Before the signing of the Peace Agreement, we were talking about crimes, after the signing of the Peace Agreement, we are now talking about genocide unfolding in S.S.
The chaos goes on seemingly unabated in South Sudan. Uganda’s New Vision website Public affairs Editor Paul Busharizi sat down with human rights and governance expert, S.S Professor Dr Remember Miamingi, to understand the mess in the new country.
Question QN: What is the state of Affairs right now in South Sudan?
ANSWER: The state of Affairs right now in South Sudan at the moment is tragic and to put it in perspective before the Peace Agreement was signed in August 2015, S. Sudan had less than 200,000 internally displaced persons, less than 100, 000 refugees that we had outside the country.
After the signing of the Peace Agreement, today South Sudan has close to 2 million South Sudanese outside as refugees, over 500,000 internally displaced South Sudanese.
In 2013, we had around 2m people that were said to be facing famine. Today, 6 million South Sudanese are facing starvation in the country.
Before the signing of the Peace Agreement, we were talking about crimes, after the signing of the Peace Agreement, we are now talking about genocide unfolding in S.S.
So after the signing of the Agreement, the situation has deteriorated significantly that the UN, AU and international Agencies are now saying genocide is unfolding in S.S in a rate that is extremely disturbing.
QN: Who is perpetrating the genocide?
It is both ways; it is the armed practice to the conflict. But what has happened is that we had a political conflict which degenerated into an ethnic conflict and this ethnic conflict has been excavated by a rhetoric of dehumanising other people on the base of their ethnicity and that which started in 2013, you had a conflict which picked the Dinka ethnic groups and Nuer ethnic group.
But right now we are having ethnic groups within Equatoria region have taken arms predominantly in response to abuse they have received but also the government’s targeting other ethnic groups on response of their ethnicity.
So you have a gov’t that is embarked on a policy of ethnic cleansing on the base of ethnicity but you also have armed groups that have gone back to return the same policy and targeting communities, wiping out entire communities on the basis of ethnicity.
And when you have a country where ethnicity, ethnic hatred is as deep as we have in S.S where dehumanisation of others is a state policy while conflict has provided a symbol of context for it, and the economy has completely collapsed and there’s a war for survival, genocide in that context is devastating.
And so what we are seeing in S.S if not arrested will be than worse than what we witnessed in Rwanda.
QN: How many ethnic groups do you have in S.S?We have 63 ethnic groups in S.S. Sixty three a big number to have a genocide. Who would be killing who? Probably it’s not a genocide
What you have is that even though there are 63 ethnic groups in South Sudan, you have a gov’t that is predominantly one ethnic group and that is the Dinka. You have the rebellion that is predominantly one ethnic group and that is Nuer.
And so when the gov’t attacks the Nuer community through militias and armed groups, they wipe out the entire community not because they are rebels but because they are Nuers.
And when you target one ethnic group primarily and mainly on the basis of that ethnicity with the intention of wiping it out completely, that is the classical definition of genocide and you also have a return, that when this rebel group attack either predominantly Dinkas, they carry out the same policy.
So it is even though they are different ethnic groups, you have primarily two main actors that are engaging on a very devastating act of threatening to wipe out the ethnicity of the other in the context of war that is unfolding.
And so when we are talking about the genocide, we are not undermining the fact that there is massive killing, we are not undermining the fact that there is rape; the rate of sexual violence we have in S.Sudan, we have not witnessed it since we started fighting the Arabs for close to 30 years. The scale of brutality that we as S.Sudanese are meting on each other today, not even the Arabs figured it that way.
QN:So how did it come to this?
That is the 1 billion dollar question because S.S was born a Golden nation to so much virginity and potential with Good will in the region and international.
My answer to that question is that first, S.S suffers from leadership deficit; when we had independence everything was prepared and dreamt around Dr. John Garang de Mabior who was the vision of the movement and the man who articulated and provided direction to where the country was going and demised in 2005, providing a leadership vacuum and the comrades stepped into, who had no vision, had no national interest, they were completely committed to quality of their bellies, it was corruption, it was anything other than the nation building and therefore this leadership deficit led us to where we are today.
Secondly, in my opinion it was the capacity deficit, what we could have done as a country was to say we have a country, we have not governed before, we do not have experience in this, we could have gone to Uganda and say Uganda, we have one of the best civil services in the region. Can you second some men and women to come and help us? We could have gone to Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania and amass capacity to help us do institutions.
So in the absence of institution, in the absence of systems, we had a complete collapse between party, government, the state and the army.
In fact our parliament became like a cantonment area where generals would go if you did not find work somewhere else, you ended up in Parliament. So we had the entire system that was conflicted together because of capacity issues.
But thirdly, in my opinion, is that when we fought North Sudan, we had our own differences and problems and some atrocities that were committed by S.Sudanese against others. They were not addressed at all because we said let us first and foremost deal with the North.
Once we are finished with that, we will come and deal with our own nation and when we finished with the North, we had no opportunity to deal with those issues not that we didn’t have an opportunity, we did not prioritise solving our own post injustices, solving our own grievances and the same people we have in the North that we fought could easily capitalise; took advantage of those differences we had and from there could help in generating the kind of situation that we are having today.
We also got here in my opinion because of the role that our neighbours had played in Sudan in South Sudan during the war. Uganda sacrificed so much during the war and when for example Uganda was expected to play a role when the country was going forward and so was Ethiopia and Kenya.
And so that, different players playing with the different actors in S.S in trying to push one national interest against the other national interest and the conflict that arose also helped feed into the conflict that we are having today. SO it’s a number of issues from leadership through down to regional geo-political dynamics.
QN: What role did South Sudan’s neighbours have in the chaos we see now?
I want to agree that yes, the conflict we have in S.S today, apart from we can’t take responsibility away from National actors, but that our brothers and sisters in the region have also contributed in complicating a search for solution for the problem and I will also give a good example: Uganda played a significant role in fact if you are to rank countries together, the kind of support we receive from Uganda in liberating is monumental.
But when the conflict broke out in 2013, the government of Uganda took one side in the conflict; this was a fight between brothers. The government went in through Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) and then supported one side to that conflict and that was to the government.
Now of course government to government support is reasonable except that in the context of South Sudan, we had a government that was predominately bigger that have just been accused of committing crimes against humanity -war crimes and possibility genocide against another main ethnic group the Nuer.
And now when you dare come and help one side, you are actually strengthening one ethnic group against the other. And there strengthening the divide between the two ethnic groups.
Uganda has probably one of the most important opportunities to bring the conflict in South Sudan to an end. It is able, it is capable but I do not know if it is willing to do it.
Let’s go to Ethiopia, Ethiopia seeing Uganda on one side inevitably because of the different dynamics in the region, but also because of the sacrifices Ethiopia made in Sudan then. We had Ethiopia supporting the armed groups and so when you add this to Sudan who basically had interest in ensuring that S.Sudan was as destabilised as it can be, so that at least its armed industry can thrive and so that its own security might be strengthened by a weak South Sudan.
Now you have Egypt coming into this picture through Uganda and with support from Uganda to support Salva Kiir. The moment Egypt is in S.S, Ethiopia is with the rebels, the moment Egypt is in S.S, Sudan is with the rebels. So already all this put together, you have Kenya that has its own interest that has played significant interest in bringing together the Peace Agreement also having its own competition and its national interest.
So these national interests as valid and genuine as they are, not managed well, contributed significantly to the intractability conflict that we have today.
But there is no solution in S.S that is not a solution that is accepted by the region and that is why it is extremely important and we are already asking whether we need mediators to mediate the regional mediation because the differences between the different countries in the region have almost paralysed Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) the ability to provide mutual, impartial mediation to the conflict to the extent that IGAD as an institution has been compromised.
And so without the new incredible mediation and without a united regional front that the AU and UN will depend on to address the conflict in S.S. we are in a situation that as the conflict is deteriorating, solution is going further and the ordinary people in S.S are looking for leadership.
My coming to Uganda was basically to talk to Uganda leadership and so you have the golden opportunity, you can use your experience, you can use your expertise you can use your capacity and have a big nation as a big brother to rise above narrow personal relationships, narrow personal economic and political interests and provide leadership in those regions and if not for any other reason, the outgoing Chief of staff in Uganda in an interview just about a few days ago said the greatest security risk to Uganda remains S.Sudan.
So even if it’s not out of solidarity for S.Sudanese, from a security interest of Uganda, you have over 2m people crammed between the border of Uganda. These people are coming from some of the most traumatised experience, they are interacting with Uganda across that border. You have the flow of arms either to S.S or from there for survival along that border.
You have the social consequence that comes with a small country that was may be 5 or 20 or 30, 000 people right now hosting over 400,000 people in their communities. You have the socio-economic burden that brings in.
So it’s not just not a security threat in that sense but it is also an economic threat because the international community is not putting its money into United Nations system sufficient enough to provide for this.
It is the community that will subsidize them. It is the community that will carry the burden and those people are Ugandans.
It is also a social threat because nobody is providing social and psychological support to these people. Traumatised as they are, the cultural violence, the culture of treating things from the way they came from will begin to interact with local culture there and that is an issue Uganda will have to deal with tomorrow.
And so from that perspective we are saying, you can and you should because the Americans are not bearing this, Ethiopia is bearing this but not every other country in the region is carrying the burden. And we are just talking about those apart from so many 100s of 1000s of persons scattered across Uganda here in Kampala and everywhere who basically depend on this.
Students across the schools here can’t pay their fees because S.S has collapsed. Business men that had invested so heavily in S.S have gone bankrupt; they are having social issues to deal with here. So it is in the interest of Uganda as it is in the interest of S.Sudanese that as brothers, that we fix this.
QN: Where do you derive your confidence that Uganda holds the key to the resolving the situation?
When the war of liberation in S.S was almost failing, failing because of the same compromises in the region, Uganda stood its ground. Uganda did not only provide material support, Uganda in certain circumstances put boots on the ground in S.S in support of the liberation war.
It did it despite the divisions, it did it despite that some people were compromised like Moi, like other people in the region by the government of Sudan.
So historically, Uganda has stood on the right side of history. But in addition to that, I personally do not see President Museveni, just as a president. He is an elder and a statesman who has been in this region long enough, to understand this region long enough, whose actions have impacted heavily negatively or positively on this region to build networks and respected beyond his region.
The utterances that President Museveni makes here become policies in Washington DC, the utterances that he makes here become AU policies sometimes. So there is a cloud. the only unfortunate thing is that that socio capita has been underutilised, that social capital has been limited because of what i perceive as complete distrust from the leadership in Uganda of the leadership of the rebel movement in S.S and because of that distrust, Uganda cannot come to see itself bringing these two people together; some body that you do not trust at all, you do not respect at all; that is causing havoc in the country.
I think as a leader and as an eldest states-person, it is incumbent that you, Museveni, bring these people together. Let there be peace and let South Sudanese be given opportunity to choose who their leaders are. All that they want is peace.
Today, if Uganda closed down the bank accounts of all the generals who are fighting in South Sudan, their monies are kept here, their houses are here and their children are here. Uganda has leverage. If it speaks today, Juba listens because if Uganda closes its door today, the government in Juba will collapse within days, it has the power.
And so I’m convinced from the historical perspective, we are connected as people, culturally we are connected, our burdens become your burdens. But also from the capacity of this country the experience of dealing with conflicts in the region, Uganda has the expertise to deal with us and to deal with our problems each and when it wants.
QN: The distrust between Uganda and the rebel side in S.Sudan. What is the genesis of the distrust?
My understanding and perception is that one of the greatest setback to the entire liberation project in South Sudan was when the rebel movement broke into two in 1991 and that break was instigated by Dr Riak Machar and in Lamako and that pushed the movement back 10 years.
So the effort that Uganda had put into and other countries was almost brought to a total failure but act of a man from a perspective of a Ugandan Government, That was selfish. There was ambition, and on top of that he went back to Khartoum where their image was, there so there was the issue of destruction.
But in addition to that there was history around the conversation to deal with the LRA, the negotiations that had to do with LRA, the understanding and I have no evidence is written down and I have spoken about, I have not verified myself, is that during that 1991 break, one of the conduits that Sudan was providing support to the LRA was through the breakaway movement of Riak.
And so even then when Riak came to Juba and was managing the peace conversation between the governments here, the trust on the side of the government wasn’t there. So the government here sees Riak… that is my perception from far, as not being a reliable leader and not being a true Nationalist and therefore not being a kind of core liberator that will go with a tradition of NRM and ZANU–PF and all those.
So when in 2013 the same Dr Riak Marhar again was alleged to have been involved in an attempted coup, which could have thwarted the project of the nation building, my thinking was that some people in this country had enough. And so it acted and allowed that personal hatred to then inform a national strategic approach.
QN: There was an issue too that the SPLA is not a coherent force and therefore the chaos?
The SPLA before 2005 was one of the most disciplined, professional forces in the region in terms of even though were rebels. Then came in 2005 and the finding of the disagreement under the death of Dr John Garang de Mabior now when Salva Kiir came to power one of the greatest threat to Salva Kiir control over the army was the so called Garang boys.
The Garang boys were the Generals, professional and the training core OF SPLA who probably didn’t have so much respect for General Salva Kiir and what President Salva Kiir then did was one by one, systematically eliminate these people.
These also owned the regional dynamic that Garang was from Bor and you had Salva Kiir come from Bahr el Ghazal and that before Salva came in, that all the people who were probably Dinkas from the Bor. So they then went ahead to balance that. So that was one major diluting factor.
Now the second diluting factor, was as we approach the referendum, Khartoum was busy providing arms to different rebel groups across South Sudan and to avoid these spoilers, spoil the chance of this country to vote in a referendum.
Salva Kiir invented these eviction policies where all those militias were incorporated into the SPLA, they came in with their ranks. That today, it is important to note that we have 745 generals in the army and these people came in with their culture, traditions, they had no training, they came in with the structure, they maintained their ranks; that second diluting factor then completely took away whatever professional advantage that the SPLA had.
The Third diluting factor is corruption when we got independence, S.Sudan suddenly had at that its disposal, it was dealing in billions of dollars from the proceeds of oil and when this money used to come in first, and we had no banking system. The money would come in cartons, millions of dollars in cartons that was kept at the SPLA secretariat.
The SPLA secretariat was the Minister of Finance. Suddenly people had to deal with money and with no accountability at all.
And so every other consideration gave way to corruption and patronage and so the professional disciplined solders that we had completely disappeared that today, it is even worse because when the conflict broke out in 2013, by that time because of these big tribes, most of the malice were from Nuer tribe. So when the conflict broke out, 70% of the army broke and went with the rebels.
So even within the diluted, 70% had gone. So what we have today, when people talk about SPLA today, it doesn’t exist, when people talk about the army, it doesn’t exist because what we have in S.S is a Coalition of miltias whose commanders and control are not to Salva Kiir as the commander-in-chief but it is to the different militias Commanders that brought them together, responsible for feeding them and their salaries and all that they get. So that is another complicating factor.
And that is why if Uganda had not intervened in 2013, ehh… (sighs) the war would have been over from the sense of the rebels because Juba would have fallen because there was no army to provide.
So his right one has not only destroyed the army in the country but has created the greatest security threat as a country. If Sudan attacked us today, we would have no army to fight with because we have finished our army, fighting ourselves.
QN: So how will this be resolved?
Yes, but we are hoping. The resilience of the S.Sudanese people. We started fighting on August 25, 1955. The resilience that saw the S.Sudanese all through those years is the only blink of hope. And that is why we are asking our brothers with the government, the people of Uganda, add your voice to these people, give them the moral support that you can because that’s all they need, the one that will bring about change. And we hope for support as we continue to talk to our conscience as Africans.
QN: You talked of lack of capacity in S.Sudan, the only figures I see is that S.S is two and a half times the size of Uganda, it has about only about 100 km the tarmac road, but what about the people, teachers, professionals and graduates?
Now as they maybe not in the same measure, with many rebel movements across the continent. When SPLA fought during those wars, so many S.Sudanese went into refugee camps and as a result of being in refugee camps, benefited from Education in Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and other neighbouring countries and many of them got resettled in countries in the West and also went there to have education. So there is a reasonable size of S.Sudanese in all who have gone outside, who are well-educated and who are willing to return home to contribute.
But what happened Is that immediately we got independence, those who fought, felt that while they were busy here struggling and sleeping in the trenches, you went outside eating bread and butter and going to school and now suddenly you now want to come back, and say you’re Doctors, you’re this. NO. This is our time. In fact it is our time to eat. And that first closed the opportunity so that even the diaspora that returns, returns on personal or relational basis to contribute in whatever capacity that they did.
Even if we had the opportunity of bringing all our diaspora back, but still it will not be enough because the art of the governance is not in class. It comes through experience and those who were outside. Not all of there were in governance, they would do different things.
So we still need to depend on our brothers and sisters who in this region stood by us. But again pride. We fought the Arabs. We are capable just doing about anything. So that arrogance and that approach as if we had it all, closed the door. I do not know how many times the presidents of the region…. Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, UN all of them will come back to Sudan and say we can provide, we will pay for the capacity and bring people to support you.
I do not how much the president will say YES YES and nothing will be done. Because we use gov’t institutions and positions as a reward system that will then oil our patronage networks and keep up loyalty.
So bringing people (expertise) from outside we have no control over them, who have a name to protect, institutions where they were seconded from weakens that control and the entire network and therefore corruption will thrive and as a result, we sacrificed the future of our country for our personal and immediate benefits.
QN: Looking forward, what do you think happens given the current context you have described?
I sincerely believe that the war in S.Sudan right now has almost reached the point that is mutually hurting for all the parties. The government that is broke, it does not have enough money to buy loyalties like it should, for all its patronage networks, it is dealing with rebellions.
Right now, in 2013 we had about 14 rebel groups fighting across S.Sudan. Today we just published report, we have 40 across. Conflict was only in two areas in 2013 and now we have conflict across S.Sudan. So the scale of the challenge is enormous for any government even as callous as you can, you just cannot go to bed and sleep. Because you see the country collapsing.
Today we have inflation above 1000%, somebody that was earning 7,000 dollars in 2013 today is not more than 170 dollars’ worth. And so government no matter how proud it wants to be, no matter how strong it wants to appear, it is completely in a very vulnerable position.
So often the rebel movement controls the structure and command by virtue of these being scattered. The economic pressure you cannot sustain and control all these rebels outside, how do you feed them. They cannot continue fighting the war long enough and so this is an opportunity for the region to take leadership.
They have fought themselves to a stalemate.
It is a stalemate. A mutually hating stalemate and it is an opportunity for the region to come in right now and say you know what, we are tired of trying to accommodate you but have not succeeded.
We are going to act on behalf of those boys and girls, women and men who have no issues with what you’re fighting for; who are primary victims. This is for us a Road Map.
Let’s have a credible inclusive National dialogue. Uganda will host it. Kenya will host it. Let’s bring all those people together but also those men and women from the village. Let’s bring them here. Let’s have the Church – the African Council of Churches- the Council of Churches of S.Sudan. Let’s us have the traditional rulers. Let them facilitate this conversation, they have a history of doing it, a degree in comprehensive disagreements, they did it for people with disagreements, they can do it again.
Bring these people together. Let us talk. Whatever we agree on the round table, we are going to enforce. And we are going to put a threat that is crude but credible on the table. But anyone who then do not honour their commitment of S.Sudanese people will be isolated and will be dealt with.
I think there is that capacity in the region to be able to bring everybody together not only the political actors, but every S.Sudanese who has suffered to have a National Plan and Dialogue, agree on that National Plan of Action and solve that plan of action as we have seen the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) doing in Gambia; that is where we want to go. We cannot continue seeing few people spoiling the name of the continent.
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