The legendary riddle of ‘chicken and egg’ corroborates the current realities of South Sudan civil war, whose effects have rendered irrelevant its causes and triggers, but at the same time have left the culprits, the victims and the mediators bewildered.
The absence of policy tools to address the crisis left the region and the international community with only two options: confine Dr. Riek Machar to South Africa, and give President Salva Kiir six months to clear the SPLM/A (IO). The consequences now register as dire humanitarian situation, refugees and famine.
A few days ago, Mr. Festus Mogae, Chairman of Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) paid a visit to Dr. Riek Machar Teny-Dhurgon, the SPLM/A (IO) leader holed up in South Africa since November 2016. The purpose of the visit was to ask Dr. Riek to renounce violence, declare unilateral ceasefire and come back to Juba to join the national dialogue (ND) President Salva Kiir decreed last December. It was like adding insult to injury.
Mr. Mogae’s mission proves the very truth that the cause of the war is trying to catch up with its effects in view of the message he delivered. Mr. Mogae’s mandate is to monitor and to evaluate the implementation of the agreement on resolution of crisis in South Sudan (ARCISS).
Since July 2016, Mr. Mogae has been telling the world the opposite of what actually was happening in South Sudan. Intimidated by Information minister, Makuei et al, Mr. Mogae is reduced to a messenger; ferrying messages from President Salva Kiir Mayardit and the Jieng Council of Elders (JCE) to Dr. Riek Machar.
This new assignment undoubtedly puts Mr. Mogae in an embarrassing situation of admitting that ARCISS is definitely dead and this necessitates a return to the drawing board.
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The genesis of the crisis:
The Republic of South Sudan unfortunately did not avoid the pitfall most post-colonial African countries fell into on independence -organizing power and politics based on personality, ethnicity and regionalism instead of ideas and political programs.
We’ve somewhere attributed this to ideological poverty and the paradigm shift the SPLM made in the nineties in the context of thawing of the cold war and the collapse of Soviet Union. The recoil from revolutionary politics to liberal and neo-liberal brought in its wake the ethnicization of SPLM public power and authority.
The signing of comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) heralding the independence as especially following the tragic demise of Dr. John Garang de Mabior and the ascension of Salva Kiir Mayardit to the helm, the assumption that it was Dinka power, started to take roots.
The witch-hunt against the so-called Garang’s orphans was to remove from the SPLM/A hierarchy non-Dinka as well as non-Bahr el Ghazalians.
There was no way of removing Dr. Riek Machar and the Nuers. So, the power configuration appeared Dinka-Nuer alliance in the political, military and civil service.
It was taken for granted that the Dinka (Salva Kiir) would be president because of their numerical weight. The Nuer (Dr. Riek Machar) would deputize him and the Equatorian (James Wani Igga) remain the Hon. Speaker of the National Legislature.
Translated into executive portfolios, in a cabinet of thirty, there were sixteen Dinka, six Nuer, two Chollo, one Azande, one Bari and one Balanda. This power arrangement engendered political exclusion, discrimination and marginalization of the smaller ethnicities.
In the army, the Dinka had the highest numbers in the officers’ corps while the Nuer were seventy percent of the soldiers.
The Dinka and Nuer controlled between themselves the civil service top positions not based on merits but political patronage. Many Dinka and Nuer people returning from the Diaspora especially US, Canada and Australia had no knowledge of skills demanded by the senior positions they occupied leading to paralysis of the system.
The political contradictions inherent in such a power configuration were bound to erupt into violence. This occurred on 15 December 2013 with the target massacres of ethnic Nuers in Juba.
Initially, the perception among many South Sudanese was that it was a Dinka-Nuer affair, explaining the indifference and lack of solidarity with the Nuer victims. This neutrality remained until combative Dinka ethnic nationalism now at the centre stage directing the war started aggressing and provoking other ethnicities to take up arms.
In August 2015, the government of South Sudan, the SPLM in opposition, the SPLM former political detainees, the other political parties, the Women Group, the Faith based Group and Civil Society Organizations signed the peace agreement.
In April 2016, the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) was established. Barely two months in the implementation of ARCISS war erupted again. Two factors contributed to this renewed war, namely, were the Establishment Order 36/2015 (EO36/2015) and the refusal to establish cantonment camps for SPLA IO in Equatoria and Bahr el Ghazal.
The violent events in July 2016 leading to the collapse of both the TGoNU and ARCISS have created new realities
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The rise of Dinka ethnic nationalism, with its ideology of Dinka (Jieng) ethnic supremacy über alles, and the formation of the Jieng Council of Elders (JCE) as a power broker around President Salva Kiir became the rallying point for unity of all Jieng sections and subsections in what apparently has become a Jieng war against all others.
This may appear simplistic, but the rise of Dinka ethnic nationalism has efficaciously transformed the character of the conflict into a ‘Dinka war,’ in the guise of the government of South Sudan (SPLA), against all other nationalities opposed to Dinka hegemony and domination.
President Salva Kiir Mayardit admitted this in the Transitional National Legislative Assembly (TNLA) on 19 October 2016 that “the Nuers have rebelled and the other ethnicities refused or have boycotted the SPLA and therefore I had nowhere to look for troops to fight the war” (sic).
The upsurge of Dinka ethnic nationalism and the formation of the JCE are sides of the same coin of right wing politics in South Sudan. It is not the first time the Dinka political elites have fostered ‘Dinka Unity’ as a counter to one of their number losing power.
The call for ‘Dinka Unity’ emerged in late seventies of the last century in order to protect Abel Alier’s presidency of the High Executive Council (HEC) in the defunct Southern Region. It has now emerged as an important factor in the conflict to protect the power of President Salva Kiir Mayardit.
However, unlike its past variant, Dinka ethnic nationalism (now organized under the auspices of JCE chaired by Justice Ambrose Riiny Thiik) has come against a backdrop of an alliance between the Dinka politico-military-business elite – a parasitic capitalist class, (Salva Kiir has nurtured since 2005) and the regional and multinational comprador capitalism interested in the extraction, development and exploitation of South Sudan vast natural resource potential.
Consequent to, and through this alliance, President Salva Kiir consolidated his hold on political and executive powers by engineering a totalitarian regime as a vehicle to facilitate this extraction.
To accomplish this he had to paralyze the organizational and political functions of the SPLM as the ruling party. Thus, instead of institutionalizing, President Salva Kiir personified power and governed through presidential decrees and orders.
He embarked on the formation of ethnic and regional caucuses in the legislative and executive organs of the state and encouraged the emergence of ethnic and regional associations and lobby groups as a means of entrenching a system of political patronage.
In the course of a few years, the Dinka ethnic nationalism, Salva Kiir’s kleptocratic totalitarianism, and the natural resource extraction opportunities blended into an explosive admixture, which drives the nefarious policy decisions fueling the conflict in South Sudan.
These policy decisions like the Executive Order 36/2015 speak to this explosive admixture in the context of capitalist utilitarianism in the form of land for investment in mechanized commercial agricultural farming and livestock ranching.
This makes the Order the most contentious piece of legislation. It not only divides South Sudan into 28 dysfunctional states, but also awards the Dinka 42% of South Sudan land area making it the most contentious piece of legislation.
This order, through alteration of administrative boundaries and creation of new states, dispossesses and transfers to the Dinka ownership ancestral lands of other nationalities in Western Bahr el Ghazal [Fertit in Raga] and Upper Nile [Chollo, Maaban, Koma and Nuer].
This decision was not in response to explosion of Dinka population but in a colonial pattern, to evict people, if necessarily by force of arms, to make land available to foreign investors.
That it also permits pastoral Dinka communities unhindered access to, and settlement with their herds in, sedentary agricultural areas in Equatoria and Western Bahr el Ghazal has led to the growth of anti-Dinka sentiments throughout South Sudan with the consequence that innocent Dinka civilians were caught up in the fury.
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The fallacy of existential threat:
The killing of innocent Dinka on the roads in Equatoria has prompted some Dinka intellectuals, to raise the point that there is an existential threat to Dinka people in South Sudan. This could not be further from the truth.
If there is any existential threat in South Sudan, it is the smaller ethnicities in Western Bahr el Ghazal who in addition to the socio-economic and political exclusion, discrimination and marginalization they have suffered over the decades, are now faced with brutalization, dehumanization, physical and cultural extinction consequent to annexation of Raga to some parts of Awiel.
The Acholi, Madi, Moro, Balanda and others face existential threat consequent to destruction of their livelihood and culture. The invasion by pastoral communities into their sedentary agricultural ecology is an existential threat.
The Chollo are facing an existential threat from their Padang Dinka neighbours who with the support of the government of South Sudan, in the person of President Salva Kiir, are dispossessing them of their ancestral lands on east bank of River Nile.
What I want to emphasize here is that it is the small ethnicities because they do not possess economic or political/military power who face this existential threat but not those large ethnicities in possession of state power.
These intellectuals, some feigning liberalism, have raised the existential threat only to justify their tacit support for Salva Kiir’s totalitarianism. Many of these intellectuals were known opponents of President Salva Kiir yet they refused to join the armed opposition to the regime.
They have not condemned the horrendous crimes ‘Dotku beny’ and ‘Mathiang anyoor’ (Dinka militias) committed since 2013. They have drummed up that due to this existential threat it has forced the Dinka to rally behind Salva Kiir and the JCE.
This is thrash and the only credible explanation for this rhetoric is ethnic solidarity. The truth is that the conflict has become one against sixty-three and that by whatever magic, the one cannot win against sixty-three.
This brings us to another disturbing reality linked to state formation and nation building in South Sudan. The ethnic and regional dimensions of the war are becoming prominent with the emergence and proliferation of armed oppositions groups ethnic and regional in character.
The struggle against Dinka ethnic nationalism and the burgeoning parasitic capitalist class, we categorized as the ‘explosive admixture’, in the absence of a unifying ideological thrust renders the three categories harbingers of South Sudan’s self-destruction.
This plays out negatively.
First, the presence of many separate and competing armed groups without a political agreement to enable them cohabitate and operate against the regime in close proximity is bound to generate frictions, tensions and even violence. This occurred in January between the SPLM/A (IO) and the newly formed (Dr. Lam Akol’s) National Democratic Movement (NDM).
This weakened the two groups through loss of human life and military hardware thus playing into the hands of the government. The least thing opposition groups should do is to fight among themselves no matter how difficult the situation.
Secondly, the ethnic backlash pushes to the background, if not into the oblivion, the state formation and nation building objectives, which raise the possibility of South Sudan disintegrating into ungovernable pieces. The competing regional political, economic and security interests will definitely accentuate this scenario.
The military presence in South Sudan of Uganda and Ethiopia might encourage Kenya and the Sudan to send their troops under the guise of maintaining peace ala Somalia while in fact they are balance their respective interests.
Thirdly, proliferation of armed opposition spells their weakness thus prolonging the life of the totalitarian regime. This will have the negative psychological impact on the people, who politically and ideologically, have not sufficiently prepared for a protracted war. As their social and economic situation continues to deteriorate, in face of the deepening economic crisis of the regime and famine, many of them will flee into refuge in the neighbouring countries.
Fourth, in spite of the ethnic power fanfare and pride, the Dinka are not culturally homogenous. There is latent power struggle between the eastern (Bor) and western (Rek) Dinka, which could erupt into violence as the social and economic situation become untenable.
This plays into the second scenario accelerating the disintegration invoking the UN trusteeship peddled by some political leaders. UN trusteeship of South Sudan will freeze without resolving the fundamental contradiction, given the heightened ethnic furore.
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What should be done?
South Sudan is going through an irreconcilable contradiction between the totalitarian regime and the masses of the people. The emerging ethnic character apart, the resolution of this contradiction will not be on the basis of power-sharing and effecting superficial reforms in the system.
The ARCISS is outmoded that any group hinging its hope on its resuscitation will be courting the perpetuation of conflict. The existence of many armed and opposition parties is indicative of the multiple layers of the problem, which therefore necessitates its deeper knowledge and scientific understanding.
It’s obvious we are aware of the problem facing the people of South Sudan. What seems not very obvious to all the political groups is that their continued independent actions work to prolong the suffering of the people of South Sudan.
The author, Peter Adwok Nyaba
Picture one, four five and six by Johannes Dieterich others by Petterik Wiggers