Is War a Force that Gives Us Meaning?

By Tongun Lo Loyuong

“Lechery, lechery, still wars and lechery, nothing holds fashion,” William Shakespeare in Troilus and Cressida.

December 17, 2013 (SSNA) — I write this with tears in my eyes. I am saddened because Thanatous has yet again been unnecessarily invited to visit our people in South Sudan. I am grieved that our worst nightmare is now unfolding, and the carnage of war has been unleashed in our fledgling state. For far too long we have cautioned against the practice of political brinkmanship and against this gloomy and somber day in our post-independence South Sudan. Even the stones would have moved! I agonize for the hundreds of lives and counting reported to have been lost in South Sudan in just less than a day of partaking the vile potion of the narcotics of war and rampant killing of real human beings in the land!

I weep for my grandfather who has lost a daughter; my grandmother who has lost a son; my father who has lost a mother; my mother who has lost a child; and my child who has lost a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, a grandmother and a grandfather. In South Sudan and indeed in the African culture, everyone is laterally related to anyone, irrespective of tribe. A human being died that night. I am ashamed and must cover myself in ashes. And I ask: Is war a force that gives us meaning in South Sudan?

The violence that has now engulfed Juba my home town is utterly despicable in the strongest of terms. This could have been avoided and many lives, including that of the innocent child hit by a stray bullet or a shrapnel could have been saved had we have statesmen and leaders who have a shred of humanity. This madness must end immediately.

Regrettably, our ceaseless appeals urging for clam and restraint and for dialogue as the only amicable mode for resolving political difference in South Sudan have not only gone unheeded, but have mostly been taken for feeble mindedness and cowardice. Is war a force that gives us meaning in South Sudan then? We have even been subjected to stinging verbal abuse for merely imploring peace and civility and non-violent settlement of conflicts in South Sudan.

We have been called traitors and dogs, for appealing for assistance and robust humanitarian intervention by the international community in South Sudan. We have been labeled Judas Iscariots, soft and spineless for only suggesting in service to peace and in support of democracy that president Kiir be given a second chance as a chairman of the SPLM and not necessarily a second term in the first office as that decision rests with South Sudanese in the ballot boxes come the next elections in 2015. Now look at us.

Worse still our constructive criticism on how peacebuilding must be pursued to attain a lasting peace with justice in South Sudan has equally been met with hostility and suspicion, particularly by our international players active in our political space. Apparently we have now made it into some watch list of potential troublemakers as a result of our writings. Recently, a decision to grant us access to open a new bank account in a country that we have just relocated to has been reversed at the last minute and after initial approval under the pretext that our name has somehow found its way into the watch list of our Big Brother across the Atlantic.

Warum? I have no outstanding debts, never borrowed, taken a loan or relied on any assistance or food stamps from the States that I have lived in throughout my entire time here in the West. I have no assets only a bicycle, and no mortgage only paying rents. I never evaded any taxes. In fact I have left some money behind in all the bank accounts that I have had in the countries that I have lived, just to keep those accounts open. I have never infringed any law and order or had issues with law enforcement agencies, save being fined once for ridding my bicycle at night without lights. I am not affiliated with any political party never mind extremist groups or ideology for me to be seen as a potential threat to the society. Now we are called as Western agents at home and seen as potential troublemakers and anti-west in the West. What a predicament. Unglaublich.

All the same, our frustration has been exacerbated by the current bloody political development and the intransigence exhibited by our “political leaders” at home that is now plunging the country deep into dare I say these tabooed words “abyss” and “chaos.” It is an all around frustration incurred even by our so-called “intelligentsia,” the poets, political commentators and the PhD holders. It seems we have all taken from that narcotic of war drugs demonstrated in our blinded tribal allegiance which one can now conclude is practiced even by the unborn South Sudanese child. Is war a force that gives us meaning in South Sudan?    

The numerous intellectual political commentaries that were served to elucidate on the much publicized press conference of the December 6th, 2013 that in less than two weeks has led us to these tragic days that we are now seeing in South Sudan, only managed to state the obvious. Driven by parochial interests be them professional, tribal, political or alles zusammen, most of these opinion pieces only succeeded in telling us in different tunes, renditions and wordplays that SPLM is on the verge of collapse.

We are told what we already know that Machar’s camp is as corrupt and filthy as Kiir’s camp. We are persuaded to believe in that which we already believe that these fellows behave recklessly and irresponsibly like school boys. We are prematurely served with that there are winners and losers as a result of yet another political blunder by Dr. Reckless Riek in instigating a failed coup d’état that has precipitated another bloodbath consistent with the man’s personality of the past. Even the mainstream media has picked up on the one-sided story peddled by Kiir and cohort that this was a failed coup d’état, when there are clear contradictions in the story line that suggests that the truth has been bundled down, wrapped in a blanket and tucked away in the government’s failed coup d’état propaganda. “The first casualty when war comes is truth,” Senator Hiram Johnson is cited as saying in “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning,” by the veteran journalist, Chris Hedges.

Before Kiir held his press conference on the events leading to the eruption of violence and tagging a failed coup d’état to these events yesterday, the story was already out that the violence was instigated by a disagreement within the ranks and file of the presidential guards. According to Sudan Tribune suspicious redeployment movements by Kiir’s newly minted “republican guards,” mostly recruited from his Dinka tribe and their attempt to take control of ammunition storage in the main military barracks in Giada sparked the violence as one of the guards who hails from the Nuer tribe refused to hand the keys over to the Dinka officer from Kiir’s “republican guards.”

Kiir himself in his conflicting press statement has lies and fabrication written all over. According to his statement, an unknown individual fired his rifle in the air outside Nyokuron Cultural Center while the president was attending the conclusion of the so-called National Liberation Council (NLC) meeting. This was later in that same night followed by an attack on the main military headquarters near Juba University, to which he then quickly added “by a group of soldiers allied to the Former Vice President Dr. Riek Machar Teny and his group.” How on earth has the president arrived at such a quick verdict indicting Dr. Machar in this and quickly linking it to the deadly 1991 incident that he reiterated that he will not tolerate? Is it 1991 that will not be tolerated or democracy?

It defies logic that Dr. Machar would risk launching such a move that is tantamount to political suicide in his part if it fails as it apparently did the way it did. Besides it makes more sense that such a move would have been executed while the president was outside the country. Alternatively, such a story would have gained currency if the incident took place on the coming Friday night, the day Machar’s group has scheduled for their public rally. It would have made a compelling case if security forces open fire on the civilian population who would have participated in the rally and resulting in violent eruption. That may have been logical as precipitating the staging of coup d’état by the forces aligned to Machar, who would have probably justified such an action in the name of protecting civilians and maintaining law and order until a newly democratic government is elected and installed. That would have been a great story, but not this. Indeed “…all my means are sane, my motive and my object mad,” thus says Captain Ahab in Moby Dick!

Sadly, the likes of Jok Madut Jok have revealed their true colors and where their tribal allegiance lies by quickly jumping on this bandwagon of what is clearly a hurriedly put together fabrication aimed at neutralizing political opponents, and assassinating any chance of democracy-building in South Sudan. I am not trying to absolve Dr. Riek’s potential complicity or involvement in the violent mayhem now unraveling in Juba if proven. And indeed this cannot be done without impartial justice, rule of law and investigation taking their course.

But it is precisely here that I am baffled that the likes of Jok Madut Jok who until now I had much admiration and respect for could hurriedly emphasize Dr. Machar’s history of violence as if implicating Dr. Machar as behind instigating the violence and without giving space for due process. Is inciting violence, injustice and war a force that gives us meaning in South Sudan?

Together all the reports on current bloody politicking in South Sudan have unanimously failed to point to the bigger picture and the democratic symbolism of the December 6th press conference and its counter-part held by government representatives on December 8th. Moreover, confusion remains on the loose even within the ranks of professional journalism and state actors most of whom have bought into the attempted failed coup d’état bogus. But some honest reports have acknowledged that they have no clue about what is going on, and concluded that all they do know is that something big is going down in South Sudan but it is difficult to put a finger in it.

Some fragmented lines on social media and facebook statuses have concluded that what is unraveling in South Sudan is the making of Kiir’s hell-bent on totalitarianism in staging violence and using it to eliminate political opponents. But perhaps this is farfetched a conclusion. Others pointed out that this was an accident that spread like wildfire across Dinka and Nuer belligerents within the ranks and file of the SPLA, and that Kiir and company are potentially seizing the window of opportunity to settle political scores with their adversaries opposite the aisle. The truth lies in there somewhere.

But that much is clear. What is transpiring in South Sudan is a battle between democracy and dictatorship. Ironically it was only two days ago that Mr. Jok has arrived at similar conclusion on facebook, mostly applauding the non-violent interactions of the December 6th and December 8th movements as articulated in their respective press conferences as a healthy sign of democracy and non-violent conflict resolution of political difference within the ruling party, only to recoil and implicate Dr. Machar.

Those of the public opinionates who have been crying loudly and often uncontrollably for positive social change and democracy in South Sudan, have equally followed suit by continuing to be stuck in what they see as lack of moral agency in the part of December 6th movement to call for change when they were complicit in contributing to the dysfunctional state of affairs in the South Sudanese State while they were in the government in the first place. They ask, “why did you people not act when you were in the government only to act now when you have been booted out of the government?”

Though a legitimate expression, in a country like South Sudan where civil society is rudimentary much like everything else save for the SPLM party, it is confusion at its best to refuse a helping hand to democracy even if it is a dirty hand. It seems not only has the party lost vision and direction, but the public too has succumbed to the same fate. The saying holds true in South Sudan that “strike the Sheppard and the sheep will scatter.” But it must be reiterated that too wrongs do not make a right. Even if the December 6th officials are as corrupt as or more corrupt than the December 8th movement, it is right and not wrong that they have initiated a significant democratic process that should have been embraced by all the advocates of democracy and positive social change in South Sudan.

Even if they are driven by power hunger and individual interests that clearly dominated their press conference, the bigger picture is that this would have set democracy-building and peaceful social change and transition of power in motion in South Sudan. If we were to then launch another non-violent popular revolution to topple them when they fail us again, then so be it. But at least the seeds of democracy would have already been planted by the December 6th movement. Now only heaven knows where we are headed.

I therefore appeal to all South Sudanese and our leaders to end the violent carnage before it is too little too late. I also urge the people of good will and members of the international community to urgently intervene and help us to end the violence and build a viable, peace, just, equal and prosperous democratic state in South Sudan. As things stand there are no winners and losers, but only losers who are by and large the poor South Sudanese, particularly members of our gallant organized forces who have been winded to engage in armed violence across myopic political and tribal allegiance. If this is another price we have to pay for democracy to take root in South Sudan then we are thankful for their selfless sacrifices. But if war is a force that gives us meaning in South Sudan, then “only the dead have seen the end of war,” (Plato). God bless South Sudan.

Tongun Lo Loyuong is reachable at [email protected]; and can be followed on twitter @TongunLoLoyuong. Numerous other food for thought and intellectual exercise on South Sudan’s issues can be found at:

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