Equatoria holds South together: Critique of Holland and Fletcher’s report on South Sudan

By Elhag Paul

December 2, 2012 (SSNA) — Hereward Holland and Pascal Fletcher’s article ‘Special Report: In South Sudan, plunder preserves a fragile peace’ edited by Simon Robinson and published by Reuters on Tuesday 20th June 2012 involuntarily made me to scratch my head.  I read it in disbelief.  ‘Plunder preserves a fragile peace’. Really? 

The damage is done, not only by foreign reporters without insight into South Sudan contemporary history but also by the inept SPLM Oyee government of the miscreants.  Product of politics of violence which pushed out decent, capable and experienced South Sudanese from governing their country competently.  South Sudanese now have to pick up the pieces and here I take this imposed burden of the “idiots” or ‘Al rujal al bulaha’ according to Mr Gerard Prunier to try to set the record straight.

Holland and Fletcher theorize that the mess of human rights abuse, corruption, and all the other ills taking place in South Sudan holds it together.  In building up their case they list a catalogue of abuses supported by voices of government and civil society’s agents while weaving in monotonous SPLM Oyee propaganda on Dr John Garang, history of South Sudan and the distortion of demographics of the country.  This report is highly misleading to any person who is not familiar with South Sudan and also paints South Sudanese as people who only thrive in chaos.  A little bit of careful review of South Sudan contemporary history would have made things clearer for the authors to avoid the pitfall of unfounded claims, bias and misinformation.

Contrary to what is asserted South Sudan is not held together by either ‘plunder’ or ‘corruption and nepotism’.  These very forces are at the heart of the pressures creating cracks and fragmentation in its society.  The numerous rebellions in Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei states since 2005 have categorically made it clear that their reason for taking up arms against the state is to end corruption and tribalism.  This shows to some extent the fragility of South Sudan under poor governance of president Kiir and his SPLM Oyee party. 

The authors refer to the appointments of people like Riek Machar, the vice president and Pagan Amum, the secretary general of SPLM from other tribes to the government as a careful balancing act from the president.  On the surface, yes It looks so but scratch deeper the reality is shocking because these people are not respected in their own tribes.  If anything they are despised and are not seen as sons and daughters of their tribes.  In the general elections of April 2010, most of the SPLM Oyee apparatchiks now occupying high offices including Pagan Amum, Oyai Deng Ajak, John Luke Jok,  Ms Nunu Jemma Kumba etc all failed to win any seats in the parliament.  Their tribes rejected them.  President Kiir could not stomach the choice of the people and going by SPLM Oyee dictatorship he imposed these losers on the people.  He not only appointed them to ministerial positions but he also decreed them to the parliament duplicating representation of some constituencies in contempt of those constituents.  In a nutshell, most of the non Jiengs in the government do not represent their people.  They represent themselves and their tummies only.  So the patronage in operation in South Sudan is strictly related to party membership and personal relationship as in the case with the members of South Sudan Democratic Forum.   It is hardly conceivable that this kind of patronage can hold a country together and in any case the country is already on the road to self destruction.  The fact that South Sudan is already designated as the fourth in line of failed states speaks for itself.

The authors of the report pointed out that, South Sudan’s charismatic liberation hero Dr John Garang often warned against replacing one set of kleptocratic rulers for another.  Unfortunately Garang did not live to see independence and Kiir who succeeded him has struggled to exert the same kind of moral leadership. 

While Garang in no doubt was a charismatic leader, he did not possess moral leadership and he was a man irresponsible with the truth.  He used words and highly entertaining stories in his meetings with people to manipulate situations to build himself.  He seldom meant what he said and this made him a contradictory figure.  Garang was a captivating personality who had a way with his audience.  His power of persuasion was immense and the influence it exerted captured and gained instant support of his audience.  It was this ability and skill of his in social engagement that allowed him to get away with his lies.  This savvyness gave him the cover to deceive and exploit the emotions and feelings of South Sudanese. 

In his books edited by Dr Mansour Khalid, Garang lambasted the corruption of the rulers in Khartoum mercilessly.  He portrayed himself as an alternative who would eventually bring good governance to the country.  Being a highly persuasive person he easily pulled the wool over people’s eyes.  Whereas in reality, Garang himself was the most corrupt leader South Sudan has ever produced.  Under his direct tutorship the current kleptomaniacs in Juba led by president Kiir were born.  For a glimpse of the leadership of Garang please see the Minutes of Rumbek meeting of November 2004.  The SPLM/A until that time was just an organisation in name.  From the mouths of the horses who participated in the meeting it was clear beyond doubt that it was a chaotic joint.  This vindicates the senior development official in Juba quoted in the report as saying “This is not a revolutionary (liberation) movement that has taken power; this is a rag-tag bunch of boys with guns that have never administered anything.” 

The only thing that Garang remained honest to was his political conviction which was the unity of the Sudan under the project of New Sudan.  To protect it, he ruthlessly mowed down any opposition.  This ugly side of his personality came to light when he brutally oppressed South Sudan separatists.  He famously gloated, “Our first bullets were fired against the separatists.”  Now that South Sudan has separated, his supporters are working hard day and night to anoint him as the father of the nation that he did not want to see born.  Others are going to the extent of distorting facts to claim that Garang’s separatist conviction was evolutionary.  In light of this how can Garang’s leadership be referred to as moral?  His management of SPLM Oyee was shambolic laced with corruption through and through, and to make matters worse he was a closet tribalist who consistently structured the movement tribally.  Please see http://allafrica.com/stories/201206250013.html

SPLM/A from 2005 sought to fool the world and they managed to a large extent.  They hated the officials of the then Southern Region who did not go to the bush or exile and they embarked on lies that South Sudan was starting from scratch.  They did this for two reasons.  First they wanted to make sure that they replace the entire government employees in South Sudan despite the fact that they lacked capacity.  Had they been vigilant , they would have learnt from the lesson of the American intervention in Iraq, where the coalition administrator Lewis Paul Bremer dismissed the entire Iraq army only to find himself lacking the ability to maintain security.  Secondly, for SPLM Oyee to embezzle the resources of the state, they needed a robust excuse to rely on and what a better thing to say than ‘we are starting from scratch’.  The international community who should have known better because they have always had representation in the towns of South Sudan since 1972 became an accomplice in this massive deception.  I am not surprised why the authors of the report on South Sudan bought the lie.  As long as this lie is perpetuated the discourse on South Sudan will always remain deficient of credibility.  The phrase ‘we are starting from scratch’ is a perfect cover for mismanagement and abuse of South Sudan.  Please see http://www.southsudannewsagency.com/opinion/articles/the-rape-of-the-rss-by-the-oyee-party ; This takes me to the issue of demography of south Sudan.

For quite a considerable time now, the Jieng have tirelessly worked hard to distort the demography of South Sudan by claiming that they constitute 40 or more percent of the entire South Sudan population.  The reason for this is because they want to justify or claim the right to rule the country.  In fact one of the reasons that South Sudan tore itself to pieces in the late 1970s and early 1980s was because the Jieng asserted their right to dominate the government in Juba on the basis of their numerical majority.  Now they are doing worse than before.  It is unfortunate that the authors of the report on South Sudan without any evidence have regurgitated a false tribal stance.   The reporters write, “In many ways, corruption and nepotism hold South Sudan together.  Many Sudanese have long believed that the Dinka who make up some 40 percent of the population dominate to the detriment of the other groups.  Kiir, a Dinka like Garang, is credited with making a major effort to build a diverse cabinet.”  Yes, the Jieng dominate and this is because of the tribalism that they practise in the country.  The emphasise on the diverse cabinet is misleading as this masks the reality and moreover the aforementioned explains.  If the reporters were to examine holders of all the most important posts in the various ministries in South Sudan they would find out that over 90 percent of the positions are held by the Jieng with the majority unqualified for those positions.   However, the most important thing here is that the Jieng do not constitute 40 percent of the population.  They only make up about 18 percent of the entire population of South Sudan.  As a tribe, yes it is a large one but in terms of the whole population of the country, the Jieng are a minority.   All the other 63 tribes combined make up 82 percent and therefore the Jieng being 18 percent can not justifiably claim to be a majority over 82 percent for them to dominate the country.  It would be good for foreign reporters to report fairly so as not to distort the reality of South Sudan to the world.

Having said all the above, what is holding South Sudan together?  South Sudan is held together in the chaos of SPLM Oyee by greater Equatoria and the bogey of Arab Sudan.  The people of Equatoria with their varied cultures have successfully gelled together and relatively live in harmony with each other.  Their dislike of Arab arrogance made them pioneer the struggle of South Sudan freedom in 1955.  Where the interest of South Sudan is concerned the people of Equatoria have always made selfless sacrifices.  Take for example in the 1990, SPLM/A abuses discouraged the Equatorians from continuing to participate in the movement.  Most of them quit the movement and went to refugee settlements in Uganda, Congo and Kenya.  When Khartoum almost defeated the SPLM/A by routing them to Nimule in the border with Uganda, the Equatorians abroad swallowed the bitter pill and came back to the movement to rescue the situation in name of South Sudan survival.  Had the Equatorians been selfish by now the SPLM Oyee would be history with South Sudan existence in doubt.  Presently the same situation is repeating itself with the chaos going on.  The Equatorians fearing collapse of the baby nation didn’t abandon their interest to rescue the situation once again by not supporting any form of violence.  Hence the peace in Equatoria.  The presence of the capital city of South Sudan and the seat of government in Equatoria has not only provided a nurturing environment to the nascent state but is vitally safeguarding South Sudan from any harm.  It is important to note that out of the ten states in the country; only the three states of greater Equatoria enjoy relative peace.  Had the capital city been outside Equatoria any of the rebel groups might have overrun it long time ago or even Khartoum might have captured it with the excuse of Panthou war.

The other factor used constantly by SPLM/A which inadvertently keeps the country together is the bogey of Khartoum.  The ruling party’s failures in diplomacy is fuelling problems with Khartoum all the time and this keeps the people of South Sudan anxious pushing them to rally behind the government.  Although Khartoum as a factor plays important role in unifying the people of South Sudan, the crucial stabilizer and provider of peace is Equatoria the oasis of peace in chaotic desert.

Finally, it is not the corruption, chaos, abuse of human rights etc that keeps South Sudan together but rather it is Equatoria that plays that role.    

[Truth hurts but it is also liberating]

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

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