January 31, 2014 (SSNA) — Mr Paulino Wanawilla Unango, the minister of Justice of the republic of South Sudan ruffled his feathers vigorously like an angry cock ready for a dirty fight. Bullishly he said, “Rebel leader Machar, former Unity state governor Taban Deng Gai and ex-environmental minister Alfred Lado Gore would have to be tried for treason in absentia. Others like Pagan Amum, Majak D’Agoot, Oyayi Deng Ajak and Ezekiel Lul Gatkouth would not be released pending their trial.” He went on to declare release of the other 7 senior members of the SPLM.
This issue of the freedom of the senior members of the SPLM appears to be taking a different turn from what is expected – a straight forward release to coincide with the negotiations in Addis Ababa. Let us look at this new development announced by Unango carefully. It throws forth two issues. One is the nature of categorisation applied by the government and secondly the entrenchment of the lie that there was an attempted coup.
Unango has divided the group of the senior members of SPLM opposed to president Kiir into three smaller groups for him to proceed with their prosecution. The first group consists of Riek Machar, Taban Deng Gai, and Alfred Lado Gore. The second group consists of Pagan Amum Okiech, Majak D’Agoot, Oyayi Deng Ajak and Ezekiel Lul Gatkouth. And the third group consists of Ahmed Deng Alor, Kosti Manibe, Dr Peter Nyaba, John Luke Jok, Madut Biar Yel, Dr Cirino Hiteng and Gier Chuong Aluong. Looking critically at Unango’s grouping of the senior members of SPLM, it begins to make sense in relation to the larger picture of the struggle for power in the SPLM.
The first group is intensely hated by president Kiir’s government. Riek is one of the people now openly vying for the seat of the presidency. In addition to that historically Riek, Dr Lam Akol and John Koang rebelled against Dr John Garang and his vision of United Sudan in favour of secession of South Sudan from the Sudan. Riek and his colleagues then led a protracted rebellion which damaged SPLM/A considerably forcing it to accept the principle of self determination. It seems president Kiir has not forgiven Riek for this, because prior to 15th December 2013 he bitterly kept making reference to that rebellion.
Again president Kiir in various occasions has displayed bitterness towards Alfred Lado Gore. Kiir personally supervised the rigging of the gubernatorial election in Equatoria, in order to deprive Gore of his legitimate win, imposing the current governor. The reason for president Kiir’s behaviour may be linked to the rebellion that Gore mounted in late 1990s. The matter of importance to Kiir here is the subjugation of Equatoria and the determination of the Jieng not to see an Equatorian leader rise. In terms of direct threat to president Kiir and their project of Jienganisation this group therefore is seen as posing a serious threat to Jieng hegemony.
The treason charges thus brought against this group is intended to remove the perceived threat of Nuer to the leadership now and the entrenchment of Jieng hegemony. President Kiir wants to remove Gore to ensure that Equatoria must not recover from its subjugation and thus any emerging leader in Equatoria is gotten rid off.
The second group is feared for the influence it accumulated during the years of war of liberation. They are usually referred to as Garang boys due to their unwavering loyalty to the late SPLM/A leader Dr John Garang. An example of this loyalty can be gleaned from the story of Garang’s burial in 2005 when Pagan Amum tore off the flag of the Sudan from Garang’s coffin replacing it with the flag of SPLM/A while all the rest including Kiir himself could not master the courage to do so. Because of the loyalty of this group they are associated with the SPLM/A Bor faction which is in direct rivalry with president Kiir and the SPLM/A Bahr El Ghazal faction. The reluctance of Kiir to release this group specifically is related to the fact that Pagan has clearly expressed his wish to contest for the presidency of SPLM like Riek Machar. Therefore Pagan is seen as a direct threat by president Kiir.
Turning to Oyayi and Ezekiel, they are feared for their formidable influence in the army and the international community respectively. The former is a renowned fighter with distinguished record in the SPLA while the latter is believed to have developed good diplomatic contacts in the West while in Washington. In an event that Addis Ababa talks collapse the duo would be a treasure to the rebels. The weakest but crucial link in this group is Majak D’Agoot due to his ethnic background as someone from Bor and a student of late Dr John Garang.
With this brief picture it is easy to understand why president Kiir is dead afraid of releasing them. As a group they could do maximum damage to Kiir’s ambition of continuing leadership. This group has considerable support in the army. Again as in the case of the first group, president Kiir has personal interest to see them either locked away for a long time or removed.
The last group is that of Ahmed Deng Alor, Kosti Manibe, John Luke, Madut Biar Yel, Cirino Hiteng, Gier Chuong Aluong and Dr Peter Adwok. Although this group politically and peacefully rebelled against president Kiir with the others, it is not seen as a threat ostensibly because the members lack any followership in the SPLM/A and the wider society. Remember a good number of them failed to win any seats in the April 2010 general election and subsequently they were imposed on the people by president Kiir through appointments into the parliament. The members of this group are neither popular within their tribes nor influential in the wider society. Since they do not pose any threat to president Kiir’s leadership other than through the Liberation Council, the government feels safe to despatch them to Kenya.
Viewing the grouping of the senior members of the SPLM/A from this perspective it becomes easy to see why president Kiir wants to slice the entire SPLM leadership to remove those he failed to silence on 15th December 2013. Thus the treason charges should not be taken as a joke because the president realises that he has no leg to stand on now whether through the talks or through a protracted rebellion. This takes us to the second part of Unango’s announcement which is to do with the entrenchment of the lie that there was an attempted coup.
Unango’s announcement is indicative of a government that is unable to live with a blatant lie it created: “attempted coup to overthrow a democratically elected government.” This statement alone carries two lies. The first lie is that there was an attempted coup which the whole world has clearly dismissed. President Obama of USA, an ally of South Sudan has correctly and consistently stressed that there was no coup. Many other countries have also come to this conclusion. The second lie is that the government of president Kiir is a democratically elected government which is not. Since South Sudan came to existence on 9th July 2011 there has not been an elections held in the Republic of South Sudan. Anyone arguing to the contrary, must answer the following questions: When was president Kiir and SPLM elected democratically? Which month was Salva Kiir democratically elected? Which electoral commission, in independent South Sudan conducted the election?
President Kiir’s government is desperate to hold on to these lies because they form the backbone of his propaganda. Firstly it covers the lie that the events of the week starting 15th December 2013 were an attempt at a coup, which has since been disproven. The tragic events of that week were a direct result of actions of president Kiir’s tribal militia. President Kiir unleashed his tribal force on the Nuer people in Juba. He declared a curfew to contain and isolate the Nuer people in their homes and then his militia went on from door to door shooting them.
Rebecca Nyandeng, the widow of Late Dr John Garang has sufficiently given the background story in the London post, ‘Rebecca Nyandeng Garang reveals all – How Salva Kiir’s ‘private army’ prompted the current conflict’. http://www.thelondoneveningpost.com/exclusive-rebecca-nyandeng-garang-reveals-all-how-salva-kiirs-private-army-prompted-the-current-conflict/
Secondly, the government wants to firmly secure and maintain the military and diplomatic support of Ugandan/IGAD on its side. Pertinently, this support is supposedly being extended on the grounds that president Kiir’s government is a democratically elected government even when it is clear that the SPLM just imposed itself on the people of South Sudan. Please see ‘President Kiir’s SPLM Government Is Not Democratically Elected’ http://allafrica.com/stories/201401271167.html
Kiir’s government is scared and unsure of how the international community would react in the event that the truth of its existence as a none elected government comes to light. The fact that the SPLM’s assumption of power in South Sudan is not based on a democratic foundation is creating unease in the whole tribal system. President Kiir was not voted into power in an independent South Sudan.
Hence, the bravado of Unango’s coup charges is designed to destruct attention of the people from the lie hatched by president Kiir and his coterie. The purpose is to maintain some form of credibility and legitimacy in the face of the crimes committed by Koch Beny (Kiir’s tribal militia). In other words it is a face saving trick involving victimisation of innocent people which itself is a crime. Charging innocent people falsely to cover president Kiir’s crimes.
SPLM/A has a corrosive culture of victimising innocent people. During the bush years many people lost their lives in the hands of its powerful members for trivial of reasons. A good example can be found in Nyaba’s book, ‘The Politics of Liberation in South Sudan: An Insider’s View’. He points out that Dr Juac Erjok, a veterinary doctor from Ngok Dinka, Mr Lokurunyang Lado, a leftist activist and member of the South Sudan Patriotic Front and a certain Yahyah, a trade unionist who joined the ranks of SPLA, were framed as agents of Nimeiri and executed by firing squad during the graduation of the first brigade of the Jarad division in 1985. There was no investigation carried out and there was no appeal against the death sentences before execution. Lam Akol in his book, ‘SPLM/SPLA Inside African Revolution’ goes further to explain that Pagan Amum, Nyachugak Nyachiluk and Lokurnyang Lado were members of one group led by the latter. Pagan and Nyachugak conspired against Lokurnyang, arrested him and handed him over to SPLA leading to his execution.
Now what kind of a government is president Kiir’s government which blatantly fabricates a coup and now proceeds to charge innocent people of treason? Is it not a rogue regime? Surely taking SPLM/A’s entire history into account, it becomes clear that the government in Juba has not moved away from its criminal behaviour. If anybody doubts this, let him/her revisit the events of December 2013.
The false charges brought against the senior members of SPLM/A illuminates the behaviour of this totalitarian regime and nothing else. SPLM/A itself does not believe in law and order. If they did, why have we not seen it on the case of Arthur Akuen Chol who was freed by tribal gang from prison in Juba and then appointed to Upper House by non other the president himself? Why has this gang which stormed a government institution not brought to book?
Also, what about the cases of Equatorian polices officers shot by Jieng soldiers in Yambio; the killing of civilians in Kemiru; the killings of families in Yei; the killing of a Doctor in Yei; the killing of engineer John Lewis; the slaughter of sergeant Banyjoth Matoat Tap; the killing of people in Lorema; the killing of people in Wau and the list goes on. Why have people in all these cases denied justice? Fundamentally all these cases have solid grounds and the perpetrators are none other than the Jieng in uniform. What can Unango say about his own direct negligence in pursuing these cases? How fair is Unango? Does his current behaviour tally with his oath at the time he gained in law degree?
By bringing the false charges, what does the government hope to gain? It hopes to salvage itself from embarrassment caused by its lies and also to cement the lie that it is a democratically elected government. But what they have not taken into consideration is that such approach may motivate and energize those in the bush to take a hard line thereby making things difficult. What is important is that the people should not take their eyes off the ball – namely from the critical issue which is that president Kiir and his government must step down. Kiir has forfeited his right to rule and he must go.
In conclusion, the charges of treason brought against the senior members of SPLM/A must be rejected on principle as a clear message to President Kiir and his government that the people of South Sudan will not put up with injustice and victimisation because if allowed no one will be safe. As a major suspect of ethnic cleansing, president Kiir must make way for a new and neutral government to sort out the mess in the country. The people’s attention must not be distracted from this crucial point by Unango’s unfounded charges against his own Oyee colleagues[Truth hurts but it is also liberating]
The author lives in the Republic of South Sudan. He can be reached at [email protected]