Understanding the Problem is Half the Solution in South Sudan

BY: Tongun Lo Loyuong, GERMANY, JAN/30/2014, SSN;

Back in elementary school days when we lived as internally displaced people (IDPs) in Khartoum, our teachers used to advise us to keep our cool and not panic during finals. We were often forcefully reminded with a stick that to pass an exam, “understanding the problem is half the solution (fihm al sou’al nusf al-ijaba).”

Now that an agreement on cessation of hostilities (CoH) has been signed by the warring parties in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa exactly a Week ago, it is important to clarify some aspects of the 6 Weeks period of devastating internal armed conflict that engulfed South Sudan going forward.

As the conflict was arguably a moving target with its meteoric evolution, many analysts were left challenged and puzzled on how to characterize it.

Some analyses that could not make do without emphasizing the ethnic dimension of the conflict were met with outrage and drew the ire of many South Sudanese. Most bemoaned what they saw as Western media bias/wrongful representation of the latest internal armed conflict in South Sudan.

Many were rightly concerned that a one-sided and reductionist reporting of the atrocious conflict by the media fraternity could fuel revenge attacks and exacerbate a conflict that has claimed more than 10,000 lives mostly civilians, displaced over half a million others and devastated untold livelihoods and properties.

Others were angered by any reference to the two dominant ethnic groups and the main parties to the conflict, the Dinka and the Nuer from which the incumbent President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Dr. Riek Machar on whose behalf the conflict is being fought come from respectively.

Perhaps what needs to be clarified about the ethnic dimension of the conflict should be in line with how Rebecca Nyandeng Garang, the widow of the late Chair of the ruling Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) party recently articulated.

Mrs. Nyandeng Garang now an opposition member against President Kiir’s leadership is quoted several days ago by Sudan Tribune as stating that: “Kiir had illegally trained private army of 15,000 men from his tribe, which he used to start the violence in the South Sudanese capital, Juba.”

What I find richly informative about the ethnic dimension of the conflict in Mrs. Nyandeng Garang’s statement is the use of the phrase “from his tribe” in reference to President Kiir.

This characterization was startling given both Nyandeng and Kiir are from the same Dinka ethnic group but not necessarily from the same tribe or clan, which suggests kinship rather than ethnic belonging should inform the so-called ethnic dimension of the conflict.

The implication is that the conflict may be tribal-cum-ethnic on one level but a political power struggle overall.

Indeed there are Dinka members and several other members from other ethnic groups within the mostly Nuer dominated opposition group under the general command of Dr. Machar. There are also members of Nuer and from other South Sudanese communities within the mostly Dinka led group aligned with the government and President Kiir.

Moreover, Kiir’s political detainees– seven of whom were acquitted of the attempted coup allegations and released yesterday– hail from several tribes and ethnic groups, including from Kiir’s own Dinka ethnic group, but again perhaps not necessarily from his tribe or clan.

Such a diverse composition of the warring parties blurs or redraws the ethnic lines of the conflict. The conflict can therefore, be characterized as a violent struggle over political power across ethnic, tribal, clan and interest cantons, which accounts for the presence of both Dinka and Nuer members as well as others in both camps of the divide.

As for the ceasefire, it obviously means the world to the suffering poor masses of South Sudan most of whom are from the peripheries and rural areas who are simply trying to make ends meet with minimal support from the political leadership and state institutions.

People just want to return to their normal lives and should not be made to pay a heavy price in a conflict most are not well-informed about its political dimension let alone its confusing ethnicity.

Two Nuer men probably from the same area, tribe or clan may have found themselves pitted on opposing ends of the divide pointing the barrel of their guns at each other and thinking what exactly is going on.

The same may be true of two half-relatives with the other half in Dinka, Shilluk, Bari or other who may have found themselves in a bizarre confrontational position as a result of the violent conflict.

Most victims of the conflict have no political opinion to be victimized in a conflict through targeted killings for the only crime that they hail from a particular ethnic group, tribe or clan.

For this reason the signing of the CoH agreement by the belligerents was overdue. The international community, and the regional organs tasked with mediating the conflict must be applauded for their robust and tireless efforts that culminated in ending the violence. But more needs to be done to sustain the effort if lasting peace can be forged in South Sudan.

Already one week into the signing of the CoH agreement and it is yet to be translated into any meaningful cessation of hostilities on the ground in the embattled areas in South Sudan.

Violence perpetrated by both parties continues to be reported and ceasefire has already been badly breached. All conflict stakeholders must be urged to end the violence at once.

But it is also important to note that in order for the ceasefire to hold, mediators must be made aware of the several layers of the violent conflict at interplay simultaneously, which does not seem to have been reflected in the document of the CoH deal.

For instance, before the deadly violent outbreak in Juba mid-December last year, South Sudan was already fraught with rampant insecurity and inter and intra-communal cycle of violence.

Many reports have detailed how violence festering on the communal level has kept death toll at the same level in places like Jonglei State as during the protracted civil war before the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

Another aspect of the violence is also related to the activities of rebel groups such as that led by David Yau Yau in locales like Jonglei State.

Equally pertinent is that much of the violence was also created by the traditional practice of cattle-raid, practiced particularly by the cattle-keeping communities like the Dinka, the Nuer, Murle and others as shown in the last piece.

There were at least two incidences of cattle-raid activities that were reported that occurred concomitantly with current internal armed conflict but with little known direct connection to the political turmoil.

I recently read another report about cattle raid and attack on some villages in the Greater Upper Nile Region by the White-Army (a militia group made mainly of Nuer youth and aligned with Dr. Machar), several days after the signing of the CoH agreement.

This tells us that while on the political level the violence may have de-escalated (which I actually doubt), on the communal level particularly related to cattle raids, the violence seems to continue unabated.

This is in part because cattle-raid may have not been captured in the text and spirit of the CoH deal.

Overall in order for the ceasefire to hold, there must be a strong political will by the political leadership in both sides of the aisle as well as by all conflict stakeholders across the board, including those with stakes motivated by other issues, such as revenge and cattle-rustling, to end the violence.

Meanwhile, it is imperative that the international community and the regional bodies mediating the conflict must not lose sight of the conflict just because a deal on a CoH has been signed by the warring parties.

Media houses and the media fraternity who have done an exceptional job covering a complex conflict, must remain vigilant and continue to report on developments going forward even after the ceasefire agreement.

In South Sudan, ceasefire just means that the conflict has been transferred to another level, preferably to the negotiation table, but there is also going to be some coveted violence that will remain under different guises, as the conflict is a multilayered and interconnected one.

While one layer may have ended other layers may continue and if not arrested in time may cause further political tensions leading to another surprising violent eruption that may risk undo the whole CoH agreement and send us tumbling back to square one.

The pertinent questions that should guide our conflict interlocutors going forward as they attempt to find a lasting solution to the conflict should be: why are the South Sudanese fighting and who are the conflict stakeholders?

Why did they fight long costly and bloody wars against successive Khartoum regimes in the first place? What are the grievances and the underlying causes of the conflict?

Have they been genuinely addressed by the previous Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) deal and the secession of South Sudan into a sovereign and independent state?

What role has the political leadership and governance issues also known as proximate causes played and contributed to the current violent outbreak?

What roles have wanton corruption and nepotism played in triggering and fuelling the conflict?

As the prominent Swedish peace scholar and practitioner, Peter Wallensteen has aptly observed in his book chapter entitled “Strategic Peacebuilding: Concepts and Challenges,” in order for a sustainable peace deal to be reached and lasting peace to hold, understanding the history of the conflict is vital, because “there is a strong correlation between earlier war experiences and relapse into renewed war.”

Answering these questions therefore, and devising strategies on some form of a follow-up and accountability mechanism to ensure justice is served for crimes committed and wanton human rights abuses perpetrated against civilians across ethnicities should begin to steer South Sudan back on the path to sustainable peace.

Some form of transitional justice is therefore necessary in any final outcome of any lasting peace deal in South Sudan.

It will be a difficult task as those implicated on both sides of the divide in committing gruesome human rights abuses and perpetrating atrocities against the civilian population are likely to resist punitive justice and accountability that may seem incompatible with their life and freedom.

In such a scenario a hybrid justice mechanism that balances both restorative justice and reconciliation on the one hand and some form of retributive justice on the other, must be sought to aid lasting peace efforts in South Sudan.

There are ample customary retributive and restorative justice approaches and practices in the many local South Sudanese cultures that can be consulted.

The local agents for a reconciling justice mechanism that may seek restitution or reparation as a form of retribution for any loss incurred on victims or their surviving relatives are naturally the traditional leaders and elders of the affected stakeholders.

Religious institutions can equally play an integral part in restoring and amending broken societal relationship by presiding over a national healing and reconciliation exercise.

As such these key parties, namely religious institutions and traditional leaders and elders are indispensable and must be actively involved in the second step of the peace negotiations going forward.

Women and youth not only constitute the majority in South Sudan, but are also most affected by the conflict and poor political decisions. They must therefore be invited and included in the peace process to determine the future they envision for themselves and South Sudan.

All conflict stakeholders, including those who are yet to pick up a gun, the civil society and other political parties all have an integral role to play in charting out a peaceful and bright future for South Sudan in an inclusive and commensurate peace process.

On the whole a serious pondering over the above questions should yield an idea on the underlying as well as the catalytic or triggering factors to the violent conflict that must be amicably addressed to promote sustainable peace with justice in South Sudan.

In the process the mediators and all involved conflict actors should be able to reach the conclusion that first: on the political level, the conflict is essentially a violent struggle over who grabs a lion share of political power, a trademark feature of the SPLM.

Whoever wields political power also controls economic and geographic power and preside over fair or unfair distributive justice of national wealth and resources across various interest groups.

In turn this as has been abundantly clear, particularly since the signing of the CPA, creates a destructive competition between South Sudanese across many fault-lines over resources, and entrenches a medieval oppressive system of political patronage and feudalism.

But while South Sudan is endowed with sufficient resources for all to have a piece, there is simply not enough for greed and exclusivism, which are sure recipes for violent conflicts.

Second, a feudal and clientele system of governance in a country as ethnically diverse and deeply divided as South Sudan leaves the impression of cultural dominance by one or two ethnic groups, which invokes the bitter memories of colonial subjugation and cultural domination associated with our Khartoum days.

Such an outlook will have a profound negative bearing on any chance of creating a just and equal state and a unifying sense of national identity, as some will continue to be reminded of second or third class citizenship statuses in their own country.

Additionally, popular grievances of those who feel excluded from access to social and economic services resulting from such an unjust political structuring will remain unaddressed and ultimately soar, leading to disgruntlement and endless cycle of violent conflicts.

The Khartoum wheel of center-periphery dynamics and economic marginalization need not be reinvented in South Sudan going forward.

Third and lastly, our conflict interlocutors and all stakeholders should be able to conclude on conflict underlying causes and triggering factors that the political leadership is in charge in matters of South Sudanese life and death, particularly as the society is highly ethnically conscious.

The leaders must be strongly encouraged to avoid playing ethnic cards and charge popular emotions or incite one community against another.

Phrases such as “this is your power that some are trying to wrestle away from you” or opening old wounds inflicted by the tragedies South Sudanese inflicted on each other in the 90s and associated with the frailties of liberation struggle must be deliberately avoided.

Such sentiments are divisive and harmful. They are not befitting of a national leader and contribute to sowing hatred across identity lines.

The leader must be strongly encouraged not to be seen as a divisive but as a unifying figure in all his/her policies and national decisions.

As part of the idea of understanding the problem as half the solution, I had an opportunity yesterday to speak about the conflict in South Sudan, where I raised some of these issues to an Australian audience, through the national Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Radio to be aired hopefully in the coming days. Stay tuned.

Tongun Lo Loyuong is a freelance policy analyst from South Sudan. He holds two Master’s Degrees with honors and academic excellence from the United States. The last of his two MAs is in International Peace Studies and Policy Analysis for Political Change, from the University of Notre Dame – Indiana. His research interest is in South Sudan’s governance and peace and conflict issues.

20 Comments

  1. jay johnson says:

    I do not know why people call Rebecca Nyandeng as NYANDENG GARANG OR REBECCA MABIOR.
    it is un African to call your wives after your name or your father name.

    Why do we embrace western culture without thinking through it? we should use NYANDENG CHOL ATEM as oppose to Nyandeng Garang Mabior

    thank

    • Diktor Agarab says:

      JJ, before spitting your luak ignorance and venom on this website, find out how Madam Rebecca Nyandeng Garang refers to herself. It is not you or I to name her but for herself to do so.

  2. John Hayang says:

    You see what happened on the 15th of December last year was a result of having leaders of extremely low academic setting. The person who sparked that violence did not know at all what was in the brewing minds of people both nationals and foreigners alike. South Sudan has become synonymous with ………. Name them. One strong thing that was in the minds of all South Sudanese possessed with reason and ability to feel pain just completed in 2005 was still fresh and no one would like quickly again go through that agony considering that some people had lost property both physical material or otherwise. This is the reason why the mutineers as they are justly or unjustly labelled did not receive open support from other non Nuer Tribes. The outstanding people so mentioned as released are some of the legitimate people who opposed the President not SPLM, as is being masqueraded upon, are the ones accused of a coup de tat. It is said that the one sitting as weight on top of another does not see/feel how much brunt of his weight is causing pain to the other. the people who insist of a coup do not really see how painful those wordings thrill though the nerves of the afflicted

    This said coup was not in the mind of the person who planned it and because what was panned became out of control, the only excuse was to frame a charge against those targeted in a bid to avoid the results and to draw then attention of the public away.
    The SPLM was in a NLC meeting that week and before the meeting was concluded the fight started. The question is since the mutineers had their own focus reserved for that activity why didn’t they just surprise the president while unaware in that meeting?
    You have amassed enough wealth to enable you live out of the country please leave us alone at peace

    • Diktor Agarab says:

      John,
      There was no coup. The coup exists in the minds of the president and his parrots like you. The rebellions was actually sparked by the primitive president when his presidential guards decided to target Nuers in Juba.

  3. Morthon Akol says:

    My dear brother John, those of Dr. Riak are well Educated people. if that is the case than the Educated people are the one killing the people in South Sudan.

  4. Arabbmoi says:

    Criminal Kiir must go he had shitted bad bean consuption that no one want to smell it again.
    All jengers must stop supporting their criminal King Salvatore Kiir.

    Am

  5. Tongun Lo Loyoung:

    The roots of the internecine,in the country,in the South Sudan government in the Republic,they have been known.The problem was originated in the SPLM party.It came from the chairman President Salva Kirr Mayardit,himself and the members who were dissidents when they dissented with him in the party problems in the first place.There is no need for you to seek for the causes of the ongoing problem in the country.There is no more peace and unity in the South bear in mind! There will be a peace,but the scars will remain in bodies to people forever!!!!

    One thing to unite South Sudanese people in the country,in the land is that to DISMANTLE SPLM PARTY TOTALLY!!! SPLM party has now become TOO PROBLEMATIC TO PEOPLE IN THE COUNTRY EVER SINCE IN THE MOVEMENT IN THE POST CIVIL WAR IN THE BUSH WHICH BEGAN WITH THE LATE CHAIRMAN DR.JOHN GARANG UNTIL HIS SUCCESSOR SALVA KIRR! This is the bottomline!

    • Alex says:

      Dear Abiko

      Had it not to be SPLA/SPLM whom liberated us can you talk in liberty or write usless things in this net.
      Where were you to talk about democarcy during Bashir regime as prisdent for the whole country. These people are liberators my friend. They bought this land with their own blood. I think you may be an Arab pretending to be a South Sudanese. We know our problem and it will be fixed. If it was not because of SPLA/SPLM we will not be among the nations of the world. Our flag will not fly in New York. You could be in slavery now in the hands of the Arabs. You are among those South Sudanese who thought that good things are thrown from heaven. Just talking and expecting food to come to table without working for it.
      If you are tired of South Sudan pack your bag and go where you feel free or safe. You can even go to Khartoum brother. To say SPLM should be dismental that is a delusion. SPLM enjoys the support of it people it is only the problem of lack of knowledge that has made some of our youths prey to self seeking politicians and that damage is brought by the fifity years of the struggle. We will overcome these evil times and South Sudan will shine in the world. Ezara faced the same thing when he was rebuilding the broken walls of Jeruslem.
      SPLM/SPLA deserve hounor and praise. They made history and they have not betrayed your freedom instead they rescued you and me from being Arab slaves.
      LONG LIVE SPLA/SPLM. LONG LIVE SOUTHERN SUDAN PEOPLE. THEY BROUGHT HOURNOR AND DIGINITY IN A GOLDEN PLATE. WE ARE MOVING WITH OUR HEADS TALL UP RIGHT BECAUSE OF THE SCRIFICES OF OUR LIBERATORS. Do not be suprised that SPLM will win again the elections in 2015. They will rule for the next fifty years and I hope even for life because they deserve it brother. It was not ill gotten victory.
      Alex

      • Domuk says:

        You are a disgraced idiot who will never change forever,continued to admire this crippled party called SPLM until you meet your unprecedented fate .

        • alex says:

          you will die with your hatred and the best thing for you is to give in or you accept to go to slavery to Khartoum.
          They will rule with hournor and no one will dispute that. So please pack and go and leave us in peace but if you do not want try an other coup or rebelion. You will be taught a lesson you will never forget in your life.
          An idot is like you who does not believe in a peacefull coexsitance. I think you are a failure in life that is wyh you have become a frustrated fool with no vision in life

          • GatCharwearbol says:

            Alex,

            Who is going to taught who a lesson? Are you talking about UPDF teaching people a lesson or who are you referring to? Please keep hugging Museveni and sell your soul to him but you do not know what is underneath. The people you are trying to push to Khartoum, if they accept to move to Khartoum, they will be your worst nightmare in the South. Museveni will not be able to stop them as he just did. Remember, Khartoum has a better air force than Uganda. Having Khartoum side with these people you want to push to the North is not a good future for you. Have a sip of cold drink and think about it for a second.

      • Diktor Agarab says:

        Chief Abiko,
        Don’t mind useless parrots like Alex who is nothing more than the beneficiary of the dinkocracy in South Sudan. The problem with him is that he operates at the luak level. He thinks South Sudan is a cattle camp and ought to be run like one. His primitive president, Salva Kiir, and SPLM have failed South Sudan big time. Parrots such as he reject the call to dismantle the party because they’re using it as a tribal vehicle to enrich themselves at the expense of other tribes. But their plans are coming to nothing because others are waking up. Soon we’ll send them back to the deserts of Warrap and back to their luaks because they’re not used to living in civilization. You can’t take a fellow from a luak but you can’t take the luak out of them.

  6. Pan says:

    I agree with you Chief Abiko Akuranyang. It is disgraceful to see those detainees smiling in front of the cameras in supposed exile in the satellite country they have been running to for decades. The people got raped, slaughtered and pillaged and these criminals who are part and parcel with Kiir’s monster as far as I’m concerned, get to wine and dine it up with Kenyan politicians, bankers and businessmen. It is a sad day in hell when we take sides with any of these guys who have already been rewarded above and beyond for any contribution they may have made during the war. There is a grotesque imbalance in South Sudan where gluttons are given unlimited license to eat, loot and spoil the lives of millions. Why don’t our socalled friends expose what is in each of their foreign bank accounts? South Sudan is finished.

  7. Shamga says:

    Dear bother, you should understand that our problem is mere stupidity and stupidity with most nuer. This stupidity is found in few individuals like Risk Masochist Taunted Devil or Riek Machar Teny Dhurgon as well as majority of his tribesmen. Most ethnic nuer are stupid and this may be because it is condoned within their community (nuer). Stupidity is infectious. It spreads from one person to another, one home to another, one community to the other and one country to another. You can not live and work with stupid people and fail to be stupid. Therefore, it is wrong for one to blame Masochist who lives among stupids.

    The main cause of stupidity is nothing but ignorance. Masochist is very Ignorant of consequences of his actions- a key sign him and is followers are suffering from stupidity. In individuals and groups ignorance is the major cause of suffering from stupidity, and with Masochist and his followers attributing all these in their character, you be wrong to think they are not idiotically stupid. If not then why heed for war and loot?
    Ignorance is again lack of knowledge or information about something and Masochist is just ignorant despite his Phd. This makes it clear education does not make people smarter if they intrinsically stupid like Masochist and his group.
    In Masochist and his group or supporters ignorance is not only a symptom of stupidity but another disease as well. There are diseases that cause other diseases. Ignorance is among such diseases.
    Ignorance may be the cause of all sufferings in Masochist and even people with PhDs he is going to die of stupidity related causes and not disease.

    • Diktor Agarab says:

      Samaga,
      Our problem is allowing a primitive luak person like Salva Kiir to be president. He runs the country like a luak. There are even some chiefs who run their villages better than Kiir runs South Sudan. If you want stupidity and luak lawlessnes then stick with Kiir. If you want law and order, then, Kiir must go because in 8 years he has done nothing but run the country to the ground.

      At least Dr. Riek Machar has a PhD that’s why he is an intellectual and reasons like a sane person. Looking at Salva Kiir you get the sense that the guy is nothing more than a drunkard (well documented) and womanizer (documented) and STUPID (documented).

  8. lado WANI nyarsuk says:

    Our problems in Southern Sudan are: 1. poor leadership and governance; 2.tribalism, corruption and nepotism; 3.lack of institutions of government such as democracy, rule of law and independent judiciary, constitution which gave more powers to president.

  9. Chief Abiko! says:

    Dear Pan:

    Alex is entitled to his own opinions! He can express his own opinions as long as it makes him happy! For him dismantling SPLM party.it looks for him very hard at all in which he is absolutely miscued! It is easy to dismantle things in life once energy has take the ground!

    Be apprised that first,and foremost,I was a strong staunch supporter of SPLM/SPLA before.But I have quited due to lack of CLEAR VISION IN FRONT OF GOD! I do not want-to wasting my ability in things that do not make me so happy!! Take care yourself! Let us respect political views from agree and disagree From yes,and no.From good,and bad! From right and wrong!

  10. Mading says:

    Mr. Diktor Agarab Having PhD does not mean you know how to lead, do you remember 1997 Khartoum peace agreement? It was done by a PhD holder Riek Machar.Do you remember 2011 South Sudan referendum? It was under Salva Kiir is leadership who is not a PhD holder. look at both examples which one is good, I will not say anymore.

    Mading.

  11. Diktor Agarab says:

    Mading,
    You’re regressing into luak thinking. Having a PhD is better than being primitive like Kiir. Kiir was just following a formula and timetable that was laid down by another PhD – Dr. Garang. A primitive president like Kiir is only good for following orders like a dog but lacks creativity and intelligence. Look how he has drunkenly led the country down the path of corruption, tribalism and failed statehood. Try to get your facts right if you want to argue with me.

  12. Mading says:

    What facts Ditor? That is what it takes, to follow what people want as a leader. Kiir followed Garang is formula, and that is why we have South Sudan today, not Riek who interest is to be president. And by the way what your devil can do as president, he can not do when he was vice president for 8years?Do you think he do can what ever you blamed the president for including corruption he could not fight in 8 year? Think better man, and forget about your devil being president of South Sudan.
    Mading.

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