By: Dr. Thon Giei, SOUTH SUDAN, DEC/23/2014, SSN;
One year after the infamous breakout of violence in Juba on 15 December 2013, the political situation remains stagnant despite the threats by the International and Regional Communities to impose sanctions on the warring parties and the conflict extended into communities once living in peace and harmony for centuries.
It is a grave mistake to describe and characterize the conflict as purely political and to remove the communities’ involvement. Such description of the conflict will never bring a sustained and durable solutions of peace even if the UN declares South Sudan as one of its protectorate!
The conflict is described by its plotters to have originated from a mutiny within the Presidential Guards division (the Tigers) in Gyiada in Juba on ethnic lines and pitting Nuer Soldiers against Dinka ones in support of rebel Riek and President Kiir respectively.
The plotters continued their evil plan and converted the mutiny into an armed rebellion against the state using the ethnic rhetoric and slogans and alleged widely reported ethnic targeted killings in Juba in mobilizing and recruiting the fighting force from ordinary citizens of Nuer tribe, the so-called White Army and Nuer Soldiers from within SPLA and as well as Nuer politicians in the political establishment in South Sudan.
The plotters split into two groups: one group as plotted headed to the formation of armed rebellion called SPLM/A-IO to wage war against the state with the precise objective of taking power by force and overthrowing a democratically elected government which they described as Dinka government and whose constitutional mandate has not yet expired; and the other group struggled to find itself a name and ended up calling itself SPLM former detainees and denounced the violence once it hatched and bred.
Undoubtedly, SPLM-FD betrayed Riek Machar twice: The group dishonored the agreement to work with Machar to remove President Kiir and effect the necessary reforms it promised and did not return the favor for their release which Machar campaigned for tirelessly.
As the outcome of any work or campaign or project is determined by the primary and initial steps and tools used to set it up, The SPLM/A –IO, now has become 100% one tribe army and movement despite the attempts to decorate the rebellion with people from other tribes like Dhieu Mathok, Dau Aturjong, Mabior Nyandeng, and Alfred Lado Gore.
Pro-rebellion writers on social media on the net and www.sudantribune.com and www.southsudannation.com, wrote hate articles and comments and fabricated stories of plots of assassination of prominent Equatoria leaders including the 3 governors of Equatoria and Minister of National Security with the sole purpose of instigating other tribes to take up arms against the government.
The attempts to recruit other tribes into the rebellion ended in abysmal and total failure. After the defeat in Juba in December 2013 and with the ethnic recruiting tools used in mobilizing the fighters, revenge became the overriding principle for both the infamous white Army and the hurriedly formed and loosely commanded SPLM/A-IO fighters.
The White Army campaigns in Greater Upper Nile targeted and killed civilians on ethnic basis (Dinka, Collo, Ethiopians, Ugandans and Sudanese) in Bor, Panriang, Baliet, Malakal, Bentiu, Tonga and Renk towns. The White Army brutally massacred the elderly men and women, children and individual with disabilities (blind, physically or mentally disabled) as well as looting properties and burning down houses and harvest.
These human rights violations eroded the rebels from any support once they enjoyed from world media and countries. Truth shall come out sooner from the international plotters who supported and aided the rebellion and from the rebels once they surrender to peace.
The White Army ferocity as a fighting force captured the headlines of news media and international organizations like The United Nations Mission in South Sudan( UNMISS). As the Nuer Militiamen and women headed to Bor, the UNMISS declared that it sent a helicopter to track the White Army and that it estimated the force at 50000 strong men.
The UN became victim of the relationship between the UNMISS and SPLM/A-IO bosses. A tragedy that had lost Miss. Hilde Johnson, her job in South Sudan.
But how a force like the White Army is formed, trained, organized, armed and mobilized without the knowledge of the security forces in the country? This is a multi-million dollars question that deserves a definitive answer for the sake of those who lost their lives in cold blood.
If the situation was carefully monitored, perhaps thousands of lives that were massacred in Greater Upper Nile could have been saved or the lost minimized. All indicators point to the fact that The White Army Force formation and existence was well known.
The rebels’ devastation campaign continued and defections within the government army on ethnic basis, had incapacitated the security forces to protect themselves and to defend the civilians in the conflict zones. Major cities and counties like Malakal, Bor, Bentiu and Baliet were totally destroyed and leveled with the ground. The Killings extended into the churches and hospitals.
As that scenario continues, the communities in Greater Upper Nile experienced the danger and realized that the rebels’ campaign was not intended to overthrow the government. Indeed if the government was the target, the war would have started and ended in Juba either in defeat or victory like all attempts to take power by force worldwide.
But the White Army mission in Greater Upper Nile was totally different and meant to make territorial gains, chased away the historical inhabitants and established the new reality of Nuer homeland and Nuer Nation as espoused and advanced by the BANAFA, an all Nuer Organization that emerged after 1991 split in the SPLA and with Nasir faction under Riek Machar.
Why would an alleged massacre in Juba -that was not fully investigated and verified- become so convincing to mobilize the Nuer ordinary citizens on- eye blink- to take up arms and act with brutality that had never been known in the history of South Sudan and in Dinka-Nuer wars over land or cattle?
And that members of the White Army had to leave their farms, cattle, families in reaction of what they did not know how, what and between who it happened. If any, the message of the massacre could have spread to the local population, convinced individuals then assemble for action, get the necessary weapons and then move to where they want to act, ideally Juba where the massacre took place.
Why massacre people who have no knowledge of why the fighting occurred? And who was fighting who? This process of mobilizing fighters if done out of scratch, it would have taken time in months, not days and weeks.
I want to conclude that the White Army was existing and kicking and only needed a signal or secret for mobilization and that signal was the massacre in Juba from their commander, Riek Machar to move and act and that was what precisely did happen after failure of the coup.
The victimized communities’ response:
As stated above the brutality of the White Army campaign convinced the communities in Greater Upper Nile beyond any doubt that if they do not defend themselves then they would be wiped out and annihilated and they would be branded as cowards who fled and left their land be vandalized and women and children killed by the rebels.
The communities of Padang in Upper Nile and Unity states took the issue seriously, having seen the devastation that the rebels carried out in Baliet County of Upper Nile and the mass displacement and sufferings that followed with IDPs in Akoka and Malut.
Having realized that the army was incapacitated by internal defections in December 2013 and early 2014, the youth of Padang Dinka, at speed of light, organized themselves into fighting forces under harsh conditions with precise mission to halt the rebels advance into Akoka, Malut and Renk in Upper Nile and Pariang in Unity state.
Similarly, the youth of Collo, stiffly resisted the rebels invasion of Collo Kingdom. The forces of Mozloum of Akoka dealt with and repulsed the rebels’ forces at Lul Bridge, a battle that marked the beginning of liberation of Malakal town for the third time.
Abu-Shook of Ngok Lual Yak recaptured Baliet County in April 2014 from the rebel forces and together with Matching Aynor dealt a deadly blow and struck deep into the heart of the enemy stronghold of Nasir. Within a week, Abu-Shook and Matchiang Anyior and the mechanized division under General Kong, captured Dumey, Aulang and Nasir towns, a move that puzzled Juba politicians and met with disbelief among the fifth columnists and rebel supporters in Juba.
Col. Philip confirmed the news of the capture of Nasir town and that Riek forces fled in disarray in the direction of Ethiopia. This was backed by General Malaak Ayen’s video footage on SSTV that showed Abu-shouk, Mathiang Aynor and SPLA in Nasir.
The SPLA capture of Nasir marked the beginning of defeats to the rebels who, from that time, failed to capture any town, dispite the attacks on Renk and Bentiu. Mozluom of Abilang and Maluth stiffly resisted the rebel forces from capturing the oil fields.
Peace negotiations in Addis Ababa under the Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGAD) to bring peaceful resolutions to the South Sudanese conflict, have been ongoing without progress. IGAD correctly invited the parties (the Government, the rebels and SPLM-FD) and stakeholders (civil society organizations, religious leaders, women and youth).
The IGAD invitees are part of the Juba based activists and advocates who played roles in the genesis of the current conflict and then divided themselves into opposition and government camps.
They are all responsible for charges of corruption, incompetency, failure to rule and failure to provide basic services in education, health and others, both in government and SPLM.
However, a significant component of the conflict, namely the conflict affected communities, have been left out of the peace negotiation process in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Is this an accidental drop? Or intentional bypass of the war affected communities by both the government of South Sudan and IGAD?
The communities in Greater Upper Nile have suffered enormously. They have lost lives of their members, properties destroyed or looted and finally the populations were displaced from their original settlements and have to cope with life in the new settlements with lack of food, lack of shelter, lack of health services and lack of education facilities.
These communities had to take up arms in self-defense and protection of non-looted properties. As such IGAD made a fundamental error by leaving out the war affected communities from the peace negotiations.
Without involvement of the war affected communities, peace will hardly come to South Sudan.
Any peace deal between the government and rebels should not be dwelling much on what positions the oppositions need to occupy in the government but also needs to cover the war ravaged communities on intercommunity peace settlements and reconciliations with the compensations and recovery of the looted and damaged properties.
The government needs to give consideration to representation of the communities in the negotiations.
It should be emphasized that the conflict has eroded the social cohesions in Greater Upper Nile and that the conflict is growingly perceived as based on ethnic lines, an undeniable and bitter reality that South Sudanese need to live with its scar.
This is shown by the fact that most communities trust to stay in UNMISS protected sites. But how long will UNMISS remain in South Sudan?
This article is written in memory of thousands of lives who have been lost in cold blood in Baliet County in December 2013 and January 2014 without knowing why they got killed and maimed as well as the victims of the conflict in Majak of Renk County, Malakal, Pariang, Bentiu, Pigi and Bor. Their tragedy was not reported widely as that of Juba on 15 December 2013.
May God rest their souls in Eternal peace and bring harmony and comfort to their grieving families who have lost a father, mother, child or relative or friend.
Dr. Thon Giei is former coordinator of Baliet County Crisis Management Committee and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 0912300266