Freedom Fighters or Terrorists: The SPLM /A-IO Equatoria Groups

By Mading Gum, FEB/12/2017, SSN;

Of all the leadership qualities that made Dr. John Garang, SPLM/A leader, one of the greatest freedom fighters in Africa to stand out was that Garang was a great thinker. Garang offered a new nationalism of Sudanism, opposed to divisiveness and separatism. He imagined a political community in New Sudan in which democracy, equality, economic and social justice and respect for human rights is the core.

In his mind, the enemy was clear: all the institutions of oppression that have been evolved in Khartoum to oppress the masses of the Sudanese people. ‘The masses of the Sudanese people’. Remember that.

But why did Garang define the enemy as the institutions of oppression rather than Arabs? Was the Dien Massacre of 1987 not carried out by armed Arab Baggara militias who killed and burnt to death hundreds of Dinkas? Were Arabs militias of Rufa in Jabalyin not responsible for the massacre of over 200 Shilluk civilians in 1989? What about over 90 Shilluk victims who fled for safety but were killed in cold blood at the nearby police station manned by Arabs?

The tragedy in the South Sudan brutal conflict is lack of political imagination beyond tribes, hatred, revenge and self-enrichment. Garang offered New Sudan that transcends tribes in the past. None does today.

Political violence or terrorism, the missing link:

South Sudan conflict can be read in different ways. If you read from the perspective of my friend, Professor Remember Miamingi, the Juba regime is a terrorist state that has expanded the concept of “enemy combatant to the tribes and communities from which the principal enemy comes from.”

For Miamingi, the rebels are the principal enemy, the presumed freedom fighters. Another perspective, underrepresented in the mainstream media, views rebels as nothing but terrorists who “exploit the relative vulnerability of the civilian underbelly” in the dark forests and highways of Equatoria. I will focus on the latter as much has been written about the former.

Although the difference between political violence and terrorism is still unsettled, it is Paige W. Eager book “From Freedom Fighters to Terrorists: Women and Political violence,” that offers a striking contrast between political violence and terrorism.

Political violence is distinguished by three key features. First, it is a broader category that encompasses guerrilla warfare, national liberation movements, violent strikes and demonstrations.

Second, political violence aims to re-order the political and social set up of the society. To overthrow a tyrannical government, to redefine and realize justice and equality, to achieve independence or territorial autonomy are key examples.

Third, violence does not intentionally target civilians but is directed toward property, law enforcement and political authorities.

Terrorism is distinguished primarily by the intentional or threat to use violence against civilians targets for political goals. Intentional targets, who are civilians, differentiate terrorism from broader political violence where civilians are rarely intentional targets.

Bruce Hoffman offers five criteria that set terrorists apart from other criminals. First, there are political motives and second, violence or the threat of violence is utilized. Third, the violence act is intended to have psychological consequences beyond immediate victim. Fourth, organization with chain of command structures conducts the act. Fifth, and the last, the perpetrators of the act are a subnational group or non-state entity.

Terrorists in Equatoria bushes
At the height of December 2013 conflict, SPLM/A–IO prided itself as an alternative to Juba regime and they almost succeeded before tribalism, hatred and revenge engulfed them. IO existence is of contradiction and this also applies to the IO in the Bush. It preaches one thing and its members practice different things.

It is undisputed that IO Equatoria groups have political goals underpinning the terror on the highways and bushes. Equatorains have long harboured feelings for autonomous status for their states under federal framework.

However, July 2016 fighting in Juba and subsequent clashes with IO forces in the bushes of Equatoria as Riek Machar escaped to DRC aggravated the situation. Now, these groups have nothing to do with liberating South Sudan or fighting to realize justice and good governance. The primary aim is to revenge.

And to them, the enemy is not the oppressive Juba regime but Dinka as a tribe. Miamingi observation illustrates this: “…right now we are having ethnic groups within Equatoria region have taken up arms predominantly in response to abuse they have received but also the government’s targeting other ethnic groups on response of their ethnicity”.

The assertion makes two things clear. First, the received abuses are first attributed to Dinka tribe. The line between the government forces and ordinary Dinka civilian is blurred. Second, the act is primarily revenge motivated other than liberating the masses of South Sudanese from all the institutions of oppression in Juba. Here, the political poverty of the freedom fighters becomes apparent.

Unlike liberation movements which target property, government officials and law enforcement agents, South Sudan is witnessing the emergence of terror groups hell-bent on wiping out members of ethnic group perceived to dominate the government in particular areas.

Whether this increases civilian suffering or not is not their point. As long as the targeted ethnic group can be drawn into the bloodbath for genocide to occur, they are fine with it.

The trumped Ethnic nationalism
In late 2016, Alan Boswell gave a dramatic personal account of the rising ethno-nationalism in South Sudan. In Upper Nile, an ethnic Shilluk defence militia marched new graduates to war with songs against Dinka. At the Western end of the country, a Zande rebel leader derided a Zande governor as “Dinka”, a handmaiden for a “sell-out or traitor”.

To understand these ethnic nationalists’ sentiments, one has to look at Benedict Anderson book ‘Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism.’ Anderson defines nations as social constructs, imagined political communities that live in the imagination of its members and belonging to it is about a sense of connectedness to those imagined people. In South Sudan, there is no an imagined political community beyond Naath nation, Shilluk nation, Jieng Nation etc.

One imagined political community that offers a classic example is Equatoria. Although there is no ethnic community called Equatoria there lives in the minds of almost all people in that region of the existence of such political community, separate from Dinka and Nuer. There is a tendency to regard Equatoria as a “deep, horizontal comradeship”.

Dr Justin Ambago, one of the Equatoria prolific writers, admitted “The situation is not the same with indigenous populations of Equatoria, the country’s most southern region. People of Equatoria are more keen to identifying themselves as Equatorians, although they belong to nearly thirty different ethnicities”.

Now, the Moru rebel leader remarks become clear. Equatoria nationalism is ethnic nationalism which carries with it the seeds of xenophobia towards Dinka, the enemy. The freedom fighters have failed to imagine a political community beyond tribe and region. And here, sadly though, the IO Equatoria groups have succumbed to terrorism, wallowing in the miasma of ethnic nationalism.

The writer can be reach at


  1. Defender says:

    Dear Gum,

    You started your article well but you got lost in theorizing about something that is not relevant in our case. For starter, there is nothing such as a state in South Sudan to begin with to reflect the philosophy of and the elements of organized political thoughts. What we have now and what Dr. Garang RIP believed in but not implemented are two different things. Second, in South Sudan the concept of state in its purest form is a contested one. The stated has been tribalized since the arrival of Kiir to power. The clear attestation to creation of a one size fits all state in the image of Dinka is all but a forgone reality. If the state has a parallel army that is recruited and financed, illegally by the state resources to advance a tribal policy of domination, such as Mathiang Anyoor and Gelweng,how do you even comprehend to articulate that others with intention to protect their rights to existence, terrorists?,

    Additionally, in South Sudan as you correctly articulated in the first entry of your article is that Garang wanted to dismantle the institutions of repression. We all now that in Sudan and South Sudan by extension, there has never been institutions that suppresses people. It is individuals and groups who have endeavored and to a large extend determined our rights for a long time. This reality is just be replicated by a terrorist state, encompassed and personified in the person of Kiir and JCE.

    So, how you would like to define that cause of others as it relates to the total and utter failure of the state in South Sudan as exposed by the recent resignation of Gen. Thomas Swaka? Facts cannot be replaced by the assumptions that others have the right to determine the rights of others or build a state the sees the rights of others.

    The other glaring omission on your part is this: you seem to think others are gearing towards some kind nationalism but failed to ascribe the same to the monolithic dominance of Dinka and their aspiration to create a state in South Sudan in their image–a state that sees state of nature as the example to draw upon and manifest through brute force and barbarism. The Mathiang Anyoor and the Gelweng are good example when those who are entrusted with power turn the state as an instrument for their own design, brutalizing the citizenry, in the process assuming that them and the state are one and the same. This is the other side of the mirror that you are envisioning your argument in. It is tasteless and speaks of the hypocrisy that has infested even the brilliant minds in South Sudan to see their world defined from this extreme angle.

    This same argument that you present here is the same that were used by the Arabs to determine our involvement and participation in politics of marginalization that spanned many decades, which at the end, learnt nothing from but its ugliest form.

  2. Eastern says:

    Mading Gum,

    The political ineptness bedevilling Kiir’s regime doesn’t require any academic assessment or comparison. Raw tribalism laced with the age old concept of viewing no dinkas as dors, nyamnyam, etc hence second class humans is at play. Dinka, the single largest tribe – yes tribe in South Sudan is very violent within itself. How do you expect Dinka to treat non of their own?

    SPLA-Dinka went to the bush with a lot of bitterness after Kokora divided southern Sudan into the three provinces of Equatoria, Upper Nile and Bahr el Ghazal. SPLA-Dinka later vented their anger on the Equatorians during the war with successive Khartoum based regimes. Since most of the fiercest bits of the war was fought exclusively in Equatoria thanks to its geography, the inhabitants in this region bore the brunt of the war thanks to SPLA-Dinka brutalities meted on Equatorians. The besieged town of Juba was shelled several times when SPLA- Dinka knew very well that there are more civilians than NIF army in that town.

    When the CPA. was signed and later the GoSS was formed and based in Juba, the scenarios of late 70s/early 80s which culminated to Kokora were rife – domination of government and the security by the Dinka and the political space kept on narrowing until the system exploded in December 2013.

    You cannot claim you know the reason or indeed understand what the forces in Equatoria are fighting for when you have shrouded your thinking with the label of terrorists. This is the reciprocal of those fighting against Kiir’s regime looking at those you view as national army as the Mathiang Anyoor and we will go full circles ad infinitum!

  3. mading says:

    Eastern.If people like you would have joined SPLA during the war with Arabs, many of you will be in the SPLA right now. But you did not want to die at that time, now you are complaining about tribal army, even Equatoria officers like to complain about Dinkas being majority in the army and they do not bring in Equatorians even when they are in powerful position like Gen Thomas who just ran a way with what some people called full pocket of SPLA soldiers money.

  4. Nikalongo says:

    You are just another regime and tribal apologist. Though Garang correctly defined his enemy as an instrument of violence, Garang’s SPLA/M was as brutal as Kiir’s. Garang promoted Dinka nationalism and hegemony as much as Kiir is doing. While Garang thrived because there was a common enemy (Arab), Kiir eventually will fail because He (Kiir) and his Dinka tribesmen are the new instrument of violence. What will eventually happen to South Sudan, Kiir and the Dinka after Kiir is vanguished is a subject of speculation. What is sure to though will be the mass movement of herdsmen back to their ancestral land. Some of the dead will probably be exhumed and carried along back home.
    Gum, while the regime and her Dinka supporters can correctly be termed terrorists, Equatorians under arms are freedom fighters. It is a known fact that, the conspiracy to bring war to Equatoria was hatched by the Dinka and Nuer Generals in government and the opposition immediately after the Adis agreement. With time, this conspirarcy will be contained and defeated. Equatorians are not enemies to the Dinka, they are simply defending their farmlands and livelihoods. Those attacking commuters on the highways are hungry government soldiers and herdsmen looking for free food money.

  5. mading says:

    Nikalongo. You Equatorians were chasing the war thinking that it is like fighting it on the internet, but now you got it, you have been causing insecurity in the Equatoria for a long time for no reason.

    • Steve John says:

      Well, how long will your occupation jaang SPLA holdout in Equatoria? That the jaang have expropriated state resources to prosecute a purely tribal war naturally gives them a comparative advantage for now. If the jaang thought, the Equatorians were short-legged cowardly persons wielding ordinary spears as compared to the jaangs that have AK47 rifles, those days a gone. You better ask your jaangs that have survived the front lines in Equatorians recently and perhaps then you will get a better picture. As a reminder, no jaang was born a soldier and even they must procure their guns from third parties so you can´t brag, that is jaang bullshit. Just pray, the tables dont turn against you becasue then, as our saying goes, put urine in the enemy´s mouth and smear him with shit. Good luck our jaang.

  6. Nikalongo says:

    Arab North did not think for a moment that they could one time be thrown out of South Sudan. Where are they today? That is the same stupidity Dinka Kiir and the rest of the pack like you think about yourselves. The inevitable will happen sooner than you think. The elites Dinka know this and are well prepared (houses and looted wealth in foreign countries). What about the ordinary Jieng freeloaders and herdsmen roaming the bushes and countrysides in Equatoria? What will happen to them? Unknown to blind regime and Jieng apologists like you, Kiir and elite Jiengs are a liability to the Jieng Nation. Kiir and his gang of elders have created an insurmountable hatred toward the Jieng in general. The only thing keeping Jieng and Kiir standing is Museveni. How long will that last because efforts are being made to assure Museveni that Equatoria is not a threat to his leadership? Wake up Gum. In politics, nothing lasts forever. For now you can beat your chest but take this from me, should Kiir and Jieng forcibly loose power every living Jieng will be driven out of Equatoria.

  7. mading says:

    Nikalongo. Internet warriors like you are the most problem South Sudanese will never enjoy peace. Stop fighting war on the webs, and go to front line.

    • Nikalongo says:

      Mading Gum,
      The worst Jieng is not the naked worrior stealing and raiding from one another in the “mura” nor the lazy freeloaders herdsmen in the bushes of Equatoria. These are harmless citizens who are being exploited and dispensed off by the likes of Malong like shit. It is the internet Jieng aplogists like you and the thieves and murderers in Juba that are the problem. In Africa, Presidents develop their areas and raise the standards of living of their tribesmen. What is Kiir doing for the wider Jieng Nation? Nothing. While kiir and his few Jieng elites live in luxury, the rest of jieng are in IDPs camps, fighting each other in their villages and thousands are displaced to a life of misery and destitution in camps in Darfur, El-obeid and Khartoum. All the elite Jieng care for is their mouth and where to shit. You should all be ashame of yourselves. Idiots


  8. mading says:

    Steve John. Are you Equatorians are fighting government or Mounyjaang? The ones you have been fighting in front line are government soldiers, not Jaang youths. You need to put that in your little Jur head. It will take days not months if it is a fight between Jurs and Mounyjaang.

    • Eastern says:

      Will you dinkas sell all your skinny cattle sustain the that war you alluded to? The proceeds from the sale of all your cattle can’t even fund the war beyond 5 days!!!!

    • Steve John says:

      The Govt is monyjaang and monyjaang is the govt, it is just the same thing. Stop fooling yourself, now that the jaang led govt is loosing in all war fronts, you cunningly want to attribute this setback to the govt. The jaang-led govt derives it´s support from village-jaangs or luakjaangs who have literally taken over from the SPLA. Such remarks were one time uttered by your jellaba slave masters and now they are gone. The same fate will befall you, thats for sure. Take courage and come to the Equatoria frontlines to prove your statement. Good luck monyjaang or should I say “mony-jienge”.

  9. abai okwahu says:

    The former oppressors in Khartoum must be laughing their asses-off, southern Sudanese just cannot get things right (self-governance).

  10. Lakueijik Dut says:

    i am really wondering when i see some comment from my equatorians friends who think this war is between jieng and equatorians, i think it was between the Gov’t and the rebel.
    you will not win this war if you people think that you are fighting tribe and not the gov’t, because some of Jieng/Dinka were not happy with Kirr’s gov’t but now since it is a tribal war as you put it, all the jieng will stand by their tribes

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.