizen and attempt to make a change.”
“To every young African listening to my voice and also read this interview, I say, it is not right for us to get ourselves guns and kill one another. It is not right for us to destroy our continent, by shooting at the government, but it is right for us to approach the nearest community to us, and try to do the change, we would want the government to do for us. I thank the Future Africa Leaders Award organizers so much, for this opportunity. Because I know, when I get back to my country, I will get the audience that will join me in my efforts to change my communities for the better. I will endeavour to practice agriculture and entrepreneurship, because a lot of my people in South-Sudan, need our voice to survive in these areas of the economy.”