Thomas Cirilo (File Image)

General Thomas Cirilo Swaka (File Image)

Four years ago, on this day of 6th of March 2017, a seismic development happened in South Sudan. A new movement declared as National Salvation Front (NAS) was born with the sole objective of emancipating the people of South Sudan. On 11th February 2017, one of the most spoken about hero of the Sudan People Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) during the struggle and post-independence walked out from the ruling movement/party in disgust and disappointment about what is happening in the country he spent his life fighting to establish. This battle hardened, gallant liberation fighter and hero is General Thomas Cirillo Swaka who at the time of his severing ties with SPLM/A was the deputy Chief of Staff for logistics in the South Sudan People Defence Force (SSPDF). His future in the Juba system arguably could be said was flourishing and sky was the limit for him. Obviously with his rank, achievement and all the opportunities before him, no reasonable person can blame him for seeking a job or higher position in the government of South Sudan by walking away.

General Swaka’s military and educational credentials are unassailable. Militarily in the field he did not only score victories after victories including the capture of Hamish Gurieb in Eastern Sudan, but he with General Oyayi Deng Ajak, and others, ostensibly non Jieng with full support of late Hon. Eliaba James Surur, nom de guerre Solid Rock, the former leader of opposition in the National Parliament of the Republic of Sudan and other Equatorian politicians saved the Sudan People Liberation Movement/Aarmy (SPLM/A) from the jaws of defeat. Dr John Garang De Mabior, the leader of SPLM/A was observed to have given up. He had packed his rucksack and was moving between Uganda and Kenya not knowing what to do. General Salva Kiir, Chief of SPLA Intelligence at the time equally had literally given up and he was already negotiating his exit with the Khartoum regime to go to Khartoum. The impending defeat was directed by Khartoum in alliance with Dr Riek Machar. This story is yet to be told in detail to dispel the myth of Jieng Council of Elders’ crowing that they liberated the country. The solid truth is that the liberation of South Sudan was the work of all South Sudanese with support of regional and western countries.

General Swaka in his declaration of National Salvation Front on 6th March 2017 extensively listed the reasons for the formation of the new movement. He was specifically concerned about state of affairs in the country. In the declaration, he pointed to the tribalisation of the country. He said, “It is clear beyond reasonable doubt that the Regime has created a highly selfish class that ensures its continued existence for the singular purpose of illicitly amassing personal and family wealth, and imposing tribal hegemony on the country.” This statement more or less sums what is going on in the country presently. Numerous Sentry Reports vindicate NAS and its position on the issue of criminality of the ruling group in Juba.

To fully grasp the issues, it is recommended that the readers read the declaration itself to acquaint themselves with the issues. Please see, ‘The Declaration of National Salvation Front’.

The Revitalised Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGoNU), a product of the fake Khartoum peace agreement of 12th September 2018 is further evidence. On one hand President Kiir filled the government quota of positions with his relatives and on the other Dr Riek Machar filled his quota of SPLM-IO positions with his family members: his wife, in-laws, nephews and cousins. Similarly, all the other appointees of President Kiir including the four vice presidents followed suit in the same practice.

Though the agreement to an extent brought relative peace between the forces of the government and the SPLM/A-IO, the main belligerents, peace has not taken hold in the real sense of the word in the country. Sadly, President Kiir and Dr Machar united their armies and resorted to launch attacks on all those who did not and do not agree with their shabby Khartoum agreement. This shifted the battle fields from Nuer land to Equatoria where NAS has its forces. As a result, for the last four years NAS has been the main force protecting civilians from the abuses of South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF) and they have done this honourably and will continue to do so in line with its pledge to the people of South Sudan. Here is the pledge: “The National Salvation Front will vigorously use all means at its disposal to restore law and order, the respect for human rights and dignity without regard to age, gender, ethnic origin, religion, and believes in the rightful path of national co-existence, embracing the ideals of free sovereign, democratically governed nations.” This is what is at stake and what NAS is all about.

For those who followed the life of General Swaka, this does not come as a surprise. The leader of NAS is a humble person and he keeps to his word. When General Swaka chose to quit the Sudanese army to join SPLM/A in 1992 following the Juba massacre, he pledged to fight to liberate the people of South Sudan. He did not waver when the struggle against the Khartoum regime turned ugly in mid 1990s as many of his colleagues did with schisms among the people of South Sudan and numerous splits within the SPLM/A. Even when as stated above, SPLM/A was facing defeat following its routing in 1995 from all areas of South Sudan to Nimule by Khartoum force’s under operation code named ‘Saif Al Ubur’ meaning the sword of crossing. General Swaka stood firm. Working with others, he regrouped the defeated forces of SPLA, led them and reversed the defeat into a victory in favour of SPLM/A that saw the annihilation of the National Islamic Front forces of President Omer Bashir with support of Riek Machar’s forces. So General Swaka’s professional commitment to protect the South Sudanese civilians remains solid and it is in display in the battle fields of South Sudan today.

Like all movements, NAS has had its ups and down and this may continue as the struggle gets harder, just like the famous singer Billy Ocean sings in his famous song: ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’. It is only the tough who will endure the journey to freedom as Nelson Mandela said the walk to freedom is long. Disgruntled fighters who sought riches and fortunes in the name of NAS found themselves unable to achieve their aims. Some of these members split off to join the government and SPLM-IO in September 2018 for positions and recently others followed them too. The literature on struggle makes it clear that the road to freedom entails a lot of hurdles. Most of the time, divisions emerge from the conditions of oppression itself and the destabilised mind of the oppressed. Members whose minds have been polluted become agents of splits retarding the progress of the movement and it can be deadly as in the criss-crossing sadly it leads to unnecessary loss of lives. It is for this reasons that many struggles falter on the way. Nelson Mandela and Anthony Burton in their books, ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ and ‘Revolutionary Violence’ respectively highlight this destructive phenomenon. In the recent past in the struggle with Khartoum SPLM/A saw a lot of this splits. So, the experience of split within NAS is not unique to NAS. It is an expected phenomenon in any struggle, and therefore, the people should not be demoralised. What matters is the quality of leadership and here NAS is fortunate to have a well experienced leader with a strong support group which has seen numerous splits in the struggle against Khartoum for liberation.

This strength can be gleaned from the way NAS managed to steer the ship clear from harm’s way when it was engaged in the Rome negotiations in the last quarter of yesteryear. At the time, NAS as member of South Sudan Opposition Movements Alliance (SSOMA) with others were competently managing a split in that group involving General Paul Malong Awan of South Sudan United Front (SSUF) and General Pagan Amum of Real - Sudan People Liberation Movement (R-SPLM), while equally at the same time containing a sprouting split within NAS and also negotiating with the Juba regime to achieve its objectives. Had NAS leadership been feeble as alleged by some turncoats, these distractions in the struggle could have spelt disaster for the organisation.

NAS has made a pledge to the people and it is vital that the people remember this pledge on this fourth anniversary of NAS as the guiding principle in this struggle. This can be found in the Declaration of National Salvation Front (NAS) of 6th March 2017. It reads: “The National Salvation Front fervently believes that South Sudan can not solve its problems through an ethno-centric administration as in the case with the Kiir’s regime. The National Salvation Front (NAS) is left with no choice other than to fight to eradicate the malady that has badly tarnished the image of South Sudan, caused our nation the loss of its sense of identity, its credibility, and above all, the trust of its citizens.”

In NAS’ four years of existence, it has made huge strides and met essential milestones in its development. It has made sacrifices in terms of lives lost to be where it is as a formidable machine. Those heroines and heroes who gave up their lives for NAS to grow, develop and live on to realise its objects have not done this for nothing. They have done it to ensure that South Sudan becomes a land of peace and prosperity for all who live in it. NAS humbly acknowledges these ultimate sacrifices, and the suffering of the people of South Sudan under the ethno-centric regime in Juba as the seal to its objective already mentioned above and it is the fuel that powers NAS on in its everyday existence to struggle relentlessly to achieve freedom for the people of South Sudan.

Therefore, on this fourth anniversary of NAS existence, it appears to be the only movement/organisation in South Sudan on course with the structures and human resources to realise the aspirations of the people. As a person with interest in South Sudan I wish NAS success and all the best. Happy fourth birthday NAS!

[Truth hurts but it is also liberating]

Elhag Paul
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