South Sudan’s Problems extend beyond Kiir & Machar

BY: Dr. Justin Ambago Ramba , NOV/11/2016, SSN;

Of recent, some prominent South Sudanese elites who once served under the visionless leadership of President Salva Kiir Mayardit are busy trying to distance themselves and their roles as individuals or groups from being partners in the genesis and indeed the sustenance of the ongoing crisis in the world’s newest country.

Their ultimate wish is to escape being held responsible for their roles in a regime that took off right from the start as one that pays no attention to any democratic practices. It violated the human rights of its citizens at will, disregarded good governance, freedom of speech, freedom of association and the rule of law.

Now these same iconic figures of the ‘rotten-to-the-core’ SPLM/SPLA in their attempts to distance themselves at this period, would want to fixate all eyes on Kiir and Machar while taking eyes off them.

By putting all the blames on President Salva Kiir and his former deputy turn rival Riek Machar alone, these SPLM/SPLA hypocrites hope to re-invent their tarnished political careers and wish to remain relevant to the future of a country they very much through omission or commission played pivotal roles in its destruction.

However, they might have partially succeeded in convincing some international players who are used to quick fixes often not successful in handling an otherwise very complicated problem as is the case of South Sudan.

Those regional and international players who seem to have bought into this oversimplification of the crisis in South Sudan are more keen on their interests than to address the root causes of the crisis.

Of course, this narrative should not be allowed to overshadow the search for a good solution. Nobody should believe them, for a wrong diagnosis naturally leads to the wrong prescription of treatment.

South Sudan’s current problems extend well beyond the overstated narratives of just Salva Kiir and Riek Machar. Thus, it can be misleading to assume that the duo represents the only culprits and probably the sole sources of the multifaceted evils that have befallen this country.

Moreover, no one should believe that these complex problems can altogether disappear once they voluntarily or otherwise succeed to see the two rivals are out of the country’s political center stage.

To part ways with the misleading assumptions about the root causes of the South Sudan’s ongoing crisis will require a thorough understanding of the various factors involved and the historical relations between them. Top of the list of this elements is tribalism and the politicization of ethnicity.

Talking about tribalism and the politicization of ethnicity in Africa often tends to sound familiar all across the continent. However, while South Sudan’s problems are mirror-able with situations elsewhere in other parts of Africa, much of the similarities seems to end just there.

For even though it is true that this type of problems exists everywhere on the continent, other African countries have managed to find the best ways to contain them.

In South Sudan where the adverse impacts of tribal politics and politicization of ethnicity ubiquitously express themselves in the form of political instability and a general mistrust in the state, a way out is yet to emerge.

Also given its very violent and traumatic history, South Sudan is yet to see how best it can address this issue of multiple nationalisms which are all calling for maximum attention and self-expression.

Again, the political realities that gave birth to each African country’s unique political system allow no room for generalization across the board. South Sudan borders Uganda and Kenya, and despite the commonality dictated by this geographical proximity, yet their different colonial experiences can be seen to have shaped the politics in these other two East African countries in ways that are incomparable to the South Sudan’s expertise.

It is this uniqueness in the historical, colonial and political heritages that has led to the different forms in which issues of ethnicity in politics tend to manifest at the national stage. Unlike its other East African neighbors, South Sudan has historically given a central stage for the expression of both narrow ethnic and regional nationalisms.

It is all too common in South Sudan for people to refer to themselves as members of a geographical location or an ethnic group. For example, groups like the Dinka (both in Bahr El Ghazal and Upper Nile regions), and the Nuer (Upper Nile region), would often identify themselves ethically i.e. the Jieng and the Naath respectively.

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.

Virtually all the mess South Sudan is in now is the brainchild of the Jieng (Dinka) Council of Elders. The JCE is a self-appointed group of influential Dinka politicians and close relatives and allies of President Salva Kiir who act as informal advisors to the president. It is not a group of traditional leaders.

The official ascend of tribal politics to the central stage in South Sudan, came on the back of the the Jieng Council of Elders (JCE). In the wake of the December 2013 Juba Massacre, where thousands of ethnic Nuers met their fates in the hands of the notorious ‘Mathiang Anyoor,’ a pro-regime Dinka tribal militiamen, tribal politics became an open practice.

Since then South Sudan has existed in people’s minds, locally, regionally and internationally a country of violently competing nationalities of Dinka, Nuer and to borrow the words of Professor Peter Adwok Nyaba, “and all the rest are lumped together as Equatorians.“

In an attempt to accurately describe the current situation, it would never be an overstatement to say that, South Sudan is precisely now a hostage to the rising tide of multi-ethnic and regional nationalisms all triggered by the regime’s recourse to Jieng (Dinka) nationalism.

The crisis in South Sudan is a direct consequence of the state-sponsored rise of the Dinka nationalism, which is also the central project of the Jieng Council of Elders agenda. Whether this in itself is a good thing or not, shall be judged based on the results.

However, the reality on the ground strongly suggests that this increase in Dinka nationalism is incompatible first with the basics of any peaceful coexistence between the Dinka and the rest of the other 64 South Sudanese ethnic groups.

Secondly, the country’s existing highly centralized system of governance can not allow for any single ethnic group whatever the justification, to use its ethnic, nationalistic tendencies to override the rights of the other ethnicities.

Unless a better alternative to this system prevails, those seeking to overtly display their ethnic nationalism are bearers of hegemonic and expansionist agenda, to say the least, and invite upon itself the wrath of the others in the form or resistance and confrontation.

The question as to whether, one day the volatile situation in South Sudan might explode into an outright genocide as repeatedly expressed by Dr. Majak D’Agoot, who once served a the former SPLM chief spy and then the deputy minister of defense and veteran affairs or not is everybody’s guess.

However, in principle, there now exists a nationwide polarization that pits the Dinka (Jieng) against the rest of South Sudan’s other 64 or so ethnic groups. Nonetheless, there are still other sources, predominantly outsiders who for reasons better known to them, still continue to portray the situation as Dinka (Jieng) versus Nuer (Naath) conflict.

On the whole, there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that the surge in Dinka (Jieng) nationalism lies behind the senseless war currently tearing the new country apart. It cannot also escape a keen observer that the widespread ethnic polarization among South Sudanese today emanates from the prominent position and closeness of this tribal council to the corridors of power and decision-making in the country.

In everyday life, this polarization has now become so now palpable that it is felt all across the towns in the country.

It is the same case inside the UNIMISS’s Protection of Civilian (PoC) sites or the refugee camps in the neighboring countries of Uganda, Kenya, DR Congo, Ethiopia, and the Sudan and neither has it spared the South Sudanese communities in the Diaspora.

Given the fact that, for all actions, there are bound to be reactions, we now see that what had started as an expression of Jieng nationalism, has in no time triggered survival instincts amongst the other ethnicities.

In many parts of Equatoria, the state-sponsored ‘Mathiang Anyoor’ Dinka tribal militiamen are regularly carrying out military raids on villages and settlements in a scorched earth policy. Regardless of how tiny, some ethnic groups are, their initial knee-jerk reactions have taken the forms of vigilante youth groups to counteract the Jieng’s aggressive campaigns and what they perceive as Jieng tribal hegemony and expansionism.

The way forward for South Sudan would be about the best management of the flare-up in ethnic and regional nationalism in response to the surging Jieng nationalism.

Much can be done to address this crucial issue which lies in the center of the country’s ongoing crisis without having to recourse to that Biblical scale ethnic cleansings. Every ethnic, linguistic or regional group in South Sudan have the right to express their real or perceived identity without encroaching on the rights of others. to live as well.

The sooner we acknowledge that South Sudan is already set on its way to a violent disintegration and seek to bring about a system of governance that can allow the various ethnicities to express themselves to their fullest without necessarily causing the demise of the others, the better.

Hence springs the necessity to reconsider an alternative to the existing unitary and centralized system of government. Without the least doubt, this also brings to the forefront the much-overdue discussion on Confederation.

The situation in South Sudan today can never be compared with other countries where confederalism is considered inappropriate. South Sudan is a highly tribalized and ethnically polarized country. Hence, a confederal system of governance will suit it perfectly well.

For confederalism is a system of governance in which the various groups, even those with unparalleled uncontrolled zeal for ethnic nationalism can still find the right space to satisfy their political egos and pride.

Why not give confederalism a serious thought instead of insisting on this recipe for disaster, call it ethnic cleansing or genocide or what, not that comes with the current heavily centralized unitary system.

Three confederal regions based on the former provinces of Equatoria, Bahr El Ghazal and Upper Nile with the internal federal administration is the only possible way out for South Sudan The bottom line is we can still coexist side by side peacefully and save all the innocent lives that are otherwise going to perish.

Author: Dr. Justin Ambago Ramba. A concerned South Sudanese and a voice for the millions of other voiceless compatriots. He is also an active member of the grassroots’ ‘Give Confederation a Chance’ movement.


  1. False Millionaire says:

    What a poor performance!
    “some prominent south sudanese elites”,who are they and what are they doing to imply distancing themselves from,”the visionless leadership of president Salva Kiir mayardit”,presumably under wish they had served?
    If he means the JCE members,he has terribly missed the point becouse none of them has ever been an SPLM/A’s member let alone serving as a confirmed official under Kiir’s leadership.
    That’s exactly what it is to turn around in ignorance and then proceed to go public without knowing having no solution but adding a fat weight to the heavy problems already at hand.

    Majak d’Agoot,apart from being an SPLM/A’s member of the first hour,he is a jaang issue of a cattle camp.
    If he is repeating warnings about an impending genocide,it’s becouse he knows the mentality of cattle camp masses and how they calculate their reactions when faced with thorny problems like the equatorian MTN drive.To be very sincere with him,he is a well wisher.
    The ball is on the side of equatorian elites like Dr Ramba to revise their strategy of targeting innocent jieng to mean fighting Kiir’s government.It will be more tragic to distinguish the two being different when it’s too late than doing it now.

  2. lodani rama says:

    My God who is this job seeker blaming for the problem in our country. Lets go back and look to the first cabinet in 2005 till the present one. How many ministers, under secretaries , directors where having European, Australian and American passports. How many were from other African countries and other parts of the world.

    To be fair Ramba it is the diaspora who failed S. Sudan. For ecample, Riack, Richard Mulla, John Luke, Anduga and many others were from diaspora. We thought people like you who are outside would bring much needed skills our country needs but only few have shown they care for out country. The work of others like you is negative criticism only mounted so that, they will be offered a ministerial position. Most of the complainers where even lingering in the Western world without acquisition of the skills needed for rebuilding a nation.It is always a characteristics of people like you without vision and experience of buildings a country jumping from one idea to the next without doing a proper research. You wrote extensively in this forum about federalism and now you a jumping to confederalism . What has gone wrong with the federalism which you were once a strong advocate of. The shows how confused people like you are. People like you are writing extensively for the sake being given a position. It is the same people like you who have written and encouraged tribalism and now when you see the country is nearing genocide and you are jumping to a system which suit your objectives of getting a position. You have released that, you were heading to a death end in politics. Now you are jumping to confirmation with the hope Equatorians will support it and if it succeeded then, you would have got your self a job.
    My friend you are a lair. We know you have no vision and you are not politically matured. You have not yet reached intellectual politics. Stop confusing us if you have nothing to offer, leave politics to those people who are gifted in. You van continue with your medical career.

  3. Bismark says:

    It is sad this country has gone to sectarian amateurish politicians who do not know what they are doing. All they know better is to instigate trouble with an aim of benefiting their tribe. Land grabbing, raping, mass murdering of citizens of different ethnicity for airing different political opinions has become an everyday thing. Yet there are there idiots like so called False Millionare and Rama can have a courage of writing nonsense in support of the negative trend our dear country is going through. I think they should note that South Sudan is not only for equatorians but for all who live in it even before a project called South Sudan came into being. Writing from tribal view point just because your dynasty is under challenge and threat from those who want to see good for all is not helpful to you and us. At the end of the day we South Sudanese are the losers in terms of human and material resources. Remember no empire, dynasty or kingdom is permanent and the consequences of promoting evil deeds in the country will finally catch you. Rebuking Ramba for his truth is illogical and ill placed. Equatorians will always tell the truth and do what is right for humanity. This is because our lives on earth is supposed to be for doing good things and not evil things your government is doing. For the first time we see guests of South Sudan are raped, killed even when they left their comfortable home countries to come to our jungle to help with development. I think as South Sudanese you would not be happy to see anarchy continue in the country if you are really patriots.

  4. lodani rama says:

    Mt Bismark to inform you iam not so such a simple person who will support cheap politics of tribalism. If you begin killing innocent civilian then you are a criminal. Who are the people killing civilians in Kajokeji that they are poisonous people. Thst extra judicial killing because whether those people are bad, there is no prove and there was no fair trial. Who are the people killing people in Yambio now. Its people like you. Who are the people targeting innocent people travelling to Kampala along Juba Nimule road. It is people of low mentality like you because those civilians have nothing to do with government. Who are the people killing refugees in Lasu it’s people with low thinking like you who is thinking you are fighting for Equatoria. What has Nuba refugees have to do with the Kirr government. Who are the people harking people with pangers at night in Yei. It id people of shallow understanding like you. I am a nationalist supporter who fight for unity of S. Sudan. Tribal politics and regional politics belong to people with no vision. So do not expect a free thinking individual with independent thinking will support political bigots like you and Ramba. My question to him is, what has gone wrong with the federalism which he has extensively defended before and now he is jumping into consideration? Are these the types of people I have to support? No brother. It is simple people like you who can not differentiate between evil and good can follow him
    The war in S. Sudan is power greed brother and you will continue to form many splinter groups and at end they will all disappear. You even do not know the Equatorians now have made enemity with Riack Machar group. You took his rebels and now you’re claiming Equatorians have rebels. This is a cheap thinking because you people lack capacity to analyse things. So brother politically you don’t know what you are fighting for. Secondly, I do not believe in getting power by force.

  5. False Millionnaire says:

    Please take Dr Ramba with u for a communication class lessons.
    I am afraid Dr Nyaba would get an impression of u as degenerated into mystifiers giving a bad name to english as RSS’ official language.

  6. mading makang says:

    Justin. Just keep your loud mouth running, but one day you will end up like James Gatdet when your host country get tire of you.

  7. Mading
    Do not be proud of having James Gatdet Dak who was cheaply handed over to you by Kenyans. To some of the most foolish cliques in Juba, they wrongly celebrate that they captured the mouthpiece. Kenya’s intention was to deport Gatdet as part of its withdrawal from peace in South Sudan and to provoke more fighting. The IO respondent diplomatically and treated Kenyans in their controlled territory with dignity. One could not have imagined if the Kenyan or any country hander over Ateny Wek Ateny to the IO in Pagak, the consequences the Snationals of that entity will face in the hands of SPLA Murdering Intelligence (M.I) headed by wanted criminal Marial Nuor or Death (Duoth) Thomas’s Negative Security Service directly under Salva Kiir!!!! All are clearly seen that SPLM/A does not have popularity and illegitimate as it mandate expired since May, 2015. The people of South Sudan, given status quo, are dealing the matter as you see now. Do not allow a criminal a chance to rule without pain and disruption. Disorganize at all fronts until he gives up. We are told that Kiir wants to leave for exile but his supporters said ” what will be our fate in the hands of South Sudanese”. Bany, stay until were are finished and then you will go!. Confederation or federation under SPLM/A is unworkable. This may sound contrary to Dr. Ramba but this is my own analyis. Let the current system be destroyed and the authors be arrested and locked up, tried and punished accordingly for crimes they committed and the money they had stolen remitted back. Their real state property in or outside confiscated for public good and the whichever way we want our country to go. Do not negotiate with an unwanted and illegal entity. By so doing, you are recognizing his ignorance and failures. If selected to be part of the tribunal to try the criminals, majority of the former or current senior SPLM Members will fetch punishments ranging from 15 years life for less serious offense. Those who looted money will qualify for death sentenece because they killed so many in one way or the other. Hospital lack drugs and many died due to their thuggery of money. The same applies to officers of NSS/MI and officer from Captain up to Kiir, all will serve severe punishments for ordering and coordinating killing,kidnapping and arbitrary detention. So be arrested as Former Political Detainees, IO or SPLM/IG will not exempt anyone.

  8. survivor says:

    while I applaud your attempt to dispel the misconception and the false narrative of the two competing poles, namely Kiir/Jieng and Riek/Naath; in your attempt to dig deeper into the said issue of misconception. you needlessly fell into the trap-with the rest of the article ending up being about Jieng hegemony/Dinka ethnic nationalism.
    it’s obvious, there is no way of putting a lip stick on this pig! the system, it’s architects and it’s self anointed guardians have all failed us! Kiir is a failure and Riek is a failure of equal magnitude and so is everyone around. with that being the case.
    to further complicate this already complex situation; the bad seeds have taken full advantage, wrecking havoc on the civil population.
    these ethnic based thugs; stopping innocent unsuspecting citizen, sort them by ethnicity and murdering them in a gruesome manner! these acts have contributed in further driving the wedge between the citizen!
    to further their political careers; the so called “leaders;” these heartless sadistic opportunist would the prey on these grieving families; thus, resulting in the ethnic nationalism.
    in affect, it’s a cycle where thugs are exploiting the civil population. on one hand, you have your typical thugs, robbing and murdering; then on the other hands, you have the white collar thugs masquerading as politicians.
    this symbiotic relationships between these thugs and con artist; quantify this with this with the fact that these murderous thugs are seen ass ethnic heroes/warrior, and the con artist who have accumulated unimaginable wealth are designated as leaders. all but add up to an extremely dysfunctional and complicated situation.
    while there is no panacea, educating your people and ridding ourselves of these thugs is affectively the way forward. these con man need to be stripped of the power and mystique.

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