Simon Yel Yel of Juba and his Article entitled ‘The Question of Self-Driven Rebellion in South Sudan’: Is His Nationalism or Tribalism?

By Riang Yer Zuor Nyak

April 6, 2015 (SSNA) — In an article entitled, The Question of Self-Driven Rebellion in South Sudan, Simon Yel Yel started out analyzing rebellions (past and current, with the one in South Sudan being the current) in Africa. What initially caught my attention was the part talking about various causes of those rebellions. I felt that he was evasive about something. I went on and then, the last section of his article clearly revealed what he was after.

Regarding the causes of rebellions in Africa, he stated as follows: “Initial grievances of the leadership of such a rebel group would vary from being blocked from achieving political power, under representation of their region/ethnic group in the government and administration of their regions, deliberate neglect of access to development funds, blockage of their ethnic group from the private sector and allocation of their land to other ethnic groups (of the ruling ethnic group), etc.”

The causes of rebellions, as he mentioned, suggest that rebellions in Africa are caused by things that are not national in nature. Rather, they are caused by narrow interests. That was what caught my attention in the first place. Nevertheless, these might be causes to some of the rebellions that he mentioned in his article. But the problem is that he has chosen to mention those causes to suit the point that he later attempted to make in relation to the current war in South Sudan. He intentionally left out as possible causes such things as dictatorship, corrupt practices by visionless leaderships, socio-economic neglect of the citizens by governments that do not allow democratic changes, leadership failure which leads to institutional failure, and so many others.

Regarding the current level of the war situation in the country, he put the blame on foreign hands that he believes are directly or indirectly fuelling the war. He stated, “In the recent failed coup attempt, many foreign hands are either directly or indirectly involved in fuelling the situation to its current level.”  I think this point is interesting. It is interesting because it resembles positions taken by both the Jieng Council of Elders and Salva himself. Here Simon is joining Salva and elders in talking about long discredited coup story that Salva failed to convict people of. He publically admitted that there was no coup, and made a statement to the effect that there were people who wanted to exploit the situation. Why would Salva and his supporters want to continue talking about a coup attempt—a story that none other than Salva put to rest long ago?

I agree that there are foreign hands fueling this war. It is only a question of how they are fueling it. To the best of my understanding and the understanding of those who have keenly been following the issues of this war objectively, these hands started manipulating the situation just immediately after December 15, 2013. Uganda rushed in with her army to directly take part in the war; Ethiopia immediately responded by sending in arms; Sudan immediately sent in arms; Kenya opened up her ports for Juba to import lethal weapons; the USA sanctioned the unjustified move-in by the UPDF; and the African Union immediately instructed the IGAD to do its best to make sure that Salva and his government were kept alive. It was only after the coup story was revealed to be a fabrication that some of these countries and organizations, especially Ethiopia and Sudan, stopped their arms supplies to Juba.

These are the hands that have been fueling the war. But, in whose interest have they been fueling the war? Clearly, they have been fueling the current war in the interest of Salva. Ungratefully, Salva and his Jieng Council of Elders, now plus Simon Yel Yel, are the ones talking as if foreign hands are fueling the war in the interest of someone else. How can one rationalize such a behavior?

Regarding the intentions of the UN, US and AU, it is obvious that Simon Yel, Salva, and the Jieng Council of Elders are not happy with the sanctions and putting the country under a foreign trusteeship. He stated, “The UN statements within the country and indecorous suggestions of Ambassador Cohen and AU leaked report of Obasanjo to place our country under UN trusteeship plus sanction drafted by US and adopted by UNSC are clear evidences of ill intentions within the international community.”

As to the sanctions, there is no reason why one would be so unhappy other than that there is an obvious nervousness on the part of those who have billions to lose. These sanctions are intended to push the parties to make compromises. More importantly, they are targeted sanctions that would only target individuals seen as having responsibility for failure to reach a deal. They are not going to be applied against the country. Individuals and the country are totally different entities. The negative responses that Salva and his supporters are making are only signs that they know exactly who is refusing to make peace (this would be the legitimate target of the sanctions, not the country). And that is Salva for refusing to negotiate in Addis Ababa on any issue placed on the table for discussion in March 2015.

Concerning the issue of trusteeship, the group should only be concentrating on the issue that is bringing such a terrible threat to the sovereignty of the country. They talk about “…our country…” When did they start loving this country? They looted her resources as if she longed to aliens far away from the African sea shores; they neglected the welfare of the citizens as if they (citizens) have no claim to the resources of the country; and they have killed the citizens of this country without a shame—beginning with the Zande in Yambio and the Lou Nuer in 2006, Shilluk, Murle, Lak and Thieng Nuer in Kaldak and, finally, the Juba massacres.

I know that these African vultures are salivating to have their chance to get their slices from the South Sudanese resources using some form of legitimacy to be bestowed up on them by the UN. It is not a good prospect. But, South Sudan is not an island, and the response should not be just blaming the ‘foreign hands’. More, and positive things, must be done to prevent this. Salva and his group must, instead, start working on some way to make peace so that we can all work together to remove this threat.

On the issue of negotiations, Simon Yel Yel stated, “Giving the above factors causing coups in Africa, Riek Machar and his loyalists failed to come out with a clear socio-political agenda to enable them negotiate the government with facts and build a political stance.” He claimed that Dr. Riek Machar and his group “…failed to come out with a clear socio-political agenda to enable them negotiate…” Really? How does Simon Yel define socio-political agenda?

This is one of the things why I sometimes think that either there is something wrong with Salva and his supporters, or they think that something is wrong with the people of South Sudan, that they do not know what is going on, and that they should only be fed with information and then things would be alright. Either way, the conclusion would be that something is terribly wrong with Salva and his group.

The issues that have been presented by the SPLM/A are socio-political and economic. The issues of economic reform, social services reform, reform in the system of governance, security sector reforms, reforms in the current political system (removing dictatorship and replacing it with democratic system), dealing with the root causes of the war (which the government and the IGAD refused, but was accepted by the government in Arusha), and many more. Any reasonable person going through such a list would conclude that there were socio-political agenda presented by the SPLM/A. Simon Yel should have come out with those socio-political agenda that he believes the SPLM/A failed to come out with. Until then, he must remain as a blind tribal supporter of his tribesman, Salva.

In an attempt to justify his statement that there were no socio-political agenda, Simon stated, “Their (rebels) negotiation begins with stepping down of the president Salva Kiir and ends with making Riek Machar either a ceromonial prime minster or first vice president with his own independent army loyal to him apart from the national army(SPLA). Something that common sense can’t buy at all.” Again, he is either unfamiliar with the issues at the Peace Talks or he thinks that his audience is in the dark about these.

Yes, the SPLM/A demanded that Salva stepped down as president, and rightly because he has committed genocide. IGAD, AU and the rest of the international community thought that the demand would prolong the war. In the name of peace, the SPLM/A made a concession to let Salva remain in the government as president. The alternative suggestion was to keep him as a ceremonial one after IGAD introduced the idea of a prime minister. Again, that stood in the way of peace. To break that, the SPLM/A agreed on power-sharing between the president and the prime minister. In this arrangement, both the prime minister and the president would be, jointly, executive. During the last two sessions of the talks, the same IGAD abandoned the creation of the office of the prime minister favor of the creation of the office of the 1st vice president. The SPLM/A, again, did not want to block the process by sticking to the premiership. The SPLM/A’s final position was either prime minister or 1st vice president so long as executive powers were shared equally. Where did Simon Yel come up with the idea that the SPLM/A ended “…with making Riek Machar either a ceremonial prime minister or first vice president…?” Is it unfamiliarity with the facts, or is it twisting of the facts?

In the same paragraph, Simon Yel talked of commonsense as incapable of buying the demand for separate armies (what he referred to as “…his (Dr. Riek’s) own independent army loyal to him apart from the national army (SPLA).” First, he needs to understand that the idea of two armies does not allow for a national army versus the other army. The idea is that during the time that the two armies should stay separate, there will only be two South Sudanese armed forces under two separate commanders-in-chief. There will not be such things as the national army and the private army. It is only after the agreed period that the national army will be constituted from the two armies. Second, there is a need to know the nature of the commonsense that Simon talked about. Commonsense, in our case as South Sudanese, can easily buy the idea of two armies. We are not as forgetful as Simon wants to present us to the world. It was not too long ago that Sudan had two separate armies, and we were the beneficiaries of that arrangement.

Simon Yel suggested that the SPLM/A practices tribal militarization and recruitment of underage children as signs that it has lost a political direction. He stated, “Moreover, the tribal militarization from the rebel side and recruitment of underage boys to engage in power struggle against the legitimate government proved beyond doubt that the rebel groups lost the political direction to convince south Sudanese and world at large but continue to engage in whatever it takes to get power with support from the biased International community (Trioka).”

I agree that the majority of those fighting against the anti-people regime of Salva are ethnically Nuer. If this is what Simon referred to as tribal militarization, then be it. Let us also ask the question of the Mathiang Anyor, Gel-weng, Dut-Ku-beny and so on. These are from his and Salva’s Dinka community. It follows that the majority of those fighting against the pro-people forces of SPLM/A are ethnically Dinka. When will Simon Yel Yel talk about tribal militarization on the side of the anti-people regime?

The first important issue that Simon should deal with (before making accusations of tribal militarization) is that which led the Nuer youths to take up arms against the genocidal regime in Juba. The systematic killings of their relatives and their tribesmen and women mobilized them to resist. They should not be blamed for their response. The question should be why don’t other South Sudanese who know exactly the magnitude of what happened to their Nuer brothers and sisters in Juba respond the same way or any other different effective way to condemn Salva and his accomplices for committing genocide? Yes, Salva and his accomplices targeted only the Nuer. However, killings of the Nuer was (and still is) an injury to the South Sudanese society. The fact that Simon Yel is still supporting Salva after committing genocide makes him not only a tribal-minded, but, it also disqualifies him to talk of nationalism.

I disagree with Simon in his claim of underage recruitment. There is no evidence whatsoever that the SPLM/A recruits children to fight. The whole of the Nuer community is angered by the killings of unarmed innocent civilians. The number of the young men and women, old men and women coming forward to join the fight is simply overwhelming. Some of them are turned away for one reason or others. They are always in tears when they are told that they cannot join the army. There is no reason to recruit underage children when there is more than what is needed for recruitment. Recruitment of underage and forced recruitment of any age group happen only when the number of fighters needed by an army to fight the war is not met. The claim that the SPLM/A recruits children is just a flagrant lie.

Recently, the anti-people army of Salva Kiir has abducted children from Wau Shilluk. They were found at a training camp, and they were not the first to forcibly join that camp and others. Embarrassed with the revelation, the regime claimed that it was a militia group doing that. By militia group, is meant General Johnson Olony’s—the government army general commanding the government forces in Malakal and its environs. When he fights on behalf of the government, he is a government General defending the constitution; when he retook Malakal from the pro-people forces of SPLM/A, the regime took credit and now the town is said to be under the control of the government; he and the forces under him get their salaries from the Bilpam (the regime’s military headquarters); he and his forces get their arms, ammunition, equipment, and uniforms from Juba; he and his forces are fed by the government; when he got wounded, he was a government General and was taken abroad for medical treatment; and many others. But when the abduction affair became a public knowledge, he has become a militia leader whose activities the government has no control over and, therefore, not responsible. This is irrational, and no one can buy it. Simon has to condemn the government for recruiting underage boys, instead of making accusations that are difficult to prove.

It was not very long ago when an international organization went to such places as Bentiw, Bor and Malakal and concluded that both sides were recruiting children to fight in the war. Michael Makuei was very angry about the report, saying that those who made such reports were just sitting in hotels in Juba and sent false reports to get money from donors. Well, the thing was that those people went to the towns mentioned above. They were not just sitting in Juba as Michael Makuei claimed. Moreover, it was just a little bit before the story of abduction in Upper Nile became a public knowledge. This makes the story of child recruitment in South Sudan partially credible.

What is a lie about the report is what Stephen Par Kuol referred to in is article as “the fallacy of both side bashing diplomacy”. The researchers went to towns controlled by the regime and did their research. They did not go to the SPLM/A controlled areas to see what was going on on that side of the equation of the war. How could they have made a conclusion that what they found in Bentiw, Bor and Malakal was exactly what was going on in the SPLM/A controlled areas? If these types of reports are what Simon Yel based his accusation on, then he should have, at least, accuse both sides. But, if he wanted to be credible and convincing, he should not have used such a report or any others like it, especially if he knew that the researcher only went to the government controlled areas without visiting SPLM/A areas, to accuse the SPLM/A of committing the act.

I also disagree with Simon that the government in Juba is legitimate, as I always do with others who make such a claim for Salva and his government. I have addressed this issue somewhere else with some of the reasons why such a claim is not in place (one should look up an article by myself entitled: SALVA KIIR’S ATTACK ON HIS OWN LEGITIMACY CLAIM). For this reason, I find it reasonable not to waste time on arguing on this issue in this piece.

Simon Yel, also in the same paragraph above, made another interesting claim that the SPLM/A has “…lost the political direction to convince south Sudanese and world at large but continue to engage in whatever it takes to get power with support from the biased International community (Trioka).” First, is he talking about a political direction as should be dictated by Salva, Jieng Council of Elders or himself? Second, who are South Sudanese to be convinced by the SPLM/A? Aren’t they South Sudanese who are now fighting the genocidal regime? If they are, then the SPLM/A has not lost any political direction. Our national politics is based on national issues. Those national issues have been on the media regularly; they have been placed on the table of negotiations in Addis Ababa and the government has been refusing to face them. If any political direction is lost, it must be the government that has refused to deal with real issues.

The third point is that Simon claimed that “…the world at large…” cannot be convinced by the SPLM/A since, according to him, the SPLM/A has lost the political direction. The irony of this claim is that in the same sentence he talked of the international community (Troika) as a source of support for the SPLM/A. The question that begs to be asked is, what is the world at large without the international community (Troika)? In his article, he talked of the UN, USA, AU and others as the ones fueling the current war against what he calls a ‘legitimate government’. If all of these international actors are against the regime, and he perceives them to be in favor of the SPLM/A, then the SPLM/A has convinced them of the badness of the genocidal regime in Juba. And if the SPLM/A convinced these international actors of the badness of the regime in Juba, then the “…world at large…” is convinced. Lastly, if the world at large and South Sudanese in particular are convinced, shouldn’t it be concluded that the SPLM/A has not lost the political direction, especially if the only requirement to convince the world and South Sudanese is the maintenance of a political direction?

Simon Yel Yel concluded is article by stating the following: “To conclude, conflict resilience and nationalism (replaced by tribalism) which are almost gnawed in the current conflict remain the main pillars in restoring hope and confidence among the citizen of South Sudan and to easily defeat the SELF DRIVEN REBELLION in our country.”

I agree that resilience and nationalism can be pillars in restoring hope and confidence in our situation. The questions are resilience against what? Nationalism practiced by whom? To him, it might be resilience against the pro-people forces so as to maintain an anti-people stance. To me and others who do not see any legitimacy in Salva’s government, it should be resilience against the anti-people forces of Salva in the hope that at the end, a government of the people would be put in place.

As to the idea of “…nationalism (replaced by tribalism)…”, it is easy for Simon Yel and others like him to talk about it. But it is impossible for him and others like him to abandon tribalism such that they can practice nationalism. He sees the killings of non-Dinka citizens of South Sudan by his tribesman as legitimate; he sees resisting of a genocidal man and his criminal regime as practicing tribalism. He is being tribal of the first rate. Then if this is the case, how can the same person refer to nationalism as a pillar in restoring hope when he does not believe in it? Let him change first. While he is participating or giving moral support to his tribesman in completing the task of exterminating South Sudanese nationals, let him, instead, allow others (believers of nationalism) to talk about it.

The whole talk about nationalism and against tribalism in Simon’s article is the usual way by many of his kind to attempt to disguise tribalism such that it looks like nationalism. The problem is that most of those who try to do this are never successful. Members of the Jieng Council of Elders are even better than many of these men and women in disguise because they (elders) have plainly and consistently presented themselves to the South Sudanese as Dinka in partnership with Salva in the project of exterminating the Nuer, and maybe others after.

Concluding Remark

This war has defined the people of South Sudan as never before in our history. We are coward, tribal and greedy. We are not nationalists. I am sorry to say this. But, it has to be said.

It started on December 15, 2013 in a way that was later, on the 16th, declared as a foiling of a coup attempt. But what transpired afterwards was totally un-South Sudanese. Power of a sovereign state was used by Salva Kiir to systematically kill the Nuer, targeting them solely on their ethnic origin. It was done in a broad day light. The private tribal militia was so stupid that they would even asked non-Nuer South Sudanese, in their door-to-door search, to show them the Nuer homes in the neighborhoods. And when they found one, they would shoot and kill the occupants in the presence of others who would later be witnesses against their criminal undertaking. As the result, the current war of resistance started.

More than a year later, even some of those South Sudanese who were in Juba on the days of the massacres, still refer to Salva and his government as legitimate. How could this be possible? It is the answer to this simple question that leads me to making a conclusion that this war has defined South Sudanese as never before in the history of this country.

For those who come from the Dinka community who still stand behind Salva (after committing the worst kind of crime) and refer to him as legitimate, they are either tribal-minded who are standing firm behind their tribesman, or they are un-nationalistic who think that the crime was committed only against the Nuer and not against South Sudan, or they are staying with him in his genocidal government out of greed. In here, I am talking about the members of the intelligentsia, not the ordinary, innocent Dinka men and women.

For the members of the Nuer community who call themselves Nuer leaders in Juba, theirs is a pure form of cowardice and greed. They either think that Salva is militarily invincible who should never be resisted, or they think that remaining in alliance with Salva would, in the short run, bring one financial stability. They should have been out of that government to lead the rest of the South Sudanese in resisting and stopping genocide. There is nothing un-nationalistic about saying to one, ‘No, you cannot kill my brother or mother’. They are comforted by such names as nationalist, as stated by the Jieng Council of Elders in the recently circulated letter. No matter what is said about them in public, the tribal elders are surely saying something about them in private—something that is not nationalistic or positive.

For those who are non-Dinka and non-Nuer, they are either un-nationalistic who think that the crime was not committed against their communities, and that it is a Nuer problem that they have nothing to do with, or they are coward who think that it is not wise for one to put oneself up against the power that be, or they are in the government or wanting to be in the government to show support for Salva for economic (greed) reasons.

The bottom line is that there is no Nuer without South Sudan, and there is no South Sudan without the tribal components of her society. What happens to one tribe (good or bad) happens to the whole of our society. What happened in December in Juba may have specifically happened to the members of the Nuer tribe. Nevertheless, it does not take away the fact that those who perished were members of the South Sudanese society, and that their unjustified deaths should have mobilized the whole country against Salva Kiir. If any non-Nuer citizen of South Sudan saw them as just members of the Nuer tribe, then there is a problem with our Society. And this undermines the very roots of our oneness as a people. If Salva and his government can be allowed to get away with it, then any government can be allowed to get away with anything.

Cowardice, tribalism and greed are slowly killing South Sudan. If we do not work together to confront the sources of these problems, then, we will end up with a country or haters, coward and greedy. And that is not the kind of a country that one can be proud of.

The author is a South Sudanese. He can be reached at [email protected].

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