Collo of Upper Nile State in South Sudan and Ogoni people, one of the Nigeria’s ethnic groups in Delta Niger share common plights and hazard of grueling war waged by their central governments.
Unlike Ogoni people, Collo have virtually nothing to attract hostility besides hopeful coexistence in that extended fertile land, which was endowed with plenty fresh water from the River Nile.
The claim that Malakal is the hub of oil producing State is a ploy meant to lure oil thieves from neighboring states to help Dinka Apadang dislodge Collo from their ancestral land.
The current upsurge of violence in Upper Nile, Makes Collo future became grim even more than Ogoni, who were subsequently compelled under similar condition to demand for self-rule. Apparently, this war has already consumed and exhausted Collo to come to terms with such a demand.
Who is keeping the monster of war to feed on innocent Collo blood in Malakal?
Why on earth was this land turned to a battlefield attracting the most notorious war dogs from all around the region?
Why do Collo suffer sustainable government’s reprisal and on whose account do they pay the cost?
There are genuine reasons for fears that, this agley war might not move anywhere sooner as long as Dinka Apadang persistently claims Collo area as their own.
Therefore, It wasn’t a surprise to watch Malakal being kept as hostage to suffer all odds of war only to ensure Apadang’s claims in the area, including chunk of land along eastern bank of the Nile.
Apadang, a bunch of daylight dreamers with population less than five thousand managed to secure President Salva Kiir’s backing to destabilize Collo with the intention to occupy their land. But, one mistake Apadang might have committed was to underrate collo capability to give them a taste of their own medicine.
The only feasible thing leaders of Apadang could have done to avoid cycle of revenge was to drop this idea of occupying Collo land, which in essence doesn’t belong to them.
Apadang should start cultivating the spirit of peaceful settlement and good neighborly coexistence as in the past, where Collo, Dinka and Nuer were leaving side by side in peace and tranquility.
If Apandang continue to provoke nasty situation in Collo Kingdom, their future would be doomed and I’m afraid the tide might turn against to force them out from Upper Nile once and for good.
To my understanding the current conflict which started hundred thousands miles away from Collo land, flared up in Juba as a result of political maneuver within the corridors of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).
This conflict which started with the argument whether reforms could be possible in the party’s political body or not; pitted Dinka against Nuer members from the presidential guards in deadly skirmishes which later spilled over to engulf innocent civilians. As a result many people were brutally killed, over majority were from Nuer origin residing in Juba.
Hence, Collo people were caught up in the middle of crossfire unprepared thus suffered the first Nuer White Army onslaught in Christmas, 2013. These killings of innocent Collo people, especially the elderly men and women, young children, girls and disabled, provoked many Collo circles to fight back against this misguided insurgency. Collo resented joining the opposition ranks and preferred to go it alone. This explains why there was no love lost between the two sides!
The incident of Malakal however, gave birth to Agwelek forces under the overall command of Maj. Gen. Johnson Olony Thubo who was regarded as godsend by all stretch of imagination. Gen. Olony who was acting under no illusion managed to attract massive support across Collo land to fend off any aggression similar to that in the area.
By and large, Agwelek bowed to fight those who want to plunder Collo natural resources and kill in spree. It was set to fight vigorously along the government’s side, but with half-hearted approach to keep within its mandated limits.
Having captured certain military strategic spots previously controlled by the opposition in northern part of Upper Nile; Agwelek became a force to recon with in the military circles in South Sudan, thus managed to get preferential treatment in form of better arms and ammunition supplied with the aim to fight and repel the opposition insurgency mainly in Upper Nile.
At the beginning, Collo forces suffered setback because of concerted attacks, losing thus its balance to manage its borders against the encroachment of hostile forces in the area. It was a daunting task to fight against multiple marauding forces that wreaked a lot of chaos in the area.
Bright Collo sons and daughters were hunted down or maimed on daily bases without anybody to account for these crimes. Government kept tied-lipped and bound to redouble efforts to deal with Collo insurgency once and for all.
Despite the fact that Agwelek tried to extend olive branch to stave off joint government and marauding militias from launching hysteric attacks against Collo soft targets; Kiir was instead looking bleary-eyed and bereft from life, he refused to act against his conscience and bowed to drive out his arch-opponents from Upper Nile.
However, it was understandable that President Kiir intends to demonize Collo Kingdom as long as he reigns; thus, allowing all hell breaks loose in isolated targets at Dolep-Hill, Owaci, Wau Shilluck, Lul, Abanimo, Kodok, Ogodo and Malakal.
These deadly military campaigns were excessively carried out to force Collo move away and cross to the West bank of the River Nile according to jieng Council’s master plan.
Agwelek had overwhelmed duty to keep Collo land safe and secure. But unfortunately, the Government and its militia of Apandang launched relentless and sporadic cowardice attacks to weaken Collo resistance initiative in the area.
Eventually, Apadang got golden opportunity to track down one of the most senior officers, Gen. Bowgo who was killed and succumbed to death instantly in cool blood. This killings and other incidents infuriated Gen. Johnson Olony to defy Kiir’s order to report to Juba within seventy-two hours!
The message was so loud and clear that Olony’s case was perceived in Bilfam, the military headquarters in Juba as mutiny, which deserves firing squad if he were to travel to Juba according to one senior military source declined to mention his name.
Reading between the lines, Kiir doesn’t like Gen. Olony neither relishes any idea to give Collo forces any support, whereas other influential military circles within Kiir’s leadership preferred to deal with Olony, as ‘Trojan horse’ to fight the opposition with the aim to pin him down as bulwark against the opposition which was gaining ground in the area!.
However, Collo might have got hold of the wrong end of the stick to survive hostile onslaught in the area, but still Agwelek must take the bull by the horn to get the ball rolling so as to defend the interest of Collo in the wild battlefield of South Sudan.
I would like to be blunt that some people might have regretted what they were letting themselves in for. This grueling war had already taken its toll on collo people and may even continue to claim more lives if not properly managed!
As a consequence, Collo land, mainly Malakal entered into vicious circle of ‘capture and get recaptured’ wish has been repeatedly occurring in dramatic style and in disregard of human lives.
Nevertheless, the statistics of many love ones who were lost in the process of attack and counter attack were not officially revealed. The heritage sides were not even secured from this wanton destruction and were leveled to the ground as rubbles.
Collo vulnerable civilians under the protection of UNMISS have been also subjected to constant harassment and fear with bleak hope for survival. It is appalling to see Collo being singled out, while putting up brave face to challenge government-killing machine in Malakal and other surrounding areas on daily basis.
However, the more Collo plan to fight militants of Apadang and their foreign allies at home single handed, the more these hostile forces become adamant to plunder excessively, killing and damaging natural resources at will.
Apadang and their foreign allies have been given free hand to acquire the most prohibited lethal weapons to wreak havoc in Malakal and its surroundings.
I must admit that under such circumstances, which let to this perpetual misery over the last three years; it was necessary to reflect and see things from the perspective of tribal lenses as to whether Collo was weighing up the balance in the battle field or not.
It was necessary for Agwelek to look for an ally, as it has always been the principle in politics, “Your enemy of yesterday can become again your friend of today.” The bottom line is to have a join venture with the opposition to keep the agent of death at bay.
Although the recent merger of Agwelek with SPLA/M-(IO) was deplorable; over majority of supporters received the news with mix reaction. Many applauded the pact as overdue but timely, whereas, handful others felt obliged to accept the deal as if forced to swallow bitter pills, because of recent festering relations.
The opposition camp in which Agwelek was obliged to join has so many challenges. The most important challenge, which could perhaps hold back the opposition from achieving its objective, is poor leadership perception and accountability as the opposition camp is full of persons with undeclared motives and conflicting personal interests.
Dr. Riak Machar has unfortunately shielded himself with a bunch of opportunists: most remarkably, the “monoplizers”, the “dodgy, know-alls” and the “show offs” in addition to sons of historical figures who have nothing to offer but were there to rest on their icons or father’s laurels.
Unfortunately, this group has worked to derail and turn the movement into a private company sponging off the meager resources being contributed by people of good will or by the Nuer community in Diaspora.
These contributions, which were meant to help expedite the process of justice for the return of democracy and rule of law in the country, was being utilized to pay expensive luxury hotel accommodations of some handful individuals in Ethiopia, Khartoum, Nairobi and South Africa, leaving sizeable ordinary foot soldiers who were mostly from Nuer community to languish in abject poverty and in dire needs at hospitals or frontline.
Personally, I don’t hold out much hope that, the opposition with its current set up of characters would soon plan to advance the movement policy and most importantly shifting forward line, mainly from Malakal perhaps to Juba, or Warap, or at best Paloch, the most nerves center or financial mainstay of Kiir’s leadership, which lies only several hundred kilometers away from the opposition base in Pagak.
Three good years however, have elapsed without any tangible progress on the fronts of Bhar el-Gazal and Equatoria. Juba didn’t feel the pinch yet. But, thank God that some tiny patches of resistance started to spring up here and there with poor popular support to mention.
The questions that poses it self, why is it so difficult to mobilize popular support for the opposition in these two key regions? Who is responsible for the slow down of the progress in these areas when President Kiir showed already low approval rate due to economic failure and lack of political will to bring about peace at home. Are the streets of South Sudan mainly, Juba not prepared for popular uprising yet! and who is to steer it?
Nuer and their Collo allies in the opposition must wake up to reconsider their military tactics; it is not enough that we boast of having the most strong and brave forces without making use of their military talents and tactical experiences to take the war to Kiir’s home and his nerves centre at Paloch!
It is very unfortunate that, the opposition maintains still that Collo land could be kept as battleground with Malakal being perceived as the ultimate forward line or spring boat from where army can launch and challenge Kiir to give up leadership in Juba as viewed by Gen. Gathoth the former Military Governor of Upper Nile State, (Pagak Conference, December, 2014).
Collo people had already bear the full brunt of this conflict and will steadily continue to lose the best proportion of its young population if this war continue to rage in Collo land. Its population has already shrunk to the level of extinction due to sustainable conflict in Collo Kingdom.
It would be good to suggest that Collo and their allies in the opposition should agree on how to manage and perhaps take war to Kiir’s home or nerves centers without any further delay.
If Olony and his forces of Agwelek choose to stay so as to protect Collo land, they can always do so, provided that they should show their allies in the opposition the way out to Juba or Warap!
Enough is enough; the people of Malakal have already paid heavily and cannot afford to pay any more, even a tiny drop of blood in the name of changing the system in Juba.
Finally, if this situation continues to fester with Collo bearing the brunt of mother of all wars, Collo would not hesitate to demand for their bill of rights similar to what Ogoni did in Nigeria.
These lofty rights would certainly lead Collo to declare social, economic and political independence so that they live in peace and tranquility totally separate from world of anarchy and the rule of jungle.
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