‘Madina’ Bor in Bor

By Martin Garang Aher

‘What you see troubling people here, is your fault’ (General Malual Ayom speaking to advancing troops on Bor).

January 19, 2014 (SSNA) — Talking about Bor can be tremendously challenging at times to a non Dinka outsider, because the word has a tendency to ping pong from being a name of the city of Bor proper (Popular informally as Mading Bor), to a descriptor of the Dinka section inhabiting the large swathe of the Nile on the East Bank in Jonglei State. It is not even enough to stop here, but continuing on with etymology would mean making too many historical mistakes. Here, we are roughly talking of the city of Bor, Madina Bor, and perhaps Bor, the area and the people.

From the colonial Sudan, unto the independent Sudan – and South Sudan – the city of Bor had received umpteenth spotlights, both domestic and international for all reasons with good ones tipping the scale. But in the last thirty years, it had been the cataclysm that befell this serene city and her people that struggled to overshadow the best of it.  The period, 2013-2014, is a case period of tragedy; the latest of these tragedies being the destruction of the city and inhumane killings by the rebels set loose by Juba’s inefficiencies of governance and democratic misguidance.

In less than a month, Bor has changed hands four times between the rebels fighting the government and the national army, SPLA, defending ‘the country’ and the ‘constitution’ yet to be rectified. Division 8 General Peter Gadet Yak, based in Bor, defected with three brigades, per the narrative of South Sudanese army, and stormed the city on the 17th and 18th of December, 2013, killing about a thousand civilians, wounding many more and displacing all that remained; mainly to Awerial County in the neighboring Lakes State on the West Bank of the Nile. Other vulnerable civilians unable to make a prompt escape tolerated the terrifying ordeal of sheltering in the city’s compound of United Nations Mission In South Sudan (UNMISS). The South Sudanese army later drove Peter Gadet out of the city. A week later, the White Army mainly from Lou Nuer and Gaweer marched on the city once more, this time, on a counter-offensive with a prophetic mission of nonstop walk to Juba, the nation’s capital. Like in 1991, some villages on their way burnt and people were killed indiscriminately. The march worried the nation and the world.

Residents of Juba were undeniably terror-stricken of the news of a close to 25000 armed men eyeing their city of dwelling. The pressure was felt for real by those who live in the city and foreign others who knew that a violent elemental fall of Juba since its founding might unleash a walking pilgrims from other armed and dissatisfied groups, hence, setting the stage for Africa’s Yugoslavia, with neighbours absorbing the shock waves of war. Rumours of war at the city’s gates were exacerbated by the newly embraced technology in the forms of mobile phones and internet. International Media played its part to the dismay of the authorities who were themselves not impervious from trepidation. Mohamed Adow of Al Jazeera English Channel, who suggested that a reliable source told of a column of the White Army that slipped through the heavily militarized Juba-Bor road and was advancing on the capital, was quickly sent packing to lessen the airing of unjustified fear. On the internet, the newly emerging nationalism disintegrated into ethnic chest beating.

Further afield, responsibility then turned to frustration. The neutrality of president Museveni of Uganda was phenomenally compromised. As a member of Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) that hurriedly descended on South Sudan for the purposes of peace,  Uganda’s South Sudan matched that of the Democratic Republic of The Congo, with responsibility to protect (R2P) winning over the conceal evacuation of stranded nationals. What began as a peaceful mission became a mission to hunt for the vainglorious rebels or in defense of indefensible abstractions.

A warrior of Museveni’s character in a war zone is indisputably not an excellent peacemaker. With South Sudan’s geographical cauldron able to gulp down Uganda at least three times, president Museveni is well-versed that ‘going after’ Joseph Konyi is less wearisome than going after Riek Machar, whose 25000 White Army’s firepower on one front almost doubles the firepower that propelled the Lion of Ruwenzori Range into rebellious reign in Uganda, back in 1986.

Bor fell again to the national army on January 18, 2014 after almost a month of battling ‘mobilized civilians,’ as the army spokesman, Colonel Philip Aguer, would like to assume. Actually, the city was found empty when the national army moved in after surviving heavy losses in ambushes on the way aboard Ute cars, barges and tanks as a conventional army; a strange position opposed to good old days of not being a sitting duck on the road. 

Just like the natives of this historically significant and embattled city would want to know, a perturbing question is ‘why always Bor?’ The simple answer, among many, is that Bor is a victim of peace in a region that is otherwise peace wary. It is unwise to assume therefore that people in this area are not doing enough to protect themselves when for generations they have done all they could to train, lead, fought and accommodated others for a national entity that would safeguard all South Sudanese. Note that Abel Alier and Joseph Lagu, first post Addis Ababa Regional Government leaders of Southern Sudan, went to Church Missionary Society School at Malek in Bor.

“People have gone for business and abandoned the army, we have to lead the fight into Bor and the rest would follow us,” General Malual Ayom continued his speech to an ululating battalion of the sons of the soil. He was clearly subdued by the loss of his colleagues, General Abraham Jongroor and Ajak Yen, Gadet’s first victim of rebellion (quote inaccurate…meaning retained). Fly in generals are be warned that General Malual’s bravery must not be tried in the field, only at home.   This was the same General Malual who was featured on the BBC video in an ambush, self-stripped of any weapons and walking with head held high amidst the showers of bullets and disorderly dashing soldiers. The question of why Bor can pick up another answer: because Bor thinks there is a nation, but alas! General Malual needs to take ‘fault’ blame somewhere else.

So, when the city of Bor speaks of resilience to bounce back in the face of Gadets’ atrocities to all, including those who shot the first bullets of liberation in this city (Karbino Kuanyin and William Nyuon were also his victims), they simply mean business.

Martin Garang Aher is a South Sudanese living in Australia. He can be reached at [email protected].

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