Editorial: Countering lawlessness in South Sudan

By Elhag Paul

July 20, 2015 (SSNA) — In the article, ‘SPLM, a curse to South Sudan’ I argued that this organisation has no idea of what to do with South Sudan.  ‘To all intent and purpose (it is) confused without any identity of what they (it) stand(s) for.’  The only thing that keeps it going is the entrenched culture of violence it introduced and normalised in the country.  As a result South Sudan has been in a state of lawlessness for over three decades now.

In order to capture this state of lawlessness and suggest a solution to it, I shall highlight six incidents to make the case clearer.  In November 2007 SPLA soldiers shot dead 3 senior police officers in Yambio in their offices because they refused to release a detainee to them.

In the same year the then minister of finance, Mr Arthur Akuein Chol, was fired for embezzling nearly sixty million dollars.  He was arrested and remanded in prison.  However his tribe’s mates in the security services violently freed him from Juba prison while on remand.  Soon after the unlawful violent release Mr Chol was appointed to the Upper House of the parliament by President Kiir.  To this date he serves in that august house.

In 2009 President Salva Kiir awards Pigi County in Jonglei state to the Jieng people dispossessing the Chollo people of their ancestral land.  These events happened before South Sudan attained its independence.  We see state agents and institutions violently assaulted by SPLA with impunity.  We see a criminal freed violently and illegally from state prison by his tribe’s mates and rewarded by the president with a responsible post in the legislative assembly.  We see the President dispossessing citizens of another tribe for whom he has a duty to protect in favour of his own tribe.

After independence in July 2011 South Sudan ploughs on without any change in its governance.  In December 2011 an alliance of Jieng and Nuer targeted the Murle people with an open notice circulated in the social media declaring an intent to “wipe out” the Murle as a final solution.

While in Equatoria, the Jieng systematically dispossessed the Madi people of Nimule, from their home land with the support of the government.  The Madi tribe’s leadership and its influential members have routinely been killed by SPLA Jieng soldiers.

In the summer of 2013 President Kiir forms a militia with the help of the then governor of Northern Bahr El Ghazal state General Paul Molong Awan against the advice of the then Chief of the Army General James Hoth Mai.  In December of the same year, President Kiir unleashed this force on the Nuer people in Juba and the surrounding areas.

We see the state failing to protect the Murle people from being “wiped out” by the tribal alliance of the Jieng and Nuer.  The Murle had to fend for themselves and to their credit they did very well in holding their corner.  We see the powers that be sanctioning the dispossession of the Madi people from their land in Equatoria by the Jieng.  The government deliberately ignored the aggression on the Madi people by the Jieng.  Worst still, we see the president running an illegal militia parallel to the national army. 

From these few selected snippets of numerous stories something glaringly stands out.  In spite of the fact that all of the suspects in these cases hail from one tribe and are known, they have not been arrested, or investigated or prosecuted to show that indeed law and order exist in South Sudan.  All the culprits involved are protected by their tribe’s mates and the government.  They roam the streets posing continuous serious risks to peaceful people.

All these point to one thing.  South Sudan prior to independence and after independence has been in a state of chaos.  There has never been any law and order in South Sudan but tribal disorder and chaos.  Surprisingly this chaos is designed, hatched and promoted by the so called Jieng Council of Elders (JCE) composed of judges, lawyers and intellectuals.  Please get a sense of the mindset of the JCE by reading their recent letters.  Here they are: ’Jieng Council of Elders reject imposition of peace in South Sudan’ http://paanluelwel.com/2015/04/01/jieng-council-of-elders-rejects-imposition-of-peace-on-south-sudan/ and ‘Response of the Jieng Council of Elders to the latest IGAD proposal on power sharing’  http://www.southsudannation.com/response-of-the-jieng-council-of-elders-to-the-latest-igad-proposal-on-power-sharing/

So what is going on in South Sudan is what the enlightenment philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau calls the state of nature – an environment where the armed uses brute force to stamp his wishes on the peaceful and an unarmed.

As you can see what has been going on in South Sudan is contrary to what the Troika and the UN have been saying about South Sudan.  They repeatedly and relentlessly call South Sudan as a young democracy and a legitimate system thereby reinforcing the ongoing lawlessness.

Now this lawlessness has a history covering over 3 decades which must be taken into consideration if peace is to be achieved in South Sudan.  This starts from 1983 with the inception of SPLM/A – an organisation that has been lawless to the core waging war against Khartoum supposedly to establish a “New Sudan” of multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious order, but also consolidating power into the hands of a single tribe, the Jieng.  To deeply understand the arguments advanced in this piece and the true nature of the SPLM, the reader my wish to read the work of Dr Peter Adwok Nyaba, ‘Politics of Liberation of South Sudan’ and also the work of Dr Lam Akol Ajawin ‘Colonialism, Resistance and Autonomy’ among other written critiques of the SPLM/A.

During the Machakos negotiation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), a golden chance availed itself to stop SPLM/A from continuing with the chaos and to transform itself for the better but this was lost when the talks assumed the modal of peace negotiation between two principals or what is commonly referred to as peace between “elites”.  This discriminatory and oppressive modal eliminated all the democratic forces representing the various political groups in north Sudan and south Sudan. 

Principally, this theory is not new at all.  In 18 century, monarchs in Europe deployed it to exclude their subjects (the people) from participating in political discussions that affects their lives.  Jean Jacques Rousseau’s theory of ‘Social Contract’ was a direct response to this undesirable model of conflict resolution.  The monarchs at the time argued that they had a divine right to legislate on behalf of the people without the people representing themselves.  Rousseau’s response to this nonsense was that sovereignty lies in the people and essentially the people must be the shapers of their destiny.

Therefore, the adoption of the “elites” model in the Machakos negotiations in effect pushed the forces of democracy out narrowing the talks to the men of arms.  The net result as we know now has been consolidation of dictatorship in both Sudans with lawlessness reigning in South Sudan.  Not only that but wars broke out in both Sudans meaning the CPA was ineffective in bringing peace.

The implosion of the system in Juba in December 2013 was not a surprise to South Sudanese, it was expected.  While the events of that particular period are sad and painful, it should be taken as an opportunity and here let me borrow the words of Ms Helda Johnson, the former United Nations Representative of the Secretary General to South Sudan to describe what needs to happen.  South Sudan needs to be “rebooted”.

Rebooting South Sudan does not need IGAD’s current approach which is more of what happened in the CPA.  As Albert Einstein correctly said such a repetition would be insanity.   “Insanity” according to him, “is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different result.”   We can not employee the same strategy used during the CPA that ended up empowering the very parties perpetuating lawlessness to realise peace, law and order.  Unbelievably this is what is going on now with IGAD-Plus. 

It is wrong to speculate that power sharing and narrowing the talks between the SPLM/A factions will bring peace.  The very notion of sharing power and wealth in the same country between a fractured party is manifestly wrong.  It implies that governance should be based on appropriation of power and resources to certain groups rather than for these resources to be used by the political group for the benefit of the whole country as it should be.  Such approaches employed by IGAD encourage vicious competition for meagre resources which means other non state actors will begin to mushroom across the country to claim their share thus perpetuating instability and war lordism.

However, one of the draw backs with the current IGAD‘s approach is that it tends to hide the real problem which is tribalism which fuels the lawlessness.   It is good to talk about deals between elites, but it is important to know: who are these elites?  Using the term elite in African context can be misleading.  The Oxford dictionary defines elite as “A select group that is superior in terms of qualities to the rest of a group or society.”   This is essentially a Eurocentric view which normally looks at elites as people emanating from different ethnic backgrounds but with similar experiences and interests in a country.  Unlike in Africa, where political leaders usually come from a tribe and to dominate for the interest of the tribe.  IGAD appears to be using the elite model of brokering peace in South Sudan to promote continuation of dictatorship in the new country.

The question to ask is: does SPLM/A really have superiority and quality?  The obvious answer is no.  However, if one peers deeper into this organisation, the reality is that it is a tribal organisation and so its various factions as tribally oriented.  For example, take SPLM/A in government, the president is a Jieng, the minister of foreign affairs is a Jieng, the minister of defence is a Jieng, the minister of home affairs is a Jieng, the chief of police is a Jieng, the chief of prisons is a Jieng, everywhere is headed and stuffed by Jieng.  Similarly with the SPLM in opposition everything and everywhere is stuffed by the Nuer. 

Turn to the peace talks under IGAD, the bulk of the representatives of both factions are composed of the two groups with both heads of delegations with their spokesmen.  The bitter fact is that 62 tribes are marginalised and excluded from the affairs of the country.  Who then represents this silent majority in the IGAD peace talks?  Therefore what goes on in IGAD is not peace talks but deliberate empowerment of two ethnic groups to lord it over the majority of the 62 ethnic groups.  It is difficult to see how a lasting peace can be achieved under IGAD.

A careful examination of the IGAD talks suggests that, it is not about bringing peace to South Sudan.  Its latest peace proposal being floated is the increasing evidence the talks are primarily about politics and the interest of the IGAD member states and others far afield.  The insistence on a deal between the warring factions of SPLM/A whose combined population is less than 20 percent of the country speaks for itself.  This medieval monarchical method of conflict resolution is a disgrace to Africa at large and South Sudan in particular.  How could Africans (IGAD) wilfully promote a hopeless Eurocentric theory which the Europeans themselves have trashed, buried and ditched centuries ago in a new 21st century state of South Sudan?

It is startling that the Troika are backing a non democratic approach which strives to entrench totalitarianism in the country they love to refer to as a young democracy.  This song is misleading because it encourages the dictators in Juba to continue with their misrule.  If the Troika truly believed in promoting democracy in South Sudan they should be seen to promote practices that encourage and lay democratic structures.  Such practice would necessitate the Troika to recommend and encourage an inclusive pluralistic process bringing all South Sudanese together to truly sort out the mess of SPLM/A once and for all.  Not what is going on right now in Addis Ababa, Nairobi and Arusha in tandem. 

In a sense, a pluralistic approach is not only to promote democracy but to also avail the South Sudanese a chance to make their own ‘Social Contract’ which they have never had the opportunity to do because the current South Sudan was born out of vehement opposition to Khartoum’ Islamic system by the African tribes in the Sudan.

The latest IGAD proposal will most likely not be signed as all the signs are that the talks may fail like that of 6th March 2015.  If by sheer luck or shrewd arm twisting it should succeed then it may not bring the long awaited peace for reasons already elaborated above namely the repair and reunification of the SPLM/A and its failed structures that generated and will continue to generate instability in the country. 

It is possible that the dogged refusal by IGAD supported by Troika to apply democratic practice to the talks in Addis Ababa may be driven by the fear of the unknown.  The international community through IGAD appear to prefer the talks to be limited to the SPLM because such a process excludes stakeholders and directs the talks to achieve a desired outcome.  The main purpose of such a manoeuvre is to ensure the interest of the involved members of the international community is not compromised or lost in a multi stakeholder’s process that may produce actors whose intent is to truly work for the benefit of South Sudan. 

In the case of South Sudan the international community appear to prefer business with the ultra corrupt murderous SPLM/A than the peace loving people of South Sudan.  So, they may be thinking it is better for them to patch the SPLM/A up because it serves their interest.  They do not want to see a situation where power shifts from the SPLM through the talks which can lead to a true change of political play leading to a potential loss of interest of the member states of IGAD and beyond.

The political corruption of IGAD countries distorts the reality of South Sudan politics.  For example, Uganda’s overt destructive activities in South Sudan.  On one hand it is an active participant in the war using banned weapons such as cluster bombs and helicopter gunships in eviscerating South Sudanese and their properties in the war zones.  On the other it pretends that it is a peace maker and a friend of the people of South Sudan.  Given what is going on any talk by the international community of standing with the people of South Sudan is a mere facade and face saving gimmick.  South Sudanese are on their own and they should be prepared to go it alone to make their own peace.  The earlier this point is grasped by South Sudanese, the quicker a solution can be found from within.

However, as IGAD-Plus is now in charge, if it truly wants to achieve peace then it should counter the lawlessness in South Sudan by considering the following suggestions:

1) The IGAD-Plus talks to be inclusive rather than dragging on with a wrong and a failed process based on a deal between supposed “elites”.

2) The objectives of the talks must be about resolving the core issues generating problems in the country notably: tribalism, state driven violence against citizens, corruption and lack of law and order.

3) Reform of the entire security sector with emphasis on representation of all ethnicities in the various organs of the sector.

4) Accountability, preferably through the current international legal structures as the crimes committed in South Sudan is of an international nature.

5) To make maximum impact to discourage corruption, the UNSC should freeze accounts of all South Sudanese who have in excess of 2 hundred thousand dollars.  South Sudanese know that before 2005 hardly any person of South Sudan origin had that amount of money.

5) NGOs to be discouraged from shielding the government from its responsibility to provide services.

6) The AU report into the violence in South Sudan in December 2013 must be released.  Further delay clearly will mean denial of justice to the victims.  The adage justice delayed is justice denied applies here.

7) IGAD needs to consider the invaluable contributions of South Sudanese intellectuals, the Diaspora and the people of Equatoria in brokering peace.  Position papers from these groups have already been submitted to IGAD.

Finally, South Sudan has been lawless for over three decades.  During this period it has bled and lost over two million people, majority of whom died at the hands of the SPLM/A.  The latest bloodletting initiated by President Kiir in December 2013 setting the country alight needs to be resolved through a modern multi stake holders process and not the medieval “elite” process adopted by IGAD.  If IGAD truly wants to solve the South Sudan problem it should change course of direction now and do the right thing for the sake of the region generally and South Sudan in particular.

[Truth hurts but it is also liberating]

The author can be reached at [email protected].

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