Clowns in a tragic clown
“Hey, come and behold the strangest of spectacles,” my mother called from out in the yard. I stepped out of the house into the mid-morning sun. My mother stood at the fence chuckling heartily, and pointing down the street. I stood beside her and stared in great amazement at one of the most peculiar sights I had ever witnessed.
Two men, one tall, dark-skinned and wearing a cowboy hat, the other short, light-skinned and bald, walked up the dirt road, now remonstrating with each other, now shaking hands or hugging. Occasionally, after gesticulating wildly at each other, the tall one would deliver a blow to the bald pate of his companion, who would dance around in pain while holding his head. Then the short man, whose corpulence belied his alacrity, would aim a kick at the shins of the tall man, who would hop about, yelling in pain.
By the time they came parallel to our gate, they were back on friendly terms, and were talking animatedly about some place called Abyiei. “Excellent suggestion, brother,” the tall man was saying, “we can divide the province in two.”
The short man, smiling broadly, replied: ”You see, we Africans can solve our own problems.”
“I am glad you agree to the oil-producing part remaining on my side,” said the tall man.
"No, wait a minute,” said the short man heatedly, “the oil remains with me.” There followed accusations and counteraccusations. Then as fast as lightning, the short man unleashed a powerful kick to his companion’s shins. The tall man jumped around, howling in pain. “If you would only agree with me,” began the short man, "there would not be a problem”.
He had hardly finished speaking when a heavy blow landed on his shiny head. It was his turn to hop around in pain. Then noticing my mother and I rocking with laughter, they composed themselves, and requested me to show them to Old Nyati’s house.
They maintained peace all the way to the village sage’s house. “I am Omar al-Bashir, President of Sudan,” the short gentleman told Old Nyati. “And I am Salva Kiir of South Sudan,” announced the tall one. They told Old Nyati they wanted to spend some time in the village in order to sort out the problems between their two countries.
“Gentlemen,” said the old man, “I am sure a few days in our village will give you both wisdom and vision.”
Old Nyati and I escorted the two gentlemen to their new residence at the edge of the village and watched them go inside. As we turned to leave, I voiced my worry to Old Nyati.
"Let them clobber each other into some sense,” he replied. As if on cue, we heard, first one high pitched yell and, seconds later, Salva Kiir’s anguished howl. Old Nyati shrugged and said, “Let the pain hopefully beget some mental gain.”
On the days that followed, we would see the two leave their house the best of friends, only to return quarrelling and fighting. One day, I passed by their house and found them laughing.
"You see,” Mr Kiir called out to me, “we Africans are quite capable of solving our own problems.”
“Yeah,” chimed in al-Bashir, “come see what we have agreed.” He was waving a paper in the air. I walked over to where they sat and peered over the document.
“Abieyi is divided into two equal parts… er, one part is more equal than the other… the oil passing through our territory is – by any logical computation - ours.” Al-Bashir rubbed his hands together in obvious satisfaction.
"Wait, wait,” cried Salva Kiir, waving his hands dangerously, “we agreed that you charge a fee for the oil passing through your country, as for Abieyi…." There ensued a heated quarrel. Before I could say or do anything, they had reduced each other to screaming and howling caricatures of themselves.
It was all so comical, and even as I walked home, I could not help laughing to myself. Yet when I thought about what the comedy portended, I felt a heavy gloom come over me. Skirmishes between the two countries had already cost many lives and much destruction. The two countries had allowed superficial differences to become unbridgeable chasms, even though they faced the same problems of underdevelopment, and peace was to their mutual benefit.
As in other conflict situations in Africa, greed, misplaced nationalism, egos of the dictators, irrational intransigence, short-sightedness, religious or ethnic bigotry stood in the way of making a lasting peace.