The Panthou Fiasco: Kiir’s government needs to resign now

By Elhag Paul

May 1, 2012 (SSNA) — It was 26th March 2012 and without prior warning, SPLA, the army of the RSS swiftly with a lightening speed reacted to Khartoum’s provocations of continuous assault on the border areas by beating the aggressor and occupying its base Panthou (Heglig).   President Kiir makes a victorious statement to the SPLM National Liberation Council conference at Nykoroun in Juba.   As usual, without understanding the international implications, the chorus of Oyees approving the president’s action from the indoctrinated delegates drew out every noise.   Magnanimously, Kiir unilaterally withdraws RSS troops in a gesture for peace.   Khartoum not having learnt a lesson went on its business of aggression as usual.   Within a fortnight, SPLA was back in action capturing Panthou for the second time due to continuous aerial bombardment and ground incursion from Sudan Armed Forces (SAF).   Kiir makes another announcement – there would be no withdrawal this time, after all Panthou is part of South Sudan territory as per map of the Sudan as of 01/01/1956.

All these announcements by president Kiir are reminiscent of victories scored by the SPLA during the two decades long conflict prior to secession of South Sudan.   In those days, South Sudanese instinctively switched on their radios at 3.00 p.m. Sudan local time to listen to radio SPLM/A.   They listened to reports from the various theatres of military operations.   Oppressed by Khartoum, anything that came from radio SPLM/A was a tonic panacea to most South Sudanese.     This was then when Southern Sudanese were fighting their own government (the Sudan) and they did not need any extensive foreign diplomacy.   After all, diplomacy meant cash and the movement was starved of it.   Even in those days there was a semblance of diplomacy.   In London, Nairobi and Washington one could hear the voices of learnt members of the movement like Dr Richard Mula, late Dr Samson Kwaje, and Mr Steven Wondu defending the interest of South Sudan in BBC Focus on Africa.

This time, president Kiir’s military announcements unfortunately did not find sympathetic ears around the capitals of the world that matter.   In these centres of world power and influence, South Sudanese ambassadors are no where to be seen leave alone heard.   So, Kiir’s message to the world about South Sudan land rights and its right to self defence remained raw and unarticulated with a catastrophic result.   The world judging by the limited information to them branded RSS as the aggressor while the true aggressor – Khartoum got away with murder because it efficiently used its best minds to misinform the world.   On RSS’ side, some of the worst brains in the country were appointed to foreign services.   Take for example, the recent appointments of ambassadors – the majority are people who have neither the quality, nor qualifications.   They have neither experience, nor the command of the English language, or the ability to self present appropriately.   A chunk of them were doing interesting jobs in the west and other parts of the world.   Their embodiment is in this interview:  

So with this kind of ambassadors presenting what is supposed to be the face of South Sudan, what chance has RSS got to be heard in centres of power and global markets of influence around the world?   President Kiir is now reaping the fruits of his own making.   As the Bible tells us – you reap what you sow.   But perhaps the most revealing thing is the maxim: a hyena gives birth to a hyena.   A country led by people of limited capacity who do not accept savvy advice will always be represented by people of limited capacity with simplistic ideas leading to simplistic decisions.   Let us face it.   This is the bitter reality.

The fiasco that is called Panthou war is very disheartening.   At the heart of all this is the fact that RSS has a ‘one man, one tribe and one party government’ bereft of any coherent ideology, governance skills and capacity.   Whereas RSS has in abundance people who are world class professionals in these areas, they are being deprived of contributing to the development of their country by cheer Dinkocracy.   Had RSS had a competent government with robust opposition, the decision to respond to Khartoum’s continuous aggression would have been carefully weighed and every nitty gritty discussed thoroughly with a carefully considered wise decision alongside contingency plans.  

As it turns out, the decision to go to Panthou was an ill thought out knee jerk reaction that has cost RSS dearly in terms of public relations, wasted human resource, economic resource and complicating the conundrum of Panthou itself.   On the internal front the cost has been high.   A raised false expectation of victory in reclaiming lost land ended with dashed hopes.   Unnecessary loss of lives of innocent civilians.   Unnecessary exposure of citizens in states bordering the Sudan to intensified terror from aerial bombardments and sustained fear of violence; and exposing the collective psyche of South Sudanese citizens to anxiety.   What is all these for?   Just to crow with clenched fist raised high, ‘Anina rujal! (We are men!); SPLA gawi! (Mighty SPLA)’   Is this not utter foolery?

The Oyee party needs to know that going to war is not just as simple as in the case of rebellion where one can pick up a bird rifle and go to the bush to make a point.   Even in such circumstances the objective has to be well thought out with a contingency plan B.   When the people of South Sudan rebelled against Khartoum it was much easier as that was internationally considered to be an internal Sudanese matter.   In state to state violence, things are different.   Violence in this arena is guided by international law and a sophisticated level of manipulation – wheeling and dealing. It is not a case of whether you have rights or not.   It is a case of intrigues and outwitting opponents involving fine diplomacy and clever use of media.   In the world of today wars are won or lost on the altar of media.   Before plunging into action there needs to be extensive ground work and the best brains in this area.   This involves lobbying and consultation with centres of world power whose purpose is to secure solid support when things ultimately come to that tall building in New York.

To make this point clear, just look at what Israel is doing currently in its preparation against Iran.   It shouts loud about its case and the objective of its intended actions to enlighten the world.   It despatches seasoned envoys to countries that matter to gather support for any future action.   It complains to UN and so on.   To hammer the point home let us look at the gulf war in 2003 and the current events in Syria.   Before the Americans and British invaded Iraq, they consulted widely and tried to manipulate the UN although they met stiff resistance from the other European countries.   It was only after such a ground work that they eventually went into action in Iraq.   Now with the case of Syria, the Syrians used their resources during peace time to purchase insurance for themselves from Russia.   Confident that Russia would protect them in the tall building in New York, they ignored the international community in their quest to restore stability to their country using force.   When the west demanded action on Syria, they were blocked by Russia at the UN,

In RSS’ case, Panthou remains unknown to the wider world.   Even at the time of the Hague ruling, the inept pedantic vice president in the person of Riek Machar failed to articulate the point.   Riek and Kiir must take full responsibility for their failure to let down the people of Panthou in particular and the South Sudanese at large.   The complication of Panthou’s case and the spin by Khartoum solely emanates from the incompetence of this duo.   RSS failed to do its homework in spite of the fact that Khartoum had been violating its sovereignty right from the day it achieved independence.  

No doubt this is because the ministry of foreign affairs is a total shamble.   President Kiir the emperor of Dinkocracy appoints his tribes mates and Oyee party apparatchiks as ambassadors even when such people have not got the qualities, qualifications, skills as elaborated above.   Because of GoSS limited capacity, they do not know that they are doing the country disservice by such appointments.   A good example is the ambassador in Kenya.    He is the embodiment of president Kiir’s ministry of foreign affairs.   Paradoxically, learnt and experienced diplomats like Dr James Okuk who should be crisscrossing the world to make the case for Panthou are being abused in Juba by the system.   What a waste of human resource?   Is it any wonder why the Sudan is wining the diplomatic war?

The foreign minister, Nhail Deng Nhail has been silent since his appointment.   The Abyei boys (foreigners by definition of CPA) and Pagan Amum walk all over this ministry of foreign affairs by conducting RSS important negotiations abroad based on SPLM’s policy of ‘New Sudan’ oblivious to the fact that South Sudan is an independent sovereign state and the ideology of New Sudan died on 9 th January 2011 when South Sudanese overwhelmingly voted to secede.   If the late Col. Dr John Garang himself was alive today, he would have certainly reviewed this obsolete policy of New Sudan in order to pragmatically deal with the current reality.

This brings us to the question: What is the current reality?   South Sudan’s relationship with the Sudan is affected mainly by the unfinished matters of the CPA.   Abyei, border demarcation, oil export and Sudanese former members of the SPLM/A now known as SPLM/A (North).   These issues have ensared South Sudan to the extent that it constantly exposes the poor governance in Juba.   It is abundantly clear that GoSS has proven beyond doubt that it is incapable of managing the relationship with the Sudan in a matured manner.   There are signs that this inability is now getting out of control and spilling into international relation.   For example, the whining and whinging about Mr Thabo Mbeki is getting into a level of unjustified frenzy.   Let us suppose that Mr Mbeki is biased.   What about the Americans, European Union, UN, AU which all without exception condemned RSS’ military action?   Are all these countries and organisations anti South Sudan?   Why strive to demonise someone from a very important country in Africa?   Gunning for Mbeki will not sit well with ANC the ruling party in South Africa, or any rational person.   In the end it will be South Sudan that will lose rather than the Sudan.   Even if Mbeki was biased, South Sudan would best engage the authorities in Tswane (Pretoria) to influence events than to publicly vilify him.   This of course is something unique to the Oyee party rulers since their ability in diplomacy is wanting.   This vilification of Mbeki is not about Mbeki.   It is GoSS projecting it’s shameful failures in diplomacy onto the person of Mbeki who is a competent African leader who understands African affairs better than the Dinkocrats themselves in Juba.   Mbeki has outstanding credentials as a leader.   He came to power democratically and led his country (South Africa) successfully for two terms and peacefully.   Who in South Sudan today can claim to match his achievement in governance and diplomacy? Rather than spoiling relationship with African brothers and sisters unnecessarily, GoSS needs to employ competent people who understand what diplomacy means to be the mouth of the country.

So, it is the inability of the Oyee party to manage relationship with the Sudan that has landed RSS into a military conflict, which was not necessary at all.   But once war started and South Sudan regained Panthou militarily, there was no reason at all to cede it to the colonialists of Khartoum.   South Sudan should have gone the whole hog to settle Panthou’s case once and for all.   Panthou is historically and tribally part of South Sudan.

South Sudanese oral history aside, Douglas Johnson an authority in Sudanese history in his book titled ‘When Boundaries become Borders: the impact of boundary-making in South Sudan’s frontier zones’, published in 2010 by Rift Valley Institute in UK on page 28 points out that there are 7 main areas of possible dispute due to lack of clarity.   One of these is “the oil fields of Unity and Southern Kordofan areas”.   It is clear that the wording and/or description of this area clearly refer to Panthou.   Johnson further on page 59 argues that although, the current maps locate the Heglig and Kharasana oilfields inside South Kordofan, both the GoSS and the Unity state government base their claims of these fields on the Rueng assertion that both fields lie within traditional territory.   It is worth noting that during the British colonial rule, the method used to mark boundaries was based on the principle of tribal territory.

Now since the British transferred Rueng Dinka from the Nuba province to Upper Nile province in 1931, by inference the traditional lands of Rueng must follow to fall within Upper Nile, that is before the creation of Unity state by General Nimeiri’s regime whose intent was to steal Panthou.   Given this, there can be no credible argument to diminish South Sudan’s claim to Panthou.   In addition, it is common knowledge that South Sudan borders have been pushed south wards since time immemorial.   Therefore, president Kiir was right to claim Panthou when the South Sudanese army recovered it from the Sudan.   His only grave error was to cede it once again to Khartoum sending a wrong signal to the international community that the area belongs to the Sudan.   South Sudan should have stayed put while articulating the matter to the world.  

Khartoum’s sophisticated misinformation machine managed even to confuse Mr Alex De Waal who is referred to as an expert in South Sudan – Sudan affairs.   On 17 th April 2012 at 6.30 p.m. at Brunei Gallery in School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, Mr Alex De Waal in a lecture titled ‘Alex de Waal’s African Arguments Online lecture to the Royal African Society’ authoritatively said “The 1956 border clearly shows Heglig to be within North Sudan.   However, South Sudanese make a claim to the area based on traditional tribal land ownership.”   What De Waal failed to point out here was that during the British colonial period border determination was based on traditional tribal land ownership.   This is crucial point for anyone to understand the context and method of border determination at the time of independence of the Sudan as there are no authoritative maps for 1956.   Challenging Mr De Waal, Mr Karlo Kuol, a South Sudanese briefly but clearly spoke about Nimeiri’s regime activities of pushing the border further south when oil was discovered by Chevron in late 1970s which led to annexation of Panthou to South Kordofan to ensure that the oil resources belonged to North Sudan.   In light of this, Kuol asked De Waal: how could Panthou be part of North Sudan?   In response, De Waal said, “You (Kuol) are right” accepting that Panthou was annexed to North Sudan recently.   The audience looked surprised and they started making their own notes.

The failure of the world to know about Panthou is a result of the muddle created by Riek Machar and the Abyei boys by taking the case of Abyei to the Hague in the first place. The hurry to sort out Abyei without careful planning has led to Abyei losing a huge chunk of its land.   Meiram and Muglad are among areas belonging to Abyei lost to Khartoum through the Hague ruling.   Up to now nobody has spoken about this huge loss.   Abyei’s claim of Panthou dragged it into the Hague resulting into the current crisis.   Panthou was never part of Abyei.   Record clearly shows it was part of Upper Nile when it was returned from the Nuba province in 1931.   Why was it dragged to The Hague is anybody’s guess?   One could argue that perhaps because the Rueng Dinka are perceived as weak by the others, it became easy to sacrifice them as a compromise to return Abyei to South Sudan quickly.

Johnson on page 30 of his book writes: “The matter was finally taken out of the provisions of the CPA to the permanent court of arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, where a compromise was reached.   Both sides publicly accepted the compromise and promised to implement it immediately.”   The important key word here is ‘compromise’.   It implies a deal was struck somehow in the process.   The question is: why sell out the Rueng Dinka?   Are they not like Abyeians, Bari, Chollo, Nuer and the rest?   Why trade them for Abyei?   This blatant discrimination and oppression of the Rueng people is just not acceptable.    So, the vice president and the Abyei boys spoilt things for RSS.   This is all the more why foreigners should not be appoined to positions of influence and strategic importance in GoSS.   True citizens of South Sudan in Rueng Dinka have become dispossessed for selfish act of the incompetent vice president Riek Machar and the emotional Abyei boys.   This issue needs a full judicial enquiry.

The leadership of president Kiir and the Oyee party under the grip of Abyei boys has failed RSS.   They led South Sudan to a pyrrhic victory.   Effectively RSS came out as the loser with huge losses in human resources (army), land, image and public relations.   President Kiir publicly crowed that he would not take orders from the secretary general of the UN.   However he ended up doing exactly just that.   Maybe he might want to explain to the citizens of South Sudan why the change of heart and the subsequent subordination to the UN.

The army gallantly did what they had to do with professionalism and dignity, but the political leadership let them down badly.   South Sudanese having being taken through this roller coaster obviously deserve better.   With all the losses taken the government needs to resign now and let a care taker government of national unity take control to organise election for a government of the people by the people for the people.   Even the mouth pieces of Dinkocracy, Isaiah Abrahams has already concluded that Kiir’s administration does not serve the interest of the country.   Enough is enough with this joke of government.

The Author lives in the Republic of South Sudan. He can be reached at [email protected]

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