By: Daniel Juol Nhomngek, Kampala, Uganda, MAY/12/2017, SSN;
On May 9, 2017 South Sudanese national army (SPLA) Chief of General Staff Paul Malong Awan was fired by President, General Salva Kiir Mayardit and replaced him with General James Ajongo Mawut. Consequently, tension began to grow between the President and the sacked general.
In fact, the tension was more exacerbated due to the fact that soldiers were deployed on Juba streets and around the sacked General’s home while plainclothes national security agents drove in and around the capital telling people to go inside their houses (according to www.southsudannewsagency.com/index.php/…/south-sudan-army-chief-sacked-2/).
As the government went on preparing for war as seen above, Malong was preparing for peace. Therefore, he left Juba with intention of going to his hometown, Aweil, the same night as a way of reducing tension. However, leaving Juba was another problem as the government began panicking.
That kind of hysterical behaviour shown by the Government stroke the nation with fear and in particular, those who were overwhelmed with fear were those along the path he was about to pass when he was going to his home area, Aweil. The places that he was about to pass through were: Yirol, Rumbek, Gok State, Tonji and other places he would have passed as going to Aweil.
Many friends of mine I talked with in Rumbek in respect to the same matter expressed the same fear of war breaking out at any time. This was made worse when General Matur Chut laid the ambush to attack General Malong if he had passed through Western Lakes.
Fortunately, the governor of Eastern Lakes, Bor Phillip and the goodwill of the sacked General saved South Sudan from bloodshed. For that reason there is a need to appreciate the two personalities for the good work they have done.
Nonetheless, the incidence exposed the weaknesses on the side of the government in Juba as it’s shown that it does not know how to handle the matter. The same weaknesses explains the outbreak of 2013 South Sudanese war, which is still ongoing now. Had the SPLM handled the crisis within it at that time, the war would have been averted like it is done now.
However, that was not my interest as my interest was not whether there would be war or not but my interest was to see the reaction of “South Sudan National Army.” I have put the word South Sudan National Army in quotation because in reality there is no national army in South Sudan.
The above assertion was confirmed by what happened during the present crisis as it has clearly exposed the true nature of the national army of South Sudan. In short, there is no national army as I will give the reasons shortly but first, what is the national army.
The term national army typically means the lawful army of the state as distinct from rebel armies or private armies that may operate there. For the army to be regarded as lawful, it must be established by law of a country duly passed by the Parliament. In that respect, the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan, 2011 in Article 151 establishes the National Army of South Sudan and its functions.
The functions of the National Army (SPLA) are to:
—(a) uphold the Constitution;
—(b) defend the sovereignty of the country;
—(c) protect the people of South Sudan;
—(d) secure the territorial integrity of South Sudan;
—(e) defend South Sudan against external threats and aggression; and
—(f) be involved in addressing any emergencies, participate in reconstruction activities, and assist in disaster management and relief in accordance with this Constitution and the law.
In order to perform the above functions, the national army must not be controlled by an individual person or it must not owe allegiance to an individual. The national army is other words must be there to protect the nation but not the interest of any person including the president.
This was proved by the Egyptian Army in 2011 when it asked Muhammad Hosni El Sayed Mubarak to step aside when people went on the street demanding for his resignation. The same army did the same thing with Islamist President, Morsi.
As explained above, where the army is national then it also strong army. In addition, where the army is strong, there is also strong law and rule of law. This has been observed by Niccolo Machiavelli in his book, the Prince, “the main foundations of every state, new states as well as ancient or composite ones, are good laws and good arms you cannot have good laws without good arms, and where there are good arms, good laws inevitably follow”.
I wished the President of South Sudan would read the Prince by Machiavelli and put it into practice and had he done that South Sudan would have had strong army and the good law.
It is also important to stress based on the above quotation that without strong army, no matter how good the laws are there will never be strong law. In simple term, strong army is the foundation of strong law.
Nevertheless, with regard to South Sudan, there is no national army and this is why there is no bad law. The weaknesses of the army of South Sudan are rooted in the fact that the army is highly politicized, polarized and composed of bunch of militias and auxiliaries.
Thus, it is the fact that has been exposed by the removal of Former Army Chief, General Paul Malong Awan which is troubling. The main lesson learned about the nature of the army we have in South Sudan in the recent incident is that our army is tribal army but not national army. This is because a national army defends the nation not tribe mate as seen in the case of General Malong.
When the army heard that Malong was sacked, many SPLA soldiers from Aweil took their guns and followed him, which shows that the SPLA from Aweil are not there for the interest of South Sudan but to protect personalities. What saved South Sudan, however, was Malong not National Army because the SPLA Army from Aweil was ready to shed blood if Malong had not changed his mind to come to Juba.
The incident has also proved what happened in 2013 when the conflict broke between Riek and Kiir. As soon as conflict started, all the SPLA members from Nairobi ethnicity deserted the government in defense of Riek. At the same time, Dinka SPLA members began targeting Nuer members because of their ethnicity and moreover, both sides have been accused of killing South Sudanese citizens because of their ethnicity.
In addition, the recent conflict between Bor and Murle and Bor and Mandari, exposed the same fact that SPLA is not a National Army. This was shown by the fact that the SPLA members from Bor Community supported Bor Youth in killing Murle forgetting that they have a national duty to defend South Sudan.
Defending South Sudan means defending citizens of South Sudan and all people inhabiting South Sudan including Murle are citizens of South Sudan. This further means that the SPLA has a duty to protect all citizens where their lives are under threat.
In the same way to show that there is no national army, it is not wrong to state from personal observation that almost all SPLM leaders including the President are guarded and protected by their tribe-mates.
In addition, people are appointed in the SPLA based on tribes not because a person desires to serve the nation called South Sudan. The SPLA has been turned into business and employment forum where generals employed their own people leaving tribes without any generals out in the army no matter how capable a person is.
Because of that the army is highly fragmented as all members have different agenda and expectations.
In summary, as one of my friends observed sometime back and which I have learned in the present crisis caused by the removal of General Malong, I can simply conclude that there is no national army in South Sudan.
What is there is not national army but something composed of militias, auxiliaries, businessmen and women, untrained individuals.
All the above groups are made up of different persons with conflicting loyalties and interests; hence they are always weak in protecting interest of South Sudan since they put their interests or interests of their tribe mates above the nation.
In order to have strong national army that puts the interests of South Sudan above their own interests, the Government should sieve the present army to find out who are really trained and who are not. Those who are trained should be reoriented to take up responsibility of protecting the nation not individuals. Then, those who are not trained must be sent to the field for at least three years to undergo intensive training.
If the above is not done, then, I am afraid, South Sudan will remain weak in everything and people will continue to suffer as they bear the brunt of negative force of bad governance caused by corruption, or which causes corruption as the two are symbiotic.
Therefore, if there were a strong army and good law, then, the bad governance and corruption would have been controlled and citizens lead happy lives. As a result, South Sudanese would have lived in justice, liberty and prosperity.
NB//: the author is Human Rights lawyer that can be reached through: firstname.lastname@example.org