What’s the Way Forward: South Sudan at another Political Cross-road

BY: BOL PHILLIP, Juba, FEB/19/2014, SSN;

Once again, South Sudan has become a hot spot that is on the world news headlines. On the eve of December 15th, 2013, South Sudanese of all walks of lives were shocked, confused and filled with fear as the loud sounds of mortars, gunshots and artillery almost deafened their ears in Juba, the newest capital city of the world.

What followed in the next five or seven days in Juba, before it spread to other towns in South Sudan, will be the talk of day for months or years to come.

So far, there are two plausible versions or narrations in regards to the events that shook Juba on December 15th, 2013, before it quickly developed into a rebellion led by the former vice president Dr. Riak Machar.

As we all know, there is the government version and the rebels’ version, both of which are currently being spread, preached and propagated like the biblical gospels by political analysts, South Sudanese of all walks of lives, including regional and international communities.

In this brief analysis, let me start by saying that I do not wish to go back to political events that took place prior to December 15th, 2013 on purpose, because all South Sudanese, I am assuming here, are already aware of what was happening prior to that doomsday.

Although what happened on December 15th, 2013 was somehow and somewhat expected, or inevitable for lack of a better word, most South Sudanese who are politically savvy were expecting something politically and militarily similar in nature to happen but in 2015, during or after the scheduled national elections next year, and not prematurely on December 15th, 2013.

In hindsight, I guess this is now a clear indication that politics in our nascent state of South Sudan has an element of surprise and unpredictability, which can always make things worse before they get better, and leave the most politically savvy person(s) in South Sudan shocked and confused, as they search for answers to explain and comprehend the recent complicated political situation in the new nation that was full of hopes, promises and expectations on Independence day on July 9th, 2011.

However, as I have said earlier, despite the plethora of personal opinions, political analysis and historical commentary regarding the events of December 15th, 2013, there are basically two plausible versions so far that are being refined, polished and propagated every day by the two warring camps, as each one of them attempts to boost the credibility and reliability of their own version at the expense of the other.

The government version
On December 16th, 2013, the president of the Republic of South Sudan, General Salva Kiir Mayardit, clad in military attire, and along with other senior and high-ranking government officials, announced on the state-owned SSTV that what happened on the night of December 15th, 2013 was basically a military coup attempt by his former deputy and VP, Dr. Riak Machar.

A few days later, however, Dr. Riak Machar, talking in an interview with BBC from an undisclosed location in South Sudan, denied the allegations that he was the one behind the military coup attempt in Juba.

In fact, he accused the president of South Sudan of actually concocting the whole thing up as a ploy to get rid of his political enemies, among which he was a major political rival and opponent.

In order for the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) to convince anybody of their version, all they need is to present some kind of proof beyond reasonable doubt that there was actually a plot to overthrow a democratically elected government in the new republic of South Sudan on December 15h, 2013.

This proof can be in the form of circumstantial or empirical evidence indicating a plot was there, as well as who were the individuals behind the coup attempt.

Unless and until they do that, the GoSS will have a hard time convincing anybody in South Sudan, or the world at large, that there was a military coup attempt, in which case the GoSS will most likely lose its credibility both in the eyes of South Sudanese masses and the international community as a whole.

Interestingly, the minister of foreign Affairs of South Sudan, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, admitted last week in London, UK that there were atrocities committed against Nuer civilians in Juba, despite the fact that there was no specific order from the GoSS or SPLA HQs to do so.

According to Mr. Marial, these crimes were basically committed by some thugs and criminal elements within the security forces who acted on their own impulse, contrary to any orders given them to carry out such heinous crimes.

Some of these culprits within the organized armed forces have already been arrested in Juba, pending further investigations, according to ambassador Marial.

Furthermore, should the government fail to produce any kind of circumstantial or empirical evidence in this regard, they will have a lot of explanation to do, as well as face serious consequences from the international community in terms of the aid that they normally receive from the western powers.

And not to mention the very real and possible “targeted sanctions” against some of the most senior government officials in the government – that is, if they are not even eventually charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes that were committed in Juba.

Simply put, the anecdotal evidence that the GoSS has presented thus far does not suffice to convince the international community of the alleged coup attempt in the new republic; they need to come out and produce more evidence if they possess it.

The rebels’ version
Given all of that, Dr. Riak Machar’s categorical denials and allegations that the whole military coup plot was basically cooked up by the president and his advisers to rid himself of his political nemesis in South Sudan automatically became the other plausible version in regards to the events that rocked Juba on December 15th, 2013.

In light of all of these military and political developments, the ball seems to be in the government court in terms of proving to the world that there was a military coup underway in South Sudan on December 15th, 2013, since the burden of proof is always on the prosecutor or the person accusing another person of a criminal act.

With that said, however, should the government somehow produce some kind of circumstantial or empirical evidence down the road, which actually implicates the rebel leaders plus the political detainees in a military coup attempt, then the tables will be most definitely turned against the rebels and the political detainees, as they will also lose all credibility and support that they might be receiving so far.

Should this turn out to be the case in the long run, then the rebels will end up being “rebels without a cause” or moral justification for all the destruction and thousands of lives lost, especially in Bor, Bentiu and Malakal.

Moreover, certain individuals leading the rebellion in South Sudan now might also find themselves in hot waters with the international community and also face charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes that were committed in Bor, Bentiu and Malakal respectively.

In fact, I personally believe that both the rebels and the government leaders will have a lot of explanations to do once the dust settles and security and peace is finally restored in the new republic of South Sudan.

Just like the GoSS did, the rebel leaders need to come out and also denounce the huge atrocities and deliberate destruction that were committed in Bor in particular, plus Bentiu and Malakal by their armed forces, particularly the White Army.

The way I personally view ethnic violence and tribal politics in South Sudan
In my humble and personal opinion, any so-called political analyst in South Sudan will always end up demonstrating his or her biases and misgivings about “others” whenever they write or speak politics in South Sudan.

This has always been the name of the game and the culture of the day in South Sudan – from day one. The blame game is pretty much alive and kicking once again in South Sudan, as the people of South Sudan are now divided along tribal lines, as per those two versions of the events related to December 15th, 2013.

I have read and heard several individuals talk about who is to blame for all of this mess we have created in South Sudan within two short years of our hard won independence.

In fact, what I always find most annoying and frustrating is this: when a leader from our tribe, clan or community is in power, we tend to be less critical of them and the government; and when the leader is NOT from our tribe, clan or community, we tend to be extremely critical of the government or the leader – to the extent where we exaggerate every little thing by turning every little molehill into an insurmountable mountain of “political issues”.

As a people, we need to watch our language and check our personal biases and misgivings. We are all entitled to our personal opinions and political aspirations, but let us learn to write and talk with some common sense and a measure of civility, objectivity and responsibility, while we also attempt to avoid generalizations, blanket statements and conspiracy theories at all cost.

In a nutshell, South Sudanese are tribal people by nature, which is not something bad per se, until when we start saying our tribe, clan or family is better than the rest of the tribes and clans.

As a matter of fact, identifying oneself with one’s social and cultural roots is not a bad thing per se, until when we start to hire or fire individuals or promote them at our workplaces based on their ethnic origin or tribal affiliation, without any consideration for their credentials and qualifications.

In essence, this is when and where these malpractices become known as nepotism, tribalism and corruption in all its negative manifestations, as it also eventually creates a workforce that is both useless and incompetent by all measures.

As a people who have been subjected, in the contemporary history of Sudan, to ethnic violence, social injustice, gender inequality, religious indoctrination, political suppression and economic marginalization when Sudan and South Sudan were one united country.

We cannot allow our “frame of reference” to be informed and influenced on the basis of ethnicity and the same political ideology, which basically operates and thrives on hatred and subjugation of others because they are not like us in some fundamental ways.

We have to learn from our historical mistakes as a nation, and especially as we move ahead this time to forge a new beginning and a better future that is actually all-inclusive, people centered and born out of the grassroots.

Again, all human beings have cultural roots and social traditions to which they normally feel affiliated and comfortable. It is a normal thing until we start to criticize the government, the rebels or the opposition party and allow that to degenerate into ethnic violence or a civil war because our tribe or tribal leader is NOT in power (or in power), regardless of all the other political facts and the reality on the ground.

In fact, our diverse social, cultural and tribal traditions should actually result in a solid national heritage and a distinctively African culture that we are all proud of as one people; it is not and it should not be viewed as a weakness because it tends to divide us into our own clans and tribes.

If truth matters, it is some of our political leaders who usually and deliberately play the tribal card in order to gain political and military support for themselves, as they seek to advance their personal interest and political ambitions at the cost of the national interest and security.

To cut to the chase and make a long story short, this time around, political issues and personal differences within the SPLM party members were allowed to evolve and develop into a national crisis that has eventually threatened the viability of South Sudan as a new nation in Africa and the world as a whole, let alone the thousands of lives lost, the destruction of the social fabric of our nation, the damage done to our economic potential and the peace dividends that should have been the rewards for all of us in South Sudan.

Now, it is becoming obvious everyday that some of these leaders are actually bent on turning this internal rift and bickering within the SPLM party into a zero-sum game, which will in turn plunge the new nation into a downward spiral that may eventually bring us down to the level of a failed state, such as Somalia, among others.

Given all of that, all SPLM/A senior leaders, including the rebels, need to step up to the plate in terms of resolving this conflict, take ownership of this mess in part or whole, stop the senseless bloodshed of innocent lives and courageously ask themselves this soul-searching question:

How and why on earth did we allow our personal and political differences within the SPLM party to evolve into a national crisis and develop into a political violence with an ugly ethnic undertone?

In short, all our leaders need to put the national interest and the stability of South Sudan before their own personal interests.

The short-term resolution to the political crisis and ethnic violence in South Sudan
In the short-term, the only viable and desirable resolution to the recent political conflict and ethnic violence in South Sudan can actually come by way of a negotiated political settlement, especially so as the warring parties are now negotiating in Ethiopia.

Although there is a strong temptation on both sides of the warring parties to resolve their internal divisions within the SPLM party militarily, all the SPLM leaders should put first and foremost the national interest and security of South Sudan before their personal interests and political aspirations.

To the rest of citizenry in South Sudan, it is basically unacceptable and unimaginable for one political party to take a country from mismanagement of national affairs to a rebellion in the name of democracy.

South Sudan needs political reformation, not another bloody revolution and civil war that may eventually destroy the whole nation within two short years of its hard won independence and liberation.

The long-term resolution to the political crisis and ethnic violence in South Sudan
To be honest, South Sudan as a nation and South Sudanese as a people will not live in unity, peace and harmony until we have a strong political system established in the country, whereby most powers are vested in the parliament as opposed to the presidency.

We need a strong parliament and an independent judiciary system in order for us to live in unity, peace and harmony as a diverse society.

Anything short of that will not resolve our political conflicts and economic disparity, regardless of who is the president of the Republic of South Sudan, period.

In other words, some of the powers and prerogatives constitutionally vested in the presidency would have to be either removed or reduced on the one hand, while the role and function of the parliament as an institution would have to be increased and made stronger than that of the presidency on the other hand.

All our tribes and regions can then be fairly represented, in terms of political participation, in the parliament, eliminating the constant need for equal representation of our tribes and regions in any federal or central government, which should just be an executive branch of government that hires its staff based only on their credentials and qualifications.

In fact, it goes without saying that any legitimate and effective government must have three distinctive and independent branches: the executive, the legislative and the judicial, each of which has clearly defined roles and functions in the running of national affairs for the benefit of both the nation and the people.

Further, it must be made abundantly clear that none of the three branches of government can interfere with the work and the role of the other branches of government – be it the executive, the legislative or the judiciary branch, period.

In layman terms, there should be clear separation of powers among the three government branches.

As insinuated and proposed by Mr. Natale Nuer Kuot Rehan, in his article, Why the SPLM must be peacefully dissolved, dated February 3rd, 2014 on SouthSudanNation.com website, I totally concur with him in adding my voice to his and suggesting that the SPLM political leaders, on both camps, should seriously consider to dissolve the SPLM party and formulate new ones under different names in line with their preferred political aspirations, since the acronym SPLM (Sudan People Liberation Movement) is now essentially a misnomer that is neither reflective, descriptive or illustrative of the current political reality on the ground in South Sudan.

For the sake of keeping the good name and great history behind the acronym SPLM, it should just remain as a great historical and political movement that was both pivotal and instrumental in securing the liberation and independence of the new Republic of South Sudan.

As suggested by Mr. Rehan, the SPLM senior leaders, in both camps, should immediately stop committing atrocities and carrying out destruction in South Sudan under the great name of the once powerful and uniting force – the SPLM.

Finally, I have this little advice for the moderators on this website: please make sure that any article posted and all commentaries made on your website are not further inciting tribalism and instigating ethnic divisions among South Sudanese in any way, shape or form by monitoring all the posts and commentaries made by certain “war-mongers” and “irresponsible individuals” that are driven by nothing other than hatred and anger.

Please ensure that your website is a social, political and intellectual forum that promotes unity, diversity, personal opinions and political analysis in a healthy environment that will eventually allow South Sudanese to have honest, positive and constructive contributions towards nation-building in terms of sharing their personal opinions and political aspirations.

In other words, “if you are not part of the solution, then you are basically part of the problem”.

Try to make your website part of the solution, not a forum whereby everybody is allowed to air out their venom and hatred of others.

Media houses and online forums can sometimes be the breeding ground for sexism, racism, tribalism, radicalism, anarchism and genocide, as we have already seen in Rwanda in 1994 and other places in the contemporary histories of different parts of the world.

Email is bol5@hotmail.com
Juba, South Sudan.


  1. ATEM GAK ATEM says:

    The president should not tolerate foreign alliances….”the heads of some failed nations who only win through unfair democratic proccedures”,should be self decision making..he should not be like king Luise

  2. Dengdit says:

    One of the most sanguine, objective and constructive articles in a while. Well done Bol Phillip!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.