The legacy of J-1 fighting on the prospect for war and peace in South Sudan

Posted: November 2, 2016 by PaanLuel Wël in Commentary, Contributing Writers, Opinion Articles, Opinion Writers

By Mr. Adut Naar, Melbourne, Australia 

November 2, 2016 (SSB) — I am talking to you in relation to the Friday’s violence at j1 presidential palace in our capital city on 08/07/2016, Juba. Lots of things about that violence have been, or continue to be said about it–through various reports and also through the words of mouth. Therefore, it should not be the case that is what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about here is anyhow a special. No; it is not. Having said that, however, things, or the story of what exactly transpired at j1, which might led to the violence itself, are sketchy. The Friday’s incidence is the latest of violence after Machar and Kiir signed the August, 2015 Agreement.

Therefore, the incidence: raises “fears of a return to all-out civil war.” western analysts have concluded that given this incidence, even the Agreement which made Mr. Machar the new country’s First Vice-president seems to be over (BBC, July 8: 2016). Indicating the western media that South Sudan is already in an all-out civil war. Mr Kiir on the other hand, has ordered an investigation into the incidence. If this statement from Mr. President is a delay tactic and not a strategy itself, would it be, and again mean making the Dinka thing an issue they have a foresighted government already.

The question is who is to be investigated for what is already known to happened or taken place. Can you investigate a rebellious militant? Anyone who have followed the news closely should be able to accept both leaders did jointly address the media: urging their citizens for calm. But the two men have different messages; Machar says there is “a ceasefire” meaning that the fight would start at time should the right conditions be met; while Mr. Kiir promises an investigation into the matter.

For a country which succeeded from another and whose violence is “rooted” in the colonial state formation, the nature of political violence in the independent south Sudan appears to exhibit some strangeness. At the time of Sudan’s independence, there are disparities and parallels between the two regions. “The north was modernized but the south neglected, creating parallel entities which overlooked the diversity and historical interrelations between” the two most important regions of the Sudan.

All Violence kills: political or ethnic

The history of the post-independence Sudan is the history of violence. And in this context, “tribalism” is linked to the ethnic struggles for power.  In 1955, well before the country’s formal independence, southern protest in 1947 reunification of north and south into a single country strokes tensions flared up and led to the outbreak of the first Sudanese civil war. The conflict, which featured successive coups and regime changes, ended with the 1972 Addis Ababa agreement and another promise of political autonomy for the South.

Disputes over the discovery of oil in the south in 1979, together with President Nimeiry’s decision to implement Islamic Sharia law for the whole of Sudan and end southern autonomy, led to a new surge in civil violence in 1983. For two decades, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) not for an independent state in south but to reform the central government for all the Sudanese people; the SPLA fought “for a secular but unified Sudan”. A general election ended Nimeiry’s rule. Sadiq Al-Mahdi after general elections in 1986.

However, the elections did not halt Al-Mahdi’s “armed militias free[dom] reign in the South” where “they killed, enslaved and raped the local population”. In 1989, an Islamist-led movement usurped Sudanese power in a bloodless coup by Omar el Bashir. It ended the Al-Mahdi’s regime. It also meant increased violence in the south. Southern killers, mobilized the news of jihadism against the people whom colonial rule had labeled “christians and animists” in a supposedly predominantly Muslim country.

It was not simply a political violence but also terrorism in the country; Osama bin Laden who latter master-minded the Sep/11/2001 terrorists’ bombings in the U.S.  Was based in the country. In 1997 US sanctioned Bashir’s regime, not on the basis of the terroristic activities that were openly going on in the south, but on the basis: “influenced by the notion that Sudan was supporting terrorist organisations and destabilising the region”.

After the 9/11 terrorists attack, international pressure, led by the American domestic public, forced [them] to sponsor”: the 2002-2004 Sudan’s north-south peace process; this initiative would later come after an intensive and “extensive peace” negotiations between the two parties. These negotiations were exclusively aimed between the SPLA/M and the Sudanese government to exclusion of other armed groups in the south. At the time, Mr. Machar has just returned from Khartoum after his own agreement with Bashir collapsed.

Let me begin my discussion with the muonyjang or the Dinka with the Friday’s 8th, July 2016 violence.

The Friday’s 8th, July 2016 violence

The story about the Friday’s violence is heard from Machar’s side, not from the government’s side. On July 8, BBC reported:  “Heavy gunfire following death of [5] soldiers” from Machar’s own army in the country. The cause of the clash, according to BBC at the time was that: “Soldiers loyal to Vice-President Riek Machar opened fire at a checkpoint manned by troops of President Salva Kiir on Thursday, officials say” (BBC, July 8: 2016); two days later the story regarding the incidence did change.

On July 10th, Machar’s Military spokesman, Col William Gatjiath told the BBC that: “South Sudan [is]’back to war'” and that they have put the situation under. Gatjiath added that “President Salva Kiir “isn’t serious” about a peace agreement”. Hundreds of Mr. Machar’s forces were reported to have been killed. Gatjiath goes on to say that “troops loyal to Mr Machar were advancing to Juba from different directions”(BBC, July 10: 2016).

On July 11, Machar himself “said his loyalists had been bombarded on Monday by Kiir’s forces, which he said showed the president was “not interested in peace”. The former rebel also called for restraint and said he had not lost hope for the future”(). In a country where internet connectivity is scarce. Machar was able tweeted on the day, July 11, 2016.

ON July 12, president of South Sudan declared a unilateral ceasefire overnight to a conflict that has seen fierce clashes between his army and opposition forces spread from the capital to a southeastern town”. “President Salva Kiir’s call came as former South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar has also called for a ceasefire. Machar made the call Monday evening in an interview with South Sudan-based Eye Radio”.

Many of the refugees have lost all hope for a stable peace. They also don’t think much of the deal signed by President Kiir and rebel leader Machar do not have any significant meaning in their lives. Machar and kiir had hardly worked together. Despite the pair… actually working together to ensure South Sudan’s independencies accuses his adversary of planning to overthrow him, an allegation that Machar denies. The stand-off ensued when several army divisions defected to the rebels and began fighting against the regular South Sudan military. In their previous confrontations, “two previous ceasefires, one signed in January and another in May, were broken by both sides within days”.

Western reaction

The Western reaction appears to be consistent with a plan that seems to have gone wrong or have failed. Britain’s deputy permanent representative, Peter Wilson happens to be shaping the understanding of the event in the usual way that blame the victims and praise the perpetrators. In this context, one underlying theme is the level of comparing Mr. Machar with the head of state and government, Salva Kiir. As Wilson states that the UN’s seating succession on South Sudan meant we, “unequivocally condemn the violence happening in Juba” that: “We have called for an arms embargo; this situation underlines the need for that””.

Representing France is Francois Delattre…. who “voiced dismay”. “We are extremely worried about the situation … it is a result of a lack of political will on the side of the parties … The key word is pressure, to urge the parties to take their responsibilities”.  The un’s Ban Ki-moon, “called on Kiir and Machar to “do everything within their power to de-escalate the hostilities immediately”. “This senseless violence is unacceptable and has the potential of reversing the progress made so far in the peace process”.

Ki-moon’s main concern is the Agreement that Machar first vice-president. “The agreement ended two years of hugely destructive civil conflict, which killed tens of thousands of people”. The U.S., which is seen as the country’s ally in the West started on Sunday to: “pulled out all non-essential personnel and urged an end to the fighting”.

A statement from the state department reads: “The United States strongly condemns the latest outbreak of fighting in Juba today between forces aligned with President Salva Kiir Mayardit and those aligned with first vice-president Riek Machar Teny, including reports we have that civilian sites may have been attacked.””

I want to give a sense in which the Friday’s violence relates to the previous conflicts. If I were being heard by the Muonyjang, then, one thing should be clear: Is the Western reacting to the unexpected incidence, or is it reacting to a plan that has gone wrong? Is the U.S in particular interested in peace or does it simply to achieve its agenda?

Of the five permanent members of the Security Council, two members Russia and China issue no statement regarding the incidence. The Friday’s violence, however, had “two Chinese UN peacekeepers were killed in renewed fighting between South Sudan’s rival army factions in capital Juba, a UN official confirmed to Xinhua on Monday”.

Machar and kiir: South Sudan’s two major problems

Whatever your individual’s opinion on the south Sudan’s conflict, both Machar and Kiir the country’s two major problem. And while Machar continues to rebel, Mr. Kiir continues to sign agreements that absolutely have no relevance to the local people in the country; Machar-Kiir’s war has destroyed economic backbone of the country. Both armies have purchased heaps of military hardware from the UN’s major powers, including China. Others like the U.S., are participating openly in the conflict by providing training and logistics to the gentlemen respective armies; to Mr. Kiir it has been under South Sudan; and to the rebels and other proxy forces, it has been through those of Mr. Machar and others.

“President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar have in the past committed to stopping the fighting, only for both sides to break their word and launch offensives”. Could this agreement force the two to honour the terms of the agreement? However, dissatisfactory the agreement itself might be to the south Sudanese people, the Machar-led agreement requires the country’s president to disarm the northern rebels and not Mr. Machar bringing back the generals whom he disagrees with and are still fighting the south Sudanese government in their own terms.

Machar is notorious for deserting his fighters when his own terms are met. The 1991’s massacres of the Dinka, did not only happen under Machar, but did happen with possible support from the West, including the U.S., As leading a breakaway rebel group, Mr Machar signed a peace accord with Mr Bashir’s government in 1997.

Despite, the collapse of his own deal with Bashir, Mr Machar defied high-profile mediation efforts by both the Western and the African, which dealt “a major blow to efforts by many African and Western governments to present a united front against the Islamist-led government of Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir”.

He “refused to sign a peace declaration with Mr Garang, who was lionised by SPLM fighters at the time.” This suggests that Machar and the Nuers, was ever, destined to overthrow any SPLM’s government in the same way that he attempted to do the same in 1991.

As the present changes, so does the past. This is why we are always rewriting the past.

The implication of the Friday’s clashes would be the end to the foreign-back peace deal. “This was a peace deal signed under duress – as President Salva Kiir made very clear in his speech”. If that happens, then, it would mean the followings:

To the west, it would mean a long-lasting peace has been abrogated by Salva kiir and his ethnic group, the Dinka by attempting to assassinate Mr. Machar in the presidential palace. According to other explanations this is categorically untrue. A similar account on the Friday’s violence goes something like this; that the fight happened when troops loyal to Machar came to rescue Mr. Machar; to “rescue” Mr. Machar from what and from who? Yes, Machar was invited at the J1 for the security meeting. Since the arrival of Machar’s forces into Juba security began to deteriorate.

The ethnic Nuers would buy that explanation; (II) to the local population the agreement in itself did solve nothing on key issues that need to be resolved. Moreover, Machar’s rebellion meant other rebellions. Gen Gadet has fought for Khartoum several times in the past. South Sudan is a militarized society, where the military men run politics.

The current war has deepened animosity between the Nuer and the Dinka, the country’s two biggest ethnic groups” says influential author and analyst on the Country’s break with the north, James Copnall. Copnall (2015), in an article entitles “Obstacles to a lasting peace” points out that a long lasting peace is far from the Machar-kiir deal. “This peace deal will only last if all of South Sudan’s divided neighbours value keeping the peace as much as the South Sudanese citizens do”.

Copnall (2015) maintains that: “The picture is, however, ” even more complicated than this: for example, many Bul Nuer (a Nuer sub-group) have fought for the government against the largely Nuer rebels, creating tensions within the Nuer” themselves than with the Dinka. President Kiir expressed his dissatisfaction with the deal, including some of the power-sharing and security components.

Many of his key supporters, including ethnic Dinka elders and powerful generals [both Nuers and Dinkas and from other ethnic groups], had advised him not to sign it. “South Sudanese civil society groups have also criticised the agreement for putting too much emphasis on power-sharing among the elite, rather than insisting on accountability and justice, or resolving the underlying issues that caused the conflict”.

Machar-kiir peace deal indicates the outsiders’ interest through Machar rebellion. It was not a peace meant for the south Sudanese people.

The All-South Sudan Political Parties Conference, held the previous year, had ended with a call for a transitional government of national unity, composed of all political parties and headed by Kiir; it resolved to hold a Constitutional Conference and another election in two years. But after the referendum, the SPLA revised the constitution and gave themselves the right to rule until 2015.

Open before independence to negotiation with internal forces whose cooperation and support it needed, the SPLA now regarded them as a nuisance it could dispense with, given that it had unquestioning support from the troika.  UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the incidence, calling it the “senseless violence”. Chinese peace keeping contingent incurred death figures as well. “The UN Security Council is holding an emergency session to discuss South Sudan”.

Including “hundreds” of Machar’s troops the death toll was first put at 150. However, local radio station Radio Tamazuj reported on Sunday that the death toll from those clashes may be as high as 271; the Guardian has put the figure at 300.

BBC has reported that “Forces loyal to Vice-President Riek Machar say government troops attacked their positions in the capital, Juba”. The report continues that: “The clashes follow days of fighting in the world’s newest country between supporters of Mr Kiir and Mr Machar”.

Government spokesman, Michael Makuei Lueth reacted to the rebels’ official statement saying that: “government troops responded when Mr Machar’s forces attacked a checkpoint, adding that those forces had now been scattered. “The situation is normal and it is under full control”.

The information does not add up to its coherent whole: What exactly went wrong at J1 that had led to that Friday’s violence at the presidential palace, J1?  Thus, there are inconsistencies in the story of a fight that have left hundreds dead, mostly soldiers. Lueth said government troops responded when Mr Machar’s forces attacked a checkpoint, adding that those forces had now been scattered. “The situation is normal and it is under full control.” Of relevance here is: Who should declare the whole or a sovereign nation’s capital to be under his control?

Who’s ruling the South: Is it the Dinka or the SPLM

Since the southern autonomy to independence, it is the SPLM that continues to rule South Sudan.  There were a lot of emotional faces on Independence Day. People teared up when they saw the flag going up for the first time. There were youths running about celebrating the rise of a new nation: Dinka youths, Nuer youths.

Now those youths are killing each other. There is a need for a new generation to accomplish what the politicians failed to do, which is to build. My hopes are pinned on the people of South Sudan. The future is always better.” But would the ruling SPLM learn of its mistakes, or the warring communities understanding the fact that the ruling party’s failure in governance does not necessarily mean Dinka domination?

The ruling in the south has not learnt that:  Omar al-Bashir did not only tighten his grip over power. He also widens it throughout the world. Throughout the Sudan “repression increased while the situation in the south and other peripheries severely deteriorated”. Natural disasters have fed into southern misery. In previous year, “a famine hit Sudan. As food became a weapon in the conflict, the famine led to an estimated 250,000 deaths.

In total, around two million people died, and another four million were displaced”. The SPLA did not win the war with north. Neither have they built a strong international relation with the West. In who is to blame for the December 2013’s violence, influential scholar and intellectual, Mahmood Mamdani have outlined both the local and international factors that combined to bring about the event.

According to Mamdani (2016) “violence in South Sudan was more than a breakdown in law and order; it was political”. The Friday’s violence is also not a misunderstanding in the meeting; it was a continuation of the December 2013’s violence. The factors are the same and the intention is the same. Whilst the local communities erroneously credited the SPLM with the comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) paving the secession of South Sudan from the rest of the Sudan, the local communities are, however, most likely to be blamed.

This is because, these local communities, have, instead of directing the criticism to the Splm-led government, the criticism turns to the question of who is the majority the Dinka?

They fail to understand the fact that the one ruling the south is not Dinka, but an organization that has both deceived them. And while the people of South Sudan suffer under the SPLM’s gambles, prophets would always come its southern neighbours.

In article entitled “South Sudan – Rethinking Citizenship, Sovereignty And Self-Determination” and published three months ahead of the southern independence, Ugandan-born and the region’s most prominent scholar, Mamdani argues that: “Whatever your point of view, it would be difficult to deny that the referendum on South Sudan – unity or independence – was a historic moment.

Self-determination marks the founding of a new political order”. Mamdani reminds the south Sudanese people that: When Garang visited Khartoum, after having concluded the CPA, more than a million people–from all corners of the country came to greet him at the national capital airport. Both Muslims and Christians showed up.

 It cannot, however, be said to have resolved once and for all the north-south conflict. “Unresolved issues and continuing violence in: Darfur, the Two Areas and Abyei” means that the SPLM in the independent south has not understood the fact it is itself that is the basis of the present conflict in the country.

Political violence in the South

Although there are factors feeding into the south Sudan’s conflicts, it is fair to say that the nature of politics is fundamentally southern violence. Its perpetrators are in the south; its victims are also in the south. The present conflict is therefore a combination of Machar’s past and Kiir’s government failures in governing the south effectively.

As Mamdani emphasizes, Machar’s massacres of the Bor Dinka in 1991, “more than any other single event, it was 1991 that shaped the collective psyche of the present generation of South Sudanese. It is noteworthy that this source of national trauma does not originate from the struggle against Khartoum but from the failure to handle internal conflicts within SPLA. 1991 was not resolved; it was deferred”.

During the December 2013 inquiry these sentiments flared up again and again. “A member of the Caucus of Women urged the AUCISS to acknowledge the meaning of the 1991 Bor massacre: A big number of Dinka were killed. There was no accountability, efforts for reconciliation but no truth. The wound is still there in the hearts of many Dinka. The violence now in my view a continuation of the 1991 massacre.” 1991 is an argument against a power-sharing arrangement at the expense of truth and reform.

It is an argument against impunity—which is demanded in various languages.” Mamdani (2016) continues: “that the commission heard often were sovereignty and democracy. You cannot remove an elected president, said the envoys of the troika, or a sitting president, said Salva Kiir’s supporters. But Kiir was elected vice president, not president. Furthermore, that election was organized by the Republic of Sudan, not by the government of South Sudan. For that matter, South Sudan has never had an election since it became independent”.

In my opinion, the way forward to the current standoff is an ought right Dinka dictatorship in the country. Not doing so poses a huge threat to the Dinka community; it has to begin with the Dinka overthrowing the present Kiir’s government by stealth. Preferably, it is through a military coup rather that abolishes the present government of national unity. It abolishes the current position of first-vice president and the second vice-president positions.

And lastly, it allows the SPLA to become a Dinka-majority national army and not previous assemblage of disloyal multiethnic warlords or the civilians that Mr. Kiir integrated into the army. Violence is linked to the sort of international participants more than the local participants in the on-going conflict in South Sudan.

Things changed in the early 2000s when international pressure, based on the 1997 US sanctions regime – influenced by the notion that Sudan was supporting terrorist organisations and destabilising the region – led to a north-south peace process. After extensive peace talks, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed by the SPLM/A and Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP) in 2005. This ended the civil war and allowed for a referendum and eventual South Sudanese independence in 2011.

The events leading up to the Friday’s violence are same with the events that led to the December 15th 2013 violence, in which over 1,000 people were killed; they happened from the same place and spread throughout the region. Six months into the December 2013 violence, Navi Pillay, the United Nations human rights chief, sharply rebuked South Sudan’s warring leaders … saying they had to stop “blindly dragging their people down the path of self-destruction” and warning that they would face investigation for possible war crimes and crimes against humanity”.

“On 14 December 2013, Machar and seven others walked out of an SPLM meeting. The following day, with the mood volatile, fighting broke out within the presidential guard. Kiir accused Machar, a rival of old times, of attempting to overthrow him in a coup. But many observers pour scorn on this notion. “If it was a coup attempt it was the worst organised, worse conceived and worst executed coup ever,” says a diplomatic source. “There’s a constant battle between chaos and conspiracy in South Sudan. Nine times out of 10, it’s chaos.”

The SPLM Dictatorship and the ethnic twist that victimizes the Dinka

Hate speech and revenge killings, often targeting victims on the basis of their ethnicity, have escalated in recent months, Ms. Pillay said in her comments delivered in the capital, Juba, on Wednesday and released by her office in Geneva. Citizens, non-governmental organizations and religious leaders “all speak of their great fear, and their despair at the situation their political leaders have inflicted on them”.  The south Sudan’s “ethnic conflict is an aberration.” We are one people.

Yes, Dinka and Nuer have a temperament where they get angry. But a lot of my friends are Dinkas who married Nuers. When you go to villages, you see Dinkas and Nuers dancing together, sharing the same cattle. Politicians started these problems.” BBC David Smith citing a Dinkaman at the eve of the country’s independence in 2011. Will the south Sudanese people ever know what happened on Friday July 8th, 2016?

If Mr. Machar is to wage another war against Mr. Kiir will the later government have leverage over Machar’s rebellion? Would he accepts signing with Kiir as the country’s first vice-president? Or would he demand Mr. the president’s post?

 “The challenge in forging this transition is political. Is it possible to put together a political authority with the credibility, the vision, and the experience for a task that combines elements of tutelage with that of a democratic project?” I suggest a complete overhaul of military and the civilian system through a militarily organized coup de’tat than Mr. Kiir’s series of peace agreements with various warlords.

There are two enemies to the Dinka: (I) Kiir’s lack of governance in south; and (II) Machar’s ever-ready position to overthrow him interlaces with the West’s distaste of Mr. Kiir altogether. After Independence Day, the dream has curdled into a civil war in all but name. A battle of political egos has degenerated into an ethnic conflict that has killed many thousands of people. Tens of thousands more are huddled in squalid camps in fear for their lives.

The UN says one month of fighting has set the country back a decade.” around that time everyone was not peaceful to another person. “People were hoping for a better life, for development and construction, not this situation. My feeling is that we took the wrong step towards our new country. Now these ethnic clashes could make us a completely failed nation.”

I begin with the background of the incidence through some of world’s major new reports about the Friday’s violence. A brief outline on the two gentlemen’s biographical sketches; the relationship between the two ethnic groups–Dinka and the Nuers.

Finally, I provide an analysis on the recent descend of South Sudan into violence. We must blame it on the SPLM’s governance, its policies, or lack of these policies thereof; one most important aspect is the western interference in our nation’s conflict.

 Mr. Adut Naar is a student of Diplomacy, International Politics, International Trade, International Law and Policy. The author has no affiliation whatsoever, with or influenced by, any political, religious or business entity and can be reach by or

The opinion expressed here is solely the view of the writer. The veracity of any claim made are the responsibility of the author, not PaanLuel Wël: South Sudanese Bloggers (SSB) website. If you want to submit an opinion article or news analysis, please email it to SSB do reserve the right to edit material before publication. Please include your full name, email address and the country you are writing.


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