Archive for January 5, 2014


What Happened on Dec 15th, 2013_


The Fabricated Coup


The Coup that was; the secret unknown!

By Events South Sudan (IP: ,
E-mail :

Two weeks ago, Gatbel Biliu, a soldier in the SPLA presidential guard- tiger battalion living in Juba could not hold but goes on hiding after failing what he termed as “second liberation” as he was told by his superior who promised him a position in the government if they liberate his people from Dinka domination! He has provided a detailed account of how the fighting started leading to the current chaos. In a just published narrative he writes about last Sunday evening 15 December after the meeting of the National Liberation Council had failed and they were briefed again by “zol kebir”; (big man).

Gatbel went in to hiding on Monday after their army was over powered by what he called as “Dinka soldiers” from the main military barrack. He could not reach where his other colleagues have run to; so he opted to hide in a house in Khor William, an area behind the military barrack.
In the event leading to his surrender, he went fleeing the area through Lologo to the general direction of the forest. After a long night walk, he came to a camp he came to know as Rajaf Police College. He was thirsty and his feet were all full of bruises.
Gatbel was taken by a policeman to a room in the Police College, where he was marched past several other people and found himself in a room with other young men, all Nuer. “We counted ourselves and found we were 40,” he told the events. “Then they told us that we are free, as long as we don’t join those fighting the government again.”
Gatbel spoke from his hiding that has become an emergency sanctuary to him; fearing backlash from his Nuer brothers for revealing the failed plan. Sitting on a rug in the middle of a dirty room, with bandages covering wounds in his blistered feet and legs, he recalled: “It was horrible, because to survive I had to run, a situation I was not prepared for as the plan was a well laid on and we were sure of success.”
The latest violence began on 15 December at 9:45 pm in the military barrack at Atla bara was mistimed. The fight now termed to be between Dinka and Nuer soldiers in the presidential guard, igniting a simmering political power struggle in South Sudan’s ruling party and sparking widespread ethnic killings was not as perceived. According to Gatbel, the plan was designed way back in September. They were briefed by a Nuer parliamentarian called Martha and a colonel from the military justice whose identity he could not reveal because they are related.
He has provided a detailed account of how the fighting started leading to the current chaos on Sunday evening 15 December after they were given 2,000 $ dollars each and promise more if the mission succeeds. That they were told to start they shooting at midnight of Sunday 15 December at the president’s house and capture the president. This seem to have been detected by the security prompting the relocation of all the presidential guards to the Atla bara Military barrack where the Tiger battalion is always stationed. “The information we got is that President Kiir ordered Major General Marial Ciennoung to disarm all of us the presidential guards.”
“Marial called for a parade of the Tiger Battalion. He briefed the troops and ordered them to surrender their arms. We all obeyed and executed the orders and dispersed.”
“Now realizing that, we cannot achieve our mission and the whole mission depend on us, we made a quick meeting and call our contact who is in contact with “zol kebir” he called back and said we cannot fail this today, so start in the barrack and coordinate with Bilpham barrack to divert attention. We then started by shooting the officer in charge of the stores.”
“As they now could not control the situation as more of our soldiers came in and broke into the stores. The fight ensued and our Nuer soldiers managed to take control of the barrack. It was in the morning (Monday) that SPLA reinforcement came in and displaced us.” Gatbel narrates.
“In my hid, I heard “zol kebir” has left Juba and is saying it was not a plan to remove the government, I was confused! Did my friend died in vein? Was I to die also in vein? Why are we dying for someone’s cause?” He asked. “These and many other reasons made me reveal this to you; I love my people and my country!”
Gatwich K, 28 a Nuer by tribe, was at home on Sunday evening at around 10pm in the Jabarona area on the outskirts of the capital when shooting started. As it came closer he decided to hide at his home. Gatwich recalls the moment just after midnight when the soldiers all speaking in Nuer, came to his compound as they regroup and talking of how they will overran the barrack and proceed to capture the president! “They divided their money as they leave for the barrack again,” he said. “I was afraid to come out and joint in what I don’t know” he lamented

An Excerpt from Dr. John Akech’s Article (Pro-Kiir):  “South Sudan: Making Sense of December the 15th, Start of War – Part 1”

What Actually Sparked the Fight on Sunday 15th December 2013?

Furthermore, government officials described it as an “unsuccessful coup attempt by Dr. Riek Machar in collaboration with a number of former cabinet ministers.” This was flatly denied by Riek Machar, although he later on admitted being the leader of the mutiny. What is more, a few days later, and precisely on Friday 20th December 2013, Dr. Riek told Al Jazeera interviewer that he wants to be the next SPLM flag bearer in 2015 election, and the next president of South Sudan.
As always, the first casualty of war is truth itself. Major General Marial Chanuong Yol, the Commander of Presidential Guards in South Sudan, told the author:
“I felt something was wrong when Dr. Riek Machar wanted to force his way into the convention hall where the meetings of National Liberation Council (NLC) were scheduled on Saturday December 14 with all his 30 guards who arrived with him in 4 cars. Only one guard was eventually allowed to accompany Dr. Riek into the conference hall and the issue was peacefully resolved after one of his officers almost caused a fight at the gate just before the opening ceremony of the SPLM NLC convention.”
Maj. Gen. Marial Chanuong said he was at the division headquarters up to 6 pm on Sunday after which he went home. At 8 pm, he received a report that there had been a dispute at first battalion where a certain Nuer major  expressed anger because the number of guards at ammunition store was higher than normal. Chanuong sent a Nuer colonel to resolve the issue. He then requested the colonel on duty to be alert. He also noted that colonels John Malual Biel and Peter Lok, both Nuers, who are first and second battalion commanders had arrived back at the army garrison that evening.  “The two were believed to have been in contact with their politicians”, according to Chanuong. Also eye witnesses said money was distributed to Nuer soldiers on Sunday and many of them came back to garrison and took up their arms early in the evening that day.
At around 10:17 pm exactly, Colonel John Malual Biel, head of first Battalion shot his deputy, Akol Reec (a Dinka from Warap State) unprovoked. He died a day later from his bullet wounds. At the same time, Abraham Manyuat Ajou was shot by a certain Nuer Brigadier General James Koch Gak (there is slight variation as to who was shot first). Hence at the start of the incidence, the shooters were all Nuer, and the victims were all Dinka. The killing of the two Dinka officers was in cold blood, and was never preceded by arguments or “wrist fight” as some media has reported it.
Fighting then erupted. An unknown number of soldiers were killed on the side of government forces and mutineers. And contrary to reports that the mutineers had control of army headquarters on Sunday night, Maj. Gen. Chanuong said the battle raged throughout the night and that the mutineers could not succeed to capture the ammunition store and were pushed out of the garrison by 2am of morning of 16 December 2013 into Jebel area of Juba, according to Chanuong.
“Nuer soldiers in non-uniform mobilized Nuer civilians in 107 area and they tried unsuccessfully to take over the ammunition store at New Site”, Chanuong relates.
Chanuong also dismissed the reports that it was a fight between the Dinka and Nuers per se:
“More than 50 percent of our forces are Nuer. My deputy is a Nuer. My office manager is a Nuer. Three of Ltd colonels under my command on Sunday night operation were Nuer. Why didn’t they kill me if it was an issue between Dinka and Nuers? Many of those who defected did so from the wrong information they got in the media.”
Asked about the report of atrocities against Nuer civilians in New Site and block 107 area of Juba, he replied:
“I can only speak about the forces I command. We are not responsible for the atrocities reported.” He said some of individuals many of whom are not part of the army have been arrested in relation to the atrocities and that investigation is ongoing to identify those involved in the killing of civilians.
Maj. General Marial Chanuong acknowledged that there were indicators that this was coming but did not have evident to make the arrest:
“Had we done that [arrested perpetrators], we would have been accused of sparking the fight. That they have ventured to execute their plans makes them fully accountable for their deeds.”
After more than one hour of conversation with the author at his office at Division headquarters where troubles started, Maj. Gen. Chanuong introduced his second in command, Brigadier Simon Yien, a Nuer, as well as other Nuer, Dinka, and other South Sudan ethnicities in the Presidential Guards.
He said:
“Please tell them when you write your report that you found Nuer and Dinka eating together.”
This was in stark contrast to claims by some sources that the coup was led by Brigadier Simon Yien, a proof of how much disinformation was being generated in Juba!
Of 11 politicians that have been arrested by the authorities, mostly from Dinka ethnic group, two have been released as at the time of this writing. The government has also agreed to a cease-fire and called for
unconditional dialogue with Machar’s group.
In summary, it would appear that what took place on the night of December 15th was less of a Dinka-Nuer conflict, and more of a pre-planned politically motivated mutiny using ethnic card to mobilize a support base. The mutineers were all Nuer, while those fighting against them were a multi-ethnic army. The severity of the conflict has also been aggravated by inaccurate media reporting and the inflammatory statements by some politicians. It has also created an environment of mutual mistrust amongst the citizens as to who is against or for the government; or who is your friend and who is your enemy. In words of Bishop Daniel Deng of Episcopal Church of South Sudan, “we do not know is fighting whom.”
It wasn’t a Coup –By Dr. Peter Adwok Nyaba (who is pro-Machar), writing from Juba, Dec 20, 2013

Sometimes ago I wrote on the SouthSudanNation website and made the conclusion that “the SPLM must be saved from itself lest it plunged the country into the abyss.” The events of the last two weeks seem to vindicate this prophetic statement. South Sudan is on the brink.

The current crisis started last year when Dr. Riek Machar, the SPLM first vice Chairman, declared his intention to contest for the SPLM Chairmanship – itself his democratic right, and was soon joined by Pagan Amum the SPLM Secretary General and Madame Rebecca Nyandeng de Mabior member of the SPLM Political Bureau.

Instead of taking charge of the emerging situation as the SPLM Chairman Salva Kiir allowed matters to slide taking their course until the country was woken up to a presidential decree withdrawing delegated powers from Dr. Riek Machar.

Sooner thereafter more presidential decrees followed dismissing Dr. Riek Machar as Vice President, dissolving the cabinet and suspending the SPLM Secretary General and subjecting him to criminal investigation over corruption charges.

In the intervening period, two opposing trends emerged in the SPLM. The group in the government and that outside made up of most of the dismissed ministers and two unconstitutionally dismissed governors of Lakes and Unity states respectively. Efforts to reconcile the different trends came to nothing.

Finally, Dr. Riek Machar and group called the shots and on December 6th called a press conference in the SPLM House in whey they outlined the main differences and called on the SPLM Chairman Salva Kiir Mayardit to convene the Political Bureau in order to set the agenda for the anticipated National Liberation Council.

Dr Riek Machar also announced the public rally the group would hold on Saturday December 14th on Dr, John Garang Memorial Grounds. The SPLM General Secretariat also scheduled that day for the opening of the session of the National Liberation Council. The two SPLM groups seem gearing towards a collision.

This prompted the Dinka elders’ and the Church leaders to appeal to the two sides to postpone both the public rally and the NLC meeting and to give dialogue between the two a chance in order to reach a consensus on the contentious issues. Dr. Riek Machar et al acquiesced and released a statement to that effect.

The NLC meeting, however, started as scheduled on Saturday morning. His Grace Paulino Lokudu Loro, the Catholic Archbishop of Juba reiterated the appeal the Bishops had made earlier and called for calm and harmony.

In his opening speech, the SPLM Chairman made no reference to the internal contradictions that hampered the party functions since March and how to resolve them amicably.

On the contrary, he was bellicose, ignored the appeal of the Archbishop and deliberately referred to the 1991 split within the SPLM/SPLA as a reminder. In this context, I quote the following:

“in the light of the recent development in which some comrades have come out to challenge my executive decisions, I must warn you that this behaviour is tantamount to indiscipline, which will take us back to the days of the 1991 split.”

Chairman Salva Kiir apparently referred to Dr. Riek Machar ostensibly to put him in unfavourable light among the membership of the NLC and to discredit his demands for democratic reforms in the SPLM. This perhaps prompted Riek, Rebecca Nyandeng, and others to boycott the Sunday meeting incensing Salva Kiir into a frenzy, which became the most tragic incident in post war South Sudan.

On Sunday afternoon as the meeting of the NLC was winding up, President Salva Kiir Mayardit, the Commander in Chief of the SPLA, ordered Major General Marial Ciennoung, the commander of Tiger Battalion to leave the meeting venue in Nyakuron back to his H/Qs and to disarm his troops. Marial went and implemented the orders.

However, after dispersing the troops, he ordered the Dinka elements rearmed. The ensuing argument between him and his deputy, a Nuer, attracted the attention of some Nuer soldiers who happened to be nearby. A fistfight ensued between the storekeeper and some Nuer soldiers.

In the confusion, the Nuer soldiers broke into the store and armed themselves. This was the trigger of the fighting in Juba. It was a fight between the elements of the same Tiger Battalion, which makes the presidential guards, that lasted from Sunday night till Monday afternoon.

The rest of the fighting in other parts of Juba, which lasted until Wednesday was the presidential militia terrorising and butchering the Nuers, other Dinka elements presumed to be supporters of Riek Machar, Rebecca Nyandeng and Majak de Agoot.

On Monday, President Salva Kiir called a press conference. Clad in complete military attire, the President declared it was a coup and that the loyal forces has crushed it and were now pursuing the remnants.

The linkage of the fighting among the presidential guards to an attempted coup against the state carried by the president’s press briefing makes an incredibly clumsy story.

The absurdity of the coup story comes out clearly, with the deployment of the presidential militia hailing mainly from Warrap and Northern Bahr el Ghazal, who indeed are killing unarmed Nuers soldiers, civilians including women and children in Juba, on the presumption that they were Riek Machar’s supporters, that Salva Kiir inadvertently is pushing the country to the brink.

In Juba, many innocent Nuers, some of them government official, members of the NLC, but the majority are civilians women, youths, students and persons from other ethnicities have been executed either in their own houses or are taken under guise of being arrested and killed in ghost houses run by the National Security and Intelligence Service elements in the town. Their bodies buried in several mass-graves secretly by night.

Many people, including the Hon. Speaker of the National Legislative Assembly, whose children missed death by a whisker having been saved by a Dinka woman MP shocked by the killings in the neighbourhood, have run to the UNMISS compound for protection.

Many Nuers have left their homes and have gone to UNMISS or are hiding in the hotels in Juba.

In Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity states reprisals against elements of the Dinka nationality have been reported targeting those hailing from Bahr el Ghazal.

In Warrap state those who were calling for the removal of Governor Nyandeng have been branded coup plotters linked to Dr. Riek Machar.

There is a direct link between the events now unfolding and Salva Kiir’s power perceptions. When he toured the four states of Bahr el Ghazal in September, Salva Kiir made hate speeches against his former deputy Dr. Riek Machar and the former ministers.

In Akon, his hometown, speaking in Dinka, which SSTV aired, Salva had this to say, “…look, this power which I have belongs to you. You fought and died for it… now some people want to snatch it from me… we you accept it?” “Aci ba gam” meaning we will not accept, shouted the people back.

It was in this context of retaining power that he ordered Paul Malong Awan to recruit and bring to Juba three thousand young men, which now constitutes his presidential guards.

Now putting together the pieces, a clearer picture begins to emerge.

President Salva has been planning to forestall any democratic reforms in and institutionalization of power relations in the SPLM soon after July 23rd when he dissolved the cabinet and dismissed Riek Machar.

The recruitment of presidential militia from Warrap was to send home the message that power belonged to the people of Warrap and so they should protect it. The story of the coup was just a stratagem to cover his rejection of the appeal by the Church leaders and Dinka elders, and a ploy to arrest Riek Machar and close the chapter of dissent against his leadership.

The arrest of the former ministers was also to accelerate their removal from the government houses they are occupying in Hai Amarat. It is a very simplistic but dangerous game.

In a matter of a few hours, Salva Kiir succeeded to erode the social capital that bounded together our people for centuries.

Now Salva Kiir has come up with another story that it was not a coup attempt but that Dr. Riek and others had wanted to exploit the fighting in the Tiger Battalion for their political ambitions.

Salva Kiir has shot himself in the foot. This is incredible, President Kiir who on Monday was on TV screens worldwide announcing that his forces had crushed an attempt coup is now saying that it was not a coup.

Who again will ever believe Salva Kiir, the president of the Republic of South Sudan? God save South Sudan!!!!

South Sudan: The problem and the way forward

By Mahmood Mamdani
Monday, January 6  2014

How does one understand the current conflict in South Sudan? Two major explanations are on offer. The first claims it is an ethnic struggle between the two largest groups in the country, the Dinka and the Nuer, the first led by the president, Salva Kiir, and the second by his deputy, Riek Machar. The second explanation sees it as a power struggle between individuals in the SPLM/A leadership.

While neither explanation can be ignored, neither is sufficient to explain the conflict. This is because both ignore key ingredients: The process of state formation that has further politicised ethnic allegiance and ideological preferences that both intersect with and soften ethnic conflict.

The immediate background to the current crisis is declining support for Kiir, who has hitherto held a monopoly of top positions, as Chairman of the party (SPLM), the army (SPLA) and as president of the country. Before Kiir dismissed them from their respective positions, at least three in the party leadership had publicly declared their intention to run against him in the coming elections. One was Machar, second in the state-party leadership. The second was the Secretary General of the party, Pagan Anum. And the third was Rebecca Garang, the widow of the late SPLA leader, John Garang.

The opposition to Kiir’s leadership is at several levels: Personal, ethnic, and ideological. At the individual level, its root is loss of confidence in Kiir’s leadership ability as he moved to undercut whatever remained of accountability structures within the state and the party in order to hold on to power.

At the political level, the causes of the conflict lie in a process of state formation that has radically politicised ethnicity. This politicisation has occurred at two levels, the military and local administration. The army is in reality a bunch of localised militias, each led by an ethnic coterie of generals.

Local government policy instituted by the new South Sudan government made ethnic identity the basis of creating local government units, and thus of access to customary land for peasants and employment for the urban population. In localities where populations were ethnically mixed, which is just about everywhere, making ethnic identity the basis of rights to land and employment was a sure recipe for breeding ethnic antagonism.

At the ideological level, active opposition to Kiir includes those who had previously been lukewarm to the call for an independent South Sudan and had instead called for a closer relationship with Sudan in the north. This comprises both those who had been inspired by John Garang’s call for a New Sudan and those who had followed Machar in looking for an accommodation with the power in the north.

With the majority in the party against him, Kiir decided to use the structures of the state to dismantle whatever still remained of organs of the party. The occasion for this came when his opponents demanded that he disband the Presidential Unit that he had newly set up, which he placed not only outside regular army structures but also more or less under his own control. According to those opposed to Kiir, though he agreed to do so, he began by disarming only Nuer soldiers in the unit. When they resisted, he claimed it was an attempted coup.

When Salva Kiir unilaterally dismissed both the vice chair and the secretary general of the party, along with other senior officials, from leadership positions, the move did away with structures of accountability in both the party and the state. It also destroyed whatever conflict resolution machinery existed at both levels.

The implications were huge, especially because the South Sudan army, the SPLA, is less a national army than a coalition of ethnic militias. SPLA has hundreds of generals, possibly more than any other army in the world. Not only is every leader in each militia that joins the SPLA rewarded with the rank of general, these generals are also assured of continuing command of “their” unit, it being none other than the militia now bearing a new title.

This is why when the party leadership split, few were surprised that the army also split. The fighting in South Sudan did not begin as a civil war. It began in the barracks and then spread to the surrounding civilian population as soldiers identified and targeted possible opposition in the civilian population on an ethnic basis.

This then is neither an attempted coup nor a rebel attempt to take over government. It is, rather, an attempt by the top leader of government to forestall a vote of no confidence in his leadership, by dismantling all structures of accountability in a bid to usurp power.

The political leadership in the region, meeting under the framework of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) , an eight-country trading bloc in Eastern Africa], has made things worse by calling on the two sides to the conflict to negotiate, while brazenly supporting the Kiir faction, where necessary with troops. Uganda has taken the lead in this.

There is no public information on the number of Ugandan troops who have entered South Sudan, but estimates vary from several hundred to several thousand. Ugandan soldiers have entered South Sudan ostensibly to save Ugandan civilians, but few doubt that their real purpose is to assist the Kiir faction. This does not bode well, either for the region, or for Uganda, or for South Sudan.

What then is the way forward? I have two suggestions.
Externally, IGAD countries, and Uganda in particular, continue to view Sudan to the north as an adversary, using lenses crafted in an earlier period. There is need to recognise the importance of cooperation between the two Sudans for ensuring stability on both sides of the border. This is not just because oil excavated in the South passes through and is refined in the North. It is also because important sections of the SPLA, particularly those who man the artillery, come from northern states such as Nuba Mountains. Conflict between the two is likely to exacerbate problems within each. In reality, Sudan to the north is likely to hold the trump card when it comes to influencing the outcome of the conflict in South Sudan.

For this reason, if for none other, IGAD needs to develop a new mindset, one that welcomes Sudan in the north as a legitimate member of the region. Internally, to call for power sharing in South Sudan is to ignore a central fact: rather than a conflict between two powers, this war resulted from a split in the power. So the problem is: How do you reconstitute that power? To end the conflict, one needs to address the issue that triggered it: A bid for power that undermined all remaining structures of accountability within the party and the state. To do so would be to acknowledge the will of the majority in both the party and the state.

Neither the external nor the internal condition for peace is possible without a change of political perspective in IGAD and the region, and a new political leadership in South Sudan.

Prof Mamdani is the executive director, Makerere Institute of Social Research, Kampala & the Herbert Lehman Professor of Government, Columbia University, New York City.