A History of South Sudan Militarization March 18, 2014

By Augustino Lucano

April 4, 2014 (SSNA) — Sudan became independent in 1956 and since then, has been engaged in civil war conflicts.  The conflict between the North and the South erupted one year before Sudan gained its independence in 1955.  The first Sudanese civil war, called Anyanya 1, broke out in 1955. The South Sudanese demanded representation and more regional autonomy. Half a million people died during the 17 years of fighting in that war, which can be divided into three stages: initial guerrilla war, Anyanya, and South Sudan liberation movement.  The agreement accord signed in 1972 failed to terminate the tensions that had originally caused the conflicts. Since the root causes of the conflict were not tackled, the Second Sudanese Civil War broke out in 1983 and lasted until 2005.  At the end of that civil war, the Government of Sudan and the Sudan’s People Liberation Movement/Army (SPLAM/A) signed an agreement accord. The United Nations Mission in the Sudan (2014) explained that “The latest north-south civil war began in 1983, following the breakdown of the 1972 Addis Ababa agreement.  For more than two decades, the Government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), the main rebel movement in the south, fought over resources, power, the role of religion in the state, and self-determination.  Over two million people died, four million were uprooted and some 600,000 people fled the country as refugees” (p.1).

A six-year interim government dated from 9 July 2005, and was established to provide a period of time during which the South Sudanese would have the right to self-determination. The twenty-one year conflict devastated a significant part of Africa’s largest country and deprived the people of stability, growth and development. Over one million South Sudanese people were lost in the conflicts. Over the prolonged years of war, there were many attempts by various external actors, including neighboring states, concerned donors and other states, as well as the parties themselves, to resolve the conflict.  Nevertheless, the massive complications of the civil war and the lack of political unity prevented its earlier resolution. The Heads of State of the Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGADD) created one last initiative to bring the parties together in 1993.  This long process led to the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005.

Nine years after the civil war ended, the people of South Sudan claimed independence on July 9, 2011. The South Sudanese people were enthusiastic and hopeful for the anticipated change and a prosperous future. Young girls and young men were extremely hopeful for new opportunities.  Unfortunately, on December 15, 2013, a war broke out between the Vice-President Dr. Riek Machar Teny and President Salva Kiir Mayardit. Two separate issues have led to the current mayhem. Dr. Riek and President Kiir could not agree on outstanding issues in the SPLM Party. The presidential body guards also quarrelled, then fighting erupted. Those presidential body guards are mainly Nuer and Dinka.  Wikipedia (2013) explained that “A conflict began on the evening of 15 December 2013, at the meeting of the National Liberation Council meeting at Nyakuron, when Opposition leaders Dr. Riek Machar, Pagan Amum and Rebecca Nyandeng voted to boycott the Sunday December 15, 2013 meeting of the National Liberation Council. President Salva Kiir ordered SPLM Major General Marial Ciennoung, commander of the Presidential Guard (The Tiger Battalion), to leave the meeting venue and return to the barracks to disarm the troops.  After disarming all ethnicities within the guard, Marial ordered that the Dinka members be re-armed.  Marial Ciennoung, deputy from the Nuer ethnicity, began to question this order and a fight ensued when surrounding officers saw the commotion.  The Nuer soldiers also re-armed themselves.  Fighting erupted between the Dinka elements of the Presidential Guard and the Nuer elements.  This lasted from Sunday night until Monday afternoon.  Civilian casualties began when the Dinka elements of the SPLM began targeting Nuer civilians in the capital city of Juba” (p.1).  The Presidential body guards or tiger battalion were mainly Dinka from Bahr el Gazal, but that the general army SPLA both Dinka and Nuer.

The President Salvar Kiir ordered SPLM General Marial Ciennoung to disarm Nuer presidential guards to surrender their arms. However, this disagreement occurred among the presidential guards. The political struggle between the SPLM members and President Salva Kiir puts the country in deep misery. The agony inflicted on all South Sudanese people jeopardizes the well-being of South Sudan. Agwet (2014) described bitterly that “Unfortunately, South Sudan has turned politically unsafe, economically bereft and socially unforgivable because of the underlying deep hatred, sense of mistrust, division and antagonism along the line of tribal mayhem” (p.1). This situation will not be easily overcome. 

France (2014) announced that “Heavy fighting broke out in the main military barracks in war-torn South Sudan’s capital Juba on Wednesday, March 5, underscoring serious tensions within the national army as it battles a rebel uprising” (p.1).  The fighting which began in Juba spread rapidly, because several commanders defected when they learned that the government ordered the presidential body guards to search houses and to kill ethnic Nuer. Okello described that “The Deputy Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Rachel Nyadak Paul, has admitted that Nuer civilians were killed in broad daylight in Juba” (p.1). There is no substantive evidence to support the allegation that the fighting which occurred on December 15, 2013 was a coup. The government of South Sudan had fabricated the story about a coup to cover up the crimes against humanity in Juba.  South Sudan Nation (2013) reported that “It was not a coup: Salvar Kiir shot himself in the foot” (p.1). This fabricated story was reported by both African and foreign major media outlets like the BBC, the United Nations Mission in the Sudan and the Gurtong News Paper.

Warner (2014) reported that South Sudan’s then Minister of high Education, Science and Technology, Peter Adwok Nyaba elaborated that “The violence now engulfing South Sudan began with what President Salva Kiir says was an attempted coup led by former Vice President Riek Machar and supported by many former top government officials, including Adwok.  But Adwok laughed off this claim. In his opinion, Kiir was trying to purge the party of his political rivals.  Oddly, Adwok made this accusation without bitterness. He had known Kiir for decades as a fearless commander who’d spent 28 years in the bush fighting Sudan. Now, as president, he was handling political threats like another military campaign.  ‘Salva [Kiir] is not a political animal’ Adwok said. ‘He is a soldier, and doesn’t perceive the political process as some of us perceive it.’” (p.1).

Klapper (2014) illustrated that Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield, reported that “The crisis began with a political dispute on Dec. 15 as President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, accused his former vice president, Riek Machar, an ethnic Nuer, of trying to overthrow the government.  Machar denies the accusation, accusing the government of rooting out political opponents.  Thomas-Greenfield said the U.S. had no evidence of a coup attempt, putting the initial blame on the government for raiding Machar’s home” (p. 1).

Gurtong (2014) reported  that Tongun Lo Loyuong explained that “Kiir’s coup narrative therefore, seems to snowball with every passing day of the violent conflict as the death toll multiplied to more than 20,000 with almost 1,000,000 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” (p.2).

The SPLM/A has been killing civilians indiscriminately. In Budi County, Eastern Equatoria, the capital Chukudum was the SPLM/A headquarters in 1990s up to mid-2007. The relationship between the Didinga community and the military establishments in Chukudum was horrible. The SPLA military terrorized the community despite the fact that the community had sacrificed manpower by hosting SPLM/A and Internally Displaced persons (IDPS). The community also supported the SPLM/A until the killings started in Budi County. The Chukudum Crisis Peace Conference (2002) elaborated that “The relationship between the Didinga Community and the military authorities in Chukudum area have been tense for many years however, the situation deteriorated dramatically from 1998/9 onwards, including the tragic killings of both civilians and military personnel. Since 1999, a number of senior delegations have intervened to mitigate and resolve the underlying strife, they failed to abate the tensions and bring the antagonism to end” (p.1). Evidently, the fact that the SPLM/A failed to develop a civil administration during the war had shown that the SPLM/A is not capable of building a united nation in South Sudan. Walraet (2009) explained “That the new autonomous SPLM/A-dominated GoSS faces many difficult challenges, is evident: decades of continuous civil warfare have several eroded social and economic development and destroyed most of South’s physical infrastructure. Many observers also highlight the enormous task the limited capacity of the SPLM/A to re-construct a state in the South and to establish governmental institutions on all levels in the government of South Sudan (GoSS, state and sub-state levels). In particular they emphasise the fact that because of its failure to develop a civil administration during the war, the SPLM/A has little historical experience to build on. A second frequently cited incapacity is the SPLM/A’s failure to resolve ethnic tensions and embrace ethnic groups other than Dinka, which has generated dissension and factionalism in the past, and might also negatively affect post-war nation building” (p.54).

Most governors in South Sudan states had pressured the citizens in South Sudan to allow the youths to become national military soldiers. Those who opposed the government decision currently are threatened to comply with the government law. Radio Tamuzj (2014) reported that the governor “has given his county commissioners two weeks to mobilize 6,000 recruits for the army, 1,500 per county. As quoted by Gurtong news, the governor warned those who would sabotage the ongoing SPLA recruitment: We are aware of your activities that you are playing against these mobilizations and we know what we can do to you, you will face the consequences if you are here in this state supporting the rebels” (p.1). The citizens who opposed the recruitment of their sons into senseless fighting are labelled as rebels. However, these citizens opposed the fighting because they want the government to find peaceful ways to stop the violence.

Instead of the youth acquiring more knowledge and education which would help them to build a better South Sudan, the government has forced them to join the military soldiers to fight against the rebels. Poverty is rampant among the youth in South Sudan and the poverty has forced many youth to join the military soldiers in the hope that they will be paid. The governors in South Sudan deceived the youths into thinking that they were to be trained to protect wildlife, their territories, and properties. The youths were tricked when they were recruited for the military and most of them are now fighting miserably on the frontlines with insufficient experience in a war zone. Bosco (2014) elaborated that “The call was part of the resolution reached by the three governors of Central, Eastern and Western Equatoria states during an emergency conference organised on the current crisis in the capital, Juba. The one-day conference, which brought together the three governors, also resolved to mobilise Equatorians for the protection of the territory, its people and their property” (p.1).

These youths who have been taken to the frontlines do not have the necessary experience and are facing military soldiers, many who are experienced military officers. The youths need the experience of military college to become professional military soldiers, and the government has promised to provide them with sufficient training as South Sudan national soldiers. Wikipedia (2014) described that “Military education and training is a process which intends to establish and improve the capabilities of military personnel in their respective roles. Military education can be voluntary or compulsory duty. Before any person gets authorization to operate technical equipment or be on the battlefield, they must take a medical and often a physical test. If passed, they may begin primary training” (p.1). But in South Sudan, the youths are forced to fight experienced military soldiers who are rebels. These rebels defected from the mainstream military and most of them are well experienced military soldiers. Leithead (2014) explained that “The rebels are not just a ragtag group of civilians with guns – although there is an element of that. It’s actually a whole division of the South Sudan army that has joined the rebel side and so you’ve got army fighting against army and they’re both very well armed” (p.1).

In conclusion, among the many youth who were speedily recruited in the Eastern Equatoria state, are the future generation who would lead South Sudan. These young men were deceived as they were told that they would be trained as wildlife officers, but instead were tricked into joining the military training. It is disappointing to see the politicians in South Sudan take advantage of poverty and deceive the young people. Lack of employment opportunities makes these young men easy targets. From the corners of ten states in South Sudan, poverty forced the young men to throw away their lives, because the politicians have encouraged these young men to defend their land. These young men were paid small amounts of money to join the military soldiers. 

African Economic Outlook (2012) illustrated that “Among the factors contributing to youth unemployment, skill mismatched are viewed as particularly serious.  When there are jobs, the youth applicants lack experience or proper qualifications as most have attended private institutions in many cities that lack credible, internationally renowned accreditation. In most cases, the degrees the applicants possess are not in line with government priorities, and thus there is a mismatch of qualifications with the government’s priorities in the development agenda” (p.9).

Patinkin (2014) explained that “Mabior’s disappointment is shared by millions of his fellow South Sudanese, and echoed by donor countries that poured in billions of dollars to help the new nation over recent years.  They all want to know why, given decades of fighting and two civil wars that killed millions, anyone would pick up the gun again” (p.1). The current fighting makes things worst for South Sudanese people who had already lost millions of people to the civil wars. This would have been the time for South Sudanese youth to go to school so that they will have prosperous lives.  Education is the key to a better life.  The youth who are fighting the war for politicians in South Sudan should be given chance to attend schools instead of war. Nelson Mandela (2001) elaborated that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Do we need another generation of young men to die on the road to a self-sustaining, self-governing South Sudan? Do these young men deserve to die in the fighting? Is it logical for a poor, young man’s father, who had sacrificed so much of his life during the earlier civil war, to succumb to the same fate after the independence of South Sudan?

In order for the South Sudan government to bring ever-lasting peace, there must be an interim government. This interim government must be comprehensive and represent the 64 tribes of South Sudan. These 64 tribes represent all South Sudanese communities. These tribes consist of people, human beings, who need to have their right to live respected. Also, an interim leading official must be a neutral human being who treats the 64 tribes as his own sons and daughters.  Currently, some feel that their tribe is superior to other tribes, but we are all human beings who were created equally. If one tribe is mistreated, everyone feels the pain, because we are all connected by our identity as South Sudanese. The new government must be committed to healing past wounds, building trust and reconciling all the tribes to help a strong and united South Sudan.

The author is a concerned South Sudanese.


African economic outlook. (2012). South Sudan. Retrieved on March 18, 2014 from http://www.youthpolicy.org/national/South_Sudan_2012_Youth_Unemployment_Briefing.pdf

Bosco, Ijoo. (2014). Military mobilisation in E.Equatoria attracts excess recruits. Retrieved on March 18, 2014 from http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article49964

Chukudum Crisis Peace Conference. (2002) A Conference of Reconciliation and Healing between the Didinga people and the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement/ Army (SPLM/A) retrieved on March 18, 2014 from http://www.sudanarchive.net/cgi-bin/pagessoa?a=pdf&d=Dslpd137&dl=1&sim=Screen2Image

France, Agence. (2014). Fighting breaks out in South Sudan army barracks. Retrieved on March 18, 2014 from http://www.rappler.com/world/regions/africa/52252-fighting-south-sudan-army-barracks

Klapper, Bradley.(2014) US Scrambles to avert civil war in South Sudan. Retrieved on March 18, 2014 from http://bigstory.ap.org/article/us-risk-all-out-civil-war-south-sudan

Leithead, Alastair. (2014). South Sudan general killed in ambush. Retrieved on March 18, 2014 from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-25613847

Okello, H. Dicken. (2014). Minister Spills of Juba massacre Retrieved on March 18, 2014 from http://chimpreports.com/index.php/regional-news/s-sudan/18205-minister-spills-secrets-of-juba-massacres.html#sthash.Edyu4uwZ.dpuf

Tongun Lo Loyuong. (2014). Making Sense of the surge in anti-western sentiments in South Sudan. Retrieved on March 2014 from


United Nations Mission in the Sudan. (2014). The background to Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Retrieved on March 18, 2014 from http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/missions/past/unmis/background.shtml

RadioTamzuj. (2014). South Sudan army seeks thousands of recruits from western States. Retrived on March 18, 2014 from https://radiotamazuj.org/en/article/south-sudan-army-seeks-thousands-recruits-western-states

Walraet, Anne. (2008). Governance, violence and the struggle for economic regulations in South Sudan: the case of Budi County (Eastern Equatoria) retrieved on March 18, 2014 from http://www.gap.ugent.be/africafocus/pdf/08-21-2-AWalraet.pdf

Wikipedia. (2013). South Sudanese conflict Retrieved on March 18, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Sudanese_conflict_(2013%E2%80%932014)

Warner, Gregory. (2014). How I Almost Got Arrested with a South Sudanese Ex-Minister Retrieved on March 18, 2014 from http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2014/01/06/260189348/how-i-almost-got-arrested-with-a-south-sudanese-ex-minister

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