Making Sense of the Surge in Anti-Western Sentiments in South Sudan

By Tongun Lo Loyuong

March 20, 2014 (SSNA) — Much has happened since the last time I posted an opinion piece. Most provokingly is the so-called arms trafficking scandal. The United Nation Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has come under intense and sustained fire for allegedly transferring weapons to rebel groups fighting the government of Salva Kiir. As a result, the relationship between Kiir’s government and UNMISS mission has badly deteriorated and characterized by outburst in anti-UNMISS and anti-Western sentiments by some elements at home and in some quarters abroad.

The lingering question is: what accounts for this surge in anti-Western emotions within government circles in South Sudan and its supporters abroad? Officials in Kiir’s government allege that UNMISS and international humanitarian agencies are supporting forces resistant to the regime. Most believe the UNMISS arms-cache seized by Kiir’s security agents in Lakes State, and which allegedly contained the banned landmines, but which proved to be mere fabrication, was meant to aid and abet the rebels in Unity State, making UNMISS complicit in fanning efforts aimed at toppling Kiir’s regime.

But UNMISS in an official statement has categorically denied these allegations and reiterated that the weapons shipment was destined for the Ghanaian peacekeeping contingent that has recently arrived to protect civilians in Unity State. UNMISS further acknowledged that a “regrettable” labeling error has been committed in its part, which may account for the weapons being delivered by land rather than by air as agreed with Juba. A high level panel of experts has since been dispatched from UN Headquarters in New York, to find out how the error was committed in order to prevent it from future happening.

Nonetheless, these efforts have not succeeded in mitigating increased hostility, harassment and restriction of movement of UNMISS and other likeminded humanitarian agencies in South Sudan by security forces and with it hindering the delivery of much needed humanitarian aid to the suffering civilian population in the conflict affected areas. Reports have since emerged of manhandling and robbing of UNMISS and NGOs’ personnel and truck drivers delivering aid by security forces, including by the Ugandan ones. Some local staff have even allegedly been threatened to spy on UNMISS and other humanitarian organizations or risk being arrested and detained.

Numerous anti-UNMISS and Anti-Western demonstrations have been held in several areas in South Sudan, including Juba, Yambio, Wau, and elsewhere by Salva Kiir’s hawks and affiliates preceding some of this anti-Western hostile mood in South Sudan. Western Bahr El-Ghazal for instance, saw calls for the closure of humanitarian operations and field offices, as well as the expulsion of UNMISS from the State. Likewise in Juba, the demonstrators were indoctrinated with hostile and inflammatory political rhetoric and lies against the humanitarian community described among others, as “colonialists” who must be confronted. The governor of Lakes State is reported to have encouraged participants in an anti-UNMISS rally to consider UN peacekeeping force in South Sudan as “an enemy of South Sudan.”

Worse still, many armchair hawks and benefactors of Salva Kiir’s government who are enjoying the comfort and luxury of the very Western countries that serve them with bread and butter and bacon and eggs, have taken to social-media spitting venom against the West. Most have joined in vocalizing the chorus being sung at home and calling for the head of Ms. Hilde F. Johnson of the UNMISS on a silver-platter or the ouster of UNMISS mission and other humanitarian organizations from the Republic altogether. A handful of South Sudanese youth, presumably equally intoxicated by lies or are benefactors and sons and daughters of the regime residing in the comfort of Melbourne, Australia equally took to the streets against UNMISS and in support of their government’s version of the story on the alleged arming of the rebels by UNMISS in South Sudan.

Michael Makuei, the spokesperson of Kiir’s government and his minister of information seems out in full force to exact revenge on UNMISS. Makuei it has to be remembered has recently fallen out with UNMISS personnel in Bor, where he was reported to have been denied entry into a civilian protection area while his bodyguards were wielding arms in defiance to UNMISS house rules and safety measures in the civilian protection sites to enhance security. But for Makuei, that incident is now personal. The lawyer should know better and not be consumed with ignorance and emotions!

While the arms seizure seems to be at the center of the tension in Juba-New York relationship, there is more to Kiir’s government hatred of UNMISS and the West than meets the eye. The West has failed to grasp that Juba has increasingly grown bitter with the West for failing to be persuaded that what took place on the forgetful night of December 15th, 2013 that triggered the violent mayhem in South Sudan was a failed coup attempt to topple “a democratically elected government.” In the words of Wani Igga, the vice-president of Kiir, “no one knows why they [western governments] failed to accept that the government foiled attempt to remove the democratically leadership…we are convinced that there is a hidden agenda.”

Kiir’s coup narrative therefore, seems to snowball with every passing day of the violent conflict as the death toll multiply to more than 20,000 with almost 1000,000 others displaced while ceasefire continues to be blatantly violated and the civil war rages on unabated. Despite lack of sufficient supporting evidence, the coup narrative is also important not only to delegitimize the cause of the Sudan People Liberation Movement/ Army (SPLM/A) in Opposition as undermining to “democracy” in South Sudan but also to squarely apportion the blame on the rebels for the ensuing massacres and for plunging the country into chaos. Somebody must be held accountable and it is certainly not Juba, according to Kiir’s reasoning.

On this account, reports of human rights abuses, summary and targeted killings that points a finger of blame at Kiir’s regime in anticipation of justice and accountability before international law naturally do not augur well with Juba. The negative campaign against the West and UNMISS is a defensive political ploy meant to discredit these actors and their subsequent indictments as a “colonial agenda,” “politically motivated” and so on. It is a known tactic in keeping with the folk saying of “I will have you for breakfast before you have me for lunch.”

But my unsolicited advice to those presiding over anti-Western policies in Kiir’s cohort is that these policies are doing you more harm than good, while further distorting the already badly damaged image of South Sudan to the international community. Instead of persisting in floating an imagined coup that never happened and illegally continuing on detaining and prosecuting the remaining four political detainees, Kiir’s government will do well to show an iota of leadership and courage by releasing these innocent souls.

It is equally a multiple personality disorder and a waste of resources and time to hire a public relations firm purportedly to enhance foreign relations with the West while at the same time promoting anti-Western sentiments at home. Public relations must begin at home by beginning to amend the broken societal relationship and restoring trust in the government and between the people. What is needed therefore is for Juba to demonstrate genuine political will through offering concessions in the negotiating table to the salvage what can be salvaged to rescue South Sudan from the current chaos.

Genuine reconciliation efforts in South Sudan must begin to be depoliticized by opening up a political space that allows all conflict stakeholders, including the released seven and the detained four to participate in the peace talks. The fear and paranoia from the impending international justice and accountability for the tens of thousands of lives lost in this violent conflict can equally be negotiated and a compromise win-win solution for all can be reached in the roundtable. Continued intransigence does no one no favor and certainly anti-Western and anti-UNMISS rhetoric only makes things worse. Two wrongs do not make a right. Kiir and company must begin to claw their way out of this deep hole back into the light of commonsense!

Tongun Lo Loyuong is a freelance policy analyst from South Sudan. He holds two Master’s Degrees with honors and academic excellence from the United States. The last of his two MAs is in International Peace Studies and Policy Analysis for Political Change, from the University of Notre Dame – Indiana. His research interest is in South Sudan’s governance and peace and conflict issues. He is reachable at: [email protected]. For South Sudan news feed, follow him on tweeter @TongunLoLoyuong; and for more commentaries visit his blog at:

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