RE: EVENTS IN JUBA, DECEMBER 2013.
By Aguer Rual, Melbourne, Australia.
July 31, 2014(Nyamilepedia) — A recent letter to a website of a South Sudanese, Paanluel Wel, written by South Sudanese members of the SPLM Australian Chapter and decrying the current crisis which has spread from Juba to other key strategic centres in South Sudan, includes among advice for the resolution of the problem the following words:
“The president is a beacon of kindness, love and reconciliation for his people and nation, and would persistently explore all options to restore trust, peace and unity among his citizens, we trust President Kiir and his entire government will restore trust peace and unity among his people…”
To Australian ears words such as “a beacon of kindness, love and reconciliation” sound like childish flattery and would never, never are directed at a Western politician. Kiir is naively described in this letter as “good” but hitherto helpless in the face of vague “government” mismanagement and human rights abuses:
“perhaps he didn’t have [the] right people around him,” as the letter says. Yes, that must be it, of course: history tells us innumerable stories of “good” men in power who mysteriously surround themselves with out-of-control thugs.
What is the context of those sentiments then, when few if any South Sudanese seriously believe there has been a “coup” attempt on Salva Kiir’s presidency – as has been reported widely in Western newspapers – and many legitimate questions can be raised about Kiir’s participation in and statements regarding atrocities carried out by his own Presidential Guards, which he has characterized disingenuously as simply a “misunderstanding”?
Why do even diaspora South Sudanese play the flattery game? Is it because they think the psychological reaction of the President will benefit from such an approach? Or because they are thinking along tribal lines and cannot be fully frank about, let alone condemn, his actions? Or because they are aware of negative ramifications for themselves if and when they return to South Sudan, or even if they remain outside South Sudan, including Australia? Or because they are hoping for lucrative government appointments on returning to South Sudan? Or because they are already receiving payment for espousing the “right” attitude? On 16/12/2013 it was reported that the house of ex-Vice President Riek Machar had been destroyed and all his bodyguards killed, but that Machar had escaped. This was not only horrifying but mystifying. How could Machar have allowed this to happen, especially if, as has been endlessly repeated, he was staging a coup? What kind of “coup” is made up of one dismissed politician and a couple of dozen bodyguards?
Reports came that the Presidential Guards, consisting (largely for the sake of appearance, it seems) of not only Dinkas, the tribe of the President, but also others including Nuers, were on orders disarmed, after which Nuers noticed that Dinkas only were being quietly rearmed. The subsequent murders of Nuers in the ranks were followed by attacks on Nuer civilians in the streets and homes of Juba.
This ethnic massacre spreading from within his own militia – a militia for which we can only presume he is responsible – was the start of the military component of the crisis which had begun as political manouverings of President Kiir: the sacking of the Vice-President and dissolution of Parliament, and the careful fabrication of the “coup” plot, including taking into custody eleven ministers accused of participating in it.
These actions were designed to set the scene for military rule and avoidance of the democratic process, a process unnerving to Kiir whose interests – and the interests of his formerly poor family, clan and village community – are closely bound to the benefits of corrupt rule. (Who in the South Sudanese community is not aware of the properties being bought in foreign countries, privileged students being sent to study abroad and even suitcases full of US dollars being opened at airports outside South Sudan?) Meanwhile, not only are South Sudanese orphans being neglected but still more are being created by the actions of a shamefully compliant military.
Juba is a fast-changing place, and wealth and privilege have been reportedly appearing in a disconcerting fashion; visitors have been shocked by the presence of massive armchairs placed in the churches at Christmas for the politicians and the luxury of the Parliament lounge-rooms, especially when a short bus ride away from Parliament the only hospital in Juba has no electricity in the wards and doctors are obliged to use torches. Also noticeable was another manifestation of privilege: the way in which the President is not only protected from criticism, but elevated on television with a kind of daily reminder bordering on cult-hero worship, while a typical article in a newspaper printed in Juba dripped with admiration, only coyly suggesting ways he could do “even better”.
Riek Machar, the accused coup leader, enjoys no such protection, despite his equally important role in achieving victory over northern forces and independence for South Sudan. From being dismissed, he has now been ascribed “rebel” status as if he were George Athor or Gatluak and deserving of summary execution. Furthermore, “1991, Bor” is repeatedly invoked by the government and compliant press, for two reasons: one being to dismantle his reputation by suggesting that a man responsible for the massacre of thousands of Dinkas in the past is not fit for public office, let alone the presidency, and the other being a subtle justification for current attacks on Nuer.
The attacks go one way. Nobody is retaliating with “1983 and 1986, Malakal” as a reminder of Kiir’s treachery and inhumanity, when Nuer were killed in great numbers by Kiir’s own Tiger battalion, or his little-mentioned atrocities directed at Twic Dinka victims in Warrap State from 1995 to 1996, or his killing of SPLA commanders and other leaders from 1984 to the 1990s, or his collusion with Khartoum’s Nimieri in a war which was ostensibly being waged against the Islamic regime. And who has brought up Kiir’s invitations to Muslims, since he became President, to “spread their religion” – the religion invoked by Murahileen as they savagely attacked Kiir’s own Dinka people? “Don’t just operate here in Juba”, he said. “Go to Torit, go to Yei, and go to Warrap and other places.”
In Yei locals were indeed unpleasantly surprised by just such a scenario: jellabiya-clad Muslims who were apparently checking a site for its suitability for a new mosque, and their reaction to such development were of anger and dismay. Many in South Sudan were equally dismayed by Kiir’s government’s invitation to Muslim traders to settle permanently in South Sudan, his praise of their behaviour, and his call for return of confiscated land to Muslims: as if the Islamisation of South Sudan were his first priority after a war specifically waged against forced Islamisation.
The war with Sudan is not over. Sudan still kills Christians in the Nuba Mountains with impunity. South Sudan needs unity and common purpose to resist its persistent enemy and develop prosperity by means of all the manifold resources it is blessed. Salva Kiir could be renowned for building highways to disaffected areas, or for developing efficient regional hospitals, or for creating conditions conducive to utilising the goodwill of the world it has attracted because of its tragic war.
Instead, the President has overseen a government which overly rewards its members, which has created bureaucratic obstacles to development, which has punished the press for less than sycophantic attitudes, and which has stymied the democratic process and blamed the opposition it has attempted to paralyse for violence carried out by the President’s own militia. These are the actions not of a politician but of a gratuitously violent and vindictive soldier.
Furthermore, Kiir has failed to resolve the question of oil revenue and this is the main component of the financial corruption of his regime. Once Khartoum has been paid for transport of the oil through its territory and after the oil is sold overseas, revenue which should be sent to South Sudan for the benefit of its citizens is instead being deposited into foreign banks, to which Kiir and his cronies only have access. Even the salaries of government officials and the armed forces are not paid.
Salva Kiir appears to continue to carry resentment he felt from as far back as 1973, when he was found to not possess the necessary criteria to become an officer in the Sudan Armed Forces. The resentment, jealousy and anger he demonstrated throughout his military career still seem to drive his behaviour. When Kiir joined the SPLA in 1984, there is evidence that he was taking orders and payment directly from Khartoum to betray the movement and therefore the people of South Sudan. After finally being granted status as Military Intelligence Officer he devised a project for training Islamic Security Officers in the Dinka language in Khartoum. He was even assigned the task of eliminating other founder members of the SPLA/M, and indeed he succeeded.
In 2004, he attempted a coup against the late John Garang, who his name is erroneously yet repeatedly linked with as a hero of the liberation of South Sudan, in order to fulfil his secret agreements with Nimeiri and Bashir. The Tiger battalion which carried out his agenda is the same battalion which is now responsible for the atrocities of December 2013. Thus old events have ramifications for the present, including in particular Kiir’s paranoia regarding the democratic process.
Based on Kiir’s military record and character, the inescapable conclusion must be that South Sudan will disintegrate under his leadership. Riek Machar, as well as many other young, qualified and willing South Sudanese people, can be seen in the context of Kiir’s failure as viable alternatives. What is tragic about the current situation is that so many people are uninformed and therefore unable to make reasonable judgments about the character of either the President or his opponents. We cannot garner the truth from spokespeople for Kiir’s government who are loyal to his interests and not those of the country.
The international community somehow has to ensure that a long-term democratic solution is found for South Sudan, rather than meaningless peace talks which will only prolong the extended crisis. For a start, a human rights criminal investigation, as has been suggested, must be carried out as soon as possible in a frank and fearless way.