BY Maker Mabor Marial
March 20, 2014 – During its 25th Extraordinary session in the Ethiopian’s capital, Addis Ababa, attended by East African leaders, the regional bloc, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), issued a communiqué, authorizing creation of a deterrent force to be deployed to South Sudan in April. The force will protect IGAD’s members of Monitoring and Verification Mechanism (MVM) and also the critical infrastructure such as the oil fields and other important installations in the country, which are now the prime targets for the rebels’ attacks.
The regional bloc also hailed the quick deployment of the Ugandan People’s Defend Forces (UPDF), just a few days after the outbreak of violence in the newest African country, and protected the vital infrastructure as well as Kiir from being overthrown by Riek and his group. The UPDF deserves appreciation because its presence in South Sudan prevented what would have been the worst genocide in the history of Africa.
This is a step in the right direction by the IGAD and the East African Community. It ensures that the East African leaders have the ability to solve their own internal affairs by acting quickly and averting what could be a major disaster in the region.
The ongoing civil war in South Sudan started on December 15, 2013, after disagreements among the SPLM’s leaders and then the failed coup attempt in the capital Juba, staged by Riek and his loyalists, who were mainly from his Nuer tribe. The fighting went on for days, and resulted in what Nuer believe was a targeted killing of tribesmen in Juba, and therefore responded by killing members of the Dinka tribe in Nuer’s predominately areas of Akobo, Nesir, Malakal and Bentiu.
Besides, the Nuer’s military leaders in the SPLA defected with soldiers from their tribe, gunned down their long time colleagues from other tribes and left to join their tribesmen in the rebellion. These kinds of defections were worse in the three states of the Greater Upper Nile’s region, as they were characterized by massive killing, rape, looting and destruction of the infrastructure.
Additionally, days after being dislodged from Juba when his coup attempt had failed, the former Vice President of South Sudan, Riek Machar, moved into Lou Nuer’s land and mobilized the notorious, White Army. This militia group is known for its 1991’s atrocities in Bor, the birth place of Dr. John Garang, where the Lou Nuer youth killed over 2,000 people, burned homes to the ground, looted animals and other properties, and forced the survivors to seek refuge in the swampy areas of Jonglei, where more than 2,500 people later died of starvation and diseases. Riek formed this militia early 1990’s to fight the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M), after accusing Garang, then rebel’s leader, of being undemocratic.
The White Army for the second time responded to the call by Riek and repeated the same atrocities again in Bor, early January 2014, after the force of more than 25,000 militiamen matched onto Bor and captured the Jonglei’s State capital from the SPLA. Subsequently, they raped women, killed thousands of people, including patients who were left in the hospital and those sheltering at churches, and looted the whole town and left it in ruins.
They then made a fateful decision to proceed to Juba, with intention to commit similar atrocities there, after overthrowing Kiir and installing Riek, as president of the Republic. But they were held back by the brave SPLA and UPDF who fought thousands of these misled youth for days before they were sent into disarray and left behind many of their fighters dead.
Likewise in Bentiu, the capital of Unity State, the forces of James Koang Chuol, the former commander of the 4th Division, committed similar atrocities after defecting and switching their allegiance to Riek Machar before they were dislodged by the SPLA a few weeks later and left the town in ruins.
Again in February, another group of the White Army, from Nesir, Maiwut, and Ulang counties, attacked the Upper Nile Capital’s Malakal and captured it from the SPLA, looted the whole town, burned down the houses and anything they couldn’t carry. They also killed people of different ethnicity including patients, elderly who couldn’t run, and those sheltering at Churches. Many of the youths later returned home with their loots, while others attempted to proceed to the oil fields, north of Malakal, with intentions of destroying the oil fields and everything else a long their way. However, they were beaten back badly and sent back to Malakal and held there until the town and its surrounding areas were finally cleared of the rebels yesterday.
The oil fields in Upper Nile State remained the targets for rebels after the oil fields in Bentiu were intentionally destroyed during the first days of the outbreak of violence. The aim was to starve the government in Juba of the oil’s money. Riek had hinted earlier on that his forces would capture the oil fields, keep the oil flowing, and divert the oil money to what he termed as a “truth account” he would set up in unnamed foreign country where the money would be saved until the war ends.
Seeing all these atrocities being committed by the rebel, made up primarily by one ethnic group, Nuer, and the history of previous rebellions mostly the same group, it is the time for the East African community to say enough is enough and bring this senseless war to an end. Riek, his wife, Angelina Teny, Taban Deng and everybody else in their team including their rebel commanders who are now fighting and committing these horrendous crimes in the field, all have history of rebellions that had claimed the lives of many innocent South Sudanese. They will continue to commit similar mayhems if not forced to abandon their rebellion and seek peaceful means for addressing their grievances with the government in Juba.
This war can also take a dangerous turn if allowed to continue for the next three months. It is understandable that the Nuer’s youth, who are the only force for Riek, will pay the price of war and will be reduced to nothing, given the way they are fighting this war at the moment.
Similarly, the worst of this war could be the involvement of the wider Dinka tribe in the conflict if youth from the Nuer tribe continue with their current attacks on the Dinka’s villages, with intention to eliminate everybody as has been seen recently in the areas that have been attacked by the rebels and Nuer youth. This will be the most dangerous escalation of the conflict if allowed to happen. It is very obvious that something similar to or worsen than the 1994 Rwandan’s genocide is possible in South Sudan unless the IGAD prevent it from happening.
THE WAY FORWARD
IGAD has already taken some important steps in this war by inviting both parties to the peace talks, mediating the often violated ceasefire and authorizing the deterrent force to protect vital infrastructure in the country. The presence of deterrent force will secure the oil fields plus other critical installations, which the rebels see as their next targets, after being sent back fleeing by the SPLA and UPDF when they attempted to attack Juba in January. In addition, IGAD has been able to convince the Troika countries which comprises of the US, UK and Norway to drop their proposal of an interim government without both President Kiir and his rival Dr Riek Machar. This proposal would have made the situation worse due to the fact that Riek’s allied militia that makes up a large portion of the South Sudan’s Army could use it as an opportunity for more problems in the country.
In addition, IGAD’s has recently unveiled its proposal for peace roadmap that include, among other important reforms, drastic reform of the structures and management style of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), a review of the constitution and modalities for the scheduled April 2015 elections, with clear times lines on when they are supposed to be realized. Here, the IGAD’s position is praiseworthy because it is the only way through which the permanent peace will be realized in South Sudan. Because for a durable peace to prevail, the roots causes of the current conflict must be unearthed and addressed before reaching into conclusion that would still cause future violence in the nascent country.
So, the point of an interim government will not help the people of the South Sudan because the parties to the conflict had been running the Government since 2005 yet they couldn’t work together. They developed animosities amongst themselves instead and subsequently resorted to coup and then an all-out-war in December of last year.
Above all, the IGAD’s decision to have a deterrent force on the ground is laudable because it sends a strong message to Riek and his group that the East African Community is now serious about the peace in South Sudan and wants the war ends by all means. Riek’s rebellion has no vision as it has so far been characterized by rape, killing, looting, and destruction of the little infrastructure the African’s youngest country has established since it came into existence less than three years ago.
THE GOVERNMENT OF SOUTH SUDAN’S ROLE TO END THIS WAR
As IGAD has taken these great steps to bring peace to its East African Country, there is no doubt that the Government of South Sudan would equally like to see this war ends. The war has already cost the lives of over 10,000 people and displaced nearly a million, and destroyed properties of yet to be determined value. President Kiir in particular is known for being an unpretentious man and someone who forgives those who commit heinous crime against the people of South Sudan. So, it is possible that he can forgive Riek and his followers, with whom he has been accused of staging the failed coup attempt, if they denounce their rebellion and seek reconciliation with the government. Likewise, those who are now on trial for charges of treason will get fair trials, and will be pardoned if found to have participated in the coup attempt.
The government will also keep its doors for negotiations with the rebels open while seeking other avenues to end the war. These avenues for peace must include inviting all the Nuer chiefs and the leaders of so call the White Army for a conference with government in Ethiopia so that they are enlightened about the root causes of the conflict and hear from the government directly. This is the best way to end this conflict because members of the Nuer tribe have been misinformed about the causes of the conflict and made to believe that the war was between Dinka and Nuer tribes. This kind of message reinforces decades of animosities created by the power greed politicians who have been preaching to Nuer youths that Dinka was their prime enemy. Thus, any misunderstanding among the politicians in Juba could quickly be used to reinforce this misinformation and things could get out of control quickly if not addressed swiftly.
Hence, for the government to restore trust amongst the members of the Nuer tribe, it must work through local chiefs and youth leaders because they are the backbone of their communities. They are also the strength of Riek’s rebellion, because youths under their leadership are the only force fighting the war. So, having dialogue with the Nuer community’s leaders and persuading them to denounce war will be a great recipe for the durable peace in South Sudan.
Therefore, it is never too late for the government in Juba to create some communication channels with the wider Nuer Community in rebels control areas. This can either be done through Nuer’s leaders in Juba who can speak to them in their own Nuer language, or through radio transmissions or IGAD. It seems that the majority of Nuer in Jonglei and Upper Nile appear to continue with the belief that the war is between Dinka and Nuer tribes. But the Nuer in Unity States appear to have understood the causes of the conflict as they have refrained from attacking the government forces or Dinka communities in neighboring States. Until the government in Juba dialogue with the wider Nuer Community, the war will be lengthy, no matter how soon the two sides agree in Ethiopia.
Maker Mabor Marial, MPA, lives in the State of Virginia, United States of America. He can be reached at [email protected]