May 15, 2013 (SSNA) — The South Sudanese town of Boma in Pibor County had fallen to South Sudan Democratic Army, SSDA, a gubernatorial rebellion led by David Yau. The same month, May 2013, South Sudanese army at the frontline in Pibor demonstrated uncharacteristic display by abandoning positions at the frontline and going on a looting spree in Pibor itself as many reports propose. Other incidences of civil disorder staged by the retreating army from Pibor have been reported on the outskirts of Bor town, the state capital.
Although the army behaviour could not be delinked from poor performance in service delivery and logistical negligence, the fall of Boma plateau is remarkably atypical. It is possibly the very first time that a military incursion into the SPLA/M Boma had merely lasted for minutes, if not hours, after which her inhabitants are sent helter-skelter into the merciless Tingily semi-desert. It is implausibly difficult to put thoughts together in determining the underlying circumstances that led to easy slip of Boma into the hands of the militia. The South Sudanese media and the military seemed to have also resigned to the fall of Boma. No one knows if Boma has been abandoned only for a season or for eternity.
This raised questions whether the softly captured and eerily whispered Boma in the news was the same Boma that served as the spring board into Eastern Equatoria by East Equatoria Axis in 1980s? Was this the Boma so known to Major Nyachigak Nyachiluk, Lt Colonel Martin Manyiel Ayuel, commander Kuol Amum, Commander Gilario Modi Hurnyang and Bol Madut or the Kiswahili ‘boma’ the homestead? South Sudanese who wandered the bush are perhaps asking these questions. One convincing answer rests in the reasoning that the mentality about the importance of Boma has increasingly became illusive to leaders and the military. Boma of today is not synonymous anymore to Boma of yore.
The Boma of today, the Boma of South Sudanese regular and paid army, the Boma that could be captured and the course of history would never change, the liberated and outlandish Boma of logistical clumsiness and of command and control debacles was probably the Boma that fell. This is the Boma that nobody cares if it is overran a thousandth fold, for it will forever be in South Sudan. Welcome then to Jebel Buma, the Upper and Lower Boma, ‘Boma Up and Boma Down,’ the SPLA and SSDA Berlin divided by ridges.
Boma of old was a different bush town, too daring to meddle with and too comfortable to hold on to it. It became the recuperating point for recruits and refugees crossing Sahara Tingily either way between Ethiopia and South Sudan. Incarcerated SPLA/M political prisoners like Arok Thon Arok, Karubino Kuanyin Bol and others had their home on Upper Boma. At an elevation of about 1100 meters above sea level, anyone defending it had an eye view on the attackers and wielding a demigod power to rain munitions on them. During the dry season, her surrounding semi-desert was always a deeply cracked and waterless alluvial soil; a hell of a place not only to thirsty humans but also to animals. Boma was undeniably impermeable to alien forces. The SPLA forces stormed it once and battled for its defence countable times.
It was Major Bior Ajak, famous as Tahir Bior Abdala Ajak who commanded the Neran battalion that forcefully entered Boma for the first time in early 1980s and established a command base for Eastern Equatoria Axis. The SPLA/M Movement was at the time arching out military operational fronts throughout Southern Sudan. Since that time, Boma never fell to Jellaba and their allies. One proven historical wartime reality had for years stood unremittingly opposed to quick fall of the area to external invasion after its initial capture: elevation of Boma itself. The town or a post had always served as a defensive armoury to her inhabitants throughout the twenty-one years of war, particularly where there was a will to defend it. That willpower is unquestionably dwindling much to the forgetfulness of the eminence of the area as a national heritage.
The prominence of Boma plateau and its national importance in South Sudan is as historical as it is strategically significant. Boma is the hub of wildlife diversity in South Sudan, expanding in area to about 2300000ha, probably followed by Chelkou. It is an area of vast resources that a nation could tap into for economic gains and progress. Little known to many is the botanical implication of Boma. Boma has a profusion of Coffee Arabica which grows in its rain forest ecosystem as a wild plant. This is a rare gift of nature that ought to keep Boma within the government’s arm’s length for resources mobilisation and development in the country. It was first noticed in the colonial Sudan in 1930s by a botanist, Dr. A.S. Thomas. He later wrote an academic paper in 1942 entitled: “The wild Arabica coffee on the Boma Plateau, Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.” After that, Boma slipped into the Sudanese negligence of her multiple marginalities. So if anyone feels the compulsion to tabulate the regions of national importance in South Sudan, Boma will, for reason to be defended, jostle in the second place after oil fields.
There are veritable corollaries of the fall of Boma to Yau Yau rebel forces but one is of a particular concern: the Potentiality for the expansion of broad based rebellion that might recruit, not only from Murle but also from other local population in the area. Boma is home to Murle, Kishipo/Suri and Anyuak. It is therefore indispensable to worry for invariable reasons since ethnic composition of Boma is that of a people who have never been friends, but may find a unifying factor in Yau Yau. He could use Murle pastoralists to forcefully recruit sedentary agriculturalists Kishipo and Anyuak. A biblical maxim states that a prophet is not accepted in his hometown. Yau Yau’s testimonial of seriousness in South Sudan would likely be felt when he exerts control over Murle’s adjacent communities. The probable outcome would be an establishment of a base – the Al Qaeda of the rebellion. If this happens, Juba might not have to worry about Boma but Pachalla, Jebel Raid and Pakok/Korchum without forgetting the support Yau Yau might get among the Taposas. Effectively, Juba would be cut off from the Ethiopian and Kenyan Borders closest to it. This move could completely turn the tables on summary ‘amnesties’ that the government is fond of extending. Ever since, such amnesties have only served to build personalities than to provide credible solutions. There is proven belief going around that ‘if you want to be a Major-General in the South Sudanese army, first be a rebel.’ Well, a rebel one might be and Major General one might win, but certainly what angers a civilian to take up arms in the first instance may get him into the woods again al beit heavily laden with military titles. Yau Yau is a case in point.
From Gumuruk, the village town of one blue mountain, Yau Yau the pastoralist and theologian is presently in the mountains of ‘Boma Up’ Plateau. Opposite to his theological training as a preserver of souls, he is slaying people up there. South Sudanese army must do a lot more to bring him to ‘Boma Down’ and out of town.
Martin Garang is a South Sudanese living in Australia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org