South Sudan's First Vice President Riek Machar takes the oath of office at the State House in Juba, 22 February 2020. REUTERS/Jok Solomun
South Sudan's First Vice President Riek Machar takes the oath of office at the State House in Juba, 22 February 2020. REUTERS/Jok Solomun


By Elhag Paul

The Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan that Riek Machar willingly accepted in Khartoum to free himself from the illegal detention by IGAD in defiance of the wishes of the people of South Sudan is now proving to be the undoing of Nuer power. Recent events of defections of military personnel as well as Nuer politicians to the government of President Salva Kiir is strengthening the regime. To any observer of South Sudanese politics, there is no doubt that the regime in Juba is winning with hands down. What the regime could not get in the last 7 years by force is being achieved through manipulation, offer of jobs, bribes and so on after the capitulation of Riek Machar.

Two prominent members of SPLM-IO, Captain Garang Mabior Garang and Major General Nathaniel Pierino Oyet have written eloquently accepting the capitulation of their movement to the regime. Captain Garang writes, “It is true: the SPLM/SPLA (IO) could not wage the struggle alone, after the SSOA and FDs surrendered to the regime over one year ago. They have been voting with the regime and have even given the regime the power to choose their leaders. Coupled with the international diplomatic pressure mounted on the SPLM/SPLA (IO), the Movement was left with no options but to succumb to the illusion of peace. Any responsible citizen who has read the Agreement, knows that not a single provision of the Agreement has been implemented. In fact, the Agreement is being dismantled before our eyes – especially Security Arrangements – and we are helpless to stop it – in fear of losing our brand new jobs.” Oyet echoing similar sentiments concludes in his writings that their only purpose in government is ‘jobs’.

It is not a surprise why SPLM/A-IO found itself in this predicament. First, the movement itself is not a result of an organised thought. It sprung up spontaneously from the ashes of 2013 ethnic cleansing of the Nuer from the very organisation that perpetuated the crime itself. Secondly, the name SPLM/A-IO is a creation of IGAD to differentiate the two ethnic groups: Nuer and the Jieng vying for the control of country in the movement (SPLM/A). This was not by coincidence but rather by design to facilitate the policy of reunification of SPLM/A as the solution to the problems in South Sudan. IGAD supported by the international community latched on to this fantasy to promote the neoliberal ideology of peace making centred on power and resource sharing. This model of peace making has been tested in the middle and found to be wanting. But IGAD chose it in order to promote the economic interest of its member states at the expense of the people of South Sudan. By adopting this model, they completely lost the plot by moving away from the real issue which is to address the root causes of the problems of South Sudan. The R-ARCSS is the result of this policy and there is no doubt it will fail because the grounds on which it is built is false.

So Riek Mchar’s welcoming of the name SPLM/A-IO without carefully thinking of its implication to the struggle against the aggression of the Jieng in effect built failure into the struggle. There was no way the Nuer would win the struggle because by Riek Machar accepting the name SPLM/A-IO meant that they would be following the ideology of the mother movement which ironically is led by his nemesis and at the same time run by JCE with the ideology of ‘born to rule’. The absence of a separate ideology in SPLM/A-IO from SPLM/A-IG made it a deficient copy cat movement of SPLM/A-IG and therefore it was inevitably, almost by design, going to capitulate to SPLM/A-IG. The capitulation was long coming.

No political movement in the history of resistance has succeeded in winning against its enemy without a coherent ideology. Ideology is the very force that enlivens and gives a movement a purpose for existence. Riek Machar in the wake of the 2013 ethnic cleansing of the Nuer had solid reasons to adopt a clear ideology that would unite all the people of South Sudan against Jieng ethnic nationalism. The Jieng having captured the state of South Sudan on 9th July 2011 during independence by their behaviour declared war against all the people of South Sudan. To make sense of this point, please see ‘Ethnocide as a Tool of State-building: South Sudan and the Never ending War’ by Carol Berger. Every South Sudanese, especially the Jieng themselves should read this paper. It is important for them to know that their leaders in the JCE are setting them up to be the main enemy of the people of South Sudan. It is in their interest to join their fellow countrymen to get rid of this obnoxious tribal system which will definitely be brought down. It is just a matter of time. Unfortunately, Riek Machar’s failure to adopt a clear democratic humanist ideology to prosecute the war led to him copying the JCE’s model which has culminated in his capitulation to the regime in Juba.

What does the surrender of SPLM/A-IO portend to the Nuer? To answer this question, it is absolutely important to go back to the ethnic cleansing of the Nuer in Juba in December 2013. The aggression of the Jieng against the Nuer and the people of South Sudan for whatever reason failed to unite the people especially the Nuer. The Bull Nuer in spite of the existential threat posed to the Nuer people as a whole remained loyal to President Kiir and the JCE. The Bull Nuer on the side of the government played such a destructive role against its own people. The ruthlessness with which they decimated the other sections of the Nuer for the benefit of the JCE is astounding. Riek Machar who should have invested a lot to win over the Bull Nuer to improve his chances of success failed due to his short sightedness and personal commitment to familial politics. So, it is safe to say Riek Machar started from a position of deficit with his own ethnic group divided. This then got worse with the event of July 2016 which led to further division, this time exacerbated by Taban Deng Gai joining the JCE. Then, finally Riek Machar himself buoyed by R-ARCSS indulged in abuse of power by appointing his own family members to the cabinet of the Revitalised Transitional Government of National Unity of March 2020. The result of which is the mass defections seen recently.

It appears that the consequence of the divisions within the Nuer community is the unravelling of their power base. The flocking of Nuer SPLM/A-IO fighters of all ranks in huge numbers to the regime under the very person who dehumanised them, abused them, made them eat themselves, raped their women and men is a sign of diminishing Nuer power. Riek Machar has at last overseen slow demise of Nuer power in South Sudan and ironically the strengthening of Jieng power. Although this reading may be depressing, there is still an opportunity for the right-minded Nuer to rescue themselves. They can make a choice now to ally with their fellow countrymen from the other tribes to continue the struggle for a South Sudan governed by rule of law.

As things stand, the crimes committed by President Kiir and JCE in 2013 and thereof against the Nuer and the people of South Sudan may not be accounted for. With Riek Machar having capitulated, and his armed force having disintegrated, who can speak for the victims of the regime? The only avenue to accountability and pursuance of the Nuer case now lies with the non-signatory groups and the St Egidio peace process. Those Nuer who have been betrayed by their own sons and daughters who succumbed to President Kiir and JCE have an opportunity to join their fellow countrymen in the non-signatory movements to continue the resistance.

It is absolutely important that the crimes of this regime must be accounted for. President Kiir and the JCE should not even think that they will not be held to account. There are many reasons for this. First, if President Kiir and the JCE are not put in the dock to answer for the grave crimes against humanity they committed, they will think that they are invincible and so they will go on to commit more crimes of this nature especially given their expansionists policies. For the sake of deterrence, they must be brought to book. Secondly, the current global environment in some way is similar to the period before Second World War in which capitalist ideology diminished the regard for human rights and placing emphasise on profit leading to the abhorrent crimes of holocaust during the war. President Kiir and the JCE are using the prevailing neoliberal global policies to try to buy their way out of the grave crimes they committed. Please see, ‘Final report of the African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan and Carol Berger’s piece above. They have hired first class lobbyists and they have influenced international and regional bodies using the resources of the country to advance their interest.

The policies that President Kiir and the JCE have followed have spelt disaster to the country. JCE for whatever reasons does not believe that Equatorians are South Sudanese and their intent is to drive the people of Equatoria out of the country into the neighbouring countries so that they take the land over. One glaring example is the takeover of Nimule where the Jieng have imposed themselves as the local people committing all shorts of egregious crimes of land grab, killings, forceful mass displacements, transfer of huge number of cattle from their native lands to all over Equatoria. There is no doubt that the policy of this regime is designed to slowly push Equatorians out of their lands into the neighbouring countries. So Equatorians for the first time in their history clearly are facing existential threat. Anybody who wants to dispute this truism should not look further but to the piece written by Carol Berger cited above.

In Upper Nile, and in Bahre El Ghazal, the regime equally is deliberately displacing the Chollo people and the Fertit people respectively to resettle the Jieng who are being pushed further south ward by the Misseriya Arabs. The Jieng have no shortage of land. Their native areas are not populated but the problem is psychological. They feel insecure. This emanates from their experience of constant displacement by the Arabs for centuries from their homeland in Shendi in the Sudan to the present South Sudan. As abused people, they know nothing other than abuse and they think that abusing others is the norm. Whether, the JCE will succeed in displacing the Fertit, Chollo and Equatorians remains to be seen. Obviously Riek Machar’s capitulation may have given them some confidence.

Any confidence that President Kiir and the JCE have built so far must be challenged by the people and it is here that the non signatories should be supported unreservedly by the people to resist by any means available to put an end to this madness of the JCE. President Kiir and the JCE are emerging as one of the root causes of South Sudan problems. Their behaviour and policies should now be brought to the table in any future peace talks. This can not be ducked, the time for it to be addressed has come because JCE pose existential threat to the non Jieng people in South Sudan.

Penning off, the capitulation of Riek Machar may have come as a big blow to the Nuer people who have suffered enormously in the hands of President Kiir and the JCE. SPLM/A-IO is finished. This should not discourage the Nuer, they can join their fellow countrymen: the Fertit, Chollo, Equatorians and others who equally are being abused and threatened existentially. Removing the criminal regime is Juba can be achieved by the abused coming together to ensure their survival in their ancestral lands.

[Truth hurt but is also liberating]


Elhag Paul


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