November 3, 2014 (SSNA) — Whether by design or coincidence, once again Equatoria has been marginalised in the affairs of the country. President Salva Kiir’s SPLM-IG, Dr Riek Machar’s SPLM-IO and their off shots the SPLM-G10 together with IGAD have to a large extent connived to exclude Equatoria to maintain the strangle hold they have over the people of the most peaceful part of the country.
SPLM’s creation from the outset was intended to fight and subjugate Equatorians. The silent policy of this organisation towards Equatorians has been crystal clear. It strove to oppress and marginalise the Equatoria region through violence to disempower its people within and without the movement. This was done through the policy that stated no groups are allowed to join the movement but only individuals. This policy evidently was designed and intended to keep individuals isolated and weak. It is associated with predatory groups wanting to dominate and control people. This had a devastating effect on the Equatorians within the movement because what it did was it directly eliminated Equatorian leadership. It cut Equatorian leaders and potential leaders from being recognised by their own people while at the same time installing and building Jieng as their direct bosses. Please see ‘The broken social boundaries in South Sudan.’ http://allafrica.com/stories/201307050284.html
However, this policy was not applied to the Nuer. The Nuer joined the movement in all sorts of groups with their leaders intact and recognised. This obviously ensured the continued survival of Nuer power within the SPLM/A. Unlike the Equatorians who became victims of violent elimination under the watch of the current useless Vice President James Wani Igga. For example, a certain notorious cousin of Dr John Garang by name Deng Agwang openly executed Equatorian officers and soldiers of the SPLA at will in Eastern Equatoria during 1980s and early 1990s without any accountability. The net effect was total disempowerment of Equatoria. The Nuer continued to grow in strength because as a group they could assert their interest. This group approach to the membership of SPLM is the single act that has helped the Nuer to resist and face down the Jieng at different critical times including the current conflict.
The balance of power between the Nuer and the Jieng in South Sudan has always been maintained through this unspoken arrangement. Now that the two are at each other’s throat, both want to use Equatoria to strengthen their position in order to control the country without any discernible benefit for Equatorians. Basically both groups view Equatorians as their donkeys or slaves to be exploited. Equatoria’s patriotic stand to always fight for the freedom of South Sudan unfortunately has made them to ignore their inalienable rights in South Sudan to their own detriment. By default, their patriotism has turned them into the underclass in the country they greatly sacrificed for. This is unacceptable and Equatoria must re-strategise to regain their rightful place in the social structure of the country. They should no more play second fiddle.
The exclusion of Equatoria from the talks in Addis Ababa should serve as the final straw that broke the Camel’s back. Dr Machar has openly claimed that he is fighting for implementation of democracy in South Sudan. This is welcome and everybody in the country is looking forward to it. However, a mere statement stating a noble position is not good enough if it is not followed by action. If the actions of a supposed leader who promises something contradict his words, then alarm bells ought to ring loudly lest the people are taken for a ride.
This article is the alarm bell. Dr Machar has been part of the system (Dinkocracy) since 2002 when he returned to the fold of the SPLM after having led a rebellion against it from1991. For nine solid years he fought the system in order to change its objective of united Sudan. He did not succeed. The rebellion movement that he led fractured into two. The other part that Dr Machar led which was renamed South Sudan Independence Movement (SSIM) ended up signing the Khartoum Peace Agreement in 1997 which granted him the position of Vice President of General Omer Bashir. While he was a ceremonial Vice President in Khartoum he found himself powerless and this led to his return to the SPLM under Dr John Garang in 2002. In the process of defecting, Dr Machar basically abandoned all those he took with him to Khartoum. They remained at the mercy of President General Bashir.
There is a crucial thing here to be noted. The quality of leadership of Dr Machar, his values and principles and his ability to hold a group together is highly questionable. It is important to note this point because Dr Machar may eventually sacrifice the Nuer and the Equatorians with him now exactly in the same manner he did in 1997 and in 2002 if he sees an opening for seizing personal power.
The alliance with Nuer must not be confused with support for Dr Machar. South Sudanese standing with the Nuer is based on the fact that they were subjected to horrendous and unacceptable killings by President Kiir and the Jieng. Everybody acknowledges, accepts and condemns the ethnic cleansing done on them. Because of this, the Nuer have all the rights in the world to be given support to fight for their own survival. Dr Machar as a Nuer happened to have been targeted and so people sympathise with him. But unfortunately Dr Machar is taking the fight of Nuer as a chance to advance his own personal interest. He seized on the massacres of the Nuer to promote his personal ambition to accede to power. The evidence can be gleaned from the interview he held with Al Jazeer on 22nd December 2013, a week into the ethnic cleansing. Dr Machar categorically stated that he wished to become the president. There was no need for Dr Machar to unequivocally express his ambition when the Nuer people were being hunted down in Juba by the Dootku Beny militia. This reckless behaviour exposed his lack of care for his own people.
As far as Dr Machar was concerned he wanted to be president and that was all. The ongoing killing of the Nuer was not an issue. Initially, he even resisted naming the targeted killing of Nuer as ethnic cleansing. If Dr Machar was a true leader, he should have used the interview to articulate the horrendous experience of the Nuer and by extension the suffering of South Sudanese people. This would have presented him as a conscientious leader in waiting which would be exactly like what he verbalised.
Others could argue that Dr Machar is an ally of Equatorians because he championed the cause of federalism. Yes, it is indisputable that Dr Machar has called for the implementation of federalism. However, the question to ask is why did he not show his support when he was the vice president? Crucially, in July 2011 at the adoption of the infamous interim constitution of Mr John Luke Jok and following the three Equatorian conferences Dr Machar did not side with the Equatorians. This evidence raises serious issues with the integrity of Dr Machar. Simply put, when Dr Machar was in alliance with President Kiir and as his Vice President, he was happy to step firmly on Equatorians with his Jackboots. He was happy helping President Kiir and the Jieng to lord it over Equatorians mercilessly.
Since Dr Machar rebelled following the mid December 2013 incident, he sung all the right songs to woo Equatorians to support him. He has succeeded to some extent but unbelievably he has started to backtrack in a very worrying manner. Those people in SPLM-IO should not just be carried away by the heat of the moment. They need to scrutinise Dr Machar’s speeches (some through his spokesperson James Gadet Dak) and actions carefully to see the very worrying signs in the open political space now. Dr Machar is already displaying dictatorial and tribal tendencies akin to Dr John Garang’s behaviour at the early stages of SPLM inception which morphed into the monstrous organisation that we now know. The evidence to this lies in, 1) the manner Dr Machar makes his appointments, 2) in how he dismisses the participation of the stake holders in Addis Ababa by emphasising direct talks between him and Kiir only and 3) in how he neglects the rights of other oppressed groups.
The second and the third parts are very crucial because these are the bits responsible for marginalisation of Equatorians from the talks in Addis Ababa. As it is now, the talks technically are clearly between Bahr El Ghazal on one hand led by President Kiir and Upper Nile on the other led Dr Machar as an armed opponent of the system (Dinkocracy) with the SPLM-G10 playing the role of supporting both regions ensuring Equatoria is kicked into the long grass.
The exclusion of Equatoria is a combined effort of President Kiir, Dr Machar and the IGAD. First of all, President Kiir used the machinery of the state of South Sudan to exclude the Equatorian leaders from the process by quarantining them in Juba. Although they were officially invited by IGAD to the talks, the system (Dinkocracy) illegally denied them the right to travel and on top of that, their passports were confiscated. This severely oppressive action amounted to direct exclusion of Equatoria from the talks.
Secondly, all the other parties invited to the talks in Addis Ababa found themselves abused and corralled to accept being represented by Dr Lam Akol as their leader. Dr Lam himself has now been fouled and quarantined by the system. This shameful act was done by IGAD and the delegation of government of South Sudan exposing the collision between them.
Thirdly, IGAD from the outset has all along been interested in patching the SPLM as a solution to the problems of the country. Within this position, they deliberately ignored the violation visited on the Equatorian leaders and the other invited participants. Not only that, but they participated in forcing the other parties to be led by others whose ideology and values widely differs. This was a violation of the very principle of stakeholder participation. The question that IGAD must answer is: why have they violated their own principles by denying all the lawful South Sudanese political parties participation individually in their own right? Please see, ‘IGAD’s inadequate strategy in South Sudan’, http://allafrica.com/stories/201404140864.html?viewall=1 and ‘Reflections on Justice Peter Sule’s indefinite incarceration’, http://allafrica.com/stories/201305080235.html
As it can be seen, the quartet: SPLM-IG, SPLM-IO, SPLM-G10 and IGAD have all connived to exclude and marginalise Equatoria. There is no doubt that the views of Equatoria are not represented in Addis Ababa. This raises serious issue of legitimacy of the talks going on in Ethiopia. Now that the views of a third of the country (Equatoria) are not taken into consideration, whatever the outcome, it may not be binding on Equatoria.
Equatorians should not accept any outcome from Addis Ababa as binding upon them because their interest was not represented, articulated or considered in the current talks taking place in Addis Ababa. If Dr Machar was a democrat and an ally of Equatoria he should have demonstrated it by fighting for all the stakeholders regardless of whether they are his supporters or not. As a freedom fighter (based on his claim) espousing the ideal of justice, he should have been in the forefront showing that he wants to see the country return to peaceful co-existence by insisting on the participation of all stakeholders including the Equatorians. Unfortunately, he only fought for the participation of his own people and in my opinion Dr Machar has failed the test of a truly national democratic leader.
Therefore, clearly without any doubt, Equatoria is on its own. It remains marginalised and oppressed by grand design of Jieng, Nuer and IGAD. What does that mean? Simple, Equatoria is not weak as perceived and believed by others and some Equatorians. Equatoria is the sleeping giant. It only needs to wake up. The only thing crippling Equatoria is the dysfunctional SPLM. Equatorians must first desert the SPLM or the Equatorians in this hopeless organisation need to think outside the box and join their sisters and brothers to realise its interest. Equatorians, therefore, need neither the Jieng nor the Nuer for allies. What it needs is internal unity of purpose, unity of survival and unity of destiny. Without such unity, the options before it are limited. Thus this suggested kind of approach is a must to offset the brutal jungle politics employed by fellow countrymen from the other two regions.
On its own Equatoria can lead and bring stability to South Sudan. After all, South Sudan numerically (population) is equally divided between the three regions. Each region is a third of the country. If Equatoria organises itself, it has equal chances of winning the presidency in any elections held in the country. This should now be the policy of Equatoria. Go it alone and if any alliance is to be made, the leadership must be of Equatoria. Anything less than that should not be entertained or accepted. Equatoria must not take this insult from the SPLM warring factions and IGAD lying down. Enough is enough because the unnecessary bloodletting in the country needs to stop.[Truth hurts but it is also liberating]
The author lives in the Republic of South Sudan. He can be reached at [email protected].