The “Nuer Factor” in the December 2013 Crisis and Civil War in South Sudan (Part 2)

Posted: July 22, 2018 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in December 2013 Crisis, Editorials, Featured Articles, PaanLuel Wël

The “Nuer Factor” in the fundamental root causes of the December 2013 Crisis and the present civil war in the Republic of South Sudan (Part 2)

By PaanLuel Wël, Kongor, South Sudan

The Flag of the Republic of South Sudan

The Flag of the Republic of South Sudan

  1. Introduction

Saturday, July 21, 2018 (PW) — This article will examine the role of the “Nuer Factor” in the fundamental root causes of the December 2013 Crisis and the current civil war in South Sudan. The “Nuer Factor” can be expressed as follows: The fate of South Sudan is always bright and promising whenever the Nuer is contented, happy and supportive of the leadership of South Sudan; the fate of South Sudan is often dim and precarious whenever the Nuer is jilted, unhappy and against the leadership of the nation.

This is not so much a quest to repaying an ancient debt as it is about understanding and appreciating the role of the “Nuer question” in the fundamental root causes of the December 2013 crisis and the current raging civil war in the Republic of South Sudan – a befitting tribute, and contribution, to the civilized national debate inaugurated by Hon. Arop Madut Arop and Comrade Mabioor Garang de Mabioor.

The essence of the cultured national discourse initiated by Hon. Arop Madut Arop and Comrade Mabioor Garang de Mabioor is a clear demonstration of the fact that South Sudanese are capable of rising above the partisan bickering and tribal politicking by electing to partake in a civilized national debate devoid of vitriolic attacks, tribal pandering and slanderous name callings.

More importantly, it is crucial that the people of South Sudan should clearly understand and appreciate the fact that the proposed sharing of power and security arrangements under the revitalized ARCSS will not and cannot be a substitute to resolving the fundamental root causes of the December 2013 that ignited the present intractable conflict in South Sudan.

  1. The Enduring Ancient Grudge

Once upon a time, according to the Nuer mythology, Jaang (Dinka) and Naath (Nuer) were brothers. Jaang, the elder brother, was generally clever and intelligent, but also greedy and deceitful. Naath, the younger brother, was mostly short tempered, and quarrelsome, but also generous and proud. One day, when their dad was about to pass on and wanted to put his house in order before departure, perhaps because he couldn’t trust his two begotten sons to make things right in his absence, he summoned them to appear before him.

The old man, who was of modest means, had only a cow and its calf to bequeath to his two sons. Jaang, as the elder son, was promised the cow, while Naath, as the younger son, was promised the calf. However, Jaang was not happy with the old cow; he coveted the calf for himself. Because of his cleverness and intelligence, Jaang tricked their ailing father and took off with the calf, leaving behind the old cow for his younger brother, the Naath. Upon discovering, Naath was beside himself, outraged by the dirty trick Jaang, his elder brother, had pulled on him.

That enduring ancient grudge, one that parallel the Biblical feud between Jacob and Esau, has continued to inform and explain much of the contemporary inter-communal rivalry, perceptions, prejudices and stereotyping between the Dinka and Nuer communities. The Nuer is still angry, bitter and revengeful, a perpetual victim of the Dinka dirty tricks, greediness and deceitfulness. The Nuer, at least in his boundless opinions, is still proud, fierce but generous and honest.

The Dinka, for all that the Nuer can care to fathom, is still deceitful, dishonest and mean towards his younger brother. First and foremost, this sibling feuding is anchored on the Nuer contention that the Dinka has always been dishonest, greedy, mean and unfair towards his younger brother, the Nuer.

Secondly, the persistent Nuer anger, bitterness and revengefulness is informed and explained by his enduring conviction that he has always been honest, fair and generous to his elder brother, the Dinka. And the Dinka, his elder brother, has been nothing but an ungrateful, greedy and deceitful charlatan.

  1. The Contemporary Grudge

Several contemporary cases can be cited to substantiate such bold assertions by the Nuer against his elder brother, the Dinka. Take the formation and evolution of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), for instance. From its inception in 1983, the SPLM/A was largely a Nuer revolutionary movement with a Dinka leadership.

The foot soldiers that constituted the infant movement were drawn from the Nuer Anyanya Two soldiers under the leadership of Commander Gordon Koang Chol; Nuer battalion 104 soldiers from Ayod & Wangkei under the leadership of Major William Nyuon Bany; mostly Nuer battalion 105 soldiers from Pibor & Pochalla under the leadership of Captain David Riek Machuoch and Dinka battalion 105 soldiers from Bortown under the leadership of Major Kerubino Kuanyin Bol Deng.

Thus, while the first shot might have been fired by a Dinka in a Dinka town, the prevailing reality was that majority of the foot soldiers that poured into Ethiopia, and founded the SPLM/A, between May and July 1983, were Nuer soldiers. However, the Nuer did not ponder taking advantage of their numerical strength and military advantages by imposing a Nuer leadership onto a largely Nuer movement –a highly irresistible bait that many often fall for.

Instead, what transpired was that two Twic Dinka leaders  from Kongor District (presently Twic East County) – Hon. Akuot Atem de Mayen and Colonel Garang de Mabioor Atem, whose respective hometowns of Maar and Wangulei are merely 14 kilometers apart – were embroiled in a bitter power struggle, contesting for the leadership of the largely Nuer movement. The Nuer leadership and foot soldiers – mostly driven by ideological leanings, personal convictions and comradeships – split up into two bitterly opposing camps, each supporting a Dinka.

Samuel Ghai Tut and Gordon Koang Chol commanded the Nuer soldiers that backed up the leadership claim of Akuot Atem while William Nyuon commanded the Nuer soldiers that backed up the leadership claim of Garang de Mabioor Atem. When the infant SPLM/A eventually split into two warring Adura and Bukteng camps, the Garang-led SPLM/A-Adura was largely a Nuer and Dinka movement with a Dinka leadership, while the Akuot-led SPLM/A-Bukteng was entirely a Nuer movement with a Dinka leader.

If the two cases of Hon. Akuot Atem de Mayen and Dr. John Garang de Mabioor sound like a distant past, then consider the recent case scenario in the Republic of South Sudan: The 2010 election of Governor Kuol Manyang Juuk in a predominantly Nuer state of Jonglei in the Greater Upper Nile region. In what appeared to have perfectly mirrored the events surrounding the formation and evolution of the SPLM/A from 1983 to 1984, the gubernatorial election of Jonglei state in 2010 pitted two Dinka leaders – Commander George Athor Deng and Commander Kuol Manyang Juuk – in a state dominated by the Nuer.

In April 2010, as it was the case in 1983, the Nuer leadership and civil population split up into two bitterly opposing camps, each devotedly supporting a Dinka leadership. In a strange twist of fate, both Kuol Manyang and George Athor have had their fair share, more than any other commander of the SPLM/A, of bitterly fighting the Nuer following the 1991 Nasir declaration and the split within the SPLM/A.

Yet, not only did Kuol Manyang and George Athor had the temerity to contest a free and fair gubernatorial election in a predominantly Nuer state, the Nuer simply forgave their cousins and solidly lined up behind them – a great anomaly in a nation beleaguered by tribalism and nepotism. When the finally results were announced, a lone Nuer gubernatorial candidate came a distant third behind the two Dinka candidates in a state dominated by his own tribe mates.

In these particular contemporary grudges that continue to inform and explain the current conflict in the Republic of South Sudan, the Nuer has never tired of reminding his elder brother, the Dinka, of the improbable triumph of Dr. John Garang in a predominantly Nuer nascent SPLM/A, of the ascension into power of Akuot Atem in an entirely Nuer Anyanya two movement, and of the successful election of Governor Kuol Manyang Juuk in a Nuer-dominated state of Jonglei in a free and fair democratic election in a country plagued by tribalism, and nepotism.

  1. The Enigma of the Nuer Question

In spite of his honesty, fairness and generosity towards his elder brother, the Nuer deeply and intensely feels that he has continuously been undermined by, and humiliated at the hand of, his elder brother, the Dinka. The Nuer wants everything for everyone; the Dinka want everything for himself, alone. However, it is not necessarily the case that the Nuer has simply been lying down while the Dinka rode roughshod over him.

The Nuer has been demanding and fighting for his turn to assume and exercise the leadership of the nation. Nonetheless, his ungrateful and selfish elder brother, the Dinka, has never been prepared to return the favor – paying the immense and historic debt incurred since that ancient grudge – whenever it is the turn of his younger brother to reign and shine.

The Nuer is convinced that his chances to assume and exercise the leadership of South Sudan has often been, and will continue to be, scuttled by his elder brother, the Dinka. This is the enigma of the Nuer question not just in the past and current conflicts in South Sudan, not only in the potential success of the revitalization forum to end the war, and achieve peace and reconciliation, but also in divining the future of the Republic of South Sudan.

Therefore, the following events from our contemporary history have been chronicled to illustrate the contention that the fate of South Sudan is always bright whenever the Nuer is happy and supportive of the leadership of the nation, and that the fate of South Sudan is often dim and precarious whenever the Nuer is indignant and thus against the leadership of the people of South Sudan.

At the founding of the SPLM/SPLA in 1983, there was a bitter disagreement, and acrimonious fallout, over leadership, principally after the controversial killing, and the subsequent humiliation meted upon the decomposing corpse, of Samuel Ghai Tut. Because the Nuer felt cheated, he resolved to undermine the leadership of the infant movement.

This was costly to the embryonic SPLM/SPLA because Anyanya two made a career out of intercepting and killing new Dinka recruits trekking to Ethiopia to join the new revolutionary movement. In turn, the new SPLM/SPLA under the leadership of Dr. John Garang was bogged down, fighting Anyanya two instead of taking the war to Khartoum government. There were serious risk of and palpable fear that the new rebel movement was being stillborn.

However, the Nuer – who is big-hearted and too forgiving, for his own good – decided to rescue the precarious situation in 1987 when the SPLM/SPLA and Anyanya Two under Gordon Koang Chol reunited. This reunification ushered in the golden era of the movement when the SPLM/SPLMA was able, for the first time, to capture major towns – Torit, Bor, Kapoeta, Rumbek, Pibor, Nimule, and Nasir – from Khartoum government.

By 1990, the movement had captured three quarters of Southern Sudan, with Juba, Malakal and Wau under siege. However, following the 1991 Nasir coup – another occasion the Nuer felt indignant and thus against the leadership of the movement – almost all of the liberated towns captured by the SPLM/SPLA following their reunification with Anyanya Two were lost again. By the middle of the 1990s, the darkest era of the SPLM/SPLA, only Nimule and Boma remained under the control of the movement. The SPLM/SPLA was on the verge of total annihilation.

Once more, the Nuer came to the rescue of the people movement. In 1995, William Nyuon and John Luk returned to the SPLM/SPLA. This was later followed by the return of Taban Deng Ghai in 2000, and then Riek Machar in 2002. Consequently, commencing in 1996, the SPLM/SPLA was able to take back the military initiative from Khartoum when it went on the offensive and captured a series of towns in Eastern Equatoria.

By 1998, Juba was again under siege from all directions – Yei road, Torit-Nimule road, Rumbek road and Bor road. Moreover, on the political side, the return of the prominent Nuer leaders enable the movement to negotiate the CPA, establish the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS), conduct census, hold referendum and usher in the independence of South Sudan in July 2011. It is inconceivable that any of these would have been possible without the full support of, and backing from, the Nuer.

In December 2013, the Nuer, once more, felt cheated by his elder brother, the Dinka, and took up arms against the nation. Five years later, the ensuing destructive and distractive civil war have resulted in the social, political and economic collapse of the infant Republic of South Sudan. Like the SPLM/SPLA in the middle of both 1980s and 1990s, the young Republic of South Sudan is on the verge of being wiped off the face of the world map.

If the above illustrated past is anything to go by, then the fate of South Sudan hinges on the attainment of genuine peace and reconciliation between the Nuer and his elder brother, the Dinka. This is because the eventual return of the Nuer is the only hope, the path, to political stability and economic prosperity of South Sudan.

  1. The Conclusion

This article examines the “Nuer Question” in the root causes of the December 2013 Crisis and the current civil war in South Sudan by demonstrating the fact that the fate – political stability and socioeconomic prosperity – of South Sudan is bright and prosperous when the Nuer is happy and contented and dark and gloomy when the Nuer feels slighted and dispossessed by his elder brother, the Dinka, and thus become angry, revengeful and quarrelsome.

Essentially, this is because the Nuer sees and understands nothing but a long history of dishonesty, meanness, deceitfulness and selfishness in his elder brother, the Dinka. Meanwhile, the Dinka sees and understands nothing but a long career of malicious scheming, permanent rebellion and senseless warring in his younger brother, the Nuer.

Reconciling the political differences, assuaging the security jitters, and harmonizing the socioeconomic aspirations of these warring sibling, one that is rooted in an enduring ancient grudge, is the best hope of the largely war-traumatized people of South Sudan and the great dilemma of the Inter-Governmental Agency on Development (IGAD).

A viable resolution of the extant raging conflict in South Sudan – that proverbial magic bullet that has, so far, eluded IGAD for years—which would adequately address the political aspiration of the Nuer to lead the nation while assuaging the innate fear of his elder brother, the Dinka, could possibly unravel the ongoing national quandary.

Therefore, is it conceivable to sufficiently address the “Nuer Question” so as to steady the sinking ship, and thus rescue the fate, of the nation of South Sudan?

PaanLuel Wël, the managing editor of PaanLuel Wël Media (PW) website, graduated with a double major in Economics and Philosophy from The George Washington University, Washington D.C, USA, and currently works as a Project Coordinator for one of the international NGOs in South Sudan. He is the author of Pioocku Thuongjang: The Elementary Modern Standard Dinka (May, 2011), The A.B.C.D.: An Introductory Book into the English Alphabet (July, 2011) and  Who Killed Dr. John Garang (July, 2015). He is also the Editor of The Genius of Dr. John Garang, vol. 1-3 (November, 2013), including Dr. John Garang’s Speeches on the War of Liberation (November, 2015) and Speeches on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (November, 2015), Salva Kiir Mayaardit: The Joshua of South Sudan (with Simon Yel Yel, February, 2011), as well as The Customary Laws of the Greater Bor Dinka Community: Legal and Basic Rules for Self-Administration (July, 2017).

The opinion expressed here is solely the view of the writer. The veracity of any claim made is the responsibility of the author, not PaanLuel Wël Media (PW) website. If you want to submit an opinion article, commentary or news analysis, please email it to PaanLuel Wël Media (PW) website do reserve the right to edit or reject material before publication. Please include your full name, a short biography, email address, city and the country you are writing from.

  1. Mawan Muortat says:

    The Jieng-Naath painful historical relationship is an illustration of the absurdity of conflict. This fractious relationship has travelled to far-flung parts around the globe, but few know that the two peoples are more alike as no other two can be. Since the Nuer is unlikely (at least for now) to be “contented, happy and supportive” of another Dinka leadership of any colour, we should brace ourselves for an eternally unstable South Sudan. Certainly, the elder brother recognises that now is the time to, finally ditch deceitfulness, and end his sibling’s grudge.


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