Friday, February 20, 2015

Juba’s Political Machinations: Peace By All Means

By Martin Garang Aher

Events in South Sudan are revisiting the early and mid-1990s, the periods when rebelliously callous militias shuttled between Khartoum and the bush, unable to zero in on what they wanted.  It was the period that saw many unpatriotic southerners trained their minds on the benefits of intransigence and insensitive retraction from the popular discourse of liberation. Throughout those times, many rebel groups that self-ostracized due to detesting of the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M Mainstream) for one reason or the other, fell prey to Khartoum’s political machinations in the most daring manner. When allegiances were thus remapped, the enemy of yesterday became today’s comrade. The reasons many groups defected from the SPLA/M mainstream then were not celebrated for long when they reached Khartoum because of cold reception and displays of certain kinds of triumph by the former enemy. Could such scenarios replay themselves in Juba as now demonstrated by ongoing detrimental internal rebellion in SPLA/M - In Opposition rebels? 

There should be no surprises in the SPLA/M - In Opposition’s rebellion bursting into smithereens of factions following the defection of a key spokesperson and Brigadier-General, Lul Ruai Koang, to join the government in Juba. For once, the path of a cracking rebellion was paved right in Juba in December 2013 when violence surged. When the government arrested most of the politicians - now Group of 10 (G-10) - who were very influential and numerically key to Dr. Riek’s aspiration to win the chairmanship of the SPLM, the gamble was on in the minds of those skimming for clues to predict what would become of a rebellion that was taking off in the most unexpected way in South Sudan. Critical voices have stated at the beginning of the war that if the coup-implicated political detainees were released and failed to join Dr. Riek’s camp, it would be the end of organised formality in the rebellion. That line of thinking was not far from the truth. The fact that Juba is well-tuned into the game of winning over some rebels is not untrue as well. It is widely known in South Sudan that militias and their leaders have always come back to where they started given that they often ended up suffering from irreparable internal fighting.

Juba might be playing a significant role in wooing some rebel generals to abandon rebellion through availing and displaying advantageous political drawings. Whatever game Juba plays, they are playing it well, just as Khartoum used to do. The same thing that made Khartoum so powerful that it pulled almost every rebel in the South to play by her rules is going to make Juba powerful against her own rebels. Apparently, it had always involved a regime sitting on national resources of the country and wielding that power to punish the disenfranchised people who rebelled. This alien nationalistic chess board game was actually the kind of leadership that the citizens of South Sudan wanted their leaders to pursue all along against external aggressors for the benefits of the country - not looking inwards to punish citizens whose differing political arguments and demands could be resolved without a fight.

For certain, no one expected that the country’ leadership, particularly the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, would take eyes off Khartoum’s rhetoric purporting to dismember it eternally following Heglig’s border contest. The spirit of nationalism was in the air and Mandellas of the nation were needed in multitudes. Leaders were expected to rise above their differences and upwards to the podium of nationalism for which they fought since their youth. Nobody knew that leaders only ‘wanted jobs’ just as they used to charge the Anya Nya one fighters when that movement accepted peace in 1972. Many thought that through many years of struggle and strife, South Sudanese leaders were better armed with modern political sanities and machinations to combat poverty, illiteracy, hunger, disease and meditate on how to haul their nation out of dimness of history of underdevelopment to the limelight of modernity through holistic development. There were many expectations for the country. 

But suddenly, the country turned so violently inwards - to the laughter of her enemies. It was a bitter pill to swallow. It was a great shock to the commoners who eventually had to drag their feet into fraternal battles hoping for quicker end to fighting since war's ‘senseless nature’ after independence was recognized by all and sundry. War, then, became so real and as it assumed its name, its impacts reverberated across the country. In sout Sudan, emotional mourners began to gather. In diaspora: USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, continental Europe, the rest of Africa, everywhere and anywhere a sizeable South Sudanese population is found, wailing rang out. The maladies proved to be beyond leadership contest.

To date, nobody boasts about war anymore, but counting the heavy losses it so far generated. Not even the euphoric ‘regime change’ is mentioned with threatening frequency in peace talks; not even the figure of the dead is recited as it used to be; not political accusations are traded for fear that peace may never come. If anything of significance is talked about as a prerequisite for peace, it is the position of power in an old guards’ hierarchy that was once seen as ineffective. Peace in itself has become foreign intervention prevention mechanism. If it is not achieved, politicians often thought, foreign powers may chip in with heavy-handedness. One may ask, who are these foreign powers coming to discipline a broken country if peace is not achieved? Are the coming after the citizens who are already dying or the leaders who are still questionably being pampered with positions in a yet-to-be-instituted Transitional Government of National Unity? In peace talks, it is noticeable that peace is wanted swiftly. This leaves us with an important question: If the rush for peace is this immense, what was the problem in the first place? With soul searching questions like these, even selective memory serves no good. You wonder whether the problem that brought war was only in the minds of the leaders or in the system they created? Was it the new order that was needed or the old order that should have been built on for peace to reign and lasted? No doubt, South Sudan needs peace. It had never enjoyed any political order to extend a borrowing hand to. It must and must've built a better political order for her citizens. 

What about the constant rebellion that was always never punished but forever rewarded? Would it stop this time? In answer to the last question, no it wouldn't stop if what is desired is not granted. Violence would continue. That was the courageous utterance from the Brigadier General, Lul Ruai Koang, who just formed his own parallel revolutionary movement to the one led by Dr. Riek Machar Teny-Dhurgon - South Sudan Revolutionary Movement/Army (SSRM/A). He announced it in a press release attended largely by members of South Sudanese embassy in Nairobi on February 18, 2015. It could be understood as an achievement of a nominal political machinations by Juba, a blow to Dr. Riek and his camp since Lul represented the White Army. 

The power of being behind the White Army was easily discernible from his cool answer to Garang John of South Sudan TV. Simply put, according to the interview, General Lul Ruai Koang’s frontline was still Juba, the city whose power he stood protected. That was very innocent on his part. To the SPLA/M in opposition, General Lul Ruai Koang was just a sell out. Rather than shuttling between the bush and Khartoum, Juba has taken over the role of Khartoum with her own troops of ‘Dr. Ali Al Hags’ of peace combing the streets of Nairobi and Kampala looking for heartbroken and pocket empty warlords.  However, given that no judicial mechanisms are in place to punish rebels involved in the killings of thousands of people when they come back, Juba will be bringing them back with nothing to offer to peace but old places of power to be occupied by the old guards who went to the bush to steam out and returned. 

It is now unto Dr. Riek Machar to play his cards well and jump on board with G-10 and disserting generals like Lul to pre-empt peace. He is well equipped with history and temerity to know that this is one way to cross the river before torrent from upstream catches up with you. Like some of the Anya Nya forces that heard about 1972 Addis Ababa Peace Agreement over the radio, the numerous South Sudanese militias that only saw CPA on TV or heard about it over the radio (before rushing in for integration with South Sudanese army), it is the right time to put the cart before the horse. What is wrong with that?