BY: DR. LAKO Jada KWAJOK, JUL/31/2016, SSN;
From the outset, I must admit that this article was initiated by a desire to address some misconceptions that came up in Professor Mahmood Mamdani’s article, “Who’s to blame for the political violence in South Sudan? What’s the way forward? I also wanted to elaborate on my suggestion regarding United Nations trusteeship as the best solution for the crisis in South Sudan.
Professor Mamdani expressed many views some are controversial and some are similar to my personal views. To understand why a politically and ethnically engendered violence engulfed South Sudan 2 years after independence, we must go back to how the SPLM/SPLA came into being.
Some years back, retired Major General James Loro, the former President of the Transitional High Executive Council (THEC) was asked over SSTV about how the SPLM/SPLA started. The answer he gave was not the one the TV host hoped to hear. In fact, the audience wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to know what the General disclosed if the show wasn’t live.
So what did the good General say? Being an honest man he stated that it started as a mutiny by Battalion 105 on a background of embezzlement of funds and salaries belonging to soldiers.
The accused officers upon being ordered to report to Juba immediately for investigation decided to stage a mutiny capitalising on the widespread dissent in the Jieng community against the re-division of South Sudan into three regions.
They joined forces with the Anyanya 2 movement that was active as a low-grade insurgency in the area since the Akobo uprising in 1975.
Loro’s statement is credible as he was a former commander of Battalion 105 which means he might have known the facts from his former subordinates. Moreover, he was the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Southern Division in Juba at the time of the mutiny.
Following that statement, the General never featured again on SSTV. Late Dr. John Garang was on leave and happened to be in the area. Using his leadership charisma, education, and political talents, he managed to hijack the mutineer’s movement and transformed it into what is now known as SPLM/SPLA.
However, he was up against stiff resistance from the Anyanya 2 group which ultimately succumbed after he succeeded in soliciting support for his group from Ethiopia. Garang was ruthless in his quest to consolidate power. Prominent leaders like Samuel Gai Tut, Akuot Atem, Joseph Oduho and Martin Majier were eliminated in an undignified manner.
The culture of violence is deeply-rooted within the SPLM/SPLA. In fact, it was born with it. When you hear the SPLA war songs like “Shaala Abowk Adi Talaga,” meaning (Even your father, put a bullet in him) – would there be any wonder regarding the numerous atrocities committed by the SPLA against the civil population?
Even if someone’s father were a traitor, it would be quite extreme and shocking for one to execute his dad. Those kinds of songs and even worse were taught to young recruits and child soldiers over 30 years ago. Some of those recruits are now the commanders and the high-ranking officers in the SPLA army units.
The above makes it too easy to understand why many citizens rate SPLA as the number one threat to their lives before disease, environmental catastrophes, and famine.
There is a further dimension to the violence that tends to be overlooked. It was reported at the beginning of the conflict that President Kiir addressed recruits exclusively drawn from his ethnic Dinka tribe saying in Dinka language, “The power I have, belongs to you and if some people (meaning Machar’s group) want to take it away from me, would you allow that to happen?”
Some of the rhetoric used was quite damaging to national unity. The recruits were told that the country is theirs and the rest are aliens. Equatorians are Ugandans, and the Nuer came over from Ethiopia. Just imagine what would be the outcome of such rhetoric continuously fed to illiterate people who hail from communities where cattle rustling is commonplace.
As we know, cattle rustling more often than not involves looting, rape and wanton killings. The new reality is that the cattle rustlers have now been authorised by the state to do the only thing they know. Thus it wasn’t a surprise to many when they ran amok on several occasions, killing innocent civilians and ransacking whatever in their way.
It’s a behaviour that stands in stark contrast to what people saw from the Anyanya movement. We never witnessed or heard of atrocities committed against civilians during the Anyanya war. In general, the Anyanya fighters were reputed for being protective and supportive of the civil population.
A hybrid political authority led by an African team to run South Sudan as suggested by Mamdani, would most likely deliver a partial solution to the problem or even further complicate the situation. The reasons are the following:
Firstly, the crisis in South Sudan is not only political but has social and humanitarian dimensions. The regime has pitted communities against each other and inflicted immeasurable damage to the social fabric of the country. As a consequence of its brutality that caused massive population displacement, famine has occurred or looming in many parts of South Sudan. Given the immensity of the problem, it’s less reassuring that an African team would be up to the task. The track records of previous AU missions that saw failures more than success stories evoke little confidence that things would be different this time around.
Secondly, the African regional forces that are sanctioned by the regional leaders to be deployed in South Sudan could be likened to giving a patient a pill that would cure his/her illness but in the long term would produce severe side effects that could prove lethal. The forces are to come from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Sudan. Apart from Rwanda, all the rest have clear geopolitical interests in what is going on in South Sudan.
Many issues are unresolved between South Sudan and Sudan among them are, the disputed area of Abyei and others, the oil fields in Heglig and the transportation fees for South Sudan’s oil. Many South Sudanese are unaware that the Elleimi Triangle which is currently part of Kenya, does belong to South Sudan. Without a doubt, time will come for the case to be brought up. Ethiopia does have a large Nuer and Anuak population in the western province bordering South Sudan. We have seen how the war in South Sudan affected Ethiopia due to movement of refugees and attacks by the Murle militia across the borders.
The case of Uganda is a little bit worrying because it has shown a lack of neutrality by joining the war on the side of the government. The Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) has been stationed in Western Equatoria since 2005 in the quest to eliminate the threat of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Despite the fact that the LRA is nowhere to be found, yet the UPDF continues to be deployed in Western Equatoria.
More troubling is that of late the locals have been complaining about the presence of the UPDF in Eastern Equatoria where some appear to be involved in illegal mining. With South Sudan being the primary market for Uganda’s exports, it will do whatever in its capacity to influence the course of events in South Sudan. Ugandan influence may not necessarily be beneficial to the people of South Sudan.
It’s not a secret that there has been ups and downs and even open hostility in the relations between these regional powers. Therefore, the risks of South Sudan becoming a stage for settling scores or its political factions and militias being used to fight proxy wars are real. South Sudan could end up being “devoured” by the regional powers.
Thirdly, the AU and the IGAD neither have the resources nor the expertise to launch a massive humanitarian operation on the scale that is required in South Sudan. Hundreds of thousands of people need to be returned to their homes that would also require help with reconstructions. Some areas need swift actions to limit the spread of famine. From where would the AU and the IGAD secure the funds if both couldn’t pay the bills for transporting SPLM/A-IO forces to Juba?
Fourthly, Accountability is fundamental to achieving a lasting peace in South Sudan. It will also hasten the process of healing and reconciliation between the communities. As we know, the AU stance on indictments by the International Criminal Court (ICC) remains nothing but antagonism. President Omar Al Bashir of Sudan had been indicted by the ICC since 2008. Despite being served with two arrest warrants he managed to evade justice because of lack of cooperation from some countries. President Museveni of Uganda has openly declared that he would not cooperate with the ICC.
In the light of the above, would it be feasible for the Hybrid Court of South Sudan to function without being influenced by the regional powers? It’s obvious that the only credible way to hold the perpetrators of atrocities responsible for their actions is to send them to the ICC at The Hague.
The option that would bring about sustainable peace and ensure a relatively smooth transition towards a united South Sudan is full United Nations Trusteeship.
The regional powers could contribute forces provided they wear the blue helmets and be under the UN designated military command. The UN would form the administrative body that would run the country for five years. Competent South Sudanese would be selected to join the administration through a national vetting committee. The committee would be principled by transparency and having the right qualifications wins someone a job.The five-year period would give the political parties and the candidates enough time to prepare for elections at the end of it.
As for Mamdani’s question, I quote, “how to isolate the perpetrators of political violence from their supporters?”, the answer is – it’s impossible at present. The question suggests a group of elites manipulating and misleading the masses for their personal benefits.
Outsiders would be amazed to know that some top-ranking SPLA commanders who command thousands of soldiers or militias are barely literate or not at all. It’s a cultural thing that links the perpetrators with their supporters.
The civil war wouldn’t have happened if the SPLA was truly a national army composed proportionately of all the ethnicities in South Sudan. Hence, the only solution is for the SPLA and the entire security forces to be disbanded.
The new administration would use the five-year period to build a professional army and a well-disciplined police force. In essence, South Sudan needs a government of institutions where the constitution guides the judiciary, the military, and the entire security organs for the common good of the country.
Dr. Lako Jada Kwajok