People should be cautious in the ongoing rebellion in South Sudan

By Jacob K. Lupai, JUBA, JUL/07/2014, SSN;

The advice for people to be cautious in the ongoing rebellion in South Sudan is not a matter of taking sides. It is rather advisable for people to be objective and realistic in approaching issues that have been unfortunately seen contributing to the rebellion. The advice is especially to those who are enthusiastic about federalism.

Those people should not be carried away by the euphoria of federalism. Without a rebellion federalism was coming. Even the hardliners against federalism were softening up. Federalism was therefore gaining ground where it was at first shunned.

Equatorians will always stand up without fear for equality, justice and prosperity for all in South Sudan regardless of ethnic and regional diversities. This is in contrast to the highly pronounced nouns above as lip service since the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) on 9 January 2005 that ended the North-South war that lasted 22 years. The lip service had its contributory share in the eruption of the violent conflict on 15 December 2013.

Equatorians and indeed peace loving South Sudanese are advised to take their normal position of high moral ground by not joining blindly the rebellion on the pretext of fighting for federalism. This advice will not make peace loving Equatorians cowards but their perspective of life follows their culture of respect and the love for peaceful co-existence.

People may not like to acknowledge it openly that Equatoria is the anchor. Without Equatoria there may hardly be a viable South Sudan. Equatoria should therefore help to resolve the conflict without taking sides in what seems to be an ethnically charged war for leadership of South Sudan. On ethnic dimensions of the conflict the South Sudan Human Rights Commission Interim Report on South Sudan Internal Conflict December 15, 2013 – March 15, 2014 seems to confirm this. One wouldn’t like to replace hegemony with another abhorrent one.

Federalism cannot be imposed by the use of force. A peaceful environment is needed to assess the viability and relevance of federalism to diversities in South Sudan. Besides war in Equatoria to impose federalism means the people of Equatoria will be killing themselves and dying for no good reason in a senseless war only for the benefit of others. This will be contrary to the perception of Equatoria as the most peaceful.

In addition, in the communiqué that followed the Equatoria Conference 2011, Equatoria asserts in clear terms that: “Mindful of the suffering of the people of Equatoria in the past decades, we will no longer accept Equatoria land to be used as a battle ground for any senseless bloodshed”.

Causes of ongoing conflict in South Sudan

The ongoing conflict did not just come out of the blue. There must have been something that triggered it. We may therefore need to be searching for clues that led to the start of the conflict.

For our search we may not need to go that far but to refer to the South Sudan Human Rights Commission Interim Report on South Sudan Internal Conflict December 15, 2013 – March 15, 2014. We may also need to refer to The Truth about the Aborted Coup of Dr. Riek Machar and his group of the 15th December 2013; documented by the Government of the Republic of South Sudan (7th January 2014). The two mentioned documents highlight the genesis of the ongoing conflict.

The problem seems to have started when Dr Riek Machar as the Vice President openly expressed his desire to challenge President Salva Kiir Mayardit for the leadership of the ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). The response from President Salva Kiir Mayardit was to make a major cabinet reshuffle, aiming at dropping his Vice President, Dr Riek Machar.

The earlier campaign by Dr Riek Machar against President Salva Kiir Mayardit for the leadership of the SPLM and in addition to the cabinet reshuffle helped to precipitate the ongoing conflict. According to the Government own version, at around 5 pm on the 15th December 2013, a group of uniformed soldiers allied to the former Vice President Dr Riek Machar opened fire at Nyokuron Culture Centre where the SPLM National Liberation Council meeting was taking place.

On the surface the campaign against the leadership of President Salva Kiir Mayardit, the cabinet reshuffle that appeared to be aimed at the removal of the Vice President, Dr Riek Machar and the subsequent gun fire on the 15th December 2013 in Juba seem to have been the causes of the ongoing conflict. However, there seems to be a deep-seated dissatisfaction with service delivery and the style of leadership.

Unnecessary armed rebellion for federalism

The incident of December 15, 2013 in Juba has become a full blown armed rebellion led by Dr Riek Machar who is citing federalism as one of the reasons for the rebellion. Initially Dr Riek Machar claimed he escaped from Juba for his dear life. Soon thereafter he was the leader of a rebellion, mobilizing to march on Juba with the intention to usurp power by force of arms.

To halt the advance of Dr Riek Machar, Uganda intervened while the Intergovernmental Administration and Development (IGAD), the African Union and the UN sprang into action to stop the rebellion turning into something like a destructive wildfire.

The IGAD Communiqué of 25th Extra-Ordinary Summit of South Sudan in part: Urges the Parties to fully comply with and implement Cessation of Hostilities (COH) Agreement and its Implementation Modalities as well as show their political will and commitment to end the war, and take all necessary measures to encourage the Parties to abide by the Agreement; and Reminds the Parties to negotiate in good-faith guided by the spirit of give and take, tolerance and accommodation and respect the politics of zero-sum-game.

In part the IGAD Agreement to Resolve the Crisis in South Sudan Addis Ababa 9 May 2014, the Parties: Agree that a transitional government of national unity will offer the best chance for the people of South Sudan to take the country forward; and that such a government shall oversee government functions during a transitional period, implement critical reforms as negotiated through the peace process, oversee a permanent constitutional process, and guide the country to new elections; and thus direct our respective representatives to the IGAD-led peace process to negotiate the terms of a transitional government of national unity;

It can be seen that everything possible is being done to usher in an era of peace and stability in South Sudan. The ongoing armed rebellion is neither in the national interest, regional nor in international interest. The sooner the rebellion comes to an end the better for the country that is witnessing senseless loss of innocent lives and wanton destruction of rudimentary infrastructures and property.

In the context of South Sudan the armed rebellion is unnecessary because federalism is already gaining ground among those who were hostile. The armed rebellion is also unnecessary because there is always a peaceful means for regime change through the ballot box instead of senseless bloodshed and fueling of ethnic and regional polarisation.

Ending rebellion in the national interest

The IGAD and AU and the UN are all doing what they can to resolve the crisis in South Sudan. However, the SPLM-in-Opposition may be an obstacle because anything that does not guarantee a regime change may not be of interest to the SPLM-in-Opposition.

In the best national interest and to avoid South Sudan sliding down dangerously as a failed state, what is so special about being elected while elected governors are removed probably without second thought? The people of South Sudan must act in a peaceful manner on how to end the destructive rebellion.

The youth have a crucial role to play. The women, civil societies and the communities in South Sudan must prevail on the youth because they may be vulnerable. The rebellion is basically to effect regime change with no guarantee that there won’t be despotic leadership.

The youth of Equatoria may be especially vulnerable because of the crafting of federalism onto the rebellion agenda. The advice is that originally the rebellion had nothing to do with federalism. It is nothing but a clever way to attract support from Equatoria.

The youth are advised and reminded that the opponents of federalism are now becoming positive and are endorsing federalism as a system of government for South Sudan. Nevertheless, there is still a lot to be done by way of articulating clearly the type of federalism suitable for South Sudan. We need a consensus to move forward. A rebellion for federalism is therefore unnecessary.

In a public lecture on federalism in the history of South Sudan in the University of Juba, the discussants highlighted the relevance of federalism to South Sudan. One discussant used statistics to show the extent to which South Sudanese would prefer federalism to a unitary system. This suggests that South Sudan does not need a rebellion to impose federalism.

A peaceful adoption of federalism is ever possible. The youth are therefore advised that they should better get engaged in a debate on the merits of federalism instead of joining a rebellion with the mistaken belief that they are fighting a just war for federalism.

Without a rebellion federalism will find its way into the permanent constitution of South Sudan. There is no time limit to rebellion when the permanent constitution is silent about federalism.

Adoption of federalism solution to South Sudan problem

In a nutshell the problem of South Sudan can be identified as absolute poor service delivery to improve the quality of life of ordinary men and women in terms of equality, justice and prosperity. Some people argue that the priority now is peace and stability. However, before the rebellion was there no peace and stability, and how then wasn’t the problem addressed?

Arguably federalism is the solution to the problem because it will bring peace and stability. This is because those who claimed to have joined the rebellion for federalism would turn their back against the rebellion after realizing federalism was being adopted. The continuation of the rebellion may probably be for something else, for the leadership of South Sudan. However, the IGAD, AU and the UN are involved in the realization of an appropriate solution.


The public lecture on federalism in the history of South Sudan was presented by Professor Douglas H. Johnson, the author of the book, The Root Causes of Sudan’s Civil Wars. What specifically captured my attention was when Professor Douglas H. Johnson said, “Kokora is not Federalism”.

In my articles on federalism I have been arguing that federalism is not kokora but I have never been taken seriously. I have even been viciously attacked. Asked why people equate federalism with kokora one discussant answered that it was the fear of the unknown. I am now vindicated and those who were and are fearful of federalism as kokora should now relax and do not need to be full of anxiety.

The next step should be a debate on the type of federalism South Sudan should adopt. I reiterate that we have to build a consensus on the type of federalism suitable to the peculiarities of South Sudan with its ethnic, cultural and regional diversities in fostering national unity. Federalism is not now a taboo but an openly accepted system of governance for a diverse South Sudan.

In conclusion, the question now is not why to adopt a federal system but when should it be adopted and the sooner the better as a solution to volcanic tensions in South Sudan.


  1. Defender says:

    Dr. Lupai,
    First of all, as you stated, violence is not the best way to bring change. I agree with your statement. However, when the state uses violence to silence its critics, it becomes imperative for those who are being hunted to seek options that the regime understands. Second, the coup theory has been discounted by all, including Uganda’s president. As such, citing it in your argument lessens from the authority it wants to portray. Third, citing any government source as evidence of fact is highly questionable, even if the source is credible. This is for ones simple reason: there is no room left for independent thinking in South Sudan.

    As to the issue of trying to distance your region from the cause of rebellion, one sees no fare assessment on your part to effect this claim. The current regime in Juba is feeling the heat that is why it is opening this debate within a limited context. The aim here is to show that there is genuine understanding from those who are in the government on the best option of instituting credible institutions of governance under the current dysfunctional ethnic regime. This cannot be further from truth. If that debate is gaining momentum, it is because the government is seeing the threat of force knocking at the door that is why some within the system are showing in disguise, softening attitude. But this softening is only happening at the political level, something that is not commensurating with level of violence being exacted against those who wish to follow in the foot steps of the non-violent approach that you are advocating.

    Thus, approaching the issue of federalism cannot be explained away by just saying or writing your position as resting on facts but leaving the bigger section of the canvases untouched, claiming that you have drawn a complete picture of the conflict. This is called lack of spatial concept and the magnitude of the problem our nation is facing: issue such as ethnic, moral understanding of human needs, the context of leadership governance, moral accountability, leave alone political accountability of which our leaders lack.

    So, federalism as you try to claim is not the magic bullet for the cause of bring political peace or real peace and justice in South Sudan. It is just the beginning. Because federalism as you try to claim, require attitudinal change on those who are seeking to implement it. For the current generation of leaders are the least to be trusted with effecting change and bringing true meaning to the word federalism.

  2. upiu says:

    JK Lupai,
    i am from the former greater upper nile, the region that has been decimated by this senseless rebellion and the subsequent attempt to contain it. my selfish thought would want me to encourage all regions in the country to join in the killings and destruction, pretending that it will solve our inherent problems. that is exactly what my regional mates are doing. after realizing that their population and livelihoods have dissipated they want other regions to drink from the same dirty cup. i laud you for trying to educate our brothers about the elusive reality of the rebellion and its attempt to hijack the aspiration of equatorians.
    sadly, the man who is supposed to be the default leader of the former upper nile region has decided to sacrifice his people and their livelihoods for his selfish gain, the presidency of south sudan. shame on him!

  3. survivor says:

    of all the south Sudanese commentators. K Lupai is by far the most level headed and by far the best of the bunch. unlike the rest or your colleagues, who simply write in a knee-jerk reaction. K Lupai, is sober, you look at issues and individuals. i know its very difficult at this time to differentiate an individual from the rest, but the truth is RIek does not equate to Nuer and Kiir does not equate to Dinka. but the unfortunate part is people look at it as such. our people are so naive to a point that if someone utters something, then suddenly that is attributed to them. its no coincident the federalism has been dragged to be the center of this conflict. when it had no part in it, but because its what seems to be popular, Riek is singing it and our people are buying it. notwithstanding the fact that Riek was just recently a big part of Kiir’s regime, a vice president as a matter of fact, and as recent as 2011 when federalism was being discussed’ Riek was amongst the group of Nay-Sayer but suddenly he is now fighting for it.
    the true fact of the matter is as you already alluded to, its a powers straggle between Riek and Kiir, to maintain/wrestle away power; the two protagonist have successfully dragged their tribes into it and now, the ground-swelling idea of federalism is now being used as the pretext for rebellion .
    i would also like to not that, Riek is an opportuinist who throws himself in front of any wave of new ideas. he once used the idea of self-determination, an idea that southerners have been calling for for half a century as his rallying point for his unfortunate 1991 break-away faction. even after having failed to achieve anything, people continue to this very day to attribute this idea of Self-Determination to Riek; and now he is doing the same with the Idea of federalism, after having failed to achieve his ultimate goal of violently taking over, Riek is now singing the song of federalism. unfortunately a large handful of us are naive enough to actually drink that cool-aid.
    since the idea of federalism already had a firm hold, inevitably federalism is going to be the system of governance that people of south sudan prefers; thus, it will ultimately be the system of governance. just like self-determination, people are going to point at this senseless war of Riek machar lust for power as being reason for federal system of governance. its a dame shame.

  4. Bol says:

    Mr. Lupai,
    Congratulations. There other are ways of forcing Kiir and his SPLM out of the office. He is not Khartoum regime, he is ours and we the people of RSS can kick him any time. Whatever changes we we think necessary acn be achieve in peaceful manner not war.
    If only few of these Equatorian writers could reach this level of understanding, the job of ousting SPLM would be much easier !

  5. monychol says:

    The talk that is happening in South Sudan is a blind talk headed by ill informed,poorly educated and and unrearched commentators that are not knowledgeable of any political system.They are talking of regional confederation but due to their shallow knowledge,they believe and claims to be talking of federalism.South Sudan is already a federal state that is devoid of resources and power allocation to state and counties levels.Instead of talking of allo cating proportionate powers to each level in the federal system, they are barking at the wrong tree.A creature thoat they donot not know.What is the use of having states that federate and confederate?Who needs multiple layers of the government? Even these states federal system needs to be dissolve to leave only counties where resorces shall be channel closer to the people.

  6. General South says:

    Dear Jacob K. Lupai,

    You personally believe in debate to bring federalism okay please you can not (CAN NOT) change Equatorins minds per night brother if you have taken money for convincing Equatorians please let the BLOOD OF INNOCENT EQUATORIAN WHO DIE since the begging of the war in South Sudan dwell on you and your family , other Equatorians youth has already decided since 2005 who will they allied with in the future based on the segregation, corruption , killings, nepotism et.t e.g killing of Equatorians police offers in Equatorians in Yambio , , Crabbing of more than 900 plots in 3k-South (Tomping), disappearance of people from Equatorians lands based on accusation of allied to Northern Sudan(Jullaba) e.g Disappearance of Eng. John Louis just because of plot of Land and the President restarted the killer (Marial )to the top military intelligence position, my brother eat your money and die out as Dinka helper(Muwarus).

    • Bol says:

      General South,
      How old are you ? Dr Lupai is a die hard Federalist who believed in peaceful demand of Federalism. You are Federalist who believed in Military demand. Do you really know what is WAR ? When Equatoria become a battleground how many people will die ? The live will not be what it is now.

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