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.'