By Leo Rom-Yieri
February 13, 2014 (SSNA) -- While the Peace Process hangs in the balance in Addis Ababa, South Sudan is going through a very painful, destructive experience that has already taken thousands of lives since the start of the fighting on December 15, 2013. The conflict has taken many lives within a very short period of time due to the fact that the government, for whatever reason, decided to include the unarmed civilians in the list of those who had to be targeted. The reason for such an inclusion remains to be known when the time comes for a proper and impartial investigation to be conducted once the time is right.
But, what we know for sure is that when unarmed people are targeted by an armed group, it is easy to kill as many as possible as the targeted group becomes unable to keep the killers off. This inability to fight back and keep the armed attackers off places the attackers in a safe and comfortable position while carrying on with their attack. Then the armed group tends to go on with a fake bravery, for it does not fear any reprisals from its vulnerable target. This action is the kind that only a coward can commit, seeing it as a chance to strike the hardest blow at a soft target. Such coward attackers would kill a defenseless people with so much boldness that they would do it without even covering up their own tracks.
This was exactly what began on the morning of December 16 when the government used its militia to round up and kill the civilians who happened to be men and boys from the Nuer tribe, and whose crime for which they were executed was their tribal identity. They were completely innocent and defenseless as they were unarmed civilians—who did not even have the slightest expectation of what was coming to them—attacked by armed uniformed men who acted on behalf of the government which had just declared that a coup had been attempted. It was the ultimate crime that a country could commit against her own citizens.
What Happened on December 15, 2013?
The ongoing crisis in South Sudan did not just burst out on December 15, 2013 as a completely surprising and isolated event, as there had been other prior political events in the country preceding it, which had connection to the incident. The incident was actually a culmination of those prior political events. What surprised and is still surprising to many—nationals and foreigners alike—is the shape that the incident came to take beginning on the morning of December 16, 2013 and on when the Presidential Guards (the 15,000 Kiir’s personal militias) went on a targeted killings of Nuer men and boys on no other ground than their being Nuer by tribe.
For the purpose of simplicity, I consider it fair and reasonable to say that the political differences within the SPLM started with the SPLM 2nd National Convention in May of 2008 when Salva Kiir, the then Chairman of the SPLM and President of the Government of Southern Sudan, unilaterally decided that he did not want Dr. Riek Machar, his then 1st Deputy, to remain as his Deputy in the SPLM. Instead, he wanted the 2nd Deputy, James Wani Igga, to replace Dr. Riek. He failed to give a convincing explanation as to why he did not want his 1st Deputy to remain as such. He simply did not like him. But there was a problem with such a position.
During the 2002 merging of the SPLM (led by Dr. Garang) and the SPDF (led by Dr. Riek), it was decided, as a matter of unity for the people of South Sudan, that the original SPLM line of hierarchy should be used by the re-unified SPLM. The other position was that, there were two Movements, SPLM and SPDF, merging. As such, if the leader of one group took the first position, the leader of the other would take the second position, and so on. Eventually, it was agreed that there were no two Movements. There were only two factions of the SPLM, and as such, the first position was adopted (Garang as Chairman, Kiir as the 1st Deputy Chairman since Kerubino and William Nyuon had died, Riek as the 2nd Deputy Chairman since those who had been between him and Kiir had also died, and Wani Igga as the 4th person in the line of succession since Lam Akol was now out of the SPLM at the time of the re-unification). It was this same formula that the Movement used at the death of its leader, John Garang, in a Ugandan military helicopter crash in 2005 after meeting with Yoweri Museveni. The SPLM, as a group had no intention to bring this formula to disuse. During the Convention, it became apparent that only Kiir and his supporters such as Paul Malong Awan, Daniel Awet Akot and others wanted to discard it for reasons known to him and few others. Ultimately, he failed, and the hierarchy of the SPLM was preserved one more time.
In 2010, national elections were conducted. Salva Kiir appointed his 2nd Deputy, Igga, as head of a committee whose job it was to identify and organize for the nomination of candidates who would be on the SPLM tickets for different positions in the elections. As a result, unpopular candidates were chosen by the Party on the basis of their perceived loyalty to Kiir. It went against the wishes of the people. This resulted in a number of individuals who were favored by the constituents to declare their candidacies as independents. Kiir and his supporters saw that as a sign of disrespect for the leadership and authorized an open hostility against the independent candidates. Dr. Riek Machar and a few others were the only ones who felt that the independents had a constitutional right to run for offices within their respective constituencies. That did not go well with Kiir and his handpicked members of the Political Bureau. He was accused of working against the Party, and treated with disrespect by not allowing him to take any active role in the nomination process. In fact, his nomination as Kiir’s presidential running-mate came as a surprise to Kiir’s closest allies who had the understanding with Kiir that the election was the right event to leave him (Riek) out in the cold. But there was a very strong voice on the street not to make any mistake to leave him out. Kiir had to listen to that voice, as the referendum process leading to Independence needed Dr. Riek in the leadership circle of South Sudan for effective decision-makings. In the end, elections were rigged against the independent candidates and resulted in a number of rebellions throughout the country. Well known among those rebellions included those which were led by George Athor Deng, Gatluak Gai and David Yau Yau respectively.
2011 marked the Independence for the country. With this Independence came the need for a new constitution. The Committee that Kiir appointed to produce a draft came up with a document that was totally written with Salva Kiir in mind as the president. It centralized the state power and gave it almost all to the President. The previous Interim Constitution of Southern Sudan under a united Sudan was even more democratic. Dr. Riek was among those who favored a decentralized state power whereby power could be divided between the States and the National Government, and between separate branches at each level. That way, it would look more democratic and people-centered document. It would also decentralize decision-making in terms of service delivery whereby failure of the national government in one area would not automatically translate into failure by states in that same area. Basically, the proposal was leaning toward some sort of a federal arrangement. Kiir saw this as a challenge to his power, and accused Dr. Riek of running a parallel government. He knew very well that there was no parallel government that Dr. Riek was running. Instead, he intentionally chose to refuse to acknowledge the fact that writing of a constitution was a process that demanded different and competing proposals and opinions so as to afford the people a variety of choices to choose from. Kiir wanted the people to have no other choice but what he had proposed.
In March of 2013, the SPLM issued a report after a survey was conducted throughout the country on how the people perceived the ruling party. The results were damning. The people expressed their concern over the party’s loss of vision and direction under Kiir. Under normal circumstances, such reports call for a search for a solution both inside and outside of the box, and the party in question takes them seriously. It was after this report that high ranking members of the SPLM, especially members of the Political Bureau, started thinking of ways to correct the mistake. One of the ways to correct this mistake of missing the vision and direction was for Kiir to step aside and allow someone else to take-over the party’s chairmanship in view of re-energizing the party. Three of these high ranking party officials who expressed interests in running for the office of the chairman included Dr. Riek Machar, Pagan Amum and Rebecca Nyandeng. James Wani Igga indicated his interest for the position, but only if Kiir chose to step aside. Otherwise, he would run for the second position behind Kiir. The three would challenge Kiir in the 3rd National Convention that was to take place in May of 2013.
The option of Kiir stepping aside appeared popular with the majority of the members of the Political Bureau. The popularity of this option prompted Kiir to take the position to delay the Convention so that he could have enough time to manipulate members of the Political Bureau by appointing some to ministerial positions and decreeing out those others who did not appear to support him in the party of ministerial positions. This was exactly what he did. Each time that a Political Bureau meeting was scheduled to discuss party documents which were due for endorsement by the body, it was postponed. Each time a meeting was postponed, he used the time in between to work on getting a majority on his side so that he could go to the meeting comfortable that his versions of the party documents would get the endorsement that he needed. Of course, his versions of the documents were and are still written in such a way that they gave or give him unfair advantage over his would-be rivals by setting aside a percentage of the electorates for the chairman and other unfair provisions.
It appeared that the strategy of buying people off with ministerial positions was not working the way that it was thought initially. Each time a person was decreed out of his ministerial or government position, he was indirectly sent straight to the opposition. The same cycle simply continued. Now, a new strategy had to be worked out. The second strategy was to take out the Political Bureau voting members who were not siding with Kiir by all means, including legal by placing criminal accusations on them. Those who were targeted in this scheme of things included Pagan Amum, Deng Alor and Kosti Manibe. The plan was to tie them down with legal actions hanging around their necks without taking them to court for trials for as long as it would take so that they could not participate in the Political Bureau proceedings and the Convention. This plan and others were intended to reduce the number of the Political Bureau members who were seen as unti-Kiir. They were intended to create an artificial minority in the Political Bureau. Riek Machar, Rebecca Nyandeng, Taban Deng, John Luk and others were incapable of being reached using these legal means. A separate plan had to be designed to take them out as irrelevant in the party political process.
In late November, Kiir dissolved the structures of the SPLM, excepting his office. Another structure that he left undissolved was the secretariat, minus its Secretary General, Pagan Amum. The Political Bureau, National Liberation Council and state structures were dissolved. In fact he instructed Governors, after the Governors Forum, to go back to their respective states and start organizing their people and choose delegates to attend the 3rd National Convention that he and his supporters in the Political Bureau on one side and the National Secretariat on the other were in the process of organizing. At this point, unti-Kiir members of the Political Bureau who were incapable of being taken out using legal means were irrelevant because Kiir could now choose who to work with in organizing the Convention. Feeling that he had an exclusive control of the process, Kiir ordered that National Liberation Council meeting be convened to approve the documents that he had wanted approved so that he could go ahead with the National Convention in which he would be automatically elected Chairman of the SPLM, an election that would ensure his placement on the SPLM ticket for president come the 2015 elections. What was and is still puzzling was and is the fact that the National Liberation Council was called to meet after it had been dissolved. Where did it get the legitimacy from after the dissolution? He had not even attempted to re-appoint it before the meeting could take place. Was Kiir the only legitimizing and delegitimizing factor in the SPLM, depending on what he wanted to achieve? Kiir was now re-playing the Biblical story of “Let there be light, and there was light.”
At this stage, Dr. Riek and his group felt that Kiir had gone too far in destroying a democratic political process. The group called for a press conference to take place on December 6, 2013 to inform the general membership of the party, through the press, of the status of the outstanding political issues in the party. The press was briefed as planned. One of the strongest statements made was that Kiir’s previous dissolution of the SPLM structures was unconstitutional. If he was now convinced that what he had done was unconstitutional and that he had to recognize the legitimacy of the National Liberation Council to deliberate on the documents, he had to call a Political Bureau meeting before the meeting of the National Liberation Council so that the former could set the agenda for the latter. The group ended their press briefing by announcing that it would engage the public directly on December 14 if Kiir and his group failed to do the right thing.
The constitutional challenges put forward by the pro-democracy group became difficult for Kiir and his group to ignore. Here you have a Kiir who had dissolved the structures of the party. This same Kiir was now calling one of the dissolved structures to legitimize documents intended to curtail a democratic process. Even then, another structure, the Political Bureau, was bypassed in the process that was unfolding. But, this bypassed and unwanted structure, the Political Bureau, had a constitutional authority to give legitimacy to the actions of the seemingly favored structure when it came to the agenda for the latter’s deliberations. To solve this problem of contradictions, a mock Political Bureau meeting was quickly called for the pro-Kiir members of the body and blessed Kiir’s program in relation to the National Liberation Council’s business.
The initial date designated for the meeting of the National Liberation Council was missed due to Kiir’s attendance of the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. However, the meeting had to be rescheduled for another date. In a confrontational spirit, the pro-Kiir chose to reschedule their meeting to take place on the same day that the pro-democracy group had chosen for their public rally. That was a clear signal that the pro-Kiir group was planning for something illegal to take place on that day so that they could use it to involve the police. They might have been planning for a violent confrontation between their supporters and those of the pro-democracy group. This way, Kiir could have his opportunity to put the opposition leaders behind bars on the pretext that they were behind the violence.
Alarmed by the unfolding situation, Church and community leaders took the initiative to talk to the leaders on both sides, asking them not to allow their planned activities to coincide. Seeing the genuineness of that appeal, and perhaps in line with their desire to present a clean democratic challenge to dictatorship without allowing Kiir to make any criminal accusations against them, members of the pro-democracy group resolved to cancel their rally that had been scheduled for the 14th even though they were the first to choose the date. The pro-Kiir went ahead with the National Liberation Council meeting, which was even attended by some members of the other group, including Dr. Riek himself. It was at this meeting that it became crystal clear that Kiir was not ready for an inclusive, democratic process.
In his opening speech, Kiir made two statements, which stood out of all the other ones in regard to the opposition. First, there was a statement that gave an indication that Kiir was not ready to tolerate any political challenge. “In recent developments, some comrades came out to challenge my executive powers. I am not prepared to allow this to happen again.”, Kiir said.
In analyzing this two-sentence statement, three elements are crucial, and they are “recent developments”, “executive powers” and “not prepared to allow” the challenge. By recent developments, he meant the party activities, especially the activities of the opposition, including the December 6 press conference. The executive powers he meant were his powers as president. The problem is that these two things: party activities and presidential powers to not operate together. Kiir is known to mix these things up so that he can use his powers in the government to achieve his goals in the party, and vice versa. This can only explain the dictatorial tendencies on the part of the actor. The third element that he was “…not prepared to allow…” a challenge to his powers, whether in the party or in the government, speaks for itself. It only indicated that he was ready and prepared to fight against his political nemeses at all costs using all means available at his disposal to maintain power—however irrelevant and illegal. The significance of the first two elements of the statement was that, he was ready to use the armed forces as the commander-in-chief to silence his enemies in the party.
The other statement was directed, as an attack, to Dr. Riek’s position and status in the SPLM. It went as follows: “After being accommodated in the SPLM, they took their positions in the government for granted. When they were reshuffled, they took the changes negatively.” By accommodation, he meant the reunification between Dr. Riek’s group and Dr. Garang’s group in 2002. He wanted to send a message that Riek was not a true member of SPLM who should challenge him, as he considers himself as the only true and real SPLM member deserving the position. He forgot that Riek was not being accommodated when he took up the third position in 2002 after Garang and Kiir. He was only occupying his rightful position in the hierarchy of the SPLM. Kiir himself was among the proponents of that formula, for he saw that he was about to be overtaken by Riek if the other formula was to be used. By saying that positions were taken for granted, he wanted the audience to think that Riek opposed him because he (Riek) had been reshuffled out. He had forgotten that the audience knew very well that Riek had voiced out his interest for the top position in the party before the reshuffle. In fact, he was reshuffled out because of that. How could he now be accused of retaliating for being reshuffled out when his opposition preceded the reshuffle?
Having seen Kiir acting the way he did on the first day of the meeting, members of the opposition group opted to stay out of the meeting on the second day. Kiir saw that boycott as a challenge to his “executive powers”, which he had promised himself a day before not to allow to happen again. This time, he felt that he needed to use his “executive powers” to arrest his challengers in the party.
As many know, the relationship between Kiir and the General Chief of Staff had been strained due to the latter’s refusal to see the army involved in what was a political issue that only needed a political solution. This position taken by the Chief of General Staff continued up to the 15th of December. As committed to what he wanted to do as he was, Kiir bypassed the Chief of General Staff who had just returned from a long vacation in Australia and instructed his trusted General in charge of the Presidential Guard, Maj. General Marial Cinuor, to carry out the arrest of the challengers of the president’s “executive powers”.
Before carrying out the exercise, there was a problem to be solved first. The presidential guard was a mixed force, which included members of the Nuer tribe. Actually, the operation was mainly against Dr. Riek, and the Nuer soldiers were not trusted for the job. Not only that they were not trusted for the job, they were also thought to be a group that would not allow the operation to take place due to their tribal association with Dr. Riek. They had to be disarmed before the operation could commence. It was decided that only the Dinka members of the force should carry out the task as they were believed to be loyal to their tribesman, Kiir. The trusted General paraded the force and disarmed the members without any incident. But then, he started re-arming the Dinka members without anyone else knowing what was really going on. This aroused the suspicion of the Nuer members who felt that something was terribly wrong with what the General was doing. They did not feel safe, and demanded that the situation be explained to them so as to allay their fears. Failure of the General to explain to the soldiers forced them to decide to re-arm themselves for protection against the unknown, and that was how the fight started within the Presidential Guard’s Headquarters.
As soon as the fight broke out among the members of the Presidential Guards, the initial plan to arrest the challengers of President’s “executive powers” was dropped and the incident was immediately labeled as an attempted coup. Now, it is taken as an opportunity to arrest the same people as coup plotters instead. They figured that this would be a stronger accusation than the first one. The incident was also going to be used to carryout mass killings of the civilians whose only crime was their tribal identity.
But, the fact of the matter was that an attempted coup, as declared on the morning of December 16, 2013 by Salva Kiir, never existed. There was only a fighting resulting from a misunderstanding among members of Kiir’s force. Turning it around and calling it an attempted coup was only a way to interrupt a democratic political process by putting political adversaries behind bars, hopping to put a complete end to a political headache that he had experienced prior to the incident.
What Happened Beginning on December 16, 2013?
The events of the 16th of December also came to take place as parts of a long-term plan that was only brought to actualization by the events of the night of the 15th. It began to take shape with the training of the 15,000-member presidential militia force known by such names as Doot Beny, Thiang Beny, Koch Beny (president’s people) or Gel Weng. The incident on the 15th was only used as an excuse for carrying out a long-term plan of mass tribal killings, just the same way that the same event was used to attempt on achieving a political goal of silencing political detractors in the SPLM. It was the story of “killing two birds with one stone”.
Everyone who was aware of the development (training of the militia) knew that a problem was on its way coming. But, when it came to imagining what that problem would be, almost everyone missed it. What was on everybody’s mind was that, the militia would be used by Kiir as secret hit men to assassinate his political enemies. No one could have thought that the militia would be used to slaughter unarmed, defenseless civilians on the basis of their tribal origins.
Initially, the recruitment of these 15,000 men was done by Kiir and Paul Malong Awan, the Governor of Northern Bahr al-Gazal, in Warrap and Northern Bahr al-Gazal states. This was done outside of the regular SPLA recruitment process. It was a private undertaking by the two men. In fact, the SPLA Headquarters came to be involved only when it was revealed that these recruits were part of the regular SPLA, and that their salaries had to be paid by the SPLA. This revelation caused some misgivings as there were SPLA recruits in some of the training facilities that had been there for years without being graduated. An example is the big number of recruits who had been in Mapel for more than two years. There were also people on training in Owiny-ki-bul. If Kiir saw a need for the size of his force to be increased, he could have just asked the Chief of General Staff to work something out.
The initial training of these men took place in Northern Bahr al-Gazal. After that, they were moved to Luri Mountain located west of Juba near Kiir’s cattle camp, for further training. It should be noted that from the time that they were recruited to the time that they were graduated and started their first operation on the morning of the 16th, they had never been mixed with anyone from the other South Sudanese tribes. They were purely from the Dinka of Warrap and Northern Bahr al-Gazal trained alone for a mission that only they, Kiir and Paul Malong Awan knew. This makes one think that during the whole process, they were given a message that no other South Sudanese were wanted to know. And that secret message must be what they started to carry out on the 16th.
To support this conclusion, one would cite a number of things. The first thing to cite would be the secret process that involved members of a single tribe, a tribe that is just one among more than sixty tribes. These men are not just from the Dinka community. They come specifically from the home states of the two principal recruiters: Kiir and Paul Malong Awan. The rest of the Dinka community was left out in this process, probably to protect the secret harbored by the two men.
The second thing that needs to be cited is Kiir’s inciting speech that he made in November in his hometown, Akon, where he spoke in Dinka language telling his people that there were people who wanted to take the leadership from him. He referred to the leadership as belonging to the people to whom he was talking. He basically told them that they had fought hard to get it. He asked them whether or not they were now ready to let others take it, to which the audience responded by saying, “A ci bi gam”. “A ci bi gam” in Dinka means, “it will never happen”.
The other problem was Kiir’s excessive references to the 1991 events after the split of the SPLA to remind people of what has become known as the Bor massacre. After the split, the two factions were locked in an inter-factional war that ended up affecting the civilians. Each side committed atrocities against civilians who were believed to side with the other. One of those events was the attack on Bor by forces majority of whom were members of the Nuer tribe. A big number of civilians were killed as a result of that attack. As such, some members of the Dinka community erroneously blame it on the Nuer community even though the fighting was between two SPLA factions. Any blame for the deaths of the civilians resulting from the inter-factional fighting should have been directed against the faction that was believed to be responsible for those deaths. Kiir and Paul Malong must be among those who blame the incident on the Nuer and feel that those killings must be avenged. What surprises people is that in recruiting these avengers, the Dinka Bor whose community would be avenged were left out in the recruitment process. They would have been natural members of such a group. This indicates that Kiir and Paul Malong might have their own separate agenda, and that the excessive references to the 1991 events was to arouse the emotions of their fellow Dinka men so as to put them in a revenge mode so that when the time was right, they would do anything in their powers to hit as hard as they could to ensure a maximum damage on the target community. He might have ordered the killings of mostly Nuer men and boys to deprive his arch political nemesis, Riek Machar, of potential supporters. Or he might have some other reason to hate the Nuer as a tribe.
Whatever the case might be, Kiir has succeeded in carrying out his mission to use the state power to kill innocent civilians in their thousands on the basis of their tribal origin to achieve a goal that is yet to be understood when the time is proper—an act that has placed a country in a dangerously destructive course. What is and ought to be more important than anything else at this point is to stop him from continuing to carry out his destructive policies against particular communities and against the country in general.
What is the Plan for the Future of South Sudan?
Salva Kiir Mayardit has ceased to be a legitimate President. He has acted numerous times in contravention with the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan. He sponsored the destruction of the Lou Nuer community in 1996 on the pretext that the communities were too dangerous to themselves. At the time, three communities in Jonglei, namely the Lou Nuer, the Murle and the greater Dinka Bor were to be disarmed. The forceful disbarment began with the Lou Nuer. After the killings of civilians in their hundreds, the disarmament was declared a success. However, the general disarmament policy stopped there without touching the two other neighboring communities. That became a recipe for a disaster as the neighboring communities saw an opportunity to raid the Lou Nuer cattle without any resistance. That led to an all-out war between the Lou and Murle communities. Kiir, as the person who was in charge of the security of the country, did not see it as a problem. Maybe his main plan was to make the Lou Nuer vulnerable to their neighbors so that they could be devastated, as this became the case in Pieri Payam 2012. This incident, and others prior to it, forced the Lou youths to march to the Murleland in thousands to carry out revenge attacks on Murle—a march that only Dr. Riek put a stop to by personally going to the Murleland to intercept the advancing youths. It was only when the international community started crying out at the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 that Kiir decided to act. He ended up doing the wrong thing: sponsoring the destruction of the Morle community on the pretext that he was restoring order by disarming the Murle and defeating David Yau Yau’s rebellion in the area.
In 2013, he unconstitutionally removed two elected state Governors, Chol Tong Mayay of Lakes State and Taban Deng Gai of Unity State. Article 101 (r) of the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan allows removal of a Governor only when there is a crisis in the state. In the cases of the two Governors there were no crises in their respective states. The only state with a crisis at the time was Jonglei where a rebellion by David Yau Yau was an ongoing. Surprisingly, Kiir did not remove Kuol Manyang, the then Governor of Jonglei. Anyway, after removing the two Governors, at different times, he appointed caretakers in their places. In each of the two cases, he failed to request them to organize elections within the 60 days demanded by Article 101 (s) of the Constitution. He arrogantly allowed the caretakers to continue unconstitutionally. He considered any advice to do something so as to be in conformity with the constitutional provision as a challenge to his authority. To him, the best way to respond to this perceived challenge was to stay put on the wrong side of the supreme law of the land. He considers that as a strength of leadership on his part.
Having a militia of his own besides the national army and other organized forces is a violation of the Constitution. Article 151 (3) of the Constitution does not provide him the option of organizing his own private army without a provision of a law. If he saw an urgent need for that, then he should have gone to the National Legislature to get some sort of approval and some legislative act of authorization, as this type of undertaking needed a law and money, and the National Legislature supposedly holds the national purse. What happened, beginning from December 16, is what the law prevents by not allowing personal militias to exist. It prevents personal loyalty. A national army trained to protect a country, not one particular person, would not have done what Kiir’s militia has committed. They would have refused to execute such a criminal order as their loyalty would be to the country, but not to Kiir.
Using the army to silence his political rivals in the party is unconstitutional. First, the party and the government are two separate institutions. While the SPLM is a private membership political organization, the government is a public institution that belongs to all South Sudanese irrespective of their party affiliations. The fact that the SPLM is the ruling party does not make it an extension of the government of South Sudan. It can only influence government decisions through its members who are running the government. In principle, the SPLM cannot fund the government, nor can the government fund the SPLM.
Second, the Constitution does not allow the use of military for political ends. This is exactly the reason why Kiir and his group have been going around talking about an attempted coup. They understand that using the army to “take” state power is unconstitutional. They want to use the words “attempted coup” to make the world sympathize with them as protectors of the Constitution, for a coup would be seen as a violation of the constitution. What he and his group fail to understand is the other side of Article 4 (1) of the Constitution: he cannot use the army to “maintain” political power. What he should have done was to allow the SPLM Convention to take place in May of 2013 so as to democratically “maintain” or transfer power without resorting to military force.
The eventual use of his personal militia and the very act of killing people in masses on the basis of their tribal origin and using the state power to actually achieve this, whatever the end goal may be, is the ultimate act against the Constitution, especially “right to life and human dignity” under Article 11 of the Bill of Rights. After all this, two things are now going against Kiir: the Constitution and other international humanitarian laws do not allow him to kill unarmed, defenseless civilians the way he did in December and, therefore, he must do a lot of explaining; and after the killings, South Sudanese have lost trust in him as a leader. After the Nuer, which tribe might be next? It is difficult to predict. And that is dangerous.
Looking at each of the cases above, Kiir can be said to have made a coup against himself for going against the very Constitution that gave him the power to be in the presidential office. Without this Constitution, he would have been just a Salva Kiir in some village in Warrap without any thing to do with the rest of the people of South Sudan. The Constitution is what constitutes South Sudan as one nation that brings together different members of the South Sudanese tribes as one people. That is his only source of legitimacy to lead all South Sudanese. Going against that document means going against himself as a leader. He has defeated himself. His only survival is the use of the Ugandan Army in keeping to perpetrate crimes against humanity. But time is soon coming for the Ugandans to get tired of dying in a foreign land for a reason that is clear only to Museveni. Once the time comes for them to get out, Kiir will surely want to leave with them.
The ethnic killings that Kiir has sponsored using his tribesmen have basically divided the country on tribal lines. And, this was done to achieve purely personal goals as it is believed that the rest of the Dinka community has nothing to do with that act. As such, the act was purely criminal and personal, not communal. The men from Aweil and Warrap and the government were only used for personal gains of an individual(s). Responsibility shall go to the principal and the agents who have taken active part in planning and execution of this barbaric act. The two communities have nothing to fight over, and should not allow the incident to divide them. They should only unite with other South Sudanese communities to rid themselves of Kiir’s criminal regime.
For the above reasons, Kiir stands accused and is no longer trusted by the people. He has ceased to be a legitimate leader of this wounded country. He, therefore, should go.
Peace Talks in Addis Ababa
The IGAD Peace Talks in Addis Ababa appear to be the right things to do to reach a peaceful solution to the problem. But, it must be stated right away that they took off with a hijacker onboard. Uganda has proven herself to be a spoiler in the process of making peace in South Sudan by choosing to wear two hats. Uganda initially stood with the IGAD to bring a peaceful end to the conflict. Then, before the IGAD could sit and formulate a way to start the process, Uganda was already seen fighting alongside one party to the same conflict. These two opposing positions taken by one of the members of the body that is supposed to be the peacemaker have betrayed the whole process.
The initiative by the IGAD was a genuine expression of the East African countries’ desire to have a neighboring peaceful South Sudan. But, the IGAD leaders did not realize that they had Museveni among them who had his own separate interest in South Sudan. It is true that Uganda has economic interest in South Sudan. And so are the other neighboring countries bordering South Sudan. The Ugandan claim that they have a security interest in the country is something that has to be understood later as time goes. If it is true that it has security interest in South Sudan, then it can also be said that other neighboring countries to South Sudan have security interests in the country that the Ugandan action could destroy. But, Museveni is believed to be having interests that are separate from the stated ones.
Some of the reasons are believed to be as follows: Kiir is seen as a weak leader who lacks confidence in himself when it comes to running a country, and Museveni is believed to be interested in seeing weak leaders in East Africa so that he alone can be the one to call the shots in the region; he wants others to believe that Uganda is the powerhouse in East Africa when it comes to maintaining security; and it is also believed that Kiir is sharing out oil money with Museveni. Museveni sees east African and Great Lakes regional conflicts as money-making. He took part in Rwandan conflicts to loot resources in that country with devastating results; he is benefiting from Somalia’s war by sending his country’s troops as peacekeepers so that they can be paid in Dollars and be compensated for the use of their aging military equipment by the AU. He took part in Congo’s war so that he could loot the diamond and other resources for his country’s benefit—an act for which the International Court has adjudged Uganda and ordered it to pay ten billion dollars (USD $10,000,000,000.00). All of these other interests, in addition to the stated ones, should not be discounted when looking at the actions of Uganda in South Sudan.
It is also believed that Museveni is working to destroy IGAD and strengthen his position in the Great Lakes and pull the East African Community member countries from IGAD to the Great Lakes. This way, Ethiopia, which Museveni believes to be an obstacle in his way to greatness in East Africa, can be isolated. If the plan succeeds, Ethiopia can remain isolated and weak in East African politics in particular and in Africa in general. How this scheme is going to play out in the future remains to be seen.
The Ceasefire deal reached on January 23, 2014 has failed due to numerous government violations. First, the fighting had not stopped because the government kept attacking opposition positions in the hope to acquire more territories before the IGAD monitoring team arrived. This way, the territories acquired as a result of the violations would be marked as theirs once the team arrived. However, they eventually refused to cooperate with the team thinking that they had advantages over the opposition. This is another violation to the agreement.
Second, the government refused to release the four remaining political detainees. The agreement was that the government and the opposition were to do a number of things before the Talks could re-start. Chief among these were for both sides to ceasefire; the government was to release political detainees and request foreign forces to leave the country. As alluded to in the paragraph above, fire never ceased as the government was out trying to cover more territories than the ones that it had prior to the signing of the ceasefire agreement. In addition to that, the government released only seven detainees out of the eleven, leaving four in its custody. The agreement did not provide the government with the option of doing selective release. They were all supposed to be released. Keeping the remaining four in custody is a violation of the agreement.
An interesting thing about the release of the political detainees is the fact that the government has been shifting from one position to another for too many times. This shifting on positions is a telling sign for a problem that the government is facing in making its case. It can be interpreted to mean that the government’s position in a political negotiation is not strong and that it wants to delay and see if it can win in the battlefield. Or the detainees know something that Kiir does not want the world to know about the conflict, or maybe, some of the detainees have been tortured or killed. Could it be that the government has murdered one of the four and is in the process of using the treason charge to try them and condemn them to death so as to claim later that a death sentence has been executed?
It started with the accusation that these detainees, plus Dr. Riek Machar, Lt. General Alfred Ladu Gore and Taban Deng Gai had planned a coup. As such, the eleven were arrested on the accusation that they participated in the alleged coup attempt and that they would be prosecuted for their roles. When the fighting in Juba started to spread out to places outside of Juba in a way that the government was not able to control, and the international community was trying to press for a ceasefire, the government took a position that it would release them. But, then when a good number of the Ugandan army took their positions on the ground, the government rescinded its decision to release them. The international community had to exert more pressure before the government agreed again to release eight, but to keep three on corruption charges. That was illogical because they had been arrested on charges that had nothing to do with corruption. It showed that they were all clean as far as the alleged coup was concerned, and that the only thing that they could do was to find some other reason to keep them in custody. Then the joint operation of government and Ugandan army started gaining more grounds in Jonglei. Seeing this as an advantage, the government again reconsidered its position on the detainees and decided that it should keep all of them. As the issue appeared to be a stumbling block in the way to the ceasefire and the apparent lack of evidence of a coup, the IGAD and the rest of the international community got serious with the government and the government relented, only to release seven of the detainees and withheld four on charges of treason.
What all of this discloses is that the government has shown a complete lack of consistency, taking one position today and taking the other the next day. Two (Deng Alor and Kosti Manibe) of the seven who have been released were among the first three whom the government initially cleared of involvement in the alleged coup and wanted to keep them in detention together with Pagan Amum only on corruption charges. At that time, they were free of the charges of a coup attempt as the rest (John Luk, Gier Chuang, Oyay Deng, Majak Agot, Chol Tong, Ezekiel Lol, Biar Madut) who were going to be released without charges. But, the latest position is a complete contradiction to the previous one. Now, four (Oyay Deng, Majak Agot, Pagan Amum and Ezekiel Lol)—three of whom were initially cleared of the charges and one of three who were going to be held on corruption charges—are kept in Juba on treason charges. This is one of the worse cases of inconsistency that can only be explained by lack of evidence against the accused.
Of course, lack of evidence alone cannot be the only reason here. There is the other side, and that is that the government is not interested in clarifying the issues that have led to the current mess. Each of the four people—Oyay Deng, Majak Agot, Pagan Amum and Ezekiel Lol—who are being kept is held for more than just lack of evidence. Oyay, as former Minister of National Security, and Majak, as former Deputy Minister of Defense, are being kept for knowing too much of Kiir’s security arrangements in dealing with opposition. There is some fear in Kiir’s circle that they would expose Kiir’s security plans. For Pagan, he has too much information on Kiir’s plans of paralyzing the SPLM’s political process that led to the crisis. As for Ezekiel, his problem is his perceived good relation with the American officials in the State Department as a former Ambassador to the USA. Their accusation that they have committed treason is just a pretext. The real issue is for the government to attempt to control the information that gets out as to the causes of the conflict throughout the peace process.
The third violation is the refusal to ask the Ugandan army to leave the country. Kiir knows that the people are not on his side to fight for him. The only way for him to remain in power is to hire the willing Ugandans to do the fighting for him so that he remains in power in Juba. But this is not power because it does not come from the people. Its source is foreign, and, therefore illegitimate. Success of the Addis Ababa process is good for him because whatever he gets out of the talks with would be legitimized by the talks. Otherwise, he can sit in Juba with Ugandan army officers around him for only a short period of time. They cannot stay there forever.
Kiir’s embarrassing reliance on the Ugandan Army is what drags the process. Remove the Ugandans, one would see Kiir wholly and honestly committing to the peace talks. The fact that the Ugandans helped him in retaking Bor, Bentiw and Malakal gives him a false hope that he is about to score a military victory against the opposition forces. But, he should know better than the Ugandans that military victory is nowhere within their reach. If he does not intend to let go of them, then he should be preparing them for a long and expensive process, not just harboring false hope of an eminent military victory.
At this critical time, IGAD without Uganda, and the rest of the international community must apply pressure on Kiir and Museveni to ceasefire, release the four remaining political detainees and tell the Ugandan Army to leave South Sudan without any delay. Only then that a genuine and honest peace negotiation can take place, as Kiir would cease to be under the influence of Museveni.
The author lives in the Republic of South Sudan.