The Undeniable Facts About South Sudan’s Conflict

If the Sudanese conflicts have taught us any lesson, it is that the solution to the current conflict must be driven by the people of South Sudan, to avoid a patch work of returning a handful of rejected politicians to power…

By Dr. Jok Madut Jok

The violent conflict in South Sudan is now entering its fourth month and there is no end in sight to the death and destruction it is bringing upon the civilian population. The conflict, which started as a power struggle between President Salva Kiir Mayar and his ousted Vice President Riek Machar, has now taken on developments unknown in South Sudan’s 192 years of liberation struggle. The conflict has now decidedly morphed into a revenge and counter revenge between Dinka, the country’s biggest ethnic group from which President Kiir hails and Nuer, the second biggest ethnicity where Machar is from.

Another new and gut wrenching development is the systematic use of rape as a way to take revenge and humiliate the opponent, most specifically the actions of the Machar’s White Army, which has reportedly set up rape camps in Malakal and Bentiu and has used Bentinu Radio to call for mass rape of Dinka women and has broadcast hate messages calling for mass murder.

All this, however, has been known and has widely been discussed with denials, accusations and counter accusations.

But there are many things that are undeniable about the current conflict. Some of these stand out more glaringly and some to a lesser extend. One of the undeniable facts is that the dead of this inexplicable war will remain standing as shadows behind each one of us until we do them respect of acknowledging that they have died a senseless death, a death we could not have anticipated even a minute before it started to happen in December. While it was easy to see that trouble was coming, and many of us had shouted warnings about this, no one could have foretold that ethnic killing would be part of it, as South Sudanese had always known where their problem laid, I.e. the state and the corrupt elite that run it. But that they should turn their anger towards one another, instead of targeting their real “problem,” was the most shocking bit about this conflict.

But then if we think historically about this, we will notice that we are all too painfully aware of the usual rush for the ethnic card by political elite vying for public office, making their own quest for office a matter of survival for their entire ethnic group. Our own political apathy as citizens has given the ruling elite the mindset that they can always count on our rush to the support of our relatives even when they are wrong.

The second undeniable reality about the conflict is that no one can win a military confrontation, not in South Sudan, not anywhere in the region in this day and age, at least not a clean win in which innocent civilians would be spared. A government might win the battle over the big towns today and have its legitimacy recognized by enough countries in the world, but tomorrow the rebellion, by its very nature could continue a guerrilla war that lasts decades, especially in view of the regional politics of the Horn of Africa where one country’s rebels can always find a disgruntled leader of another country who can give these rebels enough support to survive until the geopolitics of the region shift again.

The rebels, on the other hand might win some victories against the state, but such a win will always be partial and localized, only able to grant them a seat at the negotiating table. But this undeniable fact, a historical reality that has prevailed for over 50 years since independence, is always lost on the leaders in the region, heads of state and rebel movements alike.

The third fact is that no matter the justification for waging a war, instead of a civil dialogue and democratic means, this time around, no party will be able to justify or escape the responsibility for the death and destruction they have caused. The government cannot escape the killings in Juba in December and the rebels cannot explain away the ghastly revenge killings they have committed in Bor, Akobo, Malakal, Pariang and more recently in Kaka, Duk and Bentiu. Both parties might be able to escape the responsibility for their actions in real legal terms, but they will not have much luck in escaping the court of public opinion. It will cost them politically, no matter how long it will take.

The cost of these actions has already been bore by the victims and their families, but what will be the cost to the perpetrators? What will be the cost for the whole nation going forward? South Sudanese judgment and the political cost to these leaders will be less escapable.

The fourth undeniable and puzzling reality of the war is that the rebels have really lost their heads. What kind of government would a Nuer-only rebellion establish in such a diverse country? Why burn the cities that they want to rule over should they win the war? Why alienate the rest of South Sudan’s ethnic groups by engaging in these horrific killings? Did Riek Machar’s supporters not declare the government of Sava Kiir illegitimate because of the killings that took place in Juba in December 2013, which they blame the government for? So why would the rebels engage in far worse atrocities and make themselves worse than the government they want to replace?

There is no question that Riek Machar has destroyed his chance of becoming a leader for all South Sudanese and seem to want to become president for the Nuer. Do the rebel leaders really believe that they can march into Juba today and everyone will just accept them as leaders for the whole country? Or are they just burying their heads in the sand about the likelihood of the rest of the country’s regions starting another war against Riek Machar?

Riek is now caught in contradictions. He kept denying that he attempted a coup while declaring wanting to be president through violence, an announcement he made on BBC on the third day of the conflict. On a recent interview with press tv, he stated that his plan all along was to take over Juba, the operative word being “plan.” How does a man who did not attempt to overthrow a government have a plan to march to the capital two days after escaping from there?

Now his supporters are saying that the foreign governments have declared the alleged coup as a fabrication, and that should be enough evidence that there was no coup. But why should the foreign declaration be more truthful than the South Sudanese own judgment? Is this coming from the usual mentality of a colonized people, that nothing is true until a white man has confirmed it?

It is also undeniable that the USA and other world governments such as Norway have focused and wasted valuable time on the wrong issue, the connection between the release of political detainees and the peace talks. These world governments have insisted on a rather bizarre link between the politicians now known as the group of seven and the peace process.

These former detainees had run the country for good nine years, looted its resources, mismanaged, and then once they were removed from power in July 2013, they started crying about corruption, becoming an opposition group whose base is unclear, with no agenda to negotiate on with the government, and have refused to work with rebel movement. So what is the basis for foreign governments insisting on their participation? Participate as what and on what issues?

The Americans and some Europeans are saying that these are resource persons, but the group is insisting on being at the negotiating table, only looking for opportunities to negotiate their way back into whatever arrangement might result from the peace talks.

What is the agenda of these foreign governments in upholding these former disgraced politicians as if the solution to the crisis rests with them? The Americans, the Norwegians and the African mediators should stick to the role of mediation, not dictating an approach to peace that south Sudanese do not want.

The current mediation by IGAD and the rest of the facilitators, US, UK, Norway, EU and UN, is to exert pressure on the south Sudanese who are currently fighting, find out from them how they want to approach peace and what they see as being the best outcome. If the Sudanese conflicts have taught us any lesson, it is that the solution to the current conflict must be driven by the people of South Sudan, to avoid a patch work of returning a handful of rejected politicians to power, something that only suits them and not in the interest of South Sudan citizen.


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