BY: Dr. Peter Adwok Nyaba, JUBA, SSN;
Sometimes ago I wrote on the SouthSudanNation website and made the conclusion that “the SPLM must be saved from itself lest it plunged the country into the abyss.” The events of the last two weeks seem to vindicate this prophetic statement. South Sudan is on the brink.
The current crisis started last year when Dr. Riek Machar, the SPLM first vice Chairman, declared his intention to contest for the SPLM Chairmanship – itself his democratic right, and was soon joined by Pagan Amum the SPLM Secretary General and Madame Rebecca Nyandeng de Mabior member of the SPLM Political Bureau.
Instead of taking charge of the emerging situation as the SPLM Chairman Salva Kiir allowed matters to slide taking their course until the country was woken up to a presidential decree withdrawing delegated powers from Dr. Riek Machar.
Sooner thereafter more presidential decrees followed dismissing Dr. Riek Machar as Vice President, dissolving the cabinet and suspending the SPLM Secretary General and subjecting him to criminal investigation over corruption charges.
In the intervening period, two opposing trends emerged in the SPLM. The group in the government and that outside made up of most of the dismissed ministers and two unconstitutionally dismissed governors of Lakes and Unity states respectively. Efforts to reconcile the different trends came to nothing.
Finally, Dr. Riek Machar and group called the shots and on December 6th called a press conference in the SPLM House in whey they outlined the main differences and called on the SPLM Chairman Salva Kiir Mayardit to convene the Political Bureau in order to set the agenda for the anticipated National Liberation Council.
Dr Riek Machar also announced the public rally the group would hold on Saturday December 14th on Dr, John Garang Memorial Grounds. The SPLM General Secretariat also scheduled that day for the opening of the session of the National Liberation Council. The two SPLM groups seem gearing towards a collision.
This prompted the Dinka elders’ and the Church leaders to appeal to the two sides to postpone both the public rally and the NLC meeting and to give dialogue between the two a chance in order to reach a consensus on the contentious issues. Dr. Riek Machar et al acquiesced and released a statement to that effect.
The NLC meeting, however, started as scheduled on Saturday morning. His Grace Paulino Lokudu Loro, the Catholic Archbishop of Juba reiterated the appeal the Bishops had made earlier and called for calm and harmony.
In his opening speech, the SPLM Chairman made no reference to the internal contradictions that hampered the party functions since March and how to resolve them amicably.
On the contrary, he was bellicose, ignored the appeal of the Archbishop and deliberately referred to the 1991 split within the SPLM/SPLA as a reminder. In this context, I quote the following:
“in the light of the recent development in which some comrades have come out to challenge my executive decisions, I must warn you that this behaviour is tantamount to indiscipline, which will take us back to the days of the 1991 split.”
Chairman Salva Kiir apparently referred to Dr. Riek Machar ostensibly to put him in unfavourable light among the membership of the NLC and to discredit his demands for democratic reforms in the SPLM. This perhaps prompted Riek, Rebecca Nyandeng, and others to boycott the Sunday meeting incensing Salva Kiir into a frenzy, which became the most tragic incident in post war South Sudan.
On Sunday afternoon as the meeting of the NLC was winding up, President Salva Kiir Mayardit, the Commander in Chief of the SPLA, ordered Major General Marial Ciennoung, the commander of Tiger Battalion to leave the meeting venue in Nyakuron back to his H/Qs and to disarm his troops. Marial went and implemented the orders.
However, after dispersing the troops, he ordered the Dinka elements rearmed. The ensuing argument between him and his deputy, a Nuer, attracted the attention of some Nuer soldiers who happened to be nearby. A fistfight ensued between the storekeeper and some Nuer soldiers.
In the confusion, the Nuer soldiers broke into the store and armed themselves. This was the trigger of the fighting in Juba. It was a fight between the elements of the same Tiger Battalion, which makes the presidential guards, that lasted from Sunday night till Monday afternoon.
The rest of the fighting in other parts of Juba, which lasted until Wednesday was the presidential militia terrorising and butchering the Nuers, other Dinka elements presumed to be supporters of Riek Machar, Rebecca Nyandeng and Majak de Agoot.
On Monday, President Salva Kiir called a press conference. Clad in complete military attire, the President declared it was a coup and that the loyal forces has crushed it and were now pursuing the remnants.
The linkage of the fighting among the presidential guards to an attempted coup against the state carried by the president’s press briefing makes an incredibly clumsy story.
The absurdity of the coup story comes out clearly, with the deployment of the presidential militia hailing mainly from Warrap and Northern Bahr el Ghazal, who indeed are killing unarmed Nuers soldiers, civilians including women and children in Juba, on the presumption that they were Riek Machar’s supporters, that Salva Kiir inadvertently is pushing the country to the brink.
In Juba, many innocent Nuers, some of them government official, members of the NLC, but the majority are civilians women, youths, students and persons from other ethnicities have been executed either in their own houses or are taken under guise of being arrested and killed in ghost houses run by the National Security and Intelligence Service elements in the town. Their bodies buried in several mass-graves secretly by night.
Many people, including the Hon. Speaker of the National Legislative Assembly, whose children missed death by a whisker having been saved by a Dinka woman MP shocked by the killings in the neighbourhood, have run to the UNMISS compound for protection.
Many Nuers have left their homes and have gone to UNMISS or are hiding in the hotels in Juba.
In Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity states reprisals against elements of the Dinka nationality have been reported targeting those hailing from Bahr el Ghazal.
In Warrap state those who were calling for the removal of Governor Nyandeng have been branded coup plotters linked to Dr. Riek Machar.
There is a direct link between the events now unfolding and Salva Kiir’s power perceptions. When he toured the four states of Bahr el Ghazal in September, Salva Kiir made hate speeches against his former deputy Dr. Riek Machar and the former ministers.
In Akon, his hometown, speaking in Dinka, which SSTV aired, Salva had this to say, “…look, this power which I have belongs to you. You fought and died for it… now some people want to snatch it from me… we you accept it?” “Aci ba gam” meaning we will not accept, shouted the people back.
It was in this context of retaining power that he ordered Paul Malong Awan to recruit and bring to Juba three thousand young men, which now constitutes his presidential guards.
Now putting together the pieces, a clearer picture begins to emerge.
President Salva has been planning to forestall any democratic reforms in and institutionalization of power relations in the SPLM soon after July 23rd when he dissolved the cabinet and dismissed Riek Machar.
The recruitment of presidential militia from Warrap was to send home the message that power belonged to the people of Warrap and so they should protect it. The story of the coup was just a stratagem to cover his rejection of the appeal by the Church leaders and Dinka elders, and a ploy to arrest Riek Machar and close the chapter of dissent against his leadership.
The arrest of the former ministers was also to accelerate their removal from the government houses they are occupying in Hai Amarat. It is a very simplistic but dangerous game.
In a matter of a few hours, Salva Kiir succeeded to erode the social capital that bounded together our people for centuries.
Now Salva Kiir has come up with another story that it was not a coup attempt but that Dr. Riek and others had wanted to exploit the fighting in the Tiger Battalion for their political ambitions.
Salva Kiir has shot himself in the foot. This is incredible, President Kiir who on Monday was on TV screens worldwide announcing that his forces had crushed an attempt coup is now saying that it was not a coup.
Who again will ever believe Salva Kiir, the president of the Republic of South Sudan? God save South Sudan!!!!