The Devil’s Advocate: Rebels in South Sudan can win militarily

BY: Samuel Atabi, South Sudan, MAR/30/2017, SSN;

Several diplomats and key experts have one view of the civil war raging in South Sudan: No side can win the war by military means. For a young rebel recruit, this can be a devastating statement, for in taking up arms, he believes he can remove the dictatorship that is causing, in hundreds of thousands, the death, rape, displacement and suffering of South Sudanese.

A close examination of the statement, however, reveals that it is actually shorthand for a much longer one which says something like: “You South Sudanese do not have the requisite quantity and quality of armaments for a knock-out victory for one side or the other.”

True, there is parity, at least in doctrine and skills on both the rebel and government forces; after all, all of them are products of the same SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army).

Stalemated outcomes from battlefields of the war that started in 2013, attest to this conclusion.

But the question that needs to be answered is this: “Is it always true that African rebels, fighting against an unjust government, cannot win outright militarily?”

As a Devil’s Advocate, in this instance, my answer to this question should be a resounding “NO.”

Recent history of civil wars in the region is replete with spectacular military victories against sitting, arguably, dictatorial governments. As a raft of testimonies below will show that these victories came about because the various insurgents did receive generous military support from foreign allies or sympathizers.

To avoid a convoluted recounting of these testimonies in a report format, I would rather animate the very leaders of these victorious insurgents to speak for themselves. These testimonies are based on historical facts.

I call upon President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni (YKM) of the Republic of Uganda as the first witness.

YKM: “In 1981, a fascist government of Uganda, led by Milton Obote, rigged and stole a general election in which my party was poised to win. We did not take this insult lying down. I, together with others moved to the bush to start an armed struggle.

In the bush we formed a coalition called the National Resistance Movement (NRM), with its military wing named the National Resistance Army. I will spare you a lot of details.

But in five years we fought fierce battles against the government troops (the UNLA) and won. In 1986, in a final battle of Kampala, we comprehensively defeated the fascist army who retreated to the north of the country.

After forming the government, we pursued the remnants of this army, killed many of them but spared those who surrendered.

The only persistent group from this old army was the LRA (the so-called Lord’s Resistance Army), which, as I speak, we have reduced to just a dozen or so soldiers and are now hiding far away from Uganda, probably in Central African Republic.

It was not easy though. The White people (Museveni routinely utters this phrase) refused to give us arms. But my late friend, Col. Muamar Gaddafi of Libya came to our aid. We were able to arm ourselves sufficiently to face the government in Kampala.

If you have time, I can also add that we trained and armed the Rwandan Patriotic Front of Paul Kagame and others. These guys later returned to their country, Rwanda, to defeat another tribal and fascist regime there and form a government.

These two stories were straight military victories. I do not accept any crap that insurgents cannot, a priori, defeat an unpopular sitting government.”

Our next witness is Mr Meles Zanawi (RIP), Past President of Federal Republic of Ethiopia to give an account (from wherever he is) of insurgent’s victory in that ancient African country.

MZ: “We founded the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) around 1974. We were encouraged in this by our erstwhile comrades in the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF).

By that time, the EPLF had fought for over thirty years against the government of, first, Emperor Haile Selassie and, later, against that of Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam, without success.

After studying the war situation intently, we in TPLF decided to broaden our appeal to other Ethiopian ethnic groups and formed a coalition with a multi-ethnic movement called Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF, a mouthful).

The three fronts, EPLF, TPLF and EPRDF, together mounted a decisive military campaign in the early 1990’s against Mengistu. Finally, in May 1991, the long and arduous stalemate in the war against the regime was broken.

As we were approaching Addis Ababa to wrench the power from the oppressive government, Mengistu, himself, fled the country. The date was 21 May 1991. The rest, as they say, is history.

But let me say this in conclusion: the Eritreans were able to gain their independence through this direct military defeat of the Mengistu’s regime; it was not a negotiated settlement. The same can be said of our assumption of power.

We were decisive in our victory because of arms supplies which our allies and friends gave us. These creative and deeply caring allies and friends must remain unnamed for the time being. Yes, insurgent can defeat an uncaring government through military means.”

Because of the limitation of space and time, I will not bother you with further witness testimonies. But from the stories given above, it is now abundantly clear that, insurgents, given certain circumstances and arms, can indeed achieve military victory over their governmental opponents.

Despite all these glowing testimonies, it is still important to ask whether the rebel organizations in South Sudan (now believe to be over 40) can defeat the Kiir’s tribal autocracy in Juba.

For an answer to this question, we now call upon Dr Riek Machar of the SPLA-in opposition (SPLA-IO) to give a justification why the rebels deserve military support in order to succeed like his Ugandan and Ethiopian counterparts.

RM: “I will not detain you with minutiae of the war since its eruption in 2013. But I can say this: the SPLA-IO composition, aims and strategy are constantly being reviewed in the light of lessons learnt following the violence of July 2016.

Although the number of the rebel movements is now reported to be over 40, the reality is that all of them, except very few, are aligned with SPLA-IO. Even the few ones are welcome to join us. This alignment makes our command structure and control very manageable.

In addition, politically, as some organizations such as the International Crisis Group have acknowledged, the SPLA-IO is now a truly multi-ethnic army. Our forces are now widely spread throughout South Sudan: from Equatoria, Western Bahr el Ghazal, Jonglei, and Upper Nile to Unity states.

In all, we represent all the 64 tribes of South Sudan. This contrasts sharply with the SPLA-in government (SPLA-IG) which has become a mono-ethnic monolith that is led by a President controlled by self-appointed, reactionary and tribal Jieng Council of Elders (JCE).

Our aim is anchored on peaceful resolution of the conflict through the August 2015 peace agreement. Our war effort is defensive and ultimately aimed at bringing the government in Juba to a negotiating table.

From the media reports, the government has set its face against any peaceful dialogue that will include the opposition. Yet, in the meantime the SPLA-IG continues to kill civilians in thousands, rape them in thousands and send them into refuge and internal displacement by the millions.

Furthermore, reports of the government concluding military alliances against our forces are increasing on daily basis. In the face of this intransigence, on the part of the government, what are we in the opposition to do?

We believe that the people of South Sudan are entitled to self-defense against the brutal Kiir regime in Juba. That is why we now appeal to all peace loving governments and people to support us with arms to resist and eventually force the government to the negotiating table.

We need field guns, assault rifles, heavy and light machine guns, rockets, anti-tanks, shoulder-held anti-aircrafts and others. Yes, we need the famous Stinger anti-aircraft missiles for defense against the mercenary-operated Juba regime’s aircraft and helicopter gunships. (We understand the unease of supplying the Stingers to rebel forces such as the Afghan anti-Soviet forces that later passed them on to the Al Qaeda for use against the US forces . We are not terrorists neither are we anti-Americans).

Additional to our self-defense needs, the military hardware will assist us to degrade the forces of Juba with their allies should there be a need for prior military action before an international force or any interim trustee government is deployed or installed in Juba. (We are open to persuasion about these issues).

UNMISS, the UN forces in South Sudan, are reluctant to engage militarily with the SPLA-IG despite their wide-ranging and robust mandate.

I will conclude by reminding the international community that, in the past, appeasement of a determined genocidal regime such as that of Hitler’s had led to the death of millions of Europeans and Jews.

Kiir’s regime is equally determined and genocidal. To avoid a similar fate for our people, the removal of the regime requires the use of military means.

Like Churchill’s appeal to the Americans during the Second World War, we in South Sudan ask you to “give us the tools and we will do the fighting”. You know where to get me and I will be waiting for your call.

Samuel Atabi is the Devil’s Advocate; all the words are his and can be reached at


  1. Elhag Paul says:

    This Samuel Atabi is not a South Sudanese. He must be a Ugandan intelligence officer of Yoweri Museveni fishing for leaders of the new movement against President Kiir so they can kill them. This highly manipulative piece is intended to lure the leaders of the new movement to Kampala falsely in the hope of getting arms.
    I would strongly warn any of the opposition movements from falling into this trap. The number 1 enemy of South Sudanese opposition to President Kiir is none other than Yoweri Museveni. He has killed numerous South Sudanese to maintain President Kiir in power for his own personal interest.
    South Sudanese should ignore Samuel’s manipulation and concentrate on the resistance.

    Samuel! Leave us alone and Go away. You have written enough for us to analyse you accordingly.

    • Samuel Atabi says:

      Is this our Paul? I have nothing to do with Mr Museveni and his intelligence organization. I am a genuine South Sudanese, a scion of a veteran of the 1955 uprising. My use of Mr Museveni here or elsewhere was purely to support my objectives of the articles concerned. Now, let me unpack this article. IGAD has just called for the opposition to renounce armed struggle for an unproven peace. All members of the IGAD, perhaps with the exception of the leaders of Djibuti and Kenya, came to power through the “barrel of the gun”. Is it then not ironic that they have the temerity to deny the same to South Sudanese? Either they are complete hypocrites (which I doubt) or they are sending a message to our leaders in the bush. I do not know the content of the message but I can only guess. Perhaps they are telling Riek Machar and Thomas Cirillo that they are not up to the job of toppling the government through armed struggle. This might be more relevant to Riek Machar than to Thomas Ciril lo. I am ready to be educated on the enigma in the message. By the way, this article was written and published some months ago before NAS was born. You know what? It was mysteriously pulled down from the internet site where it was published within hours of its publication.

      • Elhag Paul says:

        Dear Samuel

        Thank you for your response. If you are a scion of a veteran of the 1955 uprising I sincerely apologize for calling you a Ugandan and an M7 agent. I concur with what you have written but the sequence of the argument and the conclusion seem to direct resistance agents to Kampala for assistance. That is not good and can be seriously misleading. I have no doubt that M7 is the greatest enemy of South Sudanese people now in our struggle against the evil regime.

  2. Toria says:

    Samuel Atabi
    Bro. Atabi, you have written if not the best but one of the best, precise and to the point article. This is exactly the types of information and directives that we need from our gallant leadership. This gives me hope that there are still visionary leaders out there that with our collective efforts we can still set the winding path straight. I know there are people out there who are willing to help us, and I hope some of them will hear these voices crying for help. Together we can bring this evil regime to it’s knees.

  3. Malouda says:

    Atabi, your movements that are targeted the certain ethnic group, I do not think they will successes and if you successed then put in your mind your system will not longer stable for a long time as you will face another serious rebellion that can not let you to sleep even one hour, it is better to all of us as South Sudanese citizens to unite and elect the leader who will be like our late hero Garang rather than targeting one ethnic group simply because the president is hail from it ,is not a solution.

  4. Mading says:

    Samuel Atabi. You are calling” MtNs and illegal goods hunters” 64 tribes rebel movement.? What have you been smoking or drinking.?

  5. Gatdarwich says:


    There are only two rebel movements(SPLA-IO & the Murle forces) that are actively engaging killer nyankiir’s militias and their mercenaries in the battlefields. The rest of the armed oppositions only exists in papers or by names. Yes, the armed oppositions are capable of defeating killer nyankiir’s genocidal regime militarily, but you must remember that completely defeating killer nyankiir’s genocidal regime also means defeating Museveni’s UPDF and Paul Kagume of Rwanda for these two nations are the ones keeping killer nyankiir in power. In reality, SPLA-IO forces militarily defeated killer nyankiir’s genocidal regime militias since February 2014. So, the mercenaries immediately intervened after seeing that killer nyankiir was facing eminent cremation, and now we still have killer nyankiir in power. Lastly, your call for all armed oppositions to form one coalition movement and find friendly nations which can provide arms is highly commendable, but the coalitions shouldn’t make any deal with Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, and Burundi because these nations are already deeply involved in fighting for the killer nyankiir’s genocidal regime.

  6. Bala says:

    Samuel Atabi

    The government came into being without bloodshed. It was elected and to change it or keep it, elections are needed. If the incumbents lose or win,the game is fair either way.This means bright future without rebellions or reprisals. If you however overthrow this government by force and assume the power,some heavyweight incumbents are certainly going to fight back, causing instability that’s even worse than the country is witnessing today.

  7. Bol says:

    These examples of rebellion deafeting sitting governments are not applicable in RSS contest as the enemy you facing have accumulated more experience in war matters in the last 30 years while your likes were busy doing their own things. Secondly, the only country that can supply Equatorian rebellion with weapons is Sudan via CAR, DR, or directly to Nuer rebellion and they can pass the weapons on to you. However, al-Bashir is too scared to offend uncle Sam. More importantly, no sane country would fund your tribal wars. Please look for new business ideas, such as exporting monkey milik powder or something similar. Cheers.

  8. Dear:Mr.Alhag Paul

    I sincerely concurring with you when saying The Author Samuel Atabi in his article,he is not a Southerner! It is very true! I read his article he wrote! He is misleading the rebels! The rebels should disregard totally!Let the rebels mind their own ways by themselves alone! They,themselves,they knew reasons why they took arms! Take care!

    Sincere Healing Anger!



  9. False Millionaire says:

    Mr Atabi,
    You are so fluent with your context making impression of u as a consequential ground shaking somebody.
    But surprise,”Sowing the Mustard Seed”,being the credible account to Museveni’s UPF from humble begining to victory and prosperity, your use of irrelevant triflings to substantiate your point makes of u a suspicious character and Mr Alhag isn’t very wrong with his comments.
    Secondly, it would be a waste of time and resources to want to have weapons supplied by forces from abroad giving the huge stock of arms littering every where in RSS.
    U will only lose teeth and toes and get nothing at the end if your intention is arming yourself for MTN hunting without a well defined rebellion like that of Museveni which u strangely appear to appreciate.

  10. Kokora 11 says:

    Dear readers
    It amazes me how behind some of you are. I could believe it if Jenges are the ones calling Atabi a Non-South Sudanese, but for those Non-jenges to be short-sighted like this is such a shame. For Jenge readers and commenters obviously if anyone with a contrary vision to theirs and posting legit threats arises their best defense is to paint that individual with the brush of being a foreigner or jenge hater, and so what. Is that a secret that jenges are hated to the core? That is the very mistake that makes people to abhor you wicked souls, some are saying non senses like, MTN hunting or hatred of one ethnic group, blah blah blah……. just crying babies and hypocrites, yet some are boasting they have experience of 30 years in bush, and others even forecasting the future the only way to wage war in Equatoria is to get arms from Khartoum? What a bunch of lunatics? This writer makes more sense than anyone in this net ever, he never singled out one tribe but rather the system which happens to be used by Jenges criminals. People who are short sighted always believe in filling their ears with empty promises like that of IGAD, which is basically controlled by dictators and tribal chiefs. A thief will not go to police to report another thief while knowing that the other will do the same to him. There is a wave of change coming in all the present IGAD leadership in the next few years the landscape will not look like today, just chill down and watch the cooking grassroots on the move.

    • Samuel Atabi says:

      Dear Kokora II,
      I thank you and others for the correct reading of my article. In fact the article is a defiant message to those whose mantra about the civil war has always been “this war cannot be won militarily”. They treat South Sudanese like innocent children without knowledge of history. In making people like Museveni and Meles (RIP) talk for themselves, I was using a rhetorical device to shame them as they read their own voices which are at variance with their present un-comrade-like stance against the brutalized South Sudanese. I also intended to send a message to our leaders in the resistance: only through a coalition (like Museveni’s Bantu coalition against northern Ugandans and Ethiopia’s anti-Mengistu coalition) can we win this war. As for our enemy, the JCE’s sympathizers, I can only pity them. They are babies without any sense of history. While they complain of their people being selectively killed on the roads, they forget that their mono-ethnic Mathiang Anyor selectively go and kill, rape and maim the Kakwa, the Madi, the Kuku, the Moru, the Acholi, the Lolubo etc in their own homes and in their thousands. Are they not aware that the US, after unprovoked attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor on innocent American “tribe”, dropped atomic bombs on innocent Japanese “tribe”? This is what military arrogance as displayed by the JCE government begets; when you kill other tribes, what do you expect, ya morons? Their appeal to the international community on the death of this handful MTN will not be universally received for, they say, “those who go to Court to complain must have clean hands (not ones dripping with innocent South Sudanese blood)”.
      I doubt very much the JCE regime’s staying power now or in the future as some of its supports assert to the contrary. History does not support its survival and legacy. The relevant history for the regime and its acolytes is that of the Frenchman, Napoleon Bonaparte in the 1800’s. Napoleon attempted to create an empire for himself in Europe, as the JCE is attempting now, by terrorizing the whole of that continent for 25 years with wars and deaths. After his defeat in the Russian campaign, in which millions of French and other European soldiers were slaughtered, he was exiled by the victors (Russia, Prussia, Austria and Great Britain), on Elba island in the Mediterranean Sea. Not having learnt a lesson, Napoleon escaped from Elba and slipped back into France, where he again mobilized the unfortunate French youth (equivalent to Mathiang Anyor?) to continue with his imperial adventure. At Waterloo, in the present Belgium, Napoleon was comprehensively defeated by the Duke of Wellington in June 1815 and was banished to St Helena in the Atlantic where he died in May 1821. The fake French European Empire was abolished and the expansive border of the empire was shrunken back to the natural border of the French republic. To use their own word, eventually, all MTN will be sequestered back to Jeingland, where they will be landlocked and banished forever, like the arriviste French “emperor”.

  11. Avenger says:

    Samuel Atabi;
    You people can’t even win by ambushing and killing innocent Dinka civilians on the highways; let alone facing the SPLA militarily!

  12. False Millionnaire says:

    Mr Atabi or Tata,
    As an MTN hunting apologist,u are free to reduce UPF’s rébellion under Museveni into,”Bantu’s coallition”,vs,”northern ugandans”.
    The only mistake u make as an intellectual is failing to provide one single incident in which UPF rebels manned road blocks,screened off northern ugandans and murdered them so that that’s how they managed to dislodge the elites in power in Kampala.
    Beating around the bush to rampage about Napoléon,France,Russie,the Duk of Wellington and Waterlo will never alter what awaits u.
    Mr Kokora II can chill on your vanwagon riding on a terribly rocky highway without any clue of heading to Kokora 64 if you are just à narrow minded fellow south sudanese to understand it than an impersonating foreigner.
    The JCE is thrieving becouse of your MTN hunting conducts.Go bring down the sky if that’s the only bankrupt political option that u have.

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