Nine-day Revolution: The Meteoric Rise and Fall of Kerbino Wol and the 7th October Revolution

Photo: AFP

By Martin Garang Aher

June 26, 2020 (SSNA) — Revolutions generally aim to restructure society either partially or completely. Whether they would be short-lived or go on for a longer period depend entirely on their composing doctrines and on the reception by the general public upon which the revolutionary benefits befall. Revolutions, in the actual sense of the word, seek to force a change through. Few revolutions in history could be said to have been peaceful. Many were bloody and had left behind trails of historic destructions of both property and human lives. Revolutions, some argue, are all-round giant monsters that feed on the targeted victims but would suck in the initiators if not carefully managed. This is precisely what happened with The 7th October Revolution.

On the 15th June 2020, news flooded in that on Sunday 14th June 2020, the leader of The 7th October Movement, Kerbino Wol Agok, was killed in action by government forces in Ayen Mayar village, in Amongpiny. The area of the alleged battle is in Eastern Lakes State, central South Sudan. The battle rendezvous is somehow controversial as those conversant with the area point out that Amongpiny and Ayen Mayar are two separate villages, several miles apart.

Kerbino’s death came nine days after his famous Voice of America’s South Sudan in Focus interview with John Tanza, in which he announced his intentions to oppose the government through armed insurrection. Despite conflicting reports on the nature of his killing, it was evidential he and many of his men were killed in their maiden and final week of military operations. Thus, the time it had taken the creepy joined operation between South Sudan Peoples Defence Forces’ (SSPDFs) and the local Agar Gelweng to eliminate Kerbino Wol and his newly assembled force will go down in the history of South Sudan as the speediest time in which an armed insurrection had been located, vanquished and terminated. Two other incidences occurred before but were handled differently. The first was George Athor who launched his rebellion following irregularities in the gubernatorial elections in Jonglei in 2010. His eleven months insurgency ended with his killing in February 2011 in a confusing scenario. Before his killing, the government entered into peace talks with him. He was killed while on a mission to explore ways to end the war with the government. He was posthumously framed in a way that fit the narrative: that he was on a recruitment mission in Equatoria where he was intercepted by government forces. The story was nightmarish to be believed. The second, whose mentioning here serves as a control to Athor and Kerbino, was the capture of Major General Stephen Buoy Rolnyang. Buoy was arrested in May 2018 after defying orders to report to Juba. His action of moving his forces to Mayom was deemed a rebellion. He was charged with treason but was later pardoned.

Many critics who hail from the Dinka Community have, to this point, reluctantly accepted the much-touted argument that it is dangerous to be a rebel if a Dinka. It’s an argument too hard to dispute for one crucial observation, visible in government’s response to disgruntled members of the opposition hailing from the community. The cases of Athor and Kerbino are good examples. Paul Malong was another; he only avoided danger by accepting to return to Juba from Yirol. Had he proceeded against the advice offered to him in Yirol, Rumbek East would be counting two. What does this story portray? The story portrays to the rest of the citizenry what’s left unsaid. It also paves the way for interpretation that the government’s military razzmatazz doubly serves as a warning and as an announcement to certain citizens to either stick to the fold by default or be treated as castaways. The consequences are dire.

The mysterious Kerbino

The name Kerbino was not on the revolutionary radar in South Sudan. It could not be located on the list of known grandmasters in the art of rebellion and militia. He never held a ministerial post, never been a general in the army, and had not self-appointed a commander in the country’s ever teaming militias. Like a meteor that splashes across the sky, he appeared and disappeared leaving behind questions to be explored. Some learned about him after his death, leading to mixed reactions and confusion at a time when the country continues to face issues of peace implementation. Kerbino was mysterious. Unlike other warlords who would pull huge security dilemmas, create impossible scenarios, kill with impunity, and trade their dangerous selves for government positions, all without harm, he was a minor in the field of mischiefs. Taking to the bush when all the known strong warlords were in town scheming for political domains, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, made him a sitting duck.

Worst still, his rebellion was cantankerously formed; it was high on emotions and bitterness. The 7th October Revolution did not adequately scan their terrain of operation. They did not weigh the tenacious might of South Sudan Peoples Defence Forces and the securitization abilities of intelligence agencies that protect the seat of power. Due to this lack of the existing military realities and foresight of what they were dealing with, the revolutionists were located on the same day they went on air and were tracked successfully to the last day of their destruction. If there was something that the 7th October Revolution misjudged, it was the reluctance by South Sudanese masses to enthusiastically take up arms as it used to be during the war of liberations of 1955 and 1983 with the Sudanese governments. The revolution could not be embraced enthusiastically. South Sudan is a changed country. It is not that euphoric anymore. Little binds people together. The nationalism that used to hold everyone together had sunk to ethnic or tribal sub-nationalism. A few nationalists that there are, have come to associate any military struggle to individualism. Also, there seems to be general awareness sweeping across the country, an awareness that perceives any wars post-2011 as wars of individual interests. A politically conscious South Sudanese will tell that the ruthlessness with which the country self-inflicted since 2013 far outshone gallantry demonstrated in all previous wars of liberation.  It was total madness, a death dance of ego rather than of substance. Nobody really wants to see the repeat for a simple seat distribution in Juba. Citizens now know that the slow pace of public infrastructural development, low investment in the health sector, abject poverty in the rural areas, and annual endemic starvation, which is habitual during rainy seasons, are indications that violence had played a prolonged destructive role. How could Kerbino Wol miss that glaring reality? Some may point to frustration, irritability, and the sense of humiliation he felt after coming out of the prison.

Kerbino the Jesh-el-Hamer

Kerbino was a lost boy. Prior to his invisible name of the lost boy assigned to him in the West, he was part of the Red Army of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army. He was not lost. He was known but then, like his colleagues, vanished intentionally and dramatically. A young man born in 1982, at a time when Anyanya Two roamed the rural areas of Sudan, Kerbino falls within what in the West is the Generation Y or the group fondly known as the Millennial Generation, or Millennials in short. This is the dotcom generation born between 1981 and 1996 into the world of the Internet, multimedia, and presently, social media. Now adults, the Millennials are nerdy young men and women with tight shirts and pants and confidently chatting away on phones and boasting about their social media followers.

Unlike in the West, children born in this space of time in the then Sudan had little education and technology due to the adverse nature of the surrounding in which they entered the world. They were born into the war, grew up surrounded by dangers, and always fleeing from something, real or apparent. Oftentimes, they are the danger themselves. Many of them had quit fear and adopted resilience and adaptability.  Like Kerbino who joined the liberation struggle at the age of twelve, they refused to be the subjects in flight but on assault. Kerbino bravely walked to Dima, Ethiopia, where he must have trained as a revolutionary child soldier. He later went to the United States where he built himself educationally and professionally and returned to South Sudan to complete what he started: build a prosperous nation through hard work. Like all South Sudanese in the diaspora, the yearning to return home and to make the country a better place through one’s personal involvement remains a preoccupation and a craze. Since independence, multitudes with disparate capabilities and intentions streamed home. Some tried to revive their old rural lifestyle but were overwhelmed; others got caught in the roughness of the political situation and escaped back to the diaspora. A great majority toured the country, got dissatisfied with the overall progress, and left to contemplate over their next trip.

Kerbino the Entrepreneur and Prisoner

After returning home, Kerbino established a multimillion-dollar security business and philanthropy. He employed many young people and influenced many others to work harder. He enjoyed the country of his dream until he was awakened through arrest in April 2018 by the security forces and kept in Juba’s infamous Blue House for months without charges. In prison, they protested. He was alleged to have led the riot on the 7th of October 2018. This day would later form the name of his revolution. It was after the riot when the government was heard in his arbitrary detention for the first time.  In jail with him was Peter Biar Ajak, an academic who was summarily arrested at the airport in July 2018 and held without charges in the same premises with Kerbino Wol. Holding people without charges is nothing new. During the war, SPLA soldier used to joke that, ‘we arrest the person before committing the crime, then they commit one.’ Kerbino was handed a ten-year sentence for a crime in jail; the charges were terrorism, sabotage, and treason. He was later pardoned by the president in a general amnesty and released into the world in which his bank accounts were frozen and assets and business unaccounted for. He hit the road a confused and bitter man.

Kerbino the Revolutionary

Kerbino announced the formation of the 7th October Movement on June 5, 2020, seeking to bring about change in the country. He died trying. The death of Kerbino Wol Agok, like the death of late Commandant, Kerubino Kwanyin Bol on the 9th of September 1999, occurred in the open and in the most horrifying circumstance. Unlike Kwanyin Bol, Wol Agok died in the hands of the free, the South Sudan People’s Defence Force of the independent Republic of South Sudan. Unlike Commander Kerubino Kwanyin Bol whose death could be attributed to the connivance of the long time enemy in Khartoum, Kerbino Wol had all the privileges, mercies, humanity, and nationality that should have saved his life. His 7th October Revolution, which sounded like students uprising, was just a budding movement of the distraught and the restless youth, protesting for a right. If the government was keen on keeping him alive, Kerbino would have lived. Barely two weeks into the rebellion, and without having launched any attacks, one wonders what the rush to ending his life was for? No one would be convinced that all avenues for negotiations were exhausted on Wol and his movement. No deadlocks were necessary for a two-week rebellion. A lot was not done before humanity was turned off. Kerbino was young, ambitious, and talented. The country stands to benefit from people of his caliber and would have benefited from him had he been coolly tamed and brought back to the fold. He was not that dangerous.

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

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