The bold call by the African Union in its communique issued in Kigali, Rwanda was warmly welcomed by many South Sudanese and other well- wishers. It calls for deployment of regional protection force to Juba.
By Margaret Ohure
“A foolish man .. built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” – Matthew 7:26-27
The bold and prompt call by the African Union in its communique issued in Kigali, Rwanda was warmly welcomed by many South Sudanese and other well- wishers. It called for the deployment of a regional protection force to Juba, imposition of arms embargo and targeted sanctions among others. This was a legitimate reaction to the outbreak of violence in Juba, the national capital, on 8th July, and the street battle that ensued between forces loyal to President Kiir and forces loyal to Dr. Riek Machar. After days of bombardment of his base in Jebel area, Dr. Riek Machar and his remaining forces were dislodged and pushed out of Juba and eventually out of South Sudan. It is to be remembered that Dr. Riek Machar was a co-signatory of the Agreement for the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (ARCISS) and had returned to Juba in late April to facilitate its co-implementation. This led to the prompt formation of the Transitional Government of national Unity (TGNU) with Dr. Riek as first Vice President.
Although most government supporters vehemently opposed deployment of protection force, deliberately charging it as an intervention force that will violate the sovereignty of the country, President Kiir characteristically kept on oscillating between acceptance and rejection demonstrating clearly that he is the root cause of the confusion and the crises that have plague the country since the inception of his reign in 2005. The majority of South Sudanese, whose lives are at risk of government violence, have welcomed the proposal, though sceptical of how effective the force will be in protecting South Sudanese lives. There are also concerns that the regime should not be given any opportunity to dictate the terms of deployment, because it is a part of the problem not the solution.
The admission of Juba on September 3rd to accept the proposed protection force is cautiously welcomed because of Juba’s long records of dishonouring agreements. The UN Security Council (UNSC) and the international community at large, particularly IGAD plus and the AU, should remain vigilant and not give Kiir another chance to fool the international community while buying time to devise another trick to surprise an unsuspecting world.
Like the previous conflict which erupted in December 2013, the unfortunate July incident was not only a battle between combatants, but quickly spread to involve targeting of unarmed civilians, women, the elderly and children. Horrific cases of gender based sexual violence were committed by government forces and allied militia. Women, including foreign aid workers were intentionally pursued and brutally gang-raped by government forces. In spite of calls for help, both the government and UNIMISS forces failed to promptly rescue the victims.
Even though the security situation appears to have normalised in Juba, it must be acknowledged that there are ongoing government military operations in the towns and countryside of Equatoria states. There are credible eye witness accounts of destruction of houses, looting of properties and means of livelihoods, in the rural areas. Gruesome atrocities akin to what was committed in Unity, Jonglei, and Upper Nile States at the peak of the violence in 2014 and parts of 2015 continue to drive civilians into UN protection camps or into exile. Women are gang-raped, young men are tortured, raped or forcefully conscripted into government allied militia. These are the causes of the recent influx of refugees mainly form the equatorial states into Uganda and to some extent into the DRC.
The claim by the violent regime in Juba, that government forces are pursuing supporters of Dr. Riek Machar or rebels are baseless propaganda. Equally misleading is the attempt by the regime to portray a genuine political resistance against the kleptocracy in Juba as acts of criminality to justify a crackdown. The government stands accused of creating a tribal army in a multi-ethnic society and of disempowering other communities, thus making them vulnerable to marauding government-backed militias. It is abundantly clear that the war being waged in Equatoria is nothing short of ethnic cleansing.
The regime of Salva Kiir has, since 2005, encouraged the policy of rewarding insurgencies and absorbing and reabsorbing them into the national army, and rewarding them with huge sums of money and promotion to higher ranks. Equatorians were marginalised and denied the same opportunities enjoyed by their brethren from the Greater Upper Nile states. When the war broke out, Kiir rejected inclusion of non-combatants on the negotiation table in Addis Ababa, preferring instead to strike deals, as he always did, with those carrying arms. It is a pure act of hypocrisy to now turn around and call other people criminals and bandits when they stand up to defend their lives, rights and properties.
When the conflict broke out in December 2013, most Equatorian intellectuals, and even senior government officials including governors, were against war and encouraged peaceful resolution of the conflcit. Had Equatorians joined Dr. Riek’s SPLA/IO enmasse, it would have been a different story for the country now. To our amazement, we are now being rewarded for rejecting war – the government’s guns have been turned against the very people, who had every reason to join the SPLA/IO, but choose instead to shun violence. Worse still, these act of caution against violence have been interpreted as an act of cowardice, and is being used to insult and humiliate Equatorians.
The government has thus unknowingly dragged Equatorians into this war by refusing to admit the existence of Equatorian forces in the SPLM/IO and by refusing to have cantonment centres for these forces in Equatoria. The government of Salva Kiir feels threatened by the inclusion of Equatorians in the national armed forces. The government doesn’t want to implement the ARCISS security sector reforms because it will affect the domination of the army and allied forces by soldiers from his native Bahr-el-Ghazal. The systematic marginalisation of Equatorians since 2005; the disappearances, extra-judicial killings of sons and daughters of Equatoria, elimination, and general humiliation of Equatorians; the aggressive policy of land grabbing from Equatorians, with the premeditated intention of pushing them out of their motherland, are sufficient grounds for rebellion even if there was none before. It is the fundamental human right of individuals and communities to defend themselves when attacked.
It must be understood that Equatorians’ rights are national rights. Part of being an equal citizens is to enjoy equitable representation in critical national decision making processes, not submission into forceful second or third class citizenship. When South Sudanese fought for 5 decades to reject second class citizenship, and this war of liberation was championed by Equatorians in 1955, it would be unreasonable to expect Equatorians to submit to second class treatment in the 21st century. Equatorians are not against any communities in South Sudan, but totally reject any attempt by any group to install a system that seeks to subjugate and create a nation of “masters and slaves”.
Critics may say that there are Equatorians in government, but those Equatorian ministers and appointed governors are largely implementing Kiir’s policy of divide and rule. These officials have no real political powers to influence national policies. On the contrary, they are being used to silence and oppress their own people in exchange for personal gains and power. The same policy is being used to divide the Nuer and other communities. We condemn such divisive policies.
We advise these misguided political elite to accept that politicians, as representatives of their communities, are accountable to the people not the government. South Sudan’s president has instituted a system where parliamentarians, government ministers and governors are personally representing him and are accountable to him and not to the people who are supposed to have elected them. This is wrong. The government is simply an agency that is supposed to deliver services to its electorates, not to kill, maim or oppress them.
Some of these political elites know that the authority of government originates and resides in the people not vice versa. Yet they are taking advantage of the illiteracy of the vast majority of the population, coupled with natural tribal affiliations, to confuse the population that the government or the constitution is sovereign, which is a fallacy. It is the people who are sovereign. The government’s sovereignty through the constitution is a delegated authority and can be withdrawn by the citizens individually, or collectively, if deemed to be abused.
It is equally misleading to push the national/tribal army to rise up against the people to defend the indefensible, now defunct, constitution. The ARCISS 2015, clearly indicates that wherever there is a conflict, between the Constitution 2011, and the ARCISS 2015, the ARCISS is supreme. Hence deliberate attempts by Kiir to delay the selection of the Speaker and tactical delay of merging the two governing documents into one.
If Kiir’s constitution of 2011 permits the violation of the sovereign rights of its citizens, such a constitution can be legitimately repudiated. On the basis that the government of South Sudan has no valid constitution, we reject the assertion that proposed protection force amounts to a violation of the sovereignty of the country.
In the glare of the whole world, the government of South Sudan has violated, and continues to violate, the rights of its citizens based on ethnicity. The government has failed to provide impartial security to all its citizens; it has failed to provide basic services to its people and is completely insensitive to the humanitarian catastrophe being experienced by its people inside the country in IDP camps as well as in refugee camps in neighbouring country. The government has recklessly destroyed the economy of the country, yet shamelessly goes to beg food and assistance from neighbouring countries who have no oil revenues and therefore are technically poorer than oil producing South Sudan. And yet clings to its “worthless sovereignty”. How can you claim to be sovereign when you have failed all the tests to qualify as a sovereign state?
We urge the international community especially the UNSC not to be intimidated by government hardliners using the rhetoric of anti- colonialism and anti-racists slogans and threats against Western countries or interests in South Sudan. In fact, the International community rushed in admitting South Sudan into UN when it declared its independence in 2011. South Sudan should have been put on probation of 5-10 years to fullfill the conditions for joining the world community of nations. Hilde Johnson in her book The Untold Story, 2016, clearly recorded that South Sudan was a “country without a state”. Major political observers and analysts agree that any semblance of such a state was hijacked by “war lord liberators” and this situation has worsened since 2013.
In our view, there is now no moral justification for respecting the sovereignty of a country that does not respect the rights of its own citizens to life. Moreover, the president and his unelected council of tribal elders, show nothing but contempt to world leaders, the UN, and other regional organisations. The International community has been too soft on president Kiir and his warlords. They are holding the country hostage and the IGAD, AU, IGAD-plus and UN must stand up to them. The image of victimhood he displays is deceptive. So is the preposterous paranoia of tribal persecution of the persecutors. This is the regimes tactics of buying time. Kiir has perfected his tactics of “tactical avoidance” to avert consequences and has just repeated in Juba Sunday 3rd September 2016 to avert Security Council threat of imposing arms embargo on the country.
Kiir and his rogue regime must not be given the opportunity to dictate the terms of the deployment of the protection forces. The International community must learn from its past mistakes of being too soft on Kiir and always submitting to his unreasonable demands as he displayed throughout the two years negotiation of the peace agreement knowing too well that he will never implement it but it was sufficient to give him time to re-arm his tribal army to wage a final war against his perceived enemies in South Sudan.
The International Community should avoid double standards. South Sudan should be treated the same as Iraq and Syria. European countries with South Sudanese diasporas should consider admitting fresh South Sudanese refugees. South Sudanese opposition forces should be armed to defend themselves against government aggression, as the Kurds were supported in Iraq or the Free Syrian army in Syria. The protection forces are welcomed but insufficient to protect all those at risk form Kiir’s marauding forces who have penetrated deep into our villages. Ultimately it’s the people who should be empowered to defend themselves and their communities in the absence of an impartial government. Or else sooner or later, the world will wake up to see yet again the ugly side of Salva Kiir Mayardit.
Margaret Ohure is a concerned Equatorian in Diaspora.