Bior K. Bior
- The Republic of South Sudan is ensnared in tumultuous conflict that is increasingly threatening to engulf the entire country unless something is expeditiously done to halt the bloodletting.
- All the attempts to end the fighting have so far ended with no agreement, precisely because the warring parties, the government of South Sudan, and the SPLA-In-Opposition, have largely been unwilling to make serious compromises to narrow their gap of disagreement.
- In an effort to put a finger on the pulse of the problem, the SPLM intraparty reconciliation agreement between the feuding SPLM factions was inked in February this year in Arusha, Tanzania. However, the agreement is seemingly stalled, as both the Former Detainees and SPLM-IO are obviously not seriously committed to it.
- The conflict, which began as a political disagreement within the ruling SPLM party has taken an ethnic undertone in which the Dinka and Nuer nationalities are getting entangled dangerously in a tribal war that may degenerate into genocide if nothing is done to stop the fighting.
- To resolve this conflict, there is a need to take a critical look at the past peace agreements that have been signed between various warring South Sudanese parties. During the war of independence, the SPLA-Anya Nya-2 war pitted the South Sudanese nationalities of Nuer and Dinka against each other. When this war was finally resolved and the two groups united, lots of bottled-up grudges were left unresolved; the Anya Nya-2 fighters remained resolutely attached to their former commanders who were integrated into the SPLA with them. They simply waited for the perfect opportunity to exact their vengeance on their Dinka colleagues.
- During the 1991 split, the SPLA-Nasir faction leaders enlisted the support of the former Anya Nya-2 fighters. Without hesitation, they exacted their vengeance on the Dinka villages of the Upper Nile region. Also, due to the explosive nature of the Nuer-Dinka relation, what was merely a political disagreement in the top echelon of the SPLM/A leadership simply assumed an ethnic character, which pitted the Nuer against the Dinka. During this infighting, thousands of civilians were killed from both sides, lots of properties were looted, and a sense of mistrust became entrenched between the two groups.
When the opportunity to resolve the crisis presented itself, the negotiations were botched. Dr. Riek Machar was only brought back to the SPLM power echelon, and nothing was done in the way of addressing some of the hurts that the two groups had inflicted on each other. Crimes that were committed against the civilians from both sides were never investigated; the SPLA-Nasir fighters were haphazardly integrated into the SPLA-Mainstream, as Dr. Garang’s faction later came to be called, with their inflated ranks and egos. This caused a great deal of jealously from those who played by the rules from the get-go. This set the country up for another catastrophic bloodletting.
- To resolve the current crisis, there is a need to avoid the mistakes of the past by making sure that the peace agreement that will be signed addresses the giant quadruplet of: (1) Accountability for war crimes (2) Institutional reforms and transformation of the SPLM party, (3) Delinking of the SPLM party from the national army so that the country doesn’t have to go through another mishandled SPLM intraparty problem, either ideological or personal, (4) Reformation of the SPLA to reflect the national character of the country instead of being set up as an amalgamation of loose bands of tribal militias with fragmented loyalties.
The South Sudanese nation is mired in a tumultuous crisis that is threatening to tear it asunder. All the attempts by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), faith organizations and other international actors, noticeably the Troika countries, to put off the flame of war that is increasingly threatening to engulf the whole country, have been futile so far, leaving the experts to scratch their heads in desperation, not knowing how to save the nascent country from the crushing jaws of catastrophe. A cessation of Hostilities (CoH) agreement between the warring parties, the Government of South Sudan, and the SPLM-In-Opposition (SPLM-IO), has been signed at the early stages of the war and yet the hostilities in the battlefronts of the Upper Nile continue to flare up unceasingly. The peace talks collapsed in March this year when the parties to the conflict failed to reach an agreement.
In an Attempt to put a finger on the pulse of the problem, which some political analysts believe to be a violent clash of personalities within the ruling party SPLM, the SPLM intraparty reunification agreement was inked in February 2015, in Arusha, Tanzania. This reunification agreement sought to bring together all the SPLM disagreeing factions, both armed and unarmed, so that their widening gulf of disagreement could somehow be bridged through intraparty negotiation and reconciliation. It however remains to be seen whether or not the intraparty reconciliation agreement will bear any appreciable fruits insofar as the real coming together of the SPLM family is concerned. Evidence suggests that the SPLM-IO and perhaps the Former Detainees and not so enthusiastic about the agreement. The SPLM National Liberation Council on the other hand has so far ratified the agreement and made some administrative decisions to pave way for implementation of the agreement.The South Sudanese nation is mired in a tumultuous crisis that is threatening to tear it asunder. All the attempts by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), faith organizations and other international actors, noticeably the Troika countries, to put off the flame of war that is increasingly threatening to engulf the whole country, have been futile so far, leaving the experts to scratch their heads in desperation, not knowing how to save the nascent country from the crushing jaws of catastrophe. A cessation of Hostilities (CoH) agreement between the warring parties, the Government of South Sudan, and the SPLM-In-Opposition (SPLM-IO), has been signed at the early stages of the war and yet the hostilities in the battlefronts of the Upper Nile continue to flare up unceasingly. The peace talks collapsed in March this year when the parties to the conflict failed to reach an agreement.
The sincerity of the parties to the intraparty reunification agreement remains doubtful since immediately after leaving Arusha, both parties released statements that contradicted the spirit of the Arusha Intraparty reunification agreement. Statements such as Dr. Riek Machar’s recent call on President Kiir to step down, a call which was ubiquitous at the commencement of the conflict, following what the government believes was an attempted coup by Dr. Riek Machar and cohort, or President Kiir’s alleged reciprocal statement in which he categorically dismissed the members of the opposition as ‘dogs,’ aren’t helping an aorta in the way of trust building among the South Sudanese ruling elites. If those statements were to be taken at their face values, then there is a long way to go insofar as the resolution of the raging conflict is concerned.
On the positive note, the SPLM’s Bureau recently met in Juba and issued resolutions calling for reinstatement and dropping corruption and treason charges against the former detainees and those SPLM leaders in the opposition. If these gestures are matched on the other side, the possibility of getting the party reunited and a break through in the peace talks may be possible.
However, there is no need for despair, for this crisis could be firmly fitted within the context of the South Sudanese armed struggle against the Arab domination, traditional inter-tribal warfare, and a host of other unresolved bottled-up mental and physical hurts generated by the long episodes of civil wars among different South Sudanese nationalities. While fighting their archenemy in Khartoum, the South Sudanese fought numerous petty civil wars among themselves, and some of those South-South wars were resolved to some degree. These internal wars were not necessarily made endogenously; rather, they were part of a broader counterinsurgency stratagem of Khartoum based governments. This paper therefore attempts to review how these internal conflicts were resolved, how peace agreements were negotiated and concluded, and how their failures and successes could be employed to inform the current effort to resolve the ongoing unrelenting bloodletting in the country.
- History of Conflict in South Sudan
The present Republic of South Sudan comprises landmasses of former three provinces of Southern Sudan, namely, Bahr El Ghazel, Equatoria, and Upper Nile1. It is bordered in the North by the Republic of the Sudan, in the East by the Federal Republic of Ethiopia and the Republic of Kenya, in the South by the Republic of Uganda, in Southwest by the Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C), and in the West by the Central African Republic2. Demographically, the Republic of South Sudan is multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and multi-religious society that is peopled by sixty-four (70 different African nationalities with varied modes of economics, cultural, and political existence2.
The Republic of South Sudan came into existence as a result of two harrowing and devastating civil strives which pitted an Arab Islamic Northern Sudan against an Animist and Christian Southern Sudan2. The South Sudanese yearning to be a sovereign people began long before the Sudanese nation had torn asunder the fetters and shackles of colonialism in 19562. While the Sudanese air was saturated with the enviable aromas of the talks of Sudan’s independence, the Southern Sudanese sweltering heat of legitimate discontent, caused by the condescending manner in which they were actively being left out of the vital negotiations that would lead to the Sudanese independence, reached a boiling point and blew off a lid when the South Sudanese soldiers mutinied in the garrison town of Torit in 19553.
It was then that the Sudanese nation was doomed to a vicious cycle of intermittent violence that would continue to shake the foundation of the nascent republic for many years to come. If the northern political elite had exhibited political maturity from the onset by behaving in a manner that transcended the Arab-African dichotomy, the Sudanese nation would not have been shaken by the whirlwind of armed rebellion at her infancy. However, the patronizing attitudes in which the Arabs and their British counterparts decided to approach the pending catastrophe exacerbated the situation and hardened the South Sudanese’ resolve to use a significant dose of violence to hammer their point home to the northern ruling bourgeoisies.
As a result, the first Sudanese civil war, which would have far-reaching consequences, was launched. The South Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SSLM/A), which was conceived eight years after the mutiny in 1963 under the able leadership of Col. Joseph Lagu, made its objective of fighting for an independent South Sudan unambiguously clear to the Sudanese people and the international community5. Although the SSLM/A fighters were ill-armed, ill-trained, and not sophisticatedly organized politically relative to the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), they had the conviction and courage of a people whose dignity and political survival were on the line.
With sticks, arrows, intoxicating morale, and sometimes barehanded, they fought some of the fiercest battles in the jungles of Southern Sudan with unparalleled bravery and valor. After seventeen years of protracted warfare, which brought about the death of thousands of Sudanese citizens, and the butchering of any shred of trust that ever existed between the northern Arabs and the indigenous Africans in the South, the first Sudanese civil was brought to a transient halt when the government of General Nimeri signed a peace accord with the Southern rebels in 19724. This accord, which was negotiated in the Ethiopian Capital of Addis Ababa by some of the best Sudanese political minds of the time, granted the Southern region a limited political autonomy within the framework of a united Sudan5.
In addition to the limited political autonomy granted to the South, the former Anya Nya fighters were integrated into the Sudan armed forces (SAF) and other security forces8, 9. Those who couldn’t be integrated into the security sector either due to physical infirmity or other age limitations were accommodated in various public service sectors. Also, the leadership of the regional government in the South was turned over to the civilians, and the army was completely kept out of politics8, 9 so that those of Gen. Joseph Lagu who led the revolutionary war could compete on equal political footings with those of Mulana Abel Alier, the first President of regional High Executive Council (HEC). This provided some sense of political stability in the south since the army steered clear of politics, however heated the political debates were8, 9.
Although occasionally tribalism would creep into the political discourse, the period spanning the Alier-Lagu political rivalry in the south could probably be said to have been the most mature political period in the South Sudanese political history. With the support of the international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and faith organizations, coupled with the relative atmosphere of peace ushered in by the signing of the peace accord, the Southern region experienced some degree of peace and development. For instance, government sponsored developmental projects such as the Rice Plantation in Aweil, Sugar Plantation in Mongalla as well as the establishment of national institutions such as the University of Juba and most of the present government premises were fruits of this era.
However, this relative period of peace didn’t last appreciably long. Before Nimeri unilaterally abrogated the 1972 peace accord with the South, he first clandestinely embarked on a covert mission to divide the South into regions, ostensibly to weaken the South’s potential reaction toward his decision to abrogate the accord. The partitioning of the South into Bahr El Ghazel, Upper Nile, and Equatoria regions saw the birth of rejectionists’ movements such as the Kokoro Movement (KM), whose mission was solely to drive the non-equatorians out of the region where the autonomous regional government was situated.
These rejectionists’ movements divided the people of South Sudan in a manner that was highly political and dangerous. In fact when the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) was formed later to counter Gen. Nimeri’s fateful decision to take the nation back to war, many equatorians held off, arguing that the movement was formed ostensibly to counter the Kokoro movement. Only the Nuers, who were already part of the Anya Nya-2 movement, joined the nascent revolutionary movement massively. As a result, the SPLM/A was seen by many equatorian as a Dinka-Nuer outfit whose mission was to thwart the Equatoria’s newly found sense of nationalism. It was until much later that many equatorians came to realize that the SPLM/A was indeed a Sudanese revolutionary movement fighting for the emancipation of all the Sudanese people from the shackles of Islamic fundamentalism and Arabism. This realization didn’t remove bad experience that non-equatorians had under the Kokoro insurgency, and until this day, the Kokoro movement is remembered by non-equatorians with disdain.
Once the South was sufficiently divided along the ethnic and regional lines, Gen. Nimeri finally made his move, which saw the unilateral dissolution of the Southern regional government, abrogation of the Addis Ababa peace accord, and finally the death of the Southern Sudan’s political autonomy. To add the salt to an already infested wound, he made Sharia the law of the land, even with the full knowledge that this was the last stroke capable of breaking the back of the South’s horse of patience.
Although debates could be had as to why Gen. Nimeri would commit such a blunder and made a mess of a legacy that had won him international fame and recognition, the effects of that fateful decision present themselves with unquestionable clarity: The country was plunged into another deadly civil unrest, the project of islamization and arabization of the country was put on high gears, the gulf of incompatibility between the Arab Sudanese and African Sudanese deepened and widened, the South’s lingering doubt in the sincerity of the northern political forces to unify the country was solidified, the partitioning of the South ushered in an epoch of regionalists petty politicking that continues to plague the South Sudanese politics to this day, and the Sudanese nation-state began sliding toward the abyss.
III. Anyanya II—SPLA Conflict
As early as 1975 the seeds of the next Sudanese civil war were already firmly planted when the remnants of the Nya Nya-1 fighters formed the Nya Nya-2 movement, ostensibly to signal the rebirth of the Nya Nya movement which had hastily and haphazardly signed the peace accord earlier with the Nimeri’s regime5. The Nya Nya-2 comprised former southern guerilla fighters who were disgruntled with the manner in which the integration process following the peace accord was carried out. They were also unsatisfied with the fact that the agreement fell short of granting movement’s declared objective of an independent South Sudan instead of a watered-down political autonomy which failed to grant the Southern Sudanese all the benefits and dignity of unhindered citizenship within the framework of the Sudanese nation-state. They viewed the agreement as surrender and rebelled in earnest.
These rebels established their training camps and outposts along the Sudan-Ethiopian border in the villages predominantly Nuer. While at the Ethiopian border, a rudimentary leadership was forming among rebels with the most prominent leaders of this movement being those of Samuel Gai Tut and Akuot Atem De Mayen and a few others. These leaders held on to the idea that as a matter of principles, the South should be independent and that anything short of this manifest destiny would never solve the recurrent “fundamental problem of Southern Sudan.”
Although the leaders held this view resolutely, there was an apparent mediocre framing of the problem and because of this, the movement wasn’t sophisticatedly organized militarily and politically and the outside powers were largely unaware of the political objectives of the Anya Nya-2 movement6. The international support that the SSLM/A had before signing the peace had simply melted away as soon as the peace was inked with Gen. Nimeri’s regime, and as a result, the new movement found itself in a situation devoid of international and regional backing.
Also, the Nya Nya-2’s method of political mobilization and recruitment of the fighters left so much to be desired and by the time they were joined by the second southern mutineers under the leadership of Col. Dr. John Garang De Mabior, there were just a few thousands Anya Nya-2 fighters at the Sudan-Ethiopia border who were ill-armed and poorly trained5. While the new mutineers weren’t any better off in terms of military hardware as well as training, they were under a pragmatic leadership of Col. Dr. John Garang, a phenomenon that would prove beneficial to the Sudan’s People Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) in the years to come.
As soon the new mutineers arrived, a misunderstanding between the two groups began to emerge. The most important bones of contention were the twin issues of the leadership of the unified movement and the vision of the South Sudanese armed struggle. While the Anya Nya-2 fighters favored the new movement to pursue with a renewed vigor and determination the issue of the South Sudan independence from the Sudan, the southern mutineers under Col. Garang wanted the new movement to fight for a united socialists and secular Sudan in which all the citizens, irrespective of their ethnic, and religious inclinations, would be equal citizens under the law.
The delineation of the problem facing the Sudanese nation-state as the ‘fundamental Problem of Southern Sudan’ was also principally disputed by the Sudan’s People Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) under Col. Dr. John Garang, arguing that what was to be solved was the ‘fundamental problem of the Sudan,’ a serious political problem in which a few manipulative political elites in the center of power in the Sudan were skillfully and actively excluding everyone else at the periphery from the political and economic affairs of the country and that this marginalization of the Sudanese citizens by those who had hijacked the Sudanese nation-state didn’t distinguish Arabs from Africans or Muslins from non-Muslims4. It was a malady whose remedy was the total dismantling of the existing economic and political arrangements of the Sudanese nation-state so that a new kind of the Sudan could be erected from the ruins of the old Sudan if the revolution were to have any long-lasting effects of successfully transforming and reforming the Sudanese nation and the Sudanese society.
Besides ideological differences between the two groups, the issue of the leadership of the united movement was also contentious, and there were no appreciable headways leading to its resolution precisely due to brinkmanship and political egoism that prevailed at the time. Instead of sitting down and try to narrow their ideological and ambition gulfs, the two groups remained at odd until they split asunder. The infighting that ensued automatically assumed the Nuer-Dinka dichotomy since the majority of the SPLM/A fighters were of Dinka ethnic origins while those of the Anya Nya-2 were almost homogenously of Nuer ethnic origins5.
After losing to the more politically organized and militarily equipped SPLA, the Nuer fighters of the Anya Nya-2 movement fell back to their ancestral Nuer villages where they continued to harass the SPLA fighters, especially the new recruits coming from the Bahr El Ghazel region. The SPLA lost many potential fighters to these waylaying raids and this hardened feelings from both sides5. The SPLA’s retaliatory attack on the Nuer villages in an attempt to flush out the remnants of the Anya Nya-2 fighters resulted in massive death of innocent Nuer civilians, and looting of their properties. This undoubtedly cemented a deep sense of grudges in the hearts and minds of many Nuer village folks. Many scholars blame these grudges for fueling some of violent encounters between the Nuer and Dinka throughout the period of the liberation war 5, 4, 3.
After the death of the Anya Nya-2 leaders, noticeably Samuel Gai Tut and Akuot Atem De Mayen, under circumstances that remain murky to this day, the two movements managed to reunite their ranks in 1987. This reunification effort resulted in the reintegration of the Anya Nya-2 fighters into the SPLA. However, this integration was never complete, for many Anya Nya-2 fighters held on to their former allegiances and grudges. The hurt inflicted on each other were never addressed, and everything that remotely resembled accountability was essentially swept under the rug.
Arguably, the archenemy in Khartoum was the bigger problem facing all the South Sudanese, and instead of being bogged down by their petty differences, there was a need to look at the big picture. But by not garnering enough courage to address the hurts that the South Sudanese had inflicted on each other, the leaders of both the SPLA and Anya Nya-2 failed to prevent the repeat of the same problems in the future, and indeed this was confirmed when the whole thing blew up violently in the face of South Sudanese leaders in the August of 1991.
- SPLA Split in 1991
The 1991 split was a messy affair. At the time when the people’s movement was almost being swept under by the powerful current of the raging storm of international politics of the time, the 1991 split and the ensuing infighting in which thousands of South Sudanese perished in the hands of their fellow countrymen and comrades in arms almost sealed the fate of the South Sudanese’ collective aspiration to be free from the shackles of Islamic fundamentalism and Arabism. As a people, the South Sudanese populace should always recall the events of that epoch with sorrow. While understanding and accepting what had happened during that blood-soaked epoch of their struggle for sovereignty, the South Sudanese people must always pledge to themselves and the posterity never to allow their petty differences to trump the sturdy cord of destiny that inextricably binds them together.
The 1991 split within the ranks and files of the SPLM/A triggered an avalanche of political events, which continue to haunt the South Sudanese nation to this day. The event first started off as a political disagreement among the top leadership of the movement, but it soon took on an unpredicted tone, which those who set it in motion seemed unprepared to deal with. Since its inception, there was a growing sentiment within the movement’s leadership, which questioned the direction in which the war of liberation was being fought. While the New Sudan Vision, which was being advanced by the SPLM/A was gaining some tractions internationally as well as within the other marginalized Sudanese political circles, the SPLM/A leadership was never fully rallied around the vision, for there were still pockets of individuals who believed that as a matter of principles, the SPLM/A ought to have been struggling for the separation of the south from the north instead of pursuing the lofty and seemingly utopian ideals of the New Sudan.
However, with a mixture of ruthlessness and charisma, Dr. John Garang was able to silence those dissenting voices, albeit transiently. During the years leading to the split, the instigators, noticeably Dr. Lam Akol, and Dr. Riek Machar, of the political hurricane that made a touchdown in the August of 1991 were becoming bold and restless. When the situations were apt for their infamous move, the duo declared in August of that year that they had ousted Dr. Garang, and that they were in charge of the movement’s leadership. On Dr. John Garang, they slapped a series of damning charges, ranging from nepotism to dictatorial tendencies as well as ceaseless inability to put in place any resemblance of the structures of governance in the movement5.
To justify their action, the duo accused Dr. John Garang of being uncompromising in dealing with the chiasms within the movement and that removing him was the best course of action since all the doors leading to negotiation were slammed shut by his condescending attitudes and unshakable belief in military might to beat his critics into submission. In self-defense, Dr. John Garang denied all the charges brought against him by christening them flimsy, and counter-accused the duo of staging a coup against a guerilla movement that had no capital or institutions of governance to be seized in a coup de tat. He instead asked them to lay down their arms and hand themselves over to movement’s leadership for questioning5.
In what seemed like a repeat of the SPLA-Anya Nya-2 disagreement and infighting eight years earlier, the two groups dug in and feverishly tried to beat each other militarily in the jungles and villages of an already traumatized Southern Sudan. In a situation similar to the SPLA-Anya Nya-2 infighting, the war between the SPLA-Torit faction and the SPLA-Nasir faction, as they later came to be called, took on an ethnic dimension which pitted the Nuer against the Dinka.
Since the SPLA-Nasir faction was under the leadership of Dr. Riek Machar, a considerable chunk of the SPLA fighters of the Nuer ethnic origins switched sides and joined the SPLA-Nasir faction, leaving the SPLA-Torit faction under Dr. John Garang to be almost homogenously Dinka. Also, a few Chollo fighters left with Dr. Lam Akol and Dr. Adwok Nyaba to join the SPLA-Nasir faction. The SPLA-Nasir faction also recruited the members of Anya Nya-2 who had melted back to the Nuer villages following their defeat and eventual integration of some of their fellow fighters into the SPLA.
The SPLA-Nasir faction also recruited massively from a reserve of Nuer young men who had organized themselves into what came to be famously known as the White Army (WA). The etiology of this group is debatable, but many sources are contended that the White Army was assembled initially from various Nuer villages to guard their cattle, women and children against abduction by other ethnic groups, especially the Murle nomadic warriors who reside in the eastern plains of the present Jonglei State6.
While the former Anya Anya-2 fighters had unresolved bottled-up grievances against the SPLM/A leadership due to the past negative experience generated by the fighting between the two groups, the White Amy was itching to attack their neighboring Dinka villages to raid their cattle, women and children. Also, during the SPLA-Anya Nya-2 war, there were a number of incursions organized by the SPLA to go and flush out the members of the Nya Nya-2 who were hiding among the Nuer civil populations. These punitive expeditions organized by the SPLA against the Nuer cattle herders left many hard feelings against the Dinka because the Nuer villagers viewed the SPLA as a Dinka movement and vowed vengeance against Dinka at the first opportunity5.
Whether or not the leaders of SPLA-Nasir were aware of the explosive grudges held by their fighters against the Dinka remained murky, but what later became apparent was the fact that the war ceased to be an ideological war between the two groups but a war between the Dinka and Nuer. Soon after the split, the Nuer tribesmen accompanied by the regular SPLA soldiers who had defected started attacking the Dinka villages. Most of the brunt of these incursions was mostly born by the Dinka villages of Atar, Pariang, Duk, and Cic. In retaliation, some Dinka armed elements of Gelweng and some SPLA soldiers attacked the nearby Nuer villages, and this situation continued toward the end of 19995.
In December of 1991, this Nuer-Dinka civil war climaxed when the White Amy was massively mobilized by the leaders of the SPLA-Nasir faction and led into the Dinka Bor territory, Dr. John Garang’s home area. This attack resulted in massive displacement of Dinka Bor population, loss of thousands of heads of cattle, abduction of thousands of women and children, and the massacre of more than two thousands Dinka Bor villagers7, 5. These raids took all the livelihood of the Dinka Bor in form of cattle and left the survivors at the mercy of the looming famine. But the Dinka villagers didn’t sit idle, for a series of retaliatory raids into the Lou Nuer territories, where the White Army was initially mobilized, were organized, and these raids also resulted in the death of Nuer villagers, raiding of their source of livelihood, and the displacement of the population to the Ethiopian border.
Coupled with the then government of the Sudan’s decision to sanction any UN flight coming to Southern Sudan following its dry season campaigns against the SPLA in 1992, thousands of Dinka Bor and Lou Nuer villagers starved to death in the period between May to August of 19925. While the villagers were starving to death in the territories controlled by the fighting SPLA factions, the war between the Dinka and the Nuer intensified. Any local attempts to halt the fighting failed spectacularly. Any chances for the reunification of the warring SPLA factions were further complicated when the leaders of the SPLA-Nasir faction decided to throw in their lots with the Sudanese government to fight against what they thought to be a Dinka movement. The series of the peace accords signed by the SPLA-Nasir factions (Lam’s and Riek’s factions) solidified their alliance with the Sudanese government against the SPLA-Torit faction.
For the second time, just as during the SPLA-Anya Nya-2 war, the South Sudanese leaders failed to put the suffering of their people above the narrow confine of their egotistical political brinksmanship. All the attempts at the reunification of the ranks and files of the South Sudanese movement were continuously stalled by the leaders’ inability to make serious compromises. The chest-pumping Nilotic pride prevailed overwhelmingly more often than not over wisdom, humanitarianism, and political maturity. When Dr. Garang and Dr. Riek Machar were finally reunited in 2002, the hatred and hurts in the hearts and minds of the people on both sides had become unshakably entrenched.
The success of Riek-Garang unification agreement could be credited to the grassroots efforts that preceded it. After many unsuccessful attempts by different church organizations to bring Dr. Riek and Dr. Garang together so that the people of South Sudan could have a unified front against the Bashir government, the New Sudan Council of Churches (NSCCs) finally tried something extraordinary in 1999 in a place called Wunlit. During the Wunlit Peace Conference, different Nuer, Dinka, and Civil Society organizations (CSOs) leaders were brought together in an attempt to solve the raging Nuer-Dinka war at the grassroots levels. In the conference, an impartial attention was paid to the traditional Dinka-Nuer methods of conflict resolution. After the conference, the traditional leaders agreed to convince their youth organizations to stop the bloodshed among the South Sudanese people earnestly. The agreement was concluded with the performance of traditional rites, and pledges were made by the parties never to attack each other. This paved the way for the eventual reunification of the two leaders and eventually the Nuer and Dinka nationalities were united.
Although the grassroots unification agreement was a success, the formal negotiations between Dr. Garang and Dr. Riek were supposed to do more within the context of the modern conflict resolution mechanisms. But instead of addressing the most burning issues such as the accountability for the war crimes, which weren’t addressed within the context of the traditional conflict resolution mechanisms, the Riek-Garang peace negotiations sadly only focused on bringing Dr. Riek Machar back into the SPLM’s political fold. By the time the two leaders were reunited, nobody was held accountable for the hideous crimes that were committed by both sides. Also, Dr. Riek Machar’s commanders in the field were largely unconvinced of the accord, and some hardliners within Dr. John Garang’s inner circle refused to see Dr. Riek Machar as a lost brother who had come back to join them. He was their enemy, comes what may.
Although this agreement narrowed the gap between the major warring South Sudanese parties, something that had to happen for the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) to be negotiated and signed, it failed South Sudan in many important areas: (1) the institutional reforms which were wanting within the SPLM party were never initiated. (2) Not all the fighters who left with Dr. Riek Machar were convinced of the validity of the agreement that was signed, for some, like those of General Paulino Matip Nhial with a considerable followings, simply held off.
(3) The atrocities committed during the infighting were never investigated, and no one from both sides was held accountable for the crimes committed, and this left a lot of people writhing in excruciating pain caused by unresolved bottled-up hurts. (4) The integration of Dr. Riek Machar’s former fighters into the SPLA was a botched affair, for they never really integrated. They remained aloof, maintaining their past allegiances and loyalties. (5) Nothing was done in the way of convincing the rejectionists within the SPLM/A that Dr. Riek Machar was their brother who had come back to contribute peacefully to the nation-building efforts after the CPA. All these failures set the country up for another round of catastrophic civil unrest.
After the CPA, the then Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) worked tirelessly to bring back the Southern militias who were shuttling between the Sudan’s Armed Forces (SAF) and the SPLA. These Other Armed Groups (OAGs) were making it particularly difficult for the GOSS to pacify a vast territory which was saturated with armed elements whose chief mission was to plunder the civil population. Most of these armed elements were the remnants of Dr. Riek’s former fighters who refused to be integrated into the SPLA after the merger, and instead opted to remain attached to the SAF, which was handsomely paying them. To win them over, the GOSS instituted a policy of amnesty in which these armed groups were assured of forgiveness for their previous crimes and misdeeds. These amnesties also came with lucrative financial incentives for the leaders of those armed elements. Because of this, these militia groups responded and were hastily integrated into the SPLA with their inflated ranks. However, their integration was not thoroughly done, and this set up the nation for another explosive armed conflict.
- Current Crisis
The current civil war in the country is not different from the ones reviewed above, it could, in fact, be argued that the conflicts discussed in the foregoing sections had cumulative contribution to this conflict. It started off as a political, administrative and institutional disagreement between President Salva Kiir and his deputy Dr. Riek Machar. However, by the time the crisis reached a boiling point on the 15th of Dec., 2013, it had already assumed a Dinka-Nuer character simply because the deep-seated grudges held by these two groups against each other trump everything else insofar as the conflicts involving these two groups are concerned. This assertion is supported by the speed with which the tribally motivated killings took place in Juba, Bor, Malakal, Bentiu, and other towns were these two groups were living side-by-side. If the rate in in which the people were being targeted simply because of their tribal identities were to continue for twenty three (23) years, or just as long as the North-South civil war, there will be nobody left alive in South Sudan, for everyone would be killed. If not for any other reason, the need to save the Nuer and Dinka from finishing themselves off is enough and any effort to end this crisis should be encouraged by the international political forces.
- Recommendations and Conclusion
The objective of this analysis had been the need to use experiences of the past conflicts to draw lessons so as to avoid repeating some of the costly mistakes of the past. If there is one glaring lesson from the previous conflicts, it is the fact that issues of justice and accountability had completely been neglected and they never feature in any of the previous agreements. No wonder why such conflicts viciously repeat themselves. The on-going conflict affords the South Sudanese people another opportunity to do things right, for the first time. Those who are negotiating the current peace accord to end this crisis must pay an uninterrupted attention to how the past peace agreements were negotiated as reviewed in the preceding passages. They must be mindful that for this peace agreement to last and bring about the badly needed peace in the country, the following political pillars must be built into the agreement:
- It has to be remembered that hideous crimes have been committed since the commencement of this conflict. The upcoming peace agreement must have some clauses built into it that will allow for the investigation of those who committed crimes. This should be done so that the victims of those senseless crimes can find solace in justice, something that was utterly ignored in the past peace agreements.
- The integration of the fighters from both sides must be thoroughly carried out so that the resulting army will have a national outlook and character, instead of being set up as an amalgam of loose bands of tribal militias with fragmented loyalties.
- It will also be best to avoid the CPA model that allows for the existence of two armies. In the context of the Sudan, the CPA model served the country very well because it gave the northern political leaders a reason not to abrogate the CPA just as Gen. Nimeri did with the 1972 peace accord. According to Dr. Garang’s political thinking, the two-army model was built into the CPA to make the option of the unilateral abrogation of the peace agreement an expensive endeavor. The Southerners also desired separation over unity, and for that to happen, the South ought to have a standing army capable of protecting her territories as they stood in 1956. But in the current peace agreement, it serves no purpose to have two separate armies since the rebels’ security concerns could be accommodated in the security sector reform clause (s) in the agreement.
- The SPLM party must actively undertake the task of self-transformation so that any differences, whether in personalities or in ideologies, within the SPLM should be handled within the institutional rules and regulation of the party.
- The SPLM must be delinked from the SPLA so that any disagreement among the members of the SPLM shouldn’t degenerate into a military confrontation like what had happened during that fateful night of Dec. 15th, 2013. The 1972 peace accord in the South held because the politicians of the time, those of Gen. Lagu and Mulana Abel Alier, had no standing armies of their own. They had to use their political wits and persuasions to beat each other instead of intimidation and tanks.
- The upcoming peace agreement ought to be designed in a way that discourages the would-be political adventurers from starting wars to smoothen their paths to political recognition and power acquisition.
If this peace agreement is negotiated with the knowledge and lessons of the past peace agreements, which failed to bring about any peace, in mind, there is a remote chance that the Republic of South Sudan will be a peaceful place in the future. If this peace agreement is negotiated right, the lessons learned from it will help the South Sudanese leaders in the future in resolving political crisis of similar nature. The South Sudanese leaders oughtn’t to bury their heads in the sand of political expediency, for the political mistake they make today will have a way of reincarnating as another major political problem in the future. To guard against the recurrence of similar crisis in the future, the negotiators ought to steer clear of the past mistakes by being thorough in their approach.
- Sudan, Abyei arbitration, http://reliefweb.int/node/317681 (accessed Feb. 2015).
- A. OGOT et al. (eds), Africa from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century, in Unesco General History of Africa, Paris, Unesco Publishing, 1999, p. 89.
- Francis, War of Visions: Conflict of Identities in Sudan, Washington, DC, Brookings Institution, 1955
- DOUGLAS, The Root Causes of Sudan’s Civil Wars, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2003
- HOMEWOOD – E. COAST – D.M. THOMPSON, In-migrants and exclusion in east African rangelands: Access, tenure and conflict, «Africa», vol. 74, no. 4, pp. 499-510.
- I. WADI, Perspectives on Tribal Conflicts in the Sudan, Khartoum, University of Khartoum, IAAS, 1998, p. 26.
- YOUNG, Sudan IGAD Peace Process: An Evaluation, May 30, 2007, p. 14.
- Abdel Ghaffar Mohamed Ahmad, Sudan Peace Agreements: Current Challenges and Future Prospects. Sudan Working Papers (SWP, 2010-1).
- O. BESHIR, The Southern Sudan: Background to Conflict, Khartoum, Khartoum University Press, 1970, pp. 37-55.
- African Union Archives, The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA)
About the Author
Bior K. Bior holds a Ph.D. in Cell and Molecular Biology from the University of Vermont. He was a visiting scholar/fellow at the Sudd Institute for the 2014-2015 period. Dr. Bior currently works in the National Public Health Laboratory where he is the director of Clinical Research and Molecular Diagnostics.