South Sudan 2011 (File Image)
South Sudan 2011 (File Image)


On 4th July 2011, I was aboard Emirates flight 4, London to Nairobi via Dubai hoping to exchange flight to Kenya airways for my onward journey to Juba. After disembarking and presenting to the Kenyan immigration section, for unexplained reasons I was held by the immigration officer, because apparently without a visa for South Sudan, I was not allowed to proceed. I asked why? There was no credible answer other than Juba prohibits any visitors without a visa.

I met a South Sudanese doctor well known to me who like me was also mired in the same predicament. An hour later, another South Sudanese, a teacher by profession (a popular figure among Abudia Junior Secondary school staff in 70s and 80s in Juba) arrived from Australia also got stuck like us. We argued strongly that we are South Sudanese going to celebrate our independence and we did not need a visa to return home.

After nearly 4 hours of waiting, the Kenyan authorities relented and we were cleared to go. What surprised me during this stressful encounter was an argument of one of the Kenyan immigration officers, a lady who brazenly said my wife and I are not South Sudanese and she proceeded to describe South Sudanese as tall, black with white teeth, a description that obviously excludes me from being a South Sudanese. This challenge to my identity remained with me and it reminded me of the Jieng description of non Jieng in South Sudan, especially the people from Equatoria and Bahre El Ghazal as foreigners.

During our days in Rumbek Secondary School (and the other schools like Loka, Juba Commercial, Malakal and Atar), the Jieng students came to school indoctrinated by their politicians with warped beliefs that the groups mentioned above are not south Sudanese and they the Jieng are the true south Sudanese. This led to frequent fierce tribal fights in schools over such arguments. The Jieng students without any evidence insisted that the Equatorians needed to return to their countries: Uganda, Kenya, DRC and CAR. Abel Alier later as the president of the High Executive Council of Southern Sudan turned the schools in the region to incubators of Jieng ideology of supremacy.

From then on to date, I have experienced similar challenges to my South Sudanese identity from other Africans and Europeans in different setting: theatres, conferences and so on. I have also met numerous non Jieng who share similar stories with me. On reflection, I ask the question: how have we come here? Why is our South Sudanese identity as non-Jieng questioned? Why do the powers that be want to erase the identity of non-Jieng people in South Sudan?

To answer these questions, it is imperative that we go back to our contemporary history to understand the dynamics that led to the marginalisation of the non-Jieng in South Sudan. From 1947 to 1972, the pioneers of south Sudan liberation struggle mainly came from Equatoria. Most of the Nilotic tribes which include the Jieng remained inside the country with their leaders opting to be in Khartoum. Some of them like William Deng who was outside the country chose to return to Khartoum in 1964 to lay the seed of the Jieng ideology at the time referred to as “We are born to rule”. William Deng primarily was unhappy that he was not chosen to lead the Sudan African National Union party (SANU).

In protest, William returned to Khartoum to set up his own SANU inside. This act of splitting a political organisation for personal reasons has since become part of South Sudanese politics, where disgruntled politicians split political organisations as a vehicle to self-enrichment at the expense of the people’s welfare. For example, during the IGAD mediated talks in 2018 in Khartoum, most of the groups that attended the talks broke up into twos due to selfish reasons.

In 1955 the Equatorians led the struggle against the Khartoum regime under Anyanya, which was brought to an end by the Addis Ababa Accord of 1972 brokered by the All African Council of Churches, which granted the Southern region of the Sudan, regional autonomy. This agreement spelt disaster for the people of southern Sudan. It is the single thing that transferred power from the people of southern Sudan to the Jieng tribe peacefully. How did this happen?

General Monani Alison Magaya, one of the senior officers of the Anyanya movement in his book, ‘The Anyanya Movement in South Sudan: focusing on Western Equatoria 1962 – 1972’, points out that; “Few days after the signing of the agreement which became popularly known as the Addis Ababa Agreement 1972, Nimeiri called Joseph Lagu to his house for talk. The house was near the Sudan Army General headquarters in Khartoum. Joseph Lagu selected few of us to go with him to the house of president Nimeiri who warmly welcomed us with his family and after chatting together for a while he asked Lagu for a meeting of the two of them in the adjacent room. After nearly one hour meeting, the two came out and we noticed that Nimeiri was looking very happy while Lagu was visibly worried and gloomy. Later on he briefed us that in the course of discussion Nimeiri insisted that his choice of the president of the High Executive Council for southern Sudan was Maulana Abel Alier and Lagu who would be appointed Major General in the Sudanese Army and would supervise the integration of the Anyanya forces into the Sudan army in the first infantry division in the southern region with the HQs in Juba.”

Arop Madut Arop in his book, ‘Sudan’s Painful Road to Peace’ corroborates the story with General Joseph Lagu himself in his book, ‘Sudan: Odyssey through a state from ruins to hope’ acknowledges it. So, Nimeiri single handedly stole the hard-earned power of the people of southern Sudan and he transferred it to reward the pro-Arab Jieng politician who was enjoying with them. To be fair, the Anyanya leaders under General Lagu to some extent too failed to protect the interest of the people.

With Abel Alier crowned as the lord of southern Sudan, Nimeiri secured Arab interests. One of their own trusted agents had been accepted as the supervisor of the region. Thus, divide and conquer had been inserted in the body politic of southern Sudan. The Jieng cemented their position as the good boys of the Arabs. In the years that followed, Alier played an important role in enabling the Jonglei Canal project against the interest of southern Sudan. In 1976, Alier connived with Nimeiri to inject division in Equatoria by dividing the Equatoria region into two: Western and Eastern Equatoria. This act was important for the Arabs as well as the Jieng. The Arabs were afraid of Equatoria as being committed secessionists and the Jieng wanted Equatoria weakened to enable their project of Jieng supremacy to take root.

Alier having serviced his masters, he began to implement his tribal policies. He started by taking control of the police forces as allowed by the Addis Ababa agreement. He appointed General Ruben Mach as the chief of the police. Mach did not delay, he created a civil defence force famously known locally as Defaa Madeni, exclusively consisting of illiterate Bor Jieng. Alier in a sense acted like Napoleon in the book Animal Farm – building a brutal force to serve Jieng interest. This force became such a source of abuse to Equatorians and other southern Sudanese triggering Kokora.

So, the decade of Alier’s dominance of southern Sudan’s governance enabled by the full support of the Arabs, specifically Nimeiri, is the genesis of the building blocks of Jieng power and the deepening of Jieng belief in their tribalism. Now hold it here, and let us move on to another important development going on at the time.

While Nimeiri was busy disempowering Equatorians and rewarding the Jieng for their collaboration; political and economic events unconnected, but developing independently at the global level from mid 1960s came to a head in 1971. The American dollar could not sustain its value as agreed in the post-World War II settlement due to inflation and the impact of the Vietnam War. In the economic post world war global settlement in Bretton Woods in July 1944, the 44 countries in attendance representing the world accepted the American dollar as the currency for global trade and the American dollar was ‘pegged to gold at $35/oz with all other currencies pegged to the dollar’. Please see, ‘The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Mynard, Harry Dexter White and the Making of New World Order’ by Ben Steil.

In response, American economic difficulties which mainly centred on the threat of inflation to the value of the dollar, as the dollars in circulation could not be supported by gold, as America did not have a sufficient quantity of gold to back the dollar at the time. Therefore, President Richard Nixon on 5/08/1971 abolished the pegging of the dollar to gold, and initiated a fiat currency in which the dollar was no longer based on the value of gold, but on trust: ‘Let it be so’. This change strengthened the re-emerging neoliberal ideology as global institutions such as the World Bank and IMF began to implement its policies. For example, countries that failed to service their debts found themselves under what used to be called structural adjustment programmes. Such countries found themselves without any options but to privatise state assets and to drastically cut spending on social programmes like health, education and so on to service debts.

The origins of neoliberal ideology emanated from the Monte Pelerin Society. This society got its name Monte Pelerin from a small village in Switzerland near Geneva. The society itself was founded in 1947. The architects of the neoliberal ideology are Fredrick Hayek, Milton Friedman and others. These scholars are also known as the Chicago school/boys associated with the University of Chicago. Neoliberalism or globalisation mainly advocate freedom, privatisation, marketisation, deregulation, free flow of capital, profits and small government.

In this ideology the unwritten or unspoken rule is that “If there is a conflict between the wellbeing and integrity of financial institution and the wellbeing of people, you choose the wellbeing of financial institution’ Professor David Harvey (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5q5EPlgrWus). Basically, what this means is that the top priority must be to ensure the wellbeing of business over human beings.

Unlike neo liberalism, the welfare system that came into existence following World War II until 1971 with President Nixon’s abolition of the gold standard, the emphasise was on human wellbeing. This is also known as Keynesian economics. This economic ideology drove the world and at its core is the wellbeing of human beings, as opposed to neoliberal economics illustrated above. Fast forward, neoliberalism has developed to the extent that the belief in markets has been extended to every facet of life. It has had a serious impact on politics as political conflicts are addressed in terms of markets, where there is conflict, it is called the “political market place” and negotiations are referred to as ‘transactions.

Peace talks are seen as interactions where profit is to be made with mediators as political brokers and the belligerents as interested parties. The emphasise is on interest of the protagonists without any regard to the interest of the people or the welfare of the country itself. The latest example is the case of the conflict in Sudan. Alex De Waal in his article titled, ‘Sudan conflict, Hemeti – the warlord who built a paramilitary force more powerful than the states,’ published in The Conversations, uses neoliberal language to look at the conflict similar to his other articles on the conflict in South Sudan.

After this momentous change of global monetary policy, four major events took place that would indirectly later on impact on the internal politics of South Sudan. Firstly, in 1973 the overthrow of Salvadore Allende, the socialist president of Chile by General Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet’s regime became the first to implement the ideology of globalisation. Please see Kristia Niemietz article, ‘Neoliberalism in Chile – Unpopular success story’ (https://iea.org.uk/neoliberalism-in-chile-the-unpopular-success-story/). The important thing to note here is the shift in the type of capitalism from the welfare order that was born after the second world war, which improved the living standard of people generally due to its values of fairness, justice, and rights to services. This addressed the five evils identified by the William Beverage report of 1942 namely idleness, want, squalor, ignorance and disease. Equally, the overthrow of Allende was a struggle between the West and the East/Soviet Union.

Secondly, OPEC countries decided to raise the price of oil and this coupled with the Arab-Israel war led to Arab oil producing countries to embargo exports to the west. These events triggered a recession that led to restructuring of the global economic system with the west transforming into economies of services – outsourcing production to the east (specifically China) due to availability of abundant labour. These changes are in line with the ideology of globalisation resulting into the rise of the East as a global economic power.

Thirdly, in 1974, a major political shift took place in East Africa. A group of middle ranking military officers overthrew the centuries old imperial regime of Haile Selassie in Ethiopia. This revolutionary group was communist oriented. Its coming to power intensified the war with the Eritrean People Liberation Front (EPLF) whose political objective was secession of Eritrea. The Arab world including the Sudan supported EPLF against Ethiopia.

Fourthly, in 1979 Marxist in Afghanistan overthrew the government of Mohamed Daoud. This sparked a series of bloody Marxists regime changes. In December 1979 the Afghanistan regime in power invited a Soviet military intervention. Thus, on the eve of Christmas of 1979, the Soviets deployed its military might in Afghanistan, yet again igniting an Islamic resistance to its presence. Islamists from all over the Arab world including Sudanese flocked to Afghanistan to fight the communists. Rich Saudis like Osama Bin Laden joined the resistance and he contributed in monetary terms as well. The West ideologically supported the Afghan resistance against the Soviet Union massively. Please refer to Adam Robinson’s book, ‘Bin Laden: Behind the Mask of Terrorist’.

This Islamic resistance in Afghanistan received total support from the Sudan, which at the time was to a large extent leaning towards theocracy. President Jafaar Nimeiri who started in 1969 as a socialist gradually moved to adopt Islamism as his new ideology. This change in ideology was sparked by the coup of Colonel Hassan Hussein of 1976 which drove Nimeri to strike reconciliation with Sadiq Al Mahdi and Dr Hassan Al Turabi on the condition that the 1972 Addis Ababa agreement must be revoked. By the end of 1970s Sudan was fast propelling itself to become an Islamic state. Nimeri having divided the southern Sudanese people using Abel Alier found the ground fertile and ready for him to repeal the Addis Ababa agreement of 1972 to fulfil his agreement with Dr Turabi. As a result, Nimeri seized on the demand of Equatorians for decentralisation due to Alier’s tribal abuse of the others to decree the redivision of southern Sudan into three regions on 05/06/1983. This was followed by the introduction of Sharia laws on 06/09/1983.

The re-division of southern Sudan into three regions, though detrimental to the wellbeing of southern Sudan, the Jieng were not bothered by it, but it angered them massively, simply because it disrupted their agenda of Jieng supremacy. Thus, when the debate on re-division of southern Sudan picked up the momentum from 1981onwards, Alier and the Jieng elders intensified their lobbying of Khartoum hoping to secure their interests as usual at the expense of southern Sudan. This time, the Arabs were uninterested in rewarding the Jieng because they achieved their interest and overall, Nimeri’s priority was to fulfil his agreement with the Islamist Dr Al Turabi.

Prior to the re-division of southern Sudan, an epochal event took place within the army in Southern Military Command in Juba under the command of Major General Sadiq Al Bana. Corruption in the service ignited a rebellion in battalion 105 in Bor leading to the local commander Colonel Kerubino Kuanyin Bol to rebel. Please see ‘Fudging the issue - President Kiir and corruption in ROSS’ (https://allafrica.com/stories/201206250013.html)

Colonel Dr John Garang, who was on leave in Juba, took the opportunity to join the rebellion. He linked up with Kerubino and others in the bush. Garang was motivated by his dislike to the re-division of southern Sudan. He made this clear in his book, ‘The call for democracy in Sudan’ on page 7, Garang asserted, “Again, at a personal level, if there was one thing that made me go the additional mile in my opposition to Nimeiri, it was his dismantling of the Addis Ababa Agreement and the abortion of national integration. That agreement, with all its limitation, was our greatest achievement. It was the cornerstone of national unity in diversity, paving the way for a permanent peace.” This sentiment of Garang was representative of an average Jieng at the time and it was directly invested in the emerging struggle.

Madut-Arop in his book, ‘Sudan’s Painful Road to Peace’, highlights the point by arguing that the re-division of southern Sudan was not going to go unnoticed, the Jieng joined the (new) movement en-masse. He justified his argument in line with what he called, “African customary norms, it was enough for the whole tribe to mobilise at short notice and assemble to resist any approaching danger.”

Cutting a long story short, by 1983 there had been a number of southern Sudanese rebel movements from the mid-1970s operating against the Sudan government. These groups moved between Ethiopia and Sudan. On arrival of Garang on the scene in Ethiopia, he sold out ideologically to the Ethiopians to gain power under the pretext of fighting for a united New Sudan. “The Ethiopians under Col. Mengisto appropriated the name of SPLM/A from Anya Nya 2 group. They then appointed Dr Garang to it and handed it over to him as their response to Khartoum’s support to the Eritrean rebels.” “The SPLM was formed by Bol Kur Alangjok on 30th August 1980”. Please see ‘Experiences in the resistance movement against Arab colonial rule in Sudan authored by Thaan Nyibil and published in 1990 by Vantage Press, New York.”


So, in the 1970s Abel Alier, a Jieng tribalist sold out to the Arabs to gain power in southern Sudan to implement their tribal agenda. In his belief of building Jieng as a superior social group in south Sudan, Alier wreaked political havoc in southern Sudan allowing the Arabs to repeal the Addis Ababa Agreement of 1972. Once thoroughly used, the Arabs like in any colonising power discarded him. He was no longer useful. Then comes Dr Garang onto the scene with the objective to resurrect the Jieng supremacy agenda. Like Alier, he sold out to the Ethiopians to build a bigger Jieng military machine.

The emergence of SPLM/A under Dr Garang in 1983 with full Ethiopian military and political support, was the new continuation of the Jieng struggle for supremacy in southern Sudan by military means. They took advantage of southern nationalism and their resistance to Arab colonialism as a cover to build and achieve Jieng supremacy. The ‘other’ southern Sudanese in spite of their experience under Abel Alier quickly forgot and united with the Jieng in the SPLM/A, in the belief that SPLM/A was for true liberation.

So, from the word go, SPLM/A initiated a policy of decapitation to disempower and subjugate the people of southern Sudan in their journey to build Jieng supremacy. Naim Akbar in his book ‘Breaking the chains of Psychological Slavery’ argues that the most immediate way to bring death to a body is to remove the head. This is especially true as a social principle. One of the things that was systematically done during slavery was the elimination of control of any emerging “head”. Slave narratives and historical accounts are full of descriptions of atrocities brought against anyone who exemplified real leadership capability. The slave holders realized that their power and control over the slaves was dependent upon the absence of any indigenous leadership among the slaves

Akbar continues that any slave who began to emerge as a natural head, that is, one oriented toward survival of the whole body, was identified early and was either eliminated, isolated, or ridiculed. In his or her place was put a leader who had been carefully picked, trained and tested to stand only for the master’s welfare. In other words, unnatural heads were attached to the slave communities. They furthered the cause of the master and frustrated the cause of the slave.

Dr Garang implemented this concept of decapitation cleverly. Firstly, SPLM/A laid down a policy that anyone who joins the movement must come as an individual. No group or groups to join with their leaders. In essence, this policy disempowers any individuals including leaders of other tribes from having control of their own people. Those who join the movement effectively become atomised, isolated and turned into a tool of the Jieng led by a Jieng. Thus, the Equatorians and others who joined the movement found themselves totally disempowered. In contrast, the Jieng were allowed to come with their leaders who get given high positions and ranks. So, the system of SPLM/A clearly is to empower the Jieng.

Most of the SPLM leaders in the leadership structure were without shame, Jieng. Jieng control of SPLM/A has been a constant throughout the 22 years (1983 to 2005) of struggle.

Secondly, the movement kept eliminating the leaders of Equatoria and other tribes routinely as described by Akbar. For example, Equatorian local chiefs to date are murdered by the Jieng soldiers with impunity. Leaders such as Hitler Elhag, Taban Lo Noah, Peter Kidi, Luka Pkasoro, Joseph Oduha, Peter Sule, Lino Jada, John Nambi, Col. Martin Kejivura and many, many others including medical doctors and professionals were murdered in cold blood without any accountability to ensure that Equatoria remains leaderless, controlled and in servitude to the Jieng. The current Equatorian leaders people see in South Sudan as Akbar explains in his book are quislings appointed by the Jieng authorities to serve the Jieng interest. Equatoria remains leaderless internally.

Thirdly, dehumanisation and societal destruction. Dr Garang pursued an undeclared policy of destroying Equatorian society. This has since been done through application of brute force. Wherever, they have gone in Equatoria, the local people are targeted. Old people, women and children are shot, villages burned, young girls taken as war booty and women raped. The evidence lie in the archives of humanitarian organisation such as the UN, Human Rights Watch, local churches and various international magazines like The Times, Newsweek, and newspapers like Radio Tamazuj, Sudantribune, Eye Radio and so on.

Highly respected Equatorian leaders such as late Bishop Paride Taban and late Dr Samson Kwaje with many others, were slapped by mere soldiers with impunity. Complaints made to Dr Garang and his successors often gets brushed aside with bogus excuses claiming that the people doing these things are uncivilised and backwords. This is not a good enough explanation because justice matters. The fact that a liberation movement is condoning injustice in favour of one ethnic group itself should have raised eyebrows among Equatorians, but the Jieng control on them was complete and whatever nonsense Dr Garang and his successors parroted was taken in, politely. As a result, by not addressing these abuses SPLM/A accepted Jieng abuse as an unwritten policy of the movement towards the others. On the other hand, should a non-Jieng commit an offence equivalent to those offences previously named i.e. a slap to any Jieng, Jieng revenge was served instantly in public to send a clear message as to who were the bosses.

This state of affairs which rested on the guaranteed support of the Ethiopian Derge regime continued and when Mengistu was overthrown in May 1991, SPLM/A quickly ditched its allegiance to socialism and began to sing songs of democracy. SPLM/A’s loss of Ethiopian support enabled it to align itself with the southern Sudanese diaspora, which gained support of the Christian right in the USA, Christian groups in Europe and worldwide, due to Khartoum’s persecution of Christians in the country.

While the above was going on in the Sudan and the Horn of Africa, incidentally events in Afghanistan I previously referred to earlier became crucial at this point. That war brought Mujahideen from all over the world with the aim of defeating the Soviet Union in the name of Islam, but ironically, it kick-started a revival of global Islamic fundamentalism and extremism. Once the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, the mujahideen turned their ire on the west under the leadership of Osama Bin Laden who found sanctuary in Khartoum. By now Khartoum was a full Islamic state with Sharia law in its constitution.

It is this development to a large extent together with the concerns of the Christian Right that led to the USA embracing SPLM/A. Unfortunately, this environment allowed SPLM/A to be supported unconditionally thereby letting it get away with abuses in the liberated areas. It was able to continue with its empowerment of the Jieng at the expense of all others unchallenged.

Contemporaneously, as the war continued in the Sudan, two crucial events happened in secession in August 1991. First, communist officers staged a failed coup in Moscow on 19/08/1991 leading to rise of Boris Yeltsin and breakup of the Soviet Union. This was a hugely important global event as it signified the demise of the Soviet Union, heralding an end to the bipolar rivalry between Moscow and Washington. The USA emerged as the winner of the cold war and a unipolar power, meaning the only strongest country in the world. Secondly, the leadership of Dr John Garang was challenged on 28/08/1991 by Dr Riek Machar and Dr Lam Akol on grounds of dictatorship and oppression splitting the SPLM/A into two factions thereby weakening the movement.

So, the global changes: revival of Islam and the fight against it by the West, globalisation and America unipolarity combined, worked to the advantage of the SPLM/A which indirectly meant for the interests of the Jieng. As the war in the Sudan continued on, the Christian Right exerted pressure on the Bush government forcing it to call for peace talks in 2002. The talks took 3 years and in 2005 SPLM/A and the Sudan signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Kenya. This peace agreement was the final nail in the coffin of Equatorian freedom.

IGAD and the international community whether deliberately or naively through the CPA handed power to the National Islamic Front (NIF) in north Sudan under President Bashir and to SPLM/A in the southern region under John Garang. The talks excluded all stakeholders in both the north and south. It was limited to SPLM/A and NIF. Typically, in line with neoliberal ideology where protagonists are viewed as actors in a market with profit or interest as the main motive. The greater wellbeing of the country and the people means nothing and Equatoria falls herein.

In the 1970s President Jafaar Nimeiri handed power to Abel Alier disempowering the Equatorians and the people of South Sudan. In the 1980s Dr John Garang like Alier sold out to the Ethiopians to construct Jieng military power, and in 2005 IGAD and the international community completed the circle of Jieng empowerment by the CPA agreement. In short, Jieng accession to power in South Sudan has been through treachery and use of extreme violence. They have through greed for power and wealth; ruthlessly destabilised, pillaged and raped South Sudan; creating a clear split between the people of South Sudan and the ruling Jieng tribe; between the overwhelming majority and the tiny minority; between the oppressed and oppressors. Frantz Fanon in his book, ‘Wretched of the Earth’ tells a lot about this phenomenon.

Lastly, I would like to say, my three weeks celebration of the independence of South Sudan was full of mixed feelings, some positive and some negative. On 25/07/2011 at 3.30 p.m. I boarded Jetlink flight number 836 at Juba airport destination Nairobi for my onward return journey. As the plane took off westward climbing high and high turning left and heading east, I looked out of the window, I saw the mountain ranges in its greenery with the Nile snaking north, in my heart I knew I would not be coming back. The second and final human emancipation must be done. In front of me on the foldable small table was my note and my pen. I told myself, these must be my weapon.


[Truth hurts but it is also liberating]

Elhag Paul

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