Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Me against my brother: The defection of General Dau Aturjong Nyuol

President Kiir had of late made two appointments that would ensconce rebellion in the state of Northern Bahr El Ghazal in the form of pitting rivalries against each other. Of the significant appointment is that of the army’s chief, general Paul Malong Awan, who was uplifted from a gubernatorial position as a civilian governor, to the army top stratum. Malong’s appointment and that of the caretaker governor of NBG State closed all doors on Dau, leaving him with only one way: that of rebellion.

Dau Aturjong became the latest South Sudanese military general to break ranks with Juba and joined Riek Machar in circumstances that swerved from claims of personal security, marginalisation of his community and the state, intense political rivalry to superimposed nationalistic dream of good governance. The news of rebellion of a well-respected general, much known for a high level of technicality in tactical guerrilla warfare than his wealth; the latter which he never had but dreams of, just like future-hopeful citizenry, was made in a hotel in Nairobi, Kenya and carried to a resounding propagation by Paris-based Sudan Tribune which published a full version of the press release, SBS Dinka radio in Australia, which later interviewed the general in his language of comfort, and many other local and international media.

Like every other rebels from within and without of Juba who made their discontent apparent since president Kiir took office in 2010 in circumstances sympathetic to  colonial breakaway from the Sudan, general Dau, singing to the tune of others before him, has a keen interest in removing president Kiir from power in the country. He accused him of scandalous stewardship of the nation to catastrophe. Well, the nation is already in the abyss. The question to ponder upon is how to get out of it, something that every leader in South Sudan who calls for arms insurrections finds difficult to undo because of inherent fears of retributions and other complications that arise from combatants and acquired allies with own political interests. For now, General Dau has his finger on the trigger and has no time to droop down attending to the political opportunistic networks that weave around every step he makes.

Why did Dau really rebel? It is the question that South Sudanese who think that Aweil and Kiir are inseparable and one and the same, would want to know? Many people want to know why Aweil, an area that contributed a river full of blood in the most unsurpassed and bizarre conditions during the war of liberation with Sudan, fails to decelerate in the war of political opportunism emanating from Juba.  As difficult as the questions are, so are the answers, and I think General Dau can provide hints. Dau was the area commander of SPLA forces in Northern Bhar el Ghazal in 1990s, a position he swapped so often with Paul Malong, sometimes in the most uncanny lobby with the general headquarters where Malong won the army politics of appeasement and deployment. Although Dau was popular for better provision of solid protection of the area against Marahaleen counter-insurgency units, mobilising local resources to buy uniforms for the battalions in his command in the periods when SPLA soldiers at the extreme peripheries of war in Aweil were completely rugged and indistinguishable from the poverty-stricken civilians they protected; and introducing the now famous ‘Toyota war’ among the Darfur rebels by purchasing numerous Toyota utes cars and transformed them into military fighting vehicles, Dau could not hold on to his position in Aweil. He found himself transferred to the vicinity of Wau and replaced by Malong Awan.  Since both men are undoubtedly battle-groomed for battle madness that often result in successes, civilians in Aweil have always struck an understanding with Dau who remained a bad student of snobbishness much to their liking. That is where he always picks an axe to grind with ‘King Paul Malong,’ as adorned by a few toadies with interests. 

The bitter differences between Malong and Dau are national in character. President Kiir knows about them and with him on Malong's side, there is no better ally for Dau. When Dau was interviewed by SBS Dinka Radio from Australia, he said that it was the late John Garang that knew his mind and how he rationalised situations. No wonder president Kiir saw a 'Garang's boy' in him and played a one-sided favouritism in the fraternal battles of fame. During the 2010 elections, the SPLM, too, under new masters who were busy setting up traps for themselves by setting them up for the future enemies of the party, disapproved of Dau’s nomination as a front runner for gubernatorial position in Aweil. Dau went on to contest the elections as an independent candidate with no assurance of support from core. To him, he won the majority votes only to receive swapped ballots, followed by a humiliating condemnation and accusation of rebelling. For the second time, Malong ruled the state and kept Dau at bay in Juba. The hope, to everyone who watched Dau from afar, was that he would circumvent Malong in Aweil and finds a consolation in what the country would offer him at the national level. It never came to pass. What came to pass was that an enemy, ‘The King,’ was given the ‘knife’ at his expense. Adding to his frustrations was an occasional presence of security personnel wolfing around his house in Juba, sometimes, firing a few aimless shot at it. for a man near a hostile core of politics, stakes could not be any higher for making up his mind. If anything, assumed impression is that notorious army men do not like to be fired at in awkward positions. Their bravery has an underlying fear. In a meeting held under a tree in Mapuordit, Yirol, in early 2001, and which was attended by Marial Nuor, a not-to-mess-around-with commander, a disgruntled soldier appeared from nowhere and cocked his gun so loud that everyone was taken by surprise in the meeting. I did not know what he had in mind. But the first person to stand up, shouted at the soldier and ordered him disarmed, was Marial himself. Ask the late Karubino Kwanyin Bol why he moved around to every place with a pistol just like the Palestinian Yasser Arafat, he would tell you that nothing was certain. In the case of retired general Dau, left without orders to give but a security report to make when fired on, the situation became less peaceful in Juba than in the bush: the only door that remained opened for him. 

Had president Kiir wanted Dau to stay, he would have pushed him to Aweil as the caretaker governor. But that would anger president Kiir’s darling in his army chief.  Already a caretaker governor in Aweil in the person of Kuel Aguer Kuel closes all avenues for a rebellion rethink from Dr. Dhiew Mathok Diing Wol.  The two , Dhieu and Kuel, have truck-loads of colonial baggages they brought with them from Khartoum. The only difference is that they have unwillingly exchanged positions proportional to their past. 

For the people of Aweil, it was the dilemma that forced Dau out of Juba. The question is not why he rebelled but who has he joined, and at what time did he do it. That is where he misjudged Aweilians and where his right answers started with a wrong formula.

From Kuol Manyang and George Athor, Malong Awan and Dan Aturjong, Taban Deng Gai and Angelina Teny, Riek Machar and Kiir Mayardit and others, the SPLM knows how to create rebels. With Dau in the list, they might have created General Terrible.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Malong Awan and Marial Nuor

Paul Malong Awan Anei in Military Uniform. Photo credit: Anthony Chimir
President Kiir has made another shake up, this time in the military. The army’s chief of general staff, James Hoth Mai, and the head of military intelligence, Major General Mac Paul Kuol were  relieved and respectively replaced by Paul Malong Awan (former governor of Northern Bahr el Ghazal) and Marial Nuor Jok, who previously served in a different capacity as Major General of the Police force.

The appearance of these military men at the war front in South Sudan, per the unending presidential decrees, has frozen the marrows for some people. To some, they will be the dreaded exterminators or genocideurs; to others, they come to instill discipline as well as manage army operations with less frustration in areas where skirmishes are ongoing with the rebels. Yet, those who are not satisfied with blood-spill are looking and unearthing the geographies of births of these men, geographies that were unquestionable throughout their careers as army commanders. This is a note of proof to those who see the war in South Sudan as being driven by ethnic undertone because appointment of leaders is not evaluated on capabilities, experiences or qualifications, but on where people come from in terms of ethnic origin. 

Treading fairly, the two generals are not the monsters that people should fear, at least in my view. On this note, and in situations where the mind stands conditioned to terror and fear, I love reading from the book by Wafa Sultan: A God Who Hates: The Courageous Woman Who Inflamed the Muslim World Speaks Out Against the Evils of Islam.  Wafa cautions that the object of our fear can be huge or minutiae, depending on our mental abstracted constructions. A prominent American tele-evangelist, Joel Osteen, preaches too that fear blows out of proportion circumstances that are otherwise manageable. Like Wafa, he denounces giving in to fear, for in doing so, we are imploring the greatest power in the universe to make the subjects matter of our fears come to pass.

In Malong and Marial Nuor, I think people have the 'ogres' they know little about. One might be wrong. However, if the witticism, 'highly decorated military general,' often used by ethnic followers of generals, has any meaning in the history of the SPLA/M, then the two newly appointed leaders as Chief of Staff and Military Intelligence respectively, have never passed with distinctions in the army's popularization of titles in South Sudan.

To assume, therefore, that they will be likely bloodier than the rebel general who, captured Bentiu and shocked the world with grisly bodies of massacred civilians in cold blood; or the leader of the youth who attacked the UN Compound in Bor killing several unarmed people; or the dreaded Peter Gadet Yak, the man whose opportunism is solidified in blood-letting, is to christen them into bad boys; a stance they would humanely opt out of in their new leadership assignments. It will be wise not to sing death into the ears of these appointed leaders before reading their true books of deeds, unless the flow of blood 'opiumises' the spirits for those who do so.

If anyone has travelled in the zones of operations of the two army strongmen, Marial and Malong, one would agree to the fact that even David Yau Yau (who recently signed peace with the government and winning a special administrative consideration for his people in the troubled state of Jonglei) and Ismael Konyi (a notorious Sudanese government counter-insurgence militia leader of the 1990s) were more brutish than the two were. Now is the time for history to record them deed by deed. 

Finally, as the violence had become a commitment of killing each other in order to become one strong country, and not to split up into nations of ethnic identities, the game of innocence must therefore end. Both the rebels and the government must not freeze themselves in the corners of the 'expected diplomats,' as expected of the government and 'aggressive-to-be-pleased' as always hoped by the rebels. If the objective in the overall differences in the war is to make a prosperous and a peaceful country, then it is time for each party to own up for its atrocities so that a solution for ending the death is found.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Dang And The Spear: Spiritual Warfare Over Leadership In South Sudan

Church leaders overseeing agreement between David Yau and the GOSS, Addis Ababa. Photo by Lomoyat
There are unrecorded sacred and manipulative spiritual games in the military and political lives in South Sudan. They happen between the churches and the shrines. They are games of supernaturalism, mingled with high capacity military and revolutionary experiences, and backed up with intellectualism befitting modern rationality. They are games where the gods are supplicated for luck, but when they (gods) renege on wishes and prayers, things get managed humanly violently. It leaves people awestruck whether education and military experience by some South Sudanese leaders mean anything in these mixed worlds of mindsets. Like it or not, leaders' tuning to spirituality influences how some affairs are managed in the country.

Over the past few months, politics in South Sudan has shifted from temporal to spiritual. But it was not only in the last few months that midnight calls to local super-visionaries were put on display by the leaders, and perhaps, the army. The practice had been around, among South Sudanese societies, where leaders venture out of profanity to spirituality, especially when events of unfavorable twists become uncontrollable through human force. 

In the case of military, especially during the long war, some SPLA soldiers at front-lines went spiritual with intentions to survive attacks, and military advances toward the enemy. Some prayed and others sought local spiritual help. There were SPLA soldiers who bragged of their purchased powers from local medicine-men, spear-masters and seers. The powers they got were thought to render bullets powerless when in the events of shoot outs. No force made it explicit than the famous Mobile Task Force. This amalgam was a tactical response special unit called upon when the swiftest fire power was needed on a particular front. It was said to have been made up of soldiers with impenetrable bodies - kind of bullet-proofed skins. Army rumours had it that in events of launching attacks on enemy positions; if a Mobile Task Force soldier was not bullet-proofed enough, as thought by his colleagues, he was tasked with the duties of preparing meals while the seemingly impenetrable ones did the fighting. The story could be wildly wrong, but MF's victorious notoriety on the battlefields around Juba in 1990s, accorded them respect and some kind of immortality. 

Among the Sudan People's Liberation Army commanding officers, going spiritual was common too. Some commanders were rumoured to be possessing extraordinary powers that made them successful in the battlefields. There was a high level rumour circulating that the baton carried by then SPLM/A Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C), Dr. John Garang, was  magically powerful and would tell which food was poisoned and which one was safe for the leader to feast on. The current president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, was also rumoured to possess certain powers that would make him escape any attack deemed to kill everyone. In early 1990s when he got involved in a plane crash in Western Kenya and walked away unscathed, the rumour nearly got logged in certainty. These are just some of the spiritual games that South Sudanese play when things are very hard and complicated.

Outside South Sudan, no one seems to be aware, or cares to recognize, the mystical African traditional unbroken beliefs in deities and spirituality among the leaders, and how such beliefs play important roles in both national and ethnic political sentience. It is now time to begin to envisage the impacts of these beliefs in national politics.

A simple glance at the current political leaders shows nothing different from what distressed soldiers used to do at the war fronts: going spiritual. In the continuing crisis, which began in late 2013, invisible games led the way between President Kiir and former vice president, Riek Machar. It began with the presumed prophetic zenith of Ngundeng, where it was prophesied that a left-hander man from the Nuer people would rule a country somewhere on the Nile. Ngundeng, as a Nuer prophet, was recorded in history, but his prophecies were seen as leaning toward folklores and were erratically subject to ahistorical oral tradition in which meanings and interpretations depend on successive generations' tastes and needs. In the traditional African oral histories, each generation is left to give meaning to some oral prophecies as the situations suit them. 

Factually, Ngundeng's prophecies are not taken for granted by Dr. Riek Machar and his community. He is believed by his community as the leader foretold by Ngundeng Bong to be that futuristic leader. Other  antedate prophets, or spiritual couriers, such as Wurnyang, the former White Army's leading prophet of 1991 Bor massacre, and Dak Kueth, White Army's current leader responsible in part for the Armageddon of the same area, had continued to influence Dr. Riek Machar along that line to respond to his divine vocation: that a Nuer man must rule the country and he was the one. Machar's calls for President Kiir to step down confirmed his answer to the prophetic call. 

The trouble is that it is hard to know which country Ngundeng foretold. In the history of the area in The Nile Valley where South Sudan emerged, countries appeared, disappeared and reappeared with different names. In the Turkiyah Sudan, the Nuer people knew of their local Nuerland as their country. The British later arrived and changed the field of view. Then came South Sudanese independence, and the name of the country in which Ngundeng’s prophecy would be fulfilled became harder to plot. From Nuer country to present day South Sudan, many countries have evolved. The present South Sudan was part of the Sudan where the fulfillment of Ngundeng prophecies would have made more sense. I am convinced that Nuer geographical expansion in area after Ngundeng brought his prophecy of conquest to finality. Any other claims that go beyond that period are mere political-spiritual distortions for political gains.  But that is South Sudanese history of political divinities anywayIt matches perfectly with other proclaimed prophecies where a date is never stated on the actual occurrences of events.

When Dr. Riek Machar left Juba as a warrior in mid December 2013, spiritual games began to take center stage, but were only known to some South Sudanese. Riek left Juba with dang  in his hand. Dang was the magical stick once carried and, with disputations, used positively by prophet Ngundeng against the British. It was later taken away by the same British when the prophet's son commandeered powers after the death of his father. He is said to have displayed uncooperative manners towards the British authorities and had tried to use the dang to defeat them but failed. They killed him and took the dang away, purposely to stop the craze that people attached to the harmless weapon.  One wonders why the British decided to return it to South Sudan in 2010? It arrived back home, nevertheless, and Riek Machar took it into his custody. With dang around, political-spiritual matters reached a crescendo in Juba and elsewhere in the country. Riek is said to have stuck to ownership of the stick with deep interest of what it might give him.

On the government spiritual front, president Kiir never took the combined forces of his political arch-rivals and their prophets lightly.  He must have looked around for help which eventually came from afar on the African continent  in the form of the prophet with an already failed prophecy.

Somewhere in West Africa, specifically in Nigeria, Prophet TB Joshua (looked down upon at home because of his low level education in a country with more than 72 strong universities), announced that he saw a leader in East African country being captured. He stated that if the evil was not curtailed through prayerful intercessions, thousands of lives would be lost. His prophecy did not talk of thousands that would still be lost even if the doom that would befall the head of state was averted. As prophecies continue to become unbelievably wrong these days, no one paid attention to TB Joshua's prophecy until after the events of December, 2013, in Juba. President Kiir, upon learning of it, wasted no time but wrote a thankful letter and sent a delegation to TB Joshua in Nigeria with the promise that when all is finished, he would attend, in person, the Assembly of God, presided upon by TB Joshua himself. He further requested that the prophet prayed for reconciliation in South Sudan. Joshua responded with more powerful prayers , but thousands went on to die and thousands more were displaced. 

But all was not resolved. Riek Machar's Dang continued to haunt president Kiir, who later got a backing of the Spear masters in his home state of Warrap, to counteract dang  with spear. That appeared to have ended the game of the gods. 

From the firmament of the sky, it looks like the spiritual scores have been settled. The locus of war has now descended down from up in the heavens where it all started. It is currently on the ground, in the battlefield, where the powers of the gods must merge with those of human leaders who are, in the end, the utmost beneficiaries of the apocalypses.

Dr. Riek Machar has officially named his rebellion as a resistance movement and subsequently sidelined the controversial detainees as part of his rebellion. This sways the calculus on the negotiations’ table. What appeared as the SPLM party internal problems, needing internal solutions, has assumed a configuration that would make power sharing arrangements a bitter possibility. 

Mediators in Addis Ababa will have to solve SPLM party problems, and then turn to rebellion whose demands would be far from party internal reforms. The rebellion is already feeling the pressure in regards to the question of political detainees - cum - coup plotters arrested by the government in Juba. Should the detainees become a political force, making eventual concessions with the government on reforms, the rebel group will need all of them, as one or separate bodies, to create a space. That means only one thing: the rebels are coming back to town with their armed militias, and that is another recipe for a potential renewed fighting in the capital, Juba. 

Solving this spiritual-political dilemma will be hard. But right steps must be taken. IGAD and international mediators must consider involving civil society in the peace process and more so, the church. It would also do well if a conducive atmosphere for national reconciliation precedes mandatory elections , after which, the country must be structurally redesigned for what should last, not what the prophets of gods are dictating.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

‘Madina’ Bor In Bor

By Martin Garang Aher

"What you see troubling people here, is your fault..." 

(General Malual Ayom speaking in Dinka to advancing troops on Bor).

From R-L: Gen: Malual is second. Photo. Deng-Athoi Galuak
Talking about Bor can be tremendously challenging at times to a non Dinka outsider, because the word has a tendency to ping pong from being a name of the city of Bor proper (Popular informally as Mading Bor), to a descriptor of the Dinka section inhabiting the large swathe of the Nile on the East Bank in Jonglei State. It is not even enough to stop here, but continuing on with etymology would mean making too many historical mistakes. Here, we are roughly talking of the city of Bor, Madina Bor, and perhaps Bor, the area and the people.

From the colonial Sudan, unto the independent Sudan – and South Sudan - the city of Bor had received umpteenth spotlights, both domestic and international for all reasons with good ones tipping the scale. But in the last thirty years, it had been the cataclysm that befell this serene city and her people that struggled to overshadow the best of it.  The period, 2013-2014, is a case period of tragedy; the latest of these tragedies being the destruction of the city and inhumane killings by the rebels set loose by Juba’s inefficiencies of governance and democratic misguidance.

In less than a month, Bor has changed hands four times between the rebels fighting the government and the national army, SPLA, defending ‘the country’ and the ‘constitution’ yet to be rectified. Division 8 General Peter Gadet Yak, based in Bor, defected with three brigades, per the narrative of South Sudanese army, and stormed the city on the 17th and 18th of December, 2013, killing about a thousand civilians, wounding many more and displacing all that remained; mainly to Awerial County in the neighboring Lakes State on the West Bank of the Nile. Other vulnerable civilians unable to make a prompt escape tolerated the terrifying ordeal of sheltering in the city’s compound of United Nations Mission In South Sudan (UNMISS). The South Sudanese army later drove Peter Gadet out of the city.  A week later, the White Army mainly from Lou Nuer and Gaweer marched on the city once more, this time, on a counter-offensive with a prophetic mission of nonstop walk to Juba, the nation’s capital. Like in 1991, some villages on their way burnt and people were killed indiscriminately. The march worried the nation and the world.

Residents of Juba were undeniably terror-stricken of the news of a close to 25000 armed men eyeing their city of dwelling. The pressure was felt for real by those who live in the city and foreign others who knew that a violent elemental fall of Juba since its founding might unleash a walking pilgrims from other armed and dissatisfied groups, hence, setting the stage for Africa’s Yugoslavia, with neighbours absorbing the shock waves of war. Rumours of war at the city’s gates were exacerbated by the newly embraced technology in the forms of mobile phones and internet. International Media played its part to the dismay of the authorities who were themselves not impervious from trepidation. Mohamed Adow of Al Jazeera English Channel, who suggested that a reliable source told of a column of the White Army that slipped through the heavily militarized Juba-Bor road and was advancing on the capital, was quickly sent packing to lessen the airing of unjustified fear. On the internet, the newly emerging nationalism disintegrated into ethnic chest beating.

Further afield, responsibility then turned to frustration. The neutrality of president Museveni of Uganda was phenomenally compromised. As a member of Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) that hurriedly descended on South Sudan for the purposes of peace,   Uganda’s South Sudan matched that of the Democratic Republic of The Congo, with responsibility to protect (R2P) winning over the concealed evacuation of stranded nationals. What began as a peaceful mission became a mission to hunt for the vainglorious rebels or in defense of indefensible abstractions.
A warrior of Museveni’s character in a war zone is indisputably not an excellent peacemaker. With South Sudan’s geographical cauldron able to gulp down Uganda at least three times, president Museveni is well-versed that ‘going after’ Joseph Konyi is less wearisome than going after Riek Machar, whose 25000 White Army’s firepower on one front almost doubles the firepower that propelled the Lion of Ruwenzori Range into rebellious reign in Uganda, back in 1986.

Bor fell again to the national army on January 18, 2014 after almost a month of battling ‘mobilized civilians,’ as the army spokesman, Colonel Philip Aguer, would like to assume. Actually, the city was found empty when the national army moved in after surviving heavy losses in ambushes on the way aboard Ute cars, barges and tanks as a conventional army; a strange position opposed to good old days of not being a sitting duck on the road. 

Just like the natives of this historically significant and embattled city would want to know, a perturbing question is ‘why always Bor?’ The simple answer, among many, is that Bor is a victim of peace in a region that is otherwise peace wary. It is unwise to assume therefore that people in this area are not doing enough to protect themselves when for generations they have done all they could to train, lead, fought and accommodated others for a national entity that would safeguard all South Sudanese. Note that Abel Alier and Joseph Lagu, first post Addis Ababa Regional Government leaders of Southern Sudan, went to Church Missionary Society School at Malek in Bor.

“...People have gone for business and abandoned the army, we have to lead the fight into Bor and the rest would follow us...,” 

General Malual Ayom continued his speech to an ululating battalion of the sons of the soil. He was clearly subdued by the loss of his colleagues, General Abraham Jongroor and Ajak Yen, Gadet’s first victims of rebellion (quote inaccurate…meaning retained). Fly in generals are to be warned that General Malual’s bravery must not be tried in the field, only at home.   This was the same General Malual who was featured on the BBC video in an ambush, self-stripped of any weapons and walking with head held high amidst the showers of bullets and disorderly dashing soldiers. The question of why Bor can pick up another answer: because Bor thinks there is a nation, but alas! General Malual needs to take 'fault' blame somewhere else.

So, when the city of Bor speaks of resilience to bounce back in the face of Gadet's atrocities to all, including those who shot the first bullets of liberation in this city (Karbino Kuanyin and William Nyuon were also Gadet's victims), they simply mean business.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Are Jailed South Sudanese Politicians In Juba Part of the Arms-Bearing Rebels?

Pic credited:  Lomoyatdit

By Martin Garang Aher

Whether the detained politicians in South Sudan are rebels by guilt or association, is a question that takes one down a trip of memory lane to unending local, regional and international requests for their unconditional release. The eleven prisoners were detained in connection with what the government insists on as a coup attempt, but one stoutly countered by arms-bearing rebels and their international backers as a concocted incident to crackdown on political rivals by president Kiir and his government. The claims and counter-claims of what really brought the country to where it is at the moment are difficult to verify, but an underlying truth stands out understandably clear: these detainees may not be firing at anyone, but their actions before the war and their status as prisoners are part of a puzzle of violence presently ensnaring the nation. 

What do we know about the prisoners in question?

The prisoners were people who roamed the political and military scenery of South Sudan for years, and could best be linked to events and positions they have shone in, in order to understand their  merits. Here is what we know about them: they were all members of the ruling party, many were high ranking members of the Political Bureau and National Liberation Council of the ruling party, many were illustrious military officers before independence, some held ambassadorial, gubernatorial and ministerial positions in the government until July 2013, as part of government many acquired significant friends with international powers, many were suspects of a massive corruption that once prompted the president to meekly send out imploring letters to return four billion dollars into the national treasury; prior to December 15th, they were actively behind the former vice president, Riek Machar, pushing for reforms within the party; and above all, they made it clear to the nation in more than one occasions that their party has lost vision and direction. 

After their dismissal from the government, they became staunch critics of the government; a critical moment that ushered in the war.  In custody, they are:  Deng Alor, former minister for cabinet affairs, Pagan Amum, former SPLM secretary general, Cirino Iteng, former minister for culture, Madut Biar Yel, former minister for telecommunication and postal services, Oyai Deng Ajak, former minister for national security in the office of the president, Majak D’ Agoot, former deputy minister for defence, Chol Tong Mayay, former governor of Lakes state, Ezekiel Gatkuoth Lul, former ambassador to the United States, John Luk Jok, former justice minister, Kosti Manibe, former minister for finance and Gier Chuang Aluong, former minister for roads and bridges. They are all accused of plotting an abortive  coup against an elected government.

Those conversant with South Sudanese liberation history could see why their arrest or release is thorny, but important. They wield a significant influence in the country's power dynamics. Their arrest or possible partaking in the ongoing rebellion is a better recipe that should convince the region and the world that the SPLM had treacherously fought for the creation of the nation, and correspondingly, demolishing it dangerously

Technically, from the list above, the SPLM is wholly in custody or back in the bush, with remnants heading the government.

Since the detention of these politicians, and subsequent outbreak of violence, call it with a proper name as war, the talks to divert the country away from another protracted war have hovered over nothing but their 'release,' as demanded by the rebels. Although the government accepts the demand to release them,  it urgues that their release must go through a legal scrutiny to clear them from coup events. Having, thus, stolen the process toward the resolution of the conflict, their weight in South Sudanese politics and ongoing conflict - duped as ethnic conflict - cannot be ignored. What is important to ask, is whether these detainees are really rebels, or are being verbally bailed out from detention to join the rebellion by the rebels themselves and others who demand their release? Behind the walls of their cells, one could ask if they really hold the key to the ongoing killings, or got the mechanisms to actually ending it? The truth to these questions will be known in future, though it will be rather too late. Likewise, the truth will reveal if the rebels are using their detention case to implicate them in a comprehensive mess for a comprehensive solution.

What is obvious is that the government is determined not to release these detainees unconditionally, for the action will definitely qualify the counter-argument that what actually took place on the night of December 15th in Juba was not a coup but a political fiasco. The government sees itself losing legitimacy in the eyes of the public and would rather maintain its consistency with the claim of a coup attempt. This, therefore, begs further questions whether guns are buzzing because of these prisoners, and whether those demanding their release are asking for peace through more rebellion? That is, swelling up the rebels' ranks for better prospects for peace. It is a call that needs to be tested for its genuine peace desire for the people of South Sudan. 

With negotiations currently enduring in Addis Ababa between the South Sudanese government and the rebels, led by Dr. Riek Machar, a former Vice president dismissed by president Kiir in an across-the-board presidential cabinet dissolution in July, 2013, hints are that rebels have no interest in a ceasefire if the detained politicians are not released as a precursor to serious and realistic negotiations on cession of hostilities. Many international voices have, too, ringed out starting from the UN, The USA, and East African region. They all urge, but most of the times, demand unconditional release of the political prisoners. But then the condition of their initial arrest is the one that never fully gets addressed. 

Why were they arrested in the first place? It is significant to factor in that the conditions of their arrest preceded circumstances so violent that the situation demanding their release at present is tantamount to the situation of their initial arrest. Following through carefully, the government sees no difference between the guns-wielding rebels and the detained politicians. Michael Makuei Lueth, South Sudan's Minister for Information, had once said the detainees would only be released if the court of law of the land determined it so. And that if found guilty 'they will be hang be the neck until they are dead.' The fact that the prisoners are gathering international sympathy drives the government crazy while equally inherently impacts on the peace process and the halting of armed conflict. This is the confusing prevailing condition for those attempting to make peace for South Sudan through talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 

Is there any reason why Dr. Riek Machar claims the detainees?

This question allows us to look back at the minute before the disasterTheir boycott, together with Riek Machar, of the final sitting of the National Liberation Council confirms his reason to own them. When the spasm of war binge ultimately birthed out in Juba on December 15th, these detainees and Riek Machar were the immediate targets for arrest by the government. Machar circumvented arrest as a cardinal suspect of controversy: coup d’état versus armed rebellion, the former being the charge for which the detainees are in custody for. Riek Machar mysteriously slipped out of Juba (with US embassy and UNMISS having questions to answer), and headed straight to the state of Jonglei where he officially raised his voice that a military armed rebellion was underway. He also denounced the allegations of coup, and as a substitute, announced illegitimacy of South Sudanese president and adding that he should step down.  

In another twist to be regretted later or might have already been, he called for the toppling of government through armed insurrection, and pledged solidarity with the arrested colleagues. He is currently believed to be based somewhere in the marshlands of Nasir; the seat of his 1991 gorilla base, or in Akobo; where he directs the marching battles of the White Army (a horde of armed youth with faces dappled with white ashes from a burnt out cow dung) or in Bor, capital of Jonglei; or anywhere on other front-lines in Greater Upper Nile region. ‘Forced to’ yet again make painful decisions to go to war in a controversial episode of rebellion-cum-coup d’état, a seasoned warrior like Riek Machar gathers no blame for jumping into the woods rather than staying put in the capital. He quickly assessed the deteriorating political and security situations in Juba and came to an impulsive conclusion that, should it implicate him, as it came to be, he would face severe charges of treason with consequences he knew literally well might cost him an ultimate price.  Hence bush and bullets were, to him, the only options in order to make strategic meaning out of the chaos.

The past in Riek's Present

In essence, Machar is well known for his rebellious past than his personality. Upon setting foot in Jonglei, he effectively became the head of a ‘second liberation’ – as he declared to the BBC some days after he left Juba - against what he believed was a ‘dictatorship’ being surreptitiously nurtured by president Kiir through manipulations of SPLM (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement) party processes. It is to be recalled that when he first segregated from the SPLM/A in 1991, his first grievance among several reforms he wished for, was a chronic dictatorial nature of John Garang who then headed the liberation movement. Next in his list was the challenge to a one-way ideology of the New Sudan which, to his dissatisfaction, deprived southern Sudanese a chance for self-determination exercise in any events of peace deals with Khartoum.  The SPLM and its army wing later in 1994 made the reforms through a highly priced National Convention in Chukudum but deliberately failed to acknowledge the pressure behind such reforms. Riek Machar came back in 2002 with the drop of the slogan, ‘Garang Must Go.’ It was shelved for another period. That period came with his departure from Juba in December 2013. Thereafter,  he said ‘Kiir is no longer our president, he has to go.’ 

Although Riek Machar joined the list of South Sudan post independent rebels - many of whom were lured back into peace through numerous presidential pardons - he made it limpid in an interview to the BBC that he 'never thought' he would consider becoming a rebel again 'in his lifetime.' As was the case in 1991, Dr. Riek goes with a huge following when he leaves, especially his tribesmen. In the present conflict, he is seen carrying under his arm what was the SPLM Mainstream or Torit Faction, in which the current president of South Sudan was an important leader, and his designed and recycled SPLM Nasir Faction back to the bush, or precisely, back to Nasir. Those that remained behind are the current leaders in detention. They are yet to make their decisions upon release whether they are for Riek Machar's armed conflict or not. But one thing is unmistakable; the detainees were, and might as well be, his SPLM’s arch enemies, better equipped to disagree with him than president Kiir himself. It will be a great disclosure later if it became perceptible that they too share in his wisdom of democratic change through violence or drip away namby-pamby

Some of the SPLM politicians such as the late Dr. Garang’s wife, Rebecca Nyandeng (guided by the spirit of John Garang as an esteemed mother of the incumbent government and the rebels alike), and Pagan Amum, now jailed, were vying for the highest office prior to turmoil that has now costed the country the lives of about 10, 000 people, according to Brussels based International Crisis Group, and displaced thousands.

A critical look through the ruling party SPLM before violence showed a cluster of politicians playing the game of using each other. Riek Machar was using other party colleagues to oust president Kiir, while behind him, the party was using Riek to pressure reforms in the SPLM, after which he himself would be clandestinely ousted when the democratic elections for the party chief take place. In turn, and maintaining the government's position of a botched coup d’état, Riek Machar seemed to have dressed all the plans up in the form of a coup. This, to prisoners, would be a surprise if indeed they were immune.

The war in which everyone is desperate and 
reeling wild in search of the solution has become the war to release the prisoners. 'Cease hostilities and release the detainees' appears to be the catchphrase for South Sudan's overtly denied but covertly accepted ethnic conflict. Other voices are, however, needed to pressure the government to speed up the due process of law in order to set the stage for their release. When the tides settle back on the negotiations table, whether or not in the events of detainees' ultimate release, achieving ceasefire to stop bloodshed would be the only thing to count on because, to wrongly rephrase John Garang's view of peace in the Sudans, 'there is no peace per se, even the graveyard is peaceful.'