Me against my brother: The defection of General Dau Aturjong Nyuol

By Martin Garang Aher

June 4, 2014 (SSNA) — President Kiir had of late made two appointments that would ensconce rebellion in the state of Northern Bahr El Ghazal in the form of pitting rivalries against each other. Of the significant appointment is that of the army’s chief, general Paul Malong Awan, who was uplifted from a gubernatorial position as a civilian governor, to the army top stratum. Malong’s appointment and that of the caretaker governor of NBG State closed all doors on Dau, leaving him with only one way: that of rebellion.

Dau Aturjong became the latest South Sudanese military general to break ranks with Juba and joined Riek Machar in circumstances that swerved from claims of personal security, marginalisation of his community and the state, intense political rivalry and superimposed nationalistic dream of good governance. The news of rebellion of a well-respected general, much known for a high level of technicality in tactical guerrilla warfare than his wealth; the latter which he never had but dreams of, just like future-hopeful citizenry, was made in a hotel in Nairobi, Kenya and carried to a resounding propagation by Paris-based Sudan Tribune which published a full version of the press release, SBS Dinka radio in Australia, which later interviewed the general in his language of comfort, and many other local and international media.

Like every other rebels from within and without of Juba who made their discontent apparent since president Kiir took office in 2010 in circumstances sympathetic to colonial breakaway from the Sudan, general Dau, singing to the tune of others before him, has a keen interest in removing president Kiir from power in the country. He accused him of scandalous stewardship of the nation to catastrophe. Well, the nation is already in the abyss. The question to ponder upon is how to get out of it, something that every leader in South Sudan who calls for arms insurrections finds difficult to undo because of inherent fears of retributions and other complications that arise from combatants and acquired allies with own political interests. For now, General Dau has his finger on the trigger and has no time to droop down attending to the political opportunistic networks that weave around every step he makes.

Why did Dau really rebel? It is the question that South Sudanese who think that Aweil and Kiir are inseparable and one and the same, would want to know? Many people want to know why Aweil, an area that contributed a river full of blood in the most unsurpassed and bizarre conditions during the war of liberation with Sudan, fails to decelerate in the war of political opportunism emanating from Juba.  As difficult as the questions are, so are the answers, and I think General Dau can provide hints. Dau was the area commander of SPLA forces in Northern Bhar el Ghazal in 1990s, a position he swapped so often with Paul Malong, sometimes in the uncanny lobby with the general headquarters where Malong won the army politics of appeasement and deployment. Although Dau was popular solid protection of the area against Marahaleen counter-insurgency units, mobilising local resources to buy uniforms for the battalions in his command in the periods when SPLA soldiers at the extreme peripheries of war in Aweil were completely rugged and indistinguishable from the poverty-stricken civilians they protected; and introducing the now famous ‘Toyota war’ among the Darfur rebels by purchasing numerous Toyota utes cars and transformed them into military fighting vehicles, Dau could not hold on to his position in Aweil. He found himself transferred to the vicinity of Wau and replaced by Malong Awan.  Since both men are undoubtedly battle-groomed for battle madness that often result in successes, civilians in Aweil have always struck an understanding with Dau who remained a bad student of snobbishness much to their liking. That is where he always picks an axe to grind with ‘King Paul Malong,’ as adorned by a few toadies with interests. 

The bitter differences between Malong and Dau are national in character. President Kiir knows about them and with him on Malong’s side, there is no better ally for Dau. When Dau was interviewed by SBS Dinka Radio from Australia, he said that it was the late John Garang that knew his mind and how he rationalised situations. No wonder president Kiir saw a ‘Garang’s boy’ in him and played a one-sided favouritism in the fraternal battles of fame. During the 2010 elections, the SPLM, too, under new masters who were busy setting up traps for themselves by setting them up for the future enemies of the party, disapproved of Dau’s nomination as a front runner for gubernatorial position in Aweil. Dau went on to contest the elections as an independent candidate with no assurance of support from core. To him, he won the majority votes only to receive swapped ballots, followed by a humiliating condemnation and accusation of rebelling. For the second time, Malong ruled the state and kept Dau at bay in Juba. The hope, to everyone who watched Dau from afar, was that he would circumvent Malong in Aweil and finds a consolation in what the country would offer him at the national level. It never came to pass. What came to pass was that an enemy, ‘The King,’ was given the ‘knife’ at his expense.

Adding to his frustrations was an occasional presence of security personnel wolfing around his house in Juba, sometimes, firing a few aimless shot at it. For a man near a hostile core of politics, stakes could not be any higher for making up his mind. If anything, assumed impression is that notorious army men do not like to be fired at in awkward positions. Their bravery has an underlying fear. In a meeting held under a tree in Mapuordit, Yirol, in early 2001, and which was attended by Marial Nuor, a not-to-mess-around-with commander, a disgruntled soldier appeared from nowhere and cocked his gun so loud that everyone was taken by surprise in the meeting. I did not know what he had in mind. But the first person to stand up, shouted at the soldier and ordered him disarmed, was Marial himself. Ask the late Karubino Kwanyin Bol why he moved around to every place with a pistol just like Yasser Arafat, he would tell you that nothing was certain. In the case of retired general Dau, left without orders to give but a security report to make when fired on, the situation became less peaceful in Juba than in the bush: the only door that remained opened for him. 

Had president Kiir wanted Dau to stay, he would have pushed him to Aweil as the caretaker governor. But that would anger president Kiir’s darling in his army chief.  Already a caretaker governor in Aweil in the person of Kuel Aguer Kuel closes all avenues for a rebellion rethink from Dr. Dhiew Wol.  The two have truck-loads of colonial baggages they brought with them. The only difference is that they have unwillingly exchanged positions proportional to their past. 

For the people of Aweil, it was the dilemma that forced Dau out of Juba. The question is not why he rebelled but who has he joined, and at what time did he do it. That is where he misjudged Aweilians and where his right answers started with a wrong formula.

From Kuol Manyang and George Athor, Malong Awan and Dan Aturjong, Taban Deng Gai and Angelina Teny, Riek Machar and Kiir Mayardit and others, the SPLM knows how to create rebels. With Dau in the list, they might have created General Terrible.

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

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