By Mading Gum, Nairobi, Kenya
February 13, 2017 (SSB) — Of all the leadership qualities that made Garang one of the greatest freedom fighters in Africa one stands out, Garang was a great thinker. Garang offered a new nationalism of Sudanism, opposed to divisiveness and separatism. He imagined a political community in New Sudan in which democracy, equality, economic and social justice and respect for human rights is the core. In his mind, the enemy was clear: all the institutions of oppression that have been evolved in Khartoum to oppress the masses of the Sudanese people. ‘The masses of the Sudanese people’. Remember that.
But why did Garang define the enemy as the institutions of oppressions rather than Arabs? Was Diein Massacre of 1987 not carried out by armed Arab Baggara militias who killed and burnt to death hundreds of Dinkas? Were Arabs militias of Rufa in Jabalyin not responsible for the massacre of over 200 Shilluk civilians in 1989? What about over 90 Shilluk victims who fled for safety but were killed in cold blood at the nearby police station manned by Arabs?
The tragedy in the South Sudan brutal conflict is lack of political imagination beyond tribes, hatred, revenge and self-enrichment. Garang offered New Sudan that transcends tribes in the past. None does today.
Political violence or terrorism, the missing link
South Sudan conflict can be read in different ways. If you read from the perspective of my friend Remember Miamingi the Juba regime is a terrorist state that has expanded the concept of “enemy combatant to the tribes and communities from which the principal enemy comes from”. For Miamingi, the rebels are the principal enemy, the presumed freedom fighters.
Another perspective, underrepresented in the mainstream media, views rebels as nothing but terrorists who “exploits the relative vulnerability of the civilian underbelly” in the dark forests and highways of Equatoria. I will focus on the latter as much has been written about the former.
Although the difference between political violence and terrorism is still unsettled, it is Paige W. Eager book From Freedom Fighters to Terrorists: Women and Political violence that offers a striking contrast between political violence and terrorism. Political violence is distinguished by three key features. First, it is a broader category that encompasses guerrilla warfare, national liberation movements, violent strikes and demonstrations.
Second, political violence aims to re-order the political and social set up of the society. To overthrow a tyrannical government, to redefine and realize justice and equality, to achieve independence or territorial autonomy are key examples. Third, violence does not intentionally target civilians but is directed toward property, law enforcement and political authorities.
Terrorism is distinguished primarily by the intentional or threat to use violence against civilians targets for political goals. Intentional targets, who are civilians, differentiate terrorism from broader political violence where civilians are rarely intentional targets. Bruce Hoffman offers five criteria that set terrorists apart from other criminals.
First, there are political motives and second violence or the threat of violence is utilized. Third, the violence act is intended to have psychological consequences beyond immediate victim. Fourth, organization with chain of command structures conducts the act. Fifth, and the last, the perpetrators of the act are a subnational group or non-state entity.
Terrorists in Equatoria bushes
At the height of December 2013 conflict, SPLM/A –IO prided itself as an alternative to Juba regime and they almost succeeded before tribalism, hatred and revenge engulfed them. IO existence is of contradictions and this also applies to the IO in the Bush. It preaches one thing and its members practice different thing.
It is undisputed that IO Equatoria groups have political goals underpinning the terror on the highways and bushes. Equatorains have long harboured feelings for autonomous status for their states under federal framework.
However, July 2016 fighting in Juba and subsequent clashes with IO forces in the bushes of Equatoria as Riek Machar escaped to DRC aggravated the situation. Now, these groups have nothing to do with liberating South Sudan or fighting to realize justice and good governance. The primary aim is to revenge.
And to them, the enemy is not the oppressive Juba regime but Dinka as a tribe. Miamingi observation illustrates this: “…right now we are having ethnic groups within Equatoria region have taken arms predominantly in response to abuse they have received but also the government’s targeting other ethnic groups on response of their ethnicity”.
The assertion makes two things clear. First, the received abuses are first attributed to Dinka tribe. The line between the government forces and ordinary Dinka civilian is blurred. Second, the act is primarily revenge motivated other than liberating the masses of South Sudanese from all the institutions of oppression in Juba. Here, the political poverty of the freedom fighters becomes apparent.
Unlike liberation movements which target property, government officials and law enforcement agents, South Sudan is witnessing the emergence of terror groups hell-bent on wiping out members of ethnic group perceived to dominate the government in particular areas. Whether this increases civilian suffering or not is not their point. As long as the targeted ethnic group can be drawn into the bloodbath for genocide to occur, they are fine with it.
The trump Ethnic nationalism
In late 2016, Alan Boswell gave a dramatic personal account of the rising ethno-nationalism in South Sudan. In Upper Nile, an ethnic Shilluk defence militia marched new graduates to war with songs against Dinka. At the Western end of the country, a Zande rebel leader derided a Zande governor as “Dinka”, a handmaiden for a “sell-out or traitor”.
To understand these ethnic nationalists’ sentiments, one has to look at Benedict Anderson book Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism. Anderson defines nations as social constructs, imagined political communities that live in the imagination of its members and belonging to it is about a sense of connectedness to those imagined people. In South Sudan, there is no an imagined political community beyond Naath nation, Shilluk nation, Jieng Nation etc.
One imagined political community that offers a classic example is Equatoria. Although there is no ethnic community called Equatoria there lives in the minds of almost all people in that region of the existence of such political community, separate from Dinka and Nuer. There is a tendency to regard Equatoria as a “deep, horizontal comradeship”.
Dr Justin Ambango, one of the Equatoria prolific writers admitted “The situation is not the same with indigenous populations of Equatoria, the country’s most southern region. People of Equatoria are more keen to identifying themselves as Equatorians, although they belong to nearly thirty different ethnicities”.
Now, the Zande rebel leader remarks become clear. Equatoria nationalism is ethnic nationalism which carries with it the seeds of xenophobia towards Dinka, the enemy. The freedom fighters have failed to imagine a political community beyond tribe and region.
And here, sadly though, the IO Equatoria groups have succumbed to terrorism, wallowing in the miasma of ethnic nationalism.
The writer can be reach at firstname.lastname@example.org
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