By Ajong Mbapndah L
In a tale that leaves many heads wagging with incomprehension, the promised ushered in by independence for South Sudan three years ago may have been a mirage as a combination of inept leadership and power struggle have brought the country into what many fear could be a civil war. There are many who have pointed accusing fingers at President Salva Kiir for fomenting a crisis when there ought to be none. The loss of life has been senseless says Mabior Garang son of the late venerable South Sudanese leader Dr John Garang.Mabior who has been consistently critical of the present leadership in South Sudan for derailing the original vision of Dr Garang and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-SPLM says what is been described as a coup was nothing but a botched attempt by President Salva to purge political rivals. With the events which triggered the current crisis, President Salva squandered the authority he had to play a decisive role in putting the country back on the rails and the best option for him now is to step aside, and release political prisons for meaningful dialogue to have a chance.
Mr Mabior Garang, thanks for accepting to offer your perspectives on developments in Southern Sudan, what exactly is going on, was it a coup, and if it was why?
The events that took place in Juba on 15/12/2013 were not an attempted coup as was alleged by Gen. Salva Kiir and his government. I would instead call it an assassination attempt, designed to get rid of those that pose the greatest threat to the Chairman of the SPLM through the democratic process.
Opinion is divided now between President Salva’s camp that it was a coup and those who say there was no coup, but there was fighting, and there was blood shed, who was responsible for this?
I think it is important first, to pause and recognize that this was a senseless loss of life and that there are many families that have lost loved ones; my heart goes to them.
It is important to have a background of the events leading up to the violence that erupted on the 15/12, because people always see events at their precipice. In order to understand what led to the violence we must understand what happened on the 06/12/2013. This was the day that the current SPLM political prisoners held a press conference at SPLM House in Juba to inform the public about the stagnation in their Movement and the reason for the leadership crisis that had lingered for many months. The press conference ended with the Secretary General of the SPLM announcing that on Saturday the press conference would be followed with a rally by the SPLM to give further details to the public about how the Chairman had frustrated development programs within the movement.
I shall not go into the details of the press conference as it was made available to the press on that day; however, the main points that angered the President of the Republic (who is also the Chairman of the SPLM) was the charge by the 13 political Prisoners that the president had neglected the National Army and that he was building his own private militia. The other point that displeased the Chairman of the SPLM was the charge that his office had borrowed 4.5 Billion USD, yet neither the ministry of finance the Parliament or the public for that matter where aware of this loan; no one knew from whom it was borrowed, nor for what it was used.
The 13 Political Prisoners held this press conference after they had exhausted efforts to resolve the leadership crisis internally within the party, without going public. They had sent countless letters to the office of the Chairman via the office of the Secretary General, this is on record. These requests by the majority of the members of the SPLM Political Bureau where repeatedly ignored by the Chairman, leading them to go public on the 06/12/2013.
The leadership crisis within the SPLM was prompted by the fact that there were some senior members of the SPLM that had made their intentions known of their desire to contest for the Chair during primaries. This was in full exercise of their civil rights and liberties guaranteed to them by the constitution of the Republic and the SPLM constitution. It is also worthy to note that the Chairman had announced to members that he would not contest the 2015 elections, and he even confided this matter to President Thabo Mbeki when he was mediating during the Higlig crisis.
The Chairman then convened a meeting of the National Liberation Council (NLC) on the same day that the 13 Political Prisoners had scheduled their rally. Having been informed that the Chairman had convened a meeting of the NLC, the group of 13 was hopeful that it would be an opportunity for them to resolve their differences in a cordial manner. However, this was not to be. The meeting allegedly broke down to name calling which continued for two sessions over a period of two days, which prompted the group to boycott the meeting on the third day. This deeply angered the Chairman, and this is what he has labeled as a coup.
The truth; however, is that the president in his capacity as the Commander in Chief of the SPLA ordered that the Tigers should be disarmed by their junior colleagues within the same unit. This problem was compounded by the fact that a rumor started circulating that an arrest warrant had been issued for the former Vice President. This series of events led to an argument, a gunfight ensued that rapidly spread to other units and has continued to cause massive desertions.
The President then quickly moved to call this mutiny a coup d’état, and arrest his comrades that had challenged him within the party without evidence. The government moved to bomb two of its own properties using T-72 Tanks, Mortar fire and RPG rocket launchers. These where the (government) houses in which Dr. Riek Machar resided and Hon. Gier Chuang, they were looted and destroyed; indicating that they were out to murder their victims.
These Political Prisoners have now been in government police custody since the 16/12/2013 without charge, they have not been provided with legal counsel, and have faced the police brutality that most of our citizens are so familiar with. I don’t believe that it was a coup d’état because there are no military commanders that have been arrested to link the coup plotters with the coup. There were some political prisoners that were at home sleeping when they were arrested; who mounts a coup and then goes to their home to sleep.
I would not say that what is happening in South Sudan was a coup d’état, I would say that it was an assassination attempt, the Chairman wanted to kill his political opponents by framing them.
It looks like this did not just come out of the blues, as people were forced out of government and the SPLM’s executive dissolved, why is these crisis?
The reason for the crisis apart from what I have explained above, is an accumulation of the dissatisfaction of the members of the SPLM with the slow pace of progress in the Movement. The signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement ushered in a period of great hope for the people of South Sudan in particular and to everyone in the region and the world. The people expected to get their peace dividends and payback form government for their unwavering material and moral support.
The SPLM however, after the death of Chairman John Garang the new Chairman immediately began to undermine the CPA by abandoning some of the positions that had been so painstakingly reached during negotiations. The Chairman (on the political side) began to sanction the use of divisive terms such as “Garang Boys”, “Salva Kiir Boys”, “our government” etc. The system that had been evolved by the Movement in the liberated territories that it administered during the bush war (larger than the current RSS) was abandoned for a kitchen cabinet that has been directing the affairs of the SPLM ever since; a kitchen cabinet with alleged links to the National Islamic Front of Khartoum. The subsequent governments that have come and gone in Juba, every reshuffle of Ministers is done by this kitchen cabinet and is not done within the party.
These are other issues that led to the press conference on the 06/12…
We also get reports that much of the fighting or killings were along ethnic lines, is it true and why is the ethnic factor getting stronger when during the struggle, it was rare to hear about tribes?
It is true that the killings were along ethnic lines; however, it was the government that targeted its own citizens along ethnic lines. It started within the army, the Presidential Guards to be specific started the targeted killing when they tried to disarm their colleagues within the same unit. This violence ended up spreading to other units where the ethnic lines became clear; so, it must have started that way from the source (the President’s Guards).
The office of the President instead of exercising responsible leadership had decided to purge his force and the SPLA of supporters of the former Vice President and those of 91. It was a planned massacre by the Tigers (President’s Guards) and the National Security, the reprisals that followed where of those that had lost their relatives in the Juba Massacre. The Commander of the 8th SPLA Division lost many of his relatives in the Juba Massacre, which prompted his defection; as opposed to the propaganda being spread by the regime that they are loyal to Dr. Riek Machar.
I would say that those that are deserting from Salva’s army share a common interest with Dr. Machar, and so it is only natural that people with coinciding interests should work together. The mass desertions from the SPLA are another indication of the great dissatisfaction that the people of South Sudan have with their government. The regime has labeled any person that is against the government’s divisive policies as a supporter of Dr. Riek Machar, whom they have branded as the “prophet of doom”. I believe the crisis could have been worse had the opposition preached the same rhetoric as the government; however, the opposition has shown responsible leadership for the most part, and this has made the reprisals small in proportion to the Juba Massacre conducted by Salva Kiir’s Tigers (a private tribal militia).
How do you see this eventually playing out, what needs to be done for an end to the political crisis and a return to normalcy?
I believe in the people of South Sudan, we are a resilient and determined people that can do anything that we put our mind to; there is proof of this in our history. The SPLA/SPLM had been split in 1991 a dark period of our history when our people where divided giving our enemy the upper hand. The people of South Sudan managed to survive this crisis, and with no outside mediation where able to come together and put the past behind them; I believe that we still have this spirit and we can resolve our problems ourselves.
The SPLM under Comrade Salva needs to do what it should have done in 2005 after we lost our beloved Chairman Dr. John Garang, follow in the footsteps of the previous Chairman. The SPLM should have: “buried the man and continued the plan” – to paraphrase Dr. John Henrick Clark. This however did not take place; instead the Movement was abandoned and neglected.
The SPLM was at the time (before 2005) conducting several programs including the South – South Dialogue, Peace Through Development and SPLM Strategic Framework for War to Peace Transition. These programs spelled out what we needed to do to transition effectively into our new geopolitical and social realities. The South – South Dialogue would have gone a long way to heal wounds over the past eight to nine years.
It is to revisit some of the programs that we abandoned that we will be able to get out of this current crisis, and there will be no shortcuts, no easy fixes. The hard and tedious work of reconciliation must begin sooner rather than later and we must be serious about it, and with time we shall achieve the objective of “unity through struggle”. The Chairman should go ahead with the SPLM National Convention and allow free and fair competition so that the people choose their leader; it is the rejection of this democratic principle that led to the leadership crisis in the SPLM.
The SPLM should do what it should have done in 2005 and been the spearhead of nation building in the Republic of South Sudan. There are countries that we can use as examples for us to follow, countries that share a common historical reality as South Sudan. In this, South Africa comes to mid; what are some of the things that were done in South Africa that started the healing process.
The SPLM should hold its own convention, and also spearhead the calling of a national convention for the Republic. A national convention involving all political forces (political parties and interests groups) and social forces (religious, farming, sports, women, youth groups etc.) to determine the future of the Republic of South Sudan. The Chairman alone can’t determine the future of our country, the SPLM alone can’t determine the future of our Country. If the SPLM in 2005 had spearheaded such a process I believe the past eight to nine years would have been very constructive, instead the Chairman has been promoting division.
The fact that the Republic of South Sudan is so new dictates that such a convention should take place, so as to harmonize the structures evolved in the liberated territories during the bush war. These institutions were created under tuff conditions and only need to be reviewed to harmonize them with the current realities. The failure to do this has led to the country being defined in the image of those closest to the center of power, and this is a recipe for conflict. This is why my call has been for a national dialogue in the form of a National Convention of all the political and social forces in the country.
Is President Salva the right person to resolve these crises, if he had to regain the trust of the people or rekindle the kind of passion and excite Southern Sudanese had at the dawn of independence what does he need to do?
The answer to this would have been yes prior to the 15/12/2013; however, after this date it becomes very difficult for President Salva to be the right person to resolve the crisis. How do you regain the trust of the people when you have committed what history will later label as genocide in the Republic of South Sudan. The number of dead is still being compiled but so far the number is at 500-600 in Juba alone, with reports of death squads moving from home to home murdering innocent civilians in Juba.
This situation makes it very difficult for the President to be able to rekindle the kind of passion and excitement South Sudanese had at the dawn of independence. The best thing for him to do is step down and release the political prisoners held falsely by his authorities. This would create a conducive atmosphere within which meaningful dialogue can take place; this could arrest the situation as people would be able to see a way out. The convention should go ahead and members should not be intimidated for their wish to seek the nomination for the Chair of the SPLM and the people’s delegates should be allowed to choose.
In seeking the solution to any problem the solution must be provided in the context of what started the problem. The problem started when the president equated democratic pluralism with treason, when he frustrated the convening of the national conference were a new Chair for the party was to be elected; that convention should be allowed to go ahead. In addition to this, all the people of South Sudan must be engaged in a dialogue through a National Convention of all the political and social forces in the country so that we can determine the future of our nation. The alternative to this, God forbid, is total destruction.
South Sudan is young, it emerged from decades of war, could part of the problem be that people are expecting too much so soon, and are personal ambitions both on the camp of President Salva and his opponents taking precedence over national interests?
There is a degree of truth in the assertion that South Sudan is a new country and it would naturally face challenges; however, the seriousness of the Government of South Sudan and their determination to be successful is also another more important factor. The Republic of South Sudan did not fall from the sky, it has a history as the question suggest of decades of war.
The war created conditions for the people of the New Sudan, were they now controlled great swaths of ‘liberated’ territories greater than the area currently controlled as the Republic of South Sudan. These liberated areas had an administration and was recognized when it came to providing relief to those displaced by the conflict. This was the recognition by Operation Lifeline Sudan; this was the birth of the one country two systems idea and of the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Association (SRRA). If the Movement during the bush war days had an administration more effective than the current one, I believe it is an indication of how far we have strayed from our objective.
The incidences of crime (cattle rustling), inter communal violence was much reduce than the current situation being faced by our civil population. The health care and education in the liberated territories was better than what our masses have now been subjected to; our people have been betrayed by their government.
The current crisis is being described by the regime’s media as a power struggle, and personal ambitions of rival camps. The blunt truth; however, is different. The crisis arose due to the President of South Sudan and Chairman of SPLM began to make increasingly unconstitutional decrees starting with the sacking of some democratically elected governors. This was followed by other incidents that although where constitutional where bad political decisions, like sacking the Vice President and the entire cabinet.
This was crowned by the dissolution of structures of the SPLM by the Chairman, when the only body that could make such a decision is the National Convention (the supreme body of the Movement). The 13 political prisoners where calling for a national dialogue to resolve a crisis in the leadership when the Chairman decided that contesting against him at the primaries was tantamount to treason. The former Vice President declared his intention, as did Mama Rebecca (Widow of late Chairman) and the Secretary General of the Party Pagan Amum Oketch to contest during SPLM primaries.
This declaration to contest by these three senior members of the SPLM was not in violation of the constitution of the SPLM, they are fully within their legal rights. It is the Chairman that is violating the SPLM constitution by dissolving the structures of the SPLM which he has no power to do, and he is violating the national constitution by holding the 13 political prisoners without charge, or access to legal counsel. It is the President that has violated the constitution by imposing unpopular governors in place of the sacked elected governors, who should have been replaced within 60 days of their dismissal.
In light of all this it becomes clear that it is the President that is putting his personal ambitions over that of the nation because he is the one in violation of all the constitutions, the national and that of the SPLM. It is the President that accused the political prisoners without evidence, not a single army commander has been arrested in connection to the alleged coup plot; and it is the president that is using inflammatory language that borders on hate speech. The president is the one that holds the monopoly on violence and the propaganda machine; therefore, he is the one in the position to reach out to his rivals. The course that the President has chosen is to deal with his adversaries militarily, and this is being resisted by those that feel victimized.
Does the present situation reflect anything that SPLM Founding President Dr John Garang ever envisaged?
This is not what was envisaged by Chairman Dr. John Garang; Comrade Salva could not have made a more complete change. The late Chairman was labeled by many as a ‘unionist’ and they believe that if he was alive that the country would not have broken up. This is not accurate; Chairman Dr. John was fighting for Self Determination. This as the word suggest is done by ‘self’, it is you that determines your destiny. The Republic of South Sudan has hardly determined anything for itself over the past decade; we have been and are still heavily dependent on the NIF regime.
The idea espoused by the late John Garang was that in order for the exercise and achievement of Self-determination to be complete in South Sudan, Khartoum should fall. It is only after this that the people of the New Sudan would exercise the right to self-determination, this did not happen. The late Chairman gave examples of Eastern European self-determination, achieved only after the collapse of the Soviet Union; the case of Eritrean self-determination, achieved only after the fall of Addis Ababa; and the case of Northern Somaliland self-determination, achieved only after the fall of Mogadishu.
The late Chairman explained that the independence of the South would not be complete without the demise of the NIF regime in Khartoum. The objective of the SPLM was the destruction of the old Sudan represented by the NIF regime, and we would dismantle it through war and/or through the peace process. The marginalized people after taking Khartoum could then freely and safely determine whether to remain as one country or to secede. The aspiration of the people of Southern Sudan to have their own state has never been in question; it was always known they would vote 99% for secession.
The regime of Salva Kiir has instead cooperated with the NIF regime, betraying the other marginalized Sudanese People who continue to suffer in abject poverty.
The people of Southern Kordofan, Southern Blue Nile and Abyei have participated fully in the liberation of the Republic of South Sudan from Arab Islamist Imperial domination. The SPLM war time diplomacy reached out to the People’s Governments of East, Central and Southern Africa for support in this cause of their liberation. In this spirit, the SPLM Government in Juba could have championed the cause of the Africans of Sudan in the AU.
The President by cooperating with the NIF regime has jeopardized the independence of the Republic of South Sudan; and squandered the hard won freedom that our people paid blood, sweat and tears to achieve. The Independence of South Sudan was a shared victory of the marginalized people of the old Sudan (including the South), of Pan Africanism and Humanity.
A word of advice to the people of South Sudan at home and abroad, how can there be of help or contribute in bringing the country back on the rails?
I would advise my country men and women not to fall for the propaganda machine of the Salva-cratic state that is promoting ethnic divisions. The war machine of the regime is directed inwardly towards its own citizens and it is his regime that is promoting the violence. The people must unite and put pressure on the regime to go ahead with the SPLM convention, and in addition to this hold a national convention of all the political and social forces in the country so that the people determine their own destiny. It cannot be done by Salva Kiir alone or Dr. Riek Machar, or Mama Rebecca for that matter; it is the people of South Sudan that will collectively determine for themselves the destiny of their Republic. I would call (if they will listen) to all vigilante youth groups not to fall for the propaganda machine of the Salva-tocracy, unite and show Comrade Salva that he must step down before he does more damage to his legacy through this divisive politics coming from the supreme office in the land. The time for a National Dialogue is nearly a decade overdue but it is not too late.