The Speech of Hilda F Johnson During The Launch of Her Book On South Sudan in London, June 2016

The panelists, Hilda F. Johnson, Peter Biar Ajak, Clare Short, Barney Afako and shared by Mats Berdal(Photo: Book Launch/Nyamilepedia)

The panelists, Hilda F. Johnson, Peter Biar Ajak, Clare Short, Barney Afako and shared by Mats Berdal(Photo: Book Launch/Nyamilepedia)

June 25, 2016(Nyamilepedia) —— Hilde F. Johnson, on 21 June, 2016, at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, launched her book; South Sudan: The untold Story from Independence to civil War. The book consist of eight Chapters:

  1. A Dream Comes True,
  2. A Country without a State
  3. An Incomplete Divorce
  4. Jonglei: The UN – Between a Rock and Hard Place
  5. The Leadership
  6. The Nightmare (December 2013)
  7. The Heart of the Matter: Security
  8. Waging Peace in South Sudan.

During the launching ceremony, Ms. Johnson gave narrative about the book which was part of the book’s prologue. She started her introduction by quoting President Salva Kiir’s speech during South Sudan’s Independence on 09th July, 20ll. The full speech with the book’s prologue is below;

“Our dictators have already written us off, even before the proclamation of the Independence Day. They say we will slip in civil war as soon as our flag is hoisted. They justified that by arguing that we are incapable of resolving our problems through dialogue. They charged that we are quick to revert to violence. They claim that our concept of democracy and freedom is faulty. It is incumbent upon us to prove them all wrong!” That was Salva Kiir Mayardiit, president of South Sudan, on Independence Day, 9 July 2011.

Two years later the detractors were proven right. Competition for political power had turned violent and would eventually shake the foundation of the new republic of South Sudan. Before its third birthday, the dream of independence and freedom had turned into a nightmare. The liberators risked destroying the very country they had spent decades fighting for.

How could this happen?

South Sudan’s journey to nationhood has been characterized not only by decades of liberation war, colonial and Sudanese violence against southern communities and local conflicts but also by the resilience of its people. They had faced destruction of their livelihood and societies, famine, displacement and resort to foreign Countries. But they had also sustained the hope that this suffering in the end would be rewarded with independence.

As Minister of International Development for Norway, I was deeply involved in the negotiations that led to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005 between the Government of Sudan (GoS) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). After almost five decades, the Africa’s longest civil war had ended. The CPA did not grant the southerners Independence; it guaranteed self-determination. The parties were giving unity a chance over an interim period of six years, after which southern Sudanese would have the right to hold a referendum on its own future. In January 2011, an overwhelmingly majority chose Independence.

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After the CPA was signed in 2005, the United Nations was tasked with supporting its implementation. Southern Sudan for its part, had to go through at least three internal changes, each extremely demanding. Transition from war to peace, for people who had known little but war, was a major shift. Transition from liberation struggle to government was another. Third was the complex transition to independence. All three transitions were still underway on Independence Day 2011 when I took the helm as Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG) and Head of its mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

The First Transition – From War to Peace

South Sudan was separated from Sudan in 2011 before all the terms of ‘divorce’ had been reached. Relations between the neighbors were expected to be difficult, but few foretold bombing raids hitting refugee camps, occupation of oil fields and a complete shutdown of oil production in South Sudan, this in turn affected all efforts of state-building and peace-building. At the same time, South Sudan had major internal security problems. The country’s largest state, Jonglei, was mired in a cycle of communal violence in which thousands of civilians had been killed. The country’s hallmark ethnic diversity proposed a major challenge to building national identity. Jonglei was a microcosm testing the Country’s leadership and us in the UN, it was here we would face our greatest challenge prior to the December, 2013 crisis and the civil war.

Protecting civilians in an area containing more than the World largest swaps, when flooded alone the size of England, wasn’t at all order. We had 7,000 troops of which only around 4,000 were infantry, actually a bit less, they were located in different parts of the country where civilians were under threat. We had to face ethnically mobilized comas and military information of some 6,000-8,000 young men armed and ready to attack civilians in large numbers. The UN deployment was less than tenth of this number. If we were lucky enough to know where exactly they were coming from. When this happened in rainy season, we were stacked in the mud literally as I mentioned to the Security Council.

The Second Transition – From Liberation Struggle to Government:

The transition from liberation struggle to government that was predictably difficult. The Country was awash with weapons, mostly in civilian hands. Lack of commitment prevented necessary reform. This implied separating the liberation movement from the SPLA and turning the movement into a political party and the liberation force into a National Army, both processes– stalled. The security sector was not reformed and contained tens of thousands of former militia which were fully integrated into the army. Command and controls was very bad, corruption rampant and inflation another major problem. The SPLA at a time had 700 generals. Furthermore, the liberators failed to use the interim CPA period to strengthen the foundations on which the country could be built to stronger institutions. They also ignored numerous warnings against corruption and mismanagement. Following this ‘liberation curse’, which is also in the book, when people felt entitled to power, it was then turned. South Sudan was therefore soon afflicted by the ‘oil curse’. Oil revenue became an irresistible temptation for cadres who had spent most of their lives in bush. Resources lubricated patronage networks, while significant amounts were simply syphoned away to foreign bank accounts. There is a lot of detail on this corruption scandals in the book published for the first time. Instead of cleaning up at a very least at Independence, the liberators continued to eat and institutions remained weak.

The Third Transition – The Complex Transition to Independence

The complex transition to Independence was therefore marked by continuity to many people’s surprise and not changed. The people expected to finally reap the fruits of peace and freedom, so their hopes dashed. They continued to wait for schools for their children, for clinics for their sick, and for roads to get their goods to the markets. South Sudan thus by far, being the biggest spender of public funds in the region, per capita three times as much as Kenya and four times as much as Uganda. The absolute biggest spender. However, South Sudan spend one-fourth of their neighbors on education and one-fifth or one-sixth on health, they among the least in terms of investment in social sectors. Even now, it is more likely that a teenage girl dies in childbirth than she is able to enter grade eight.

Where did the money go? Although some attempts were made by the president to address the cancer of corruption in 2012, and we tried that on our side (UN), they were not followed too. The liberation curse and the oil curse prevailed, and this also implied that the State institutions, which was the function of strength including the army which was supposed to be reformed were insufficiently developed to sustain the pressure of an escalating-escalating political crisis.

The period after the crisis started in the form of 2012, an early attempt were made within the SPLM to engage with the two leaders – Salva Kiir and Riek Machar informally. At this time it was not yet clear when there would be alternative candidates or whether Salva Kiir will still run, not much was achieved. Then others in the SPLM political bureau engaged informally, it was now increasingly clear that Riek Machar was going to run for the top job, and he was warned by several against doing so. A committee was formed chaired by Deng Alor, the former Cabinet Minister and including also other political bureau members of the SPLM. They engaged in series of meetings bi-lateral, collective and etc.,…trying to revolve the leadership crisis which now included three other candidates for the chairmanship of the party. I was regularly in touch with Deng Alor and followed the process very-very closely, they didn’t succeed. It was also reflected in the combative party meetings in March 2013. By April-May 2013, this efforts had come to a virtual dead-end.

From July 2013 onwards, regional leaders willingly to help and the American foreign minister was one of them, former president Tambo Mbeki and AUHIP were others. After the cabinet was sacked and a new government was formed, the South Africa ANC’s vice chairman, Cyril Ramaphos came to Juba to help. Also other friends of South Sudan flew-in and we all tried, —- that violence could occur was clear to many of us, and serious efforts were made to prevent it. But high risk behavior from a number of leaders made every singled us. And I would tell you five points from high risk behaviors;

First, the former sidelining of key SPLM factions from position and power increased the tension.

Secondly, political mobilization that could be interpreted as military preparation. Among the liberators if you move politically they think you move military.

Thirdly, Movement of security forces to Juba which inspired the same perception that something is being prepared.

Fourth, the spreading of rumors of betrayal and coup happened very early, and the singing of stories with arrests and disarmament which took place between 6-10 December 2013, very recent before the crisis, and finally;

Fifth, press conferences and speeches with unfavorable rhetoric that has never happened before in South Sudanese politics, at least not like that. And both sides were fault. In the end, Juba was like a powder cake, it’s gone up.

This series of actions contributed to what Daryl Clauser called “the security dilemma”, the actions of the other side triggered preemptive responses. He said, “the warfare betrayal and they are unaware that their own actions can seems threatening to each the other”. And this is the dilemma, both sides take preemptive steps for their own protections but in the escalating situation and it gets totally out of control. That tensions burst to the surface and they had deeper roots and were influenced by other factors is clearer. I wrote this in detail in the book, this has a lot of layers.

But responsibility for what happened still rests with the leaders across factions. The South Sudanese leaders literally played with fire, and allowed a power struggle to put everything they had fought for at risk. They all ignored the warnings both from my side and others that this hugely lead to ethnic violence, none of them thought. Then came Salva Kiir speech at the National Liberation council, the last one on the 14-15 December.

The speed, the scale and the gravity of the December 2013 violence shocked everyone, including the South Sudanese leaders themselves. The responsibility for this escalation is directly related to the massive killings and massive death of the Nuer population in Juba in the most brutal ways. They were conducted by a shatter group of people on the government side from the Dinka community of Bahr el Ghazal. They conducted the military operations which systematically killed along ethnic lines.

This again, triggered the whole same revenge that came as a ground squeal of mutiny from below among the Nuer, making it possible for Riek Machar to mobilize sizable opposition forces in right a time with the SPLM/A speaking along ethnic lines, and when the young Nuer and the White Army joins, the opposition quickly reached in numbers. In other words, this was not a long term plan, it was not a plan coup and it was not a plan genocide. None of this expeditions actually worked and no one planned a civil war either, but it happened. The responsible for the civil war that escalated to such a level and lasted for so long rests with the two leaders, Salva Kiir Mayardiit and Riek Machar Teny. Atrocities were committed in equal measures by both sides. They had the opportunity to stop this senseless war, the two leaders a long time ago–they chose not to.

And then the critical question, what about the UN, could we have done more? I am addressing this issue in the book. I am sure the International Community, and I could have done more. It was very ever difficult to engage directly in the internal affairs of a party and its Leadership crisis. I still took a number of initiatives recently even eighteen months before the crisis to organize retreat within the SPLM Leadership about critical reform issues and the tensions and how they could be resolved. All five of the SPLM top leaders wanted to participate. I tried four times, the last on 20th February 2013, in the end it was not done. I also had several, of course discussion with the chairman of the SPLM committee about bringing in regional leaders to help resolve the crisis early, from March 2013. However the preference of themselves was to resolve the crisis within the Leadership, and they said let us handle it ourselves. The reason this finally came in, but it was far from reached because the crisis of trust and confidence had gone too far.

Could the UN have done more to stop the killings and massive death in Juba? During the last week of December, we had 150 soldiers that were not fully occupied with protecting the UN facilities, and I have a couple of our military here (referring to those attending the event). The soldiers were in transition, they were Rwandese soldiers actually, and they were not fully equipped. Our infantry battalion were elsewhere, in Jonglei and other locations where civilians were still to be at-most-risk up to that time. And violence could constantly break civilians during the fighting, with such small number of soldiers were not there, it was close to zero also without the equipment they needed really to come out in force and robustment.

So in the morning hours on 16 December 2013, hundreds of civilians were gathering outside the UN gates seeking protection and then thousands were there. At 7.30 am, I told our security to open the gates of the two bases in Juba to protect them. It also they had been running for their lives. After this, thousands and thousands…I just felt never saw this before in the history of United Nations, it was about an absolute last resort because we could not protect in other ways. And a decision which has been forged with problems, people have suffered the back initially but their lives were the same.

We reached 100,000 people in the UN bases during my tenure, the number now unfortunately is 170,000, an incredible number. At the same time this increased also the tensions between the government and the UN, we were accused incorrectly of supporting the rebels—supporting Machar group, etc… and I am proving that’s not correct in the book.

With the additional fighting that has taken place, outrageous atrocities have been committed on both sides. Abduction and sexually abuse of women and girls has been systematically. And in spring 2015, I think I have to highlight that women and girls were gang-raped and then burn to life in their dwellings, this was in Unity State. Horrific crimes were committed against children including abductions, castrations, rape and murder. Boys as young as 10 years were mutilated. This acts of grieved violence committed by forces of government/IO seemed to be motivated as a generational attack on another act–ethnic group.

The civil war had devastating consequences. Millions were affected, in fact, half the population of South Sudan, according to OCHA more than 5 million now is in-need of aid, and 2.3 million have fled their homes, this is the worst humanitarian crisis after Syria in the world. Prior to my departure I paid a farewell visit to Malakal and met tens of thousands of displaced who had sought refuge in the UNMISS compound after December 2013. A small group of prayers women came forward to greet me, a life of pain and suffering written over their faces. The oldest of them offered the most precious gift, her own hymn book, torn at the seams and with her own notes. As we embraced I felt an immense gratitude. It was I who needed to thank them for allowing me to serve. It was the South Sudanese people whom now gave reason for hope, with their resilience and ability to preserve against all odds.

The atrocities committed were beyond comprehensions, the intransigence of the leaders appalling. It was as if people no longer mattered. The social fabric of South Sudanese is now tearing apart, conflict has escalated to all over the country and the nation-building project, which was extremely hard to begin with would now be more difficult than ever. It been set back decades.

Before I departed South Sudan and the mission in 2014, South Sudan has been affected by three diseases since 2005;

First, the cancer of corruption with oil becoming a curse rather than a blessing

Secondly, rule by the gun and not by the law, with impunity and rather than security forces/services

Thirdly, government by self-serving elite and for the elite more than for the people

And as we have seen these diseases, where to a large been self-inflicted during the crisis. Curing the country from these three diseases will be modest now.

After technically two months of negotiations as we all known, they have signed agreement. But in Juba, Riek Machar came on 26th April 2016, and TGoNU has been appointed, they have 30 months to go on implementing the peace agreement until election takes place. For this government to work and avoided a slide back into conflicts, reconciliation and healing at the top is need, otherwise nothing will move. At this point in time is almost. This truth and reconciliation commission were forcibly politically, but there will be no true reconciliation without accountability. As recommended by the AU and agreed by the two parties themselves.

But the fundamental question is this; can the same characters that caused this crisis save South Sudan?

So far there is no sign that the peace agreement bearing smooth signs or being implemented, at least not the way it should. One can wonder whether Khartoum tactics are being used: “renegotiations to not implementations”. The economy is also about to collapse, the country is now heavily in debted with minimum low income. The country urgently not only needs to be saved from fighting but needs to be saved from failing and it needs to be saved from falling apart. For once the leaders of SPLM across all factions will have to put the people and Country before themselves.

The architects and the midwives of the South Sudanese agreement can also not run away from South Sudan now. IGAD, the Troika and other Countries have all signed the agreement in various capacities. They must now own-up to their commitments. But we may have to rely on the young generation to really save South Sudan.

In a generational perspective, the story of South Sudan is yet to be told, and as Archbishop Desmond Tutu reminds us in the foreword of the book and I quote; “a new beginning is what the world’s youngest country really needs. For all South Sudanese finally to taste the fruits for freedom, this is imperative. In the midst of all the darkness, believing in this change is now our hope.”

The book covers the period from my arrival until the end of my tenure in July 2014. The Epilogue captures recent development and reflections on the way forward for South Sudan; it shows that there is not much reason for optimism. But there is still glimmer for hope. This book is the story of the betrayal of trust of the liberators against them and themselves. It is dedicated to the South Sudanese people. I hope it will provide some answers to their questions. I hope it will also help pave the way for change, for a new start for South Sudan, to finally become a nation where their dreams can be fulfilled.

God bless South Sudan.

Thank you very much.


Not edited, this was her full speech and the book’s prologue.

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3 comments

  • illiterate primitive president of Dinka Elders bear the responsibility, although the western world never condemn the killers, we known their interests and Chinese too. But God Of Ngundeng them for the end of Dinka kingdom. how is going to destroy it.

  • chok Deng

    I personally appreciate Hilda Johnson for the selfless effort during her time as UN head in the country.