Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Presidential Guards in Juba: Mistiming The Nation’s ‘Zero Hour.'

By Martin Garang Aher
Pic: SPLA soldiers. Photo by Lomoyatdit
The eve of presidential guards’ clashes in Juba on December 14, 2013 trailed the long awaited convening of the Political Bureau by the ruling party, The SPLM; whose political party structures had adhered to linearity in the order and commissioning of business since 1994 when the first National Conventions was convened in Chukudum, Eastern Equatoria. Business protocol of the party had been to convoke The National Convention, a gathering of several hundreds of delegates nationwide; The National Liberation Council, which is composed of no more than 275 members; The Political Bureau, whose membership stands at 27; and The General Secretariat, from where the start of the party national activities work their ways upwards through corridors of intervening powers.

The year 2013, however, introduced confusing changes. In the least, president Kiir on November 15, 2013 made a controversial dissolution of the party organs, a very surprising move that indicated was aimed at SPLM heavy weights who were recently part of the government, including Dr. Riek Machar; himself a self-declared aspirant for the party mantle for 2015 presidential elections. Consequently, the convening of National Liberation Council (NLC), contrary to the anticipated Politburo, took priority but did nothing to alleviate already simmering political temperatures over party leadership. SPLM party wrangling on power had had immense impact on the nation’s viability three years into freedom.

As the president lambasted his opponents in NLC with claims of non-deviation from the movement since its inception, his deliberate reference to the 1991 Bor Massacre (already apologised for by Riek Machar and reluctantly forgiven by Bor communities), perforated old wounds and succinctly proclaimed a national doom in front of the ‘prophet of doom,’ as he later referred to Dr. Riek Machar. From that point, armed elements commenced mistiming of events in what has led to death of scores of people, both civilians and military personnel. Civilians have so far become the underdogs caught in the crossfire, targeted for no reason or locked in their homes without food or water in Juba. Reports have hinted that the Jonglee capital of Bor had come under heavy gunfire with several deaths reported.

Either it was a coup d'├ętat or security forces mishandling reassignments in their quarters, The SPLM has tarnished its reputation by putting innocent lives at risk. Whatever the truth in the recent government rhetoric, the rhyme and whine over state power from the leaders carry the blame for the current state of affairs in Juba.

South Sudan has a history of rebellions which had been made excessively ethnical during the decades of war of independence. It is a reality that can be seen in all aspects of life in the country. It’s therefore the responsibility of the SPLM leadership to have acquainted itself with this reality by urging leaders to refrain from using ethnic cards in their power manipulations. It is now apparent that the much internationalized marginalization of the people had been put to an end with the achievement of sovereignty. The unknown components of democratization have proved so alien to South Sudanese governing gorillas. Tranquil years starting from 2005 to 2013 sowed hope that the country was in the best stage of democratic progression. This is not to dismiss David Yau, George Athor, and other rebels who were dissatisfied with democratization processes, service delivery profanation, and grand systemic corruption. Yet, the country was, by and large, seemed hopeful.

But cynics had a point. South Sudan had, nevertheless, continued to offer messianic credence to many who predicted her current affairs. A lot had been said about the people of South Sudan before the nation entered a defining moment in 2011; when for the first time, South Sudanese became their own masters. Concerns ranged from inability of the people to govern themselves democratically, to possible intolerance of human rights. None of those predictions failed to prove wrong. There have been concerns of possible ‘Somalization’ or ‘Balkanisation’ of the country. Such concerns were perceived by ordinary citizens as voices not so divergent from the clenched fists of a coloniser’s misconstructions of innate abilities of the people. But the people’s party has never been at par with them.

Many South Sudanese are not in the know why The SPLM has become such a demigod that politicians fear to exit or lose it. Clamouring for the SPLM tells ordinary South Sudanese that our gorilla-turned-politicians have nothing better to offer when conferred with state power, other than stressing liberation history through the party to predominantly uneducated masses in the rural areas. There is no reason why the politicians who are supposed to be judicious and charismatic shy away from forming own parties to offer formidable challenge to the ruling elites which, in fact, is one way to peaceful resolutions of political squabbles. There is equally no reason why the governing SPLM flayed party processes which are part of a democratic transformation. If the politicians have faith in the people of South Sudan; a strong confidence and clarity on the policies they wish to implement for the people, then they should not have permitted the bloodshed for the past three days (Dec., 15th, 16th, and 17th), and days to come.

To South Sudanese army, civilians would have disciplined their politicians through the ballot box. You have mistimed their zero hour.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Abyei: Abandoned In Unilateral Referendum

By Martin Garang Aher

Photo credit: Lwal Baguoot
Another summit has lately gone by without agreement between the two presidents: Bashir and Kiir, over the future of Abyei. Abyei’s question had tumbled down to a two-man dialogue from both its international and national projection as a deciding region of statehood for South Sudan, and possibly, Sudan. It is now an issue of table manners for the two heads of states. Since none of the presidents is ready to correct his manners, deadlock continues to rule. What is wrong in the future of Abyei?

Some people in the Republic of Sudan call it the Kashmir of the Sudans by, perhaps, inaccurately contrasting its geographical location, ethnic composition, strategic national security and resources implications, and religious affiliation to the region at the foothills of the Himalayas, which is controversially administered by three nations: China, India and Pakistan. A very unfortunate comparison indeed! However, judging by the look of insanity involved in the two regions, Abyei could easily and sadly qualify had the decisive dissimilarity not been that of her history. By settlement, Abyei cannot and has never been synonymous in character with Kashmir. The notoriety of claims by Sudan through Messeriya transhumance is the problem of the area.

Abyei is a region claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan. It sits perilously on the borders of the two deceptive enemies (South Sudan, to Sudan is the number two enemy state after the state of Israel). It has long been seen along with several other areas as a conflict flashpoint on the North-South borders of the Sudans. Its inhabitants are, according to 2005 Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement, nine Ngok Dinka and others.

Ngok is a Nilotic section of Dinka broadly famous among other Dinka sub-tribes as Ngong Deng Kuol/Majok or Ngong Abyei. Historically, the family of Arop Biong through Kuol Arop and Deng Kuol or Deng Majok and other descendants in the line maintained the chieftaincy of Abyei in what was the volatile part of the last quarter of 19thC and first quarter of 20thC. This period, according to historians with authority on Sudan such as Douglas Johnson, was when the area experienced intense slave raids.

Pragmatically, Sudanese Arabs saw venturing south through Abyei as a mission of advancing Islamization to the rest of Africa by whatever means necessary. Most of the time, it was through aggression: slave raids, trade, accessing resources or cultural conquest. Oral histories along the borders of Sudan and South Sudan bear no wickedness in stating that the coming of Arabs to Sudan has led to embittered relationships of all times. Along the borders, the Jieng, the Naath and the Collo continue to tell vigilante stories due to unforeseen attacks. Security at the borders has always continued to be a blister needing caution even from the depth of sleep. Records reveal that an administrative transfer of Abyei to Kordufan in 1905 was a means to curtail or lessen aggressiveness towards Ngok. Aggression towards Ngok has mostly been engendered by the Messeriya section of Humr; now claimants of nativity by transhumance through Abyei.  

Other inhabitants of Abyei are non-Ngok Dinka but those who have lived there for generations. These are the ‘others’ acknowledged in the Machakos protocol on Abyei. Note that ‘others’ is an ogre of malevolence and a significant term of substance in Abyei’s case. The owners of the land, the Ngok Dinka, on own discretion cannot shed off the term even if asked to do so. From ‘others,’ we get the presence of Messeriya Arabs in Abyei who are either historically a welcome group of individual settlers among the population or those who weaved into Ngok communities through intermarriages. If you ask the Ngok Dinka what others in Abyei are, they will precisely point out that so and so over there are the ‘others’ in their region. Ask anyone in Khartoum and the list may include the planes that fly above the region – a deliberate misunderstanding of facts. So, who are the real Messeriya in Abyei? 

From the snapshot above, it should be easy to place Abyei in its rightful place. As the month of October 2013 concludes, sureness and inviolability of life for the natives in Abyei will depend, for better or for worst, on the decision that will be taken by the majority. Indeed, emotions from failures of the AUHIP and UN Security Council have driven the citizens of Abyei and sympathizers in general to feelings of dissatisfaction, uncertainty as well as a bolstered enragement. Why would they not harbor these feelings when daily life in the region is a terrifying ordeal: full of uncertainty, deprived of natural bequest in terms of oil resources, constantly threatened by Messeriya Arabs and for unknown session, held between the two mystical states that would never ever agree on anything without coercion? Successive deliberations and negotiations processes have stalled indefinitely leaving Ngok community as in-betweens of Khartoum and Juba.  It is on these uncertainties that the citizens of Abyei have decided, stealthily perhaps, to hold independent referendum to determine their national status.  

Of course there is a worry. The plebiscite is eclipsed by anecdotal evidence that the Messeriya, armed by the Sudan government and given assurance that they too belong in Abyei, may likely cause bloodbath.  Also, Satellite images from Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) of the Hollywood actor George Clooney and John Prendergast of Enough Project have reported extraordinary Sudanese military activities from their bases closer to Abyei. Sudan has a potted history of taking advantage of precarious situations. The invasion of Abyei in 2010 in which thousands of civilians were displaced serves as evidence. The killing of paramount chief of Abyei, Kuol Deng Kuol, while accompanied by United Nations Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNISFA) has further exacerbated the resolve to go ahead with the vote.

What is the position of South Sudan in this mess? The vocal push by South Sudanese politicians and notable figures had fuelled the desire for the citizens of Abyei to go forward with voting decision regardless of formal agreement on the matter. One is surprised by South Sudan government reversion in tone and support for the people of Abyei. Whatever eventuality that the people of Abyei may encounter, South Sudan should know that it is part of it. Denial of reality is simply unprincipled and dangerous.

 It would have made rational sense if the Sudans resolved Abyei’s self-determination exercise in a manner that reckons responsibility and value of human life. Leaving the inhabitants of Abyei to decide their own fate is indistinguishable from entrenching inter-state animosity between the Sudans and between Abyei and her Messeriya neighbours for eternity.  It is too late now.  

In answer to the question of the real Messeriya, consider that every year millions of passengers go through Heathrow Airport in the UK on their way to greener pastures anywhere in the world. If by strange happening UK votes to determine her fate, whether to go to Mars or remains on earth, it will be only the Whites indigenous and Chinese or Indian or African ‘others’ permanently based in The UK that will determine UK’s future.  Not millions of Chinese, Indians and Africans that go through Heathrow. Messeriya on maroon cows passing through Abyei are comparable to passengers on an Airbus A380 passing through the UK. It is the transit fee that is needed to be paid. 

Martin Garang Aher is a South Sudanese living in Australia. He can be reached at garangaher@hotmail.com

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Ad Hoc Technocracy In South Sudan

Pagan Amum, SPLM SG. Photo credit: owner.

By Martin Garang Aher

Finally the push has come to shove in Juba. In a move that dazed many South Sudanese as well as international observers of political developments in South Sudan, President Salva Kiir Mayardit had on 23rd July 2013 bravely dissolved his government. It was highly anticipated but vulgarly engendered by poor government performance and the struggle for power within the ruling party, the SPLM.
The multiple presidential decrees relieved the vice president, 29 ministers, 29 deputy ministers and 17 brigadier generals in the police force. Another promised an overhaul of the government ministries while the SPLM Party Order, suspended the secretary general of the SPLM. The SG, in another capacity, functioned as the chief negotiator in the post independent arrangements with the Sudan.

As could be construed in these shake ups, all efforts seemed to have been designed to prioritize efficiency of the government. However, punishing dissent and rewarding supporters often go along with situations of this nature. It will be clear in the formation of the next government if all intentions were for the good of the nation or actions that are in circumspect disciplinary among the SPLM's heavy weights.  The dissolution has already been believed by many as targeting the removal of the vice president, Riek Machar Teny, who had on numerous occasions, criticized the government while voicing his wish to lead the party into the next elections.

The president’s application of his constitutional prerogative was the second since he took power as the new country’s first bearer of the highest office after independence. He had reshuffled the same government in 2010, but with least panic from the streets. Many more were expected but did not materialize. As some residents in Juba confirmed, the situation had since changed. The city remained tensed; making the likelihood for a bang of any kind to disrupt the day. On the other hand, citizens who have been calling out for the government to do more are now shy of praise even though their wishes are being slowly fulfilled. The need for effective service delivery had been overshadowed by fear of violent reprisal from demoted government officials who might be left out of the incoming government; especially from the outgoing vice president and his supporters. However, I am of the belief that Riek Machar had done his calculations correctly and the presumptions many might have for him have something to do with his past, not his present.

Cognizant of the oil shutdown and the war with the Sudan in Panthou, South Sudanese see this second reshuffle as exceedingly bizarre but on equal terms with previous actions in which proper plans were reserved to be attempted afterward. The plan is now for the president to sit down with his advisers and do the mammoth task of selecting the cabinet while the government in Juba remains literally in the hands of technocrats in the respective ministries. It was simple to set the pace of restructuring, but the enormity of the task at hand might likely require weeks to complete. That would leave a vacuum for possible unruliness.  The president must act fast and in the approved manner in his government formation.

Can the president be encouraged to be a little harder? If president Kiir is to be believed and trusted, he has to do a bit more. Whether internal party wrangling for leadership might have caused the dissolution, South Sudanese and the world are wishing to see that 75 officials whom he sent letters to return the stolen $4 billion must not show faces in his next government. Of course if the wells of the decrees have not run dry, expectations are that few remaining decrees must be channeled toward the formation of investigation committees to probe the whereabouts of $4 billion for the benefit of the impoverished citizens.
Martin Garang is a South Sudanese living in Australia. He can be reached at garangaher@hotmail.com

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Boma That Fell: The ‘Al-Qaeda’ of SSDA Rebellion

By Martin Garang Aher

The South Sudanese town of Boma in Pibor County had fallen to South Sudan Democratic Army, SSDA, a gubernatorial rebellion led by David Yau. The same month, May 2013, South Sudanese army at the frontline in Pibor demonstrated uncharacteristic display by abandoning positions at the frontline and going on a looting spree in Pibor itself as many reports propose. Other incidences of civil disorder staged by the retreating army from Pibor have been reported on the outskirts of Bor town, the state capital.

Although the army behaviour could not be delinked from poor performance in service delivery and logistical negligence, the fall of Boma plateau is remarkably atypical. It is possibly the very first time that a military incursion into the SPLA/M Boma had merely lasted for minutes, if not hours, after which her inhabitants are sent helter-skelter into the merciless Tingily semi-desert. It is implausibly difficult to put thoughts together in determining the underlying circumstances that led to easy slip of Boma into the hands of the militia. The South Sudanese media and the military seemed to have also resigned to the fall of Boma. No one knows if Boma has been abandoned only for a season or for eternity.

This raised questions whether the softly captured and eerily whispered Boma in the news was the same Boma that served as the spring board into Eastern Equatoria by East Equatoria Axis in 1980s? Was this the Boma so known to Major Nyachigak Nyachiluk, Lt Colonel Martin Manyiel Ayuel, commander Kuol Amum, Commander Gilario Modi Hurnyang and Bol Madut or the Kiswahili ‘boma’ the homestead? South Sudanese who wandered the bush are perhaps asking these questions. One convincing answer rests in the reasoning that the mentality about the importance of Boma has increasingly became illusive to leaders and the military. Boma of today is not synonymous anymore to Boma of yore.

The Boma of today, the Boma of South Sudanese regular and paid army, the Boma that could be captured and the course of history would never change, the liberated and outlandish Boma of logistical clumsiness and of command and control debacles was probably the Boma that fell. This is the Boma that nobody cares if it is overran a thousandth fold, for it will forever be in South Sudan. Welcome then to Jebel Buma, the Upper and Lower Boma, ‘Boma Up and Boma Down,’ the SPLA and SSDA Berlin divided by ridges.

Boma of old was a different bush town, too daring to meddle with and too comfortable to hold on to it. It became the recuperating point for recruits and refugees crossing Sahara Tingily either way between Ethiopia and South Sudan. Incarcerated SPLA/M political prisoners like Arok Thon Arok, Karubino Kuanyin Bol and others had their home on Upper Boma. At an elevation of about 1100 meters above sea level, anyone defending it had an eye view on the attackers and wielding a demigod power to rain munitions on them. During the dry season, her surrounding semi-desert was always a deeply cracked and waterless alluvial soil; a hell of a place not only to thirsty humans but also to animals. Boma was undeniably impermeable to alien forces. The SPLA forces stormed it once and battled for its defence countable times.  

It was Major Bior Ajak, famous as Tahir Bior Abdala Ajak who commanded the Neran battalion that forcefully entered Boma for the first time in early 1980s and established a command base for Eastern Equatoria Axis. The SPLA/M Movement was at the time arching out military operational fronts throughout Southern Sudan. Since that time, Boma never fell to Jellaba and their allies. One proven historical wartime reality had for years stood unremittingly opposed to quick fall of the area to external invasion after its initial capture: elevation of Boma itself. The town or a post had always served as a defensive armoury to her inhabitants throughout the twenty-one years of war, particularly where there was a will to defend it.  That willpower is unquestionably dwindling much to the forgetfulness of the eminence of the area as a national heritage.

The prominence of Boma plateau and its national importance in South Sudan is as historical as it is strategically significant. Boma is the hub of wildlife diversity in South Sudan, expanding in area to about 2300000ha, probably followed by Chelkou. It is an area of vast resources that a nation could tap into for economic gains and progress. Little known to many is the botanical implication of Boma. Boma has a profusion of Coffee Arabica which grows in its rain forest ecosystem as a wild plant. This is a rare gift of nature that ought to keep Boma within the government’s arm’s length for resources mobilisation and development in the country. It was first noticed in the colonial Sudan in 1930s by a botanist, Dr. A.S. Thomas. He later wrote an academic paper in 1942 entitled: “The wild Arabica coffee on the Boma Plateau, Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.” After that, Boma slipped into the Sudanese negligence of her multiple marginalities. So if anyone feels the compulsion to tabulate the regions of national importance in South Sudan, Boma will, for reason to be defended, jostle in the second place after oil fields.

There are veritable corollaries of the fall of Boma to Yau Yau rebel forces but one is of a particular concern:  the Potentiality for the expansion of broad based rebellion that might recruit, not only from Murle but also from other local population in the area. Boma is home to Murle, Kishipo/Suri and Anyuak. It is therefore indispensable to worry for invariable reasons since ethnic composition of Boma is that of a people who have never been friends, but may find a unifying factor in Yau Yau. He could use Murle pastoralists to forcefully recruit sedentary agriculturalists Kishipo and Anyuak. 

A biblical maxim states that a prophet is not accepted in his home-town. Yau Yau’s testimonial of seriousness in South Sudan would likely be felt when he exerts control over Murle’s adjacent communities. The probable outcome would be an establishment of a base - the Al Qaeda of the rebellion. If this happens, Juba might not have to worry about Boma but Pachalla, Jebel Raid and Pakok/Korchum without forgetting the support Yau Yau might get among the Taposas. Effectively, Juba would be cut off from the Ethiopian and Kenyan Borders closest to it. 

This move could completely turn the tables on summary ‘amnesties’ that the government is fond of extending. Ever since, such amnesties have only served to build personalities than to provide credible solutions. There is proven belief going around that ‘if you want to be a Major-General in the South Sudanese army, first be a rebel.’ Well, a rebel one might be and Major General one might win, but certainly what angers a civilian to take up arms in the first instance may get him into the woods again al beit heavily laden with military titles. Yau Yau is a case in point.

From Gumuruk, the village town of one blue mountain, Yau Yau the pastoralist and theologian is presently in the mountains of ‘Boma Up’ Plateau. Opposite to his theological training as a preserver of souls, he is slaying people up there.  South Sudanese army must do a lot more to bring him to ‘Boma Down’ and out of town.