John A. Akec
is slow and difficult to build anything worthwhile, but it takes just a few
reckless hands to bring to naught what has taken years, many hands, and
resources to construct. Thus, goes the perceived wisdom. And of all humanity's
endeavours everywhere, nothing surpasses the continuous struggle to achieve
peace and to maintain it.
if bad peace is better than just war, an unjustified war is a double tragedy
that can afflict any nation. And tragedy
is what befell our nation on December 15th 2013 when the hell broke
loose and hundreds of lives were lost in fighting involving the national army and
soldiers loyal to former vice president Riek Machar.
of devastation were evident everywhere in Juba and Bor. A journalist who accompanied
the army that recaptured Bor from Machar's forces wrote:
chaos caused by the rebels is everywhere to see. Shops are looted, houses smashed down, while in the office of the
governor -- used by the rebels as a base during their occupation -- windows
have been bashed in and doors ripped off their hinges.
addition to media reports, the author held interviews with lay citizens, SPLM
party officials, politicians, academics, civil society leaders, and army and
police officers, some of whom were directly involved in combat operation. The outcome is a two-part article in which the
author strives to provide an analytic perspective of the conflict. This is part
1 and part 2 will follow immediately soon.
UNREST AND TARGETED KILIINGS OF NUER AND DINKA
reports were quick to christen it as a fight between Dinka and Nuer ethnic
groups in the army, and that Dinka elements in the Presidential Guard got
involved in lynching of Nuer civilians in Juba. There were expressed concerns
that the endorsement of these media reports by Dinka politicians close to Riek
Machar, and most notably the statement by Rebecca Nynadeng de Mabior to BBC, might
have contributed to inciting more revenge killings against Dinka civilians and
army colleagues by Nuer soldiers in areas under their control.
spread to Jonglei, Unity, and Upper Nile states; and thousands of civilians
took refuge in churches and UN compounds in Juba, Bor, Akobo, Bentiu, and
Malakal. Hundreds of civilians died of cross fire or by ethnic-based targeted
killings in Juba, Bor, Akobo, Bentiu, Rubkona, and Thar Jath.
rushed to evacuate their staff and their nationals from South Sudan, as did
international NGOs. Foreign nationals and their businesses struggled to scurry
out of South Sudan in the shortest time and through quickest route possible,
mostly by air; and Juba International Airport was chocked to the brim.
KILLINGS OF NUER ETHNIC GROUP IN JUBA
angry young Nuer civil servant with whom the author had a discussion at Juba International
airport said a week after the incident:
situation has now subsided, but I am leaving the country to Nairobi because I
am afraid, very afraid. The bottom line is: there will never be a Nuer country
without Dinka, and there will never be a Dinka country without Nuer. But there
will always be one South Sudan. What happened recently shows that there is
something fundamentally wrong with the current system of government."
judging from media reports in regards to targeted killings that claimed many
lives of Nuer civilians which included members of parliament, civil servants,
pastors, and teachers in Juba, this author have nothing but great regret and sympathy
for those who have lost their loved ones in these senseless killings, and a concern
as a citizens about the breakdown of rule of law in our country.
civilians and members of organised forces I have spoken to did admit that
"some very bad atrocities" were committed in block 107 and Gudele
areas of Juba against members of Nuer community, especially at Lou Police
station where unconfirmed reports say many ehnic Nuer were dragged, and never
to be seen again. The police authorities concurred that the whole
"situation went out of control" especially on Tuesday afternoon and
throughout night of 17 December.
civil society activist from Nuer community in Juba sent me an email saying he
was on the run after receiving death threats through text messages from unknown
people which the activist believed are security personnel angered by his
organisation's human rights activities.
asked the authorities how come such a thing could be allowed to happen, and a
senior police officer replied:"What we have is not a civilized,
well-trained, and professional army that is guided by values and principles of
the military profession. Even chiefs who cannot read or write have been
integrated into the army and given the rank they have requested. This has
demoralized the whole army. We are still waiting for reports from Central
Equatoria Police authorities in regards to the reported killings of ethnic Nuer"
KILLING OF ETHNIC DINKA IN JONGLEI, UNITY AND UPPER NILE
An academic who survived revenge killing
against Dinka co-passengers at Thar Jath airstrip on Thursday 19th
December spoke to the author by phone from UN Compound in Rubkona:
"We traveled to Thar Jath air strip this
morning and were in the process of checking in when armed men in non-uniform
suddenly appeared and asked everyone to go inside the airport lounge. Later,
all the cars and buses were instructed to drive in convoy to Dan Duk, fifty
miles from Bentiu were all passengers were lined up. Each passenger was asked
to step forward and was asked about their place of origin and supportive id.
Many were allowed to get back on the bus and ordered to return to Bentiu."
Later on, the academic learned that two
co-passengers were identified as Dinka and were killed, in addition to not less
than four other Dinka who were in a land cruiser vehicle a head of the convoy and
a Kuku serving with National Security Service were shot dead by the armed men
believed to be Nuer. "One of the attackers was a 14-year old boy who
frantically held out a gun at passengers and was in tears and appeared very
upset and was asking to be allowed to shoot all the passengers but was
constrained by armed men in his company who took the gun away from him",
said the academic. The academic also said the attackers also took mobile phones,
cameras, and other valuables from the passengers.
Eventually, the academic and another
colleague of his were evacuated by WPF plane to Juba, three days after the
The retaliatory atrocities committed by Nuer
elements against Dinka in the Nuerland has also undermined their commitment to
respect of human rights in the eyes of many lay Dinka who had nothing to do
with said atrocities against Nuer:
"In contrast to what happened to Dinka
in Bentiu, Bor, Akobo, and Malakal, no single Nuer has been killed in the whole
of Greater Bhar El Ghazal; and yet, the international community and media has
not been fair on Dinka.", said one citizen from Warap State.
Yet, it would also be unfair to conclude that
all Nuers have shown mo mercy and there are many stories heard by the author
about saving lives of Dinka members in Nuerland by Nuer friends or work
colleagues. A pastor and member of National Legislative assembly from Akobo
county in Jonglei state told the author:"I lost two members of my previous
Church in Akobo when they tried to protect Dinka friends. They were killed by
their Nuer clansmen because they wanted to protect two Dinka soldiers who are
members of my church."
Actually Sparked the Fight on Sunday 15th December 2013?
to some analysts, the shootout that started at the headquarters of Presidential
Guards Division of South Sudan army was caused by "rumour and
paranoia." Another version provided by sources close to Riek Machar say
the conflict was sparked by "an attempt to disarm members of Presidential
Guards that belong to the Nuer ethnic group by a force composed of Dinka
elements of Presidential Guards."And still others say it was sparked by "a
fight between two drunken soldiers in the Tiger and Buffalo brigades", and
evolved into a confrontation between Dinka and Nuer elements in the army.
government officials described it as an "unsuccessful coup attempt by Dr.
Riek Machar in collaboration with a number of former cabinet ministers." This
was flatly denied by Riek Machar, although he later on admitted being the
leader of the mutiny. What is more, a few days later, and precisely on Friday
20th December 2013, Dr. Riek told Al Jazeera interviewer that he wants
to be the next SPLM flag bearer in 2015 election, and the next president of South
always, the first casualty of war is truth itself. Major General Marial
Chanuong Yol, the Commander of Presidential Guards in South Sudan, told the
felt something was wrong when Dr. Riek Machar wanted to force his way into the convention
hall where the meetings of National Liberation Council (NLC) were scheduled on
Saturday December 14 with all his 30 guards who arrived with him in 4 cars.
Only one guard was eventually allowed to accompany Dr. Riek into the conference
hall and the issue was peacefully resolved after one of his officers almost
caused a fight at the gate just before the opening ceremony of the SPLM NLC convention."
Gen. Marial Chanuong said he was at the division headquarters up to 6 pm on
Sunday after which he went home. At 8 pm, he received a report that there had
been a dispute at first battalion where a certain Nuer major expressed anger because the number of guards
at ammunition store was higher than normal. Chanuong sent a Nuer colonel to
resolve the issue. He then requested the colonel on duty to be alert. He also noted
that colonels John Malual Biel and Peter Lok, both Nuers, who are first and
second battalion commanders had arrived back at the army garrison that evening.
"The two were believed to have been
in contact with their politicians", according to Chanuong. Also eye
witnesses said money was distributed to Nuer soldiers on Sunday and many of them
came back to garrison and took up their arms early in the evening that day.
around 10:17 pm exactly, Colonel John Malual Biel, head of first Battalion shot
his deputy, Akol Reec (a Dinka from Warap State) unprovoked. He died a day
later from his bullet wounds. At the same time, Abraham Manyuat Ajou was shot
by a certain Nuer Brigadier General James Koch Gak (there is slight variation
as to who was shot first). Hence at the start of the incidence, the shooters
were all Nuer, and the victims were all Dinka. The killing of the two Dinka
officers was in cold blood, and was never preceded by arguments or "wrist
fight" as some media has reported it.
then erupted. An unknown number of soldiers were killed on the side of
government forces and mutineers. And contrary to reports that the mutineers had
control of army headquarters on Sunday night, Maj. Gen. Chanuong said the
battle raged throughout the night and that the mutineers could not succeed to capture
the ammunition store and were pushed out of the garrison by 2am of morning of
16 December 2013 into Jebel area of Juba, according to Chanuong.
soldiers in non-uniform mobilized Nuer civilians in 107 area and they tried
unsuccessfully to take over the ammunition store at New Site", Chanuong
also dismissed the reports that it was a fight between the Dinka and Nuers per
than 50 percent of our forces are Nuer. My deputy is a Nuer. My office manager
is a Nuer. Three of Ltd colonels under my command on Sunday night operation were
Nuer. Why didn't they kill me if it was an issue between Dinka and Nuers? Many
of those who defected did so from the wrong information they got in the
about the report of atrocities against Nuer civilians in New Site and block 107
area of Juba, he replied:
can only speak about the forces I command. We are not responsible for the
atrocities reported." He said some of individuals many of whom are not
part of the army have been arrested in relation to the atrocities and that
investigation is ongoing to identify those involved in the killing of
General Marial Chanuong acknowledged that there were indicators that this was
coming but did not have evident to make the arrest:
we done that [arrested perpetrators], we would have been accused of sparking
the fight. That they have ventured to execute their plans makes them fully accountable
for their deeds."
more than one hour of conversation with the author at his office at Division
headquarters where troubles started, Maj. Gen. Chanuong introduced his second
in command, Brigadier Simon Yien, a Nuer, as well as other Nuer, Dinka, and
other South Sudan ethnicities in the Presidential Guards.
tell them when you write your report that you found Nuer and Dinka eating
was in stark contrast to claims by some sources that the coup was led by
Brigadier Simon Yien, a proof of how much disinformation was being generated in
11 politicians that have been arrested by the authorities, mostly from Dinka
ethnic group, two have been released as at the time of this writing. The
government has also agreed to a cease-fire and called for
dialogue with Machar's group.
summary, it would appear that what took place on the night of December 15th
was less of a Dinka-Nuer conflict, and more of a pre-planned politically
motivated mutiny using ethnic card to mobilize a support base. The mutineers
were all Nuer, while those fighting against them were a multi-ethnic army. The
severity of the conflict has also been aggravated by inaccurate media reporting
and the inflammatory statements by some politicians. It has also created an
environment of mutual mistrust amongst the citizens as to who is against or for
the government; or who is your friend and who is your enemy. In words of Bishop
Daniel Deng of Episcopal Church of South Sudan, "we do not know is
15th incidence, therefore, presents the nation with open questions
as to what were the underlying causes of the conflict, how it might be
resolved, how its repeat may be prevented in future, and what are its
implications for nation-building, organisation of armed forces, and the future
political stability of the country.
second part of article series is going to examine the political causes of the unrest
and the implications for the political future of the country.