Tuesday, April 04, 2006

What are the Chances of a Coup de ta Against Salva Kiir?


Nasir Coup of 1991
Everywhere, history is a guide to the future except in Southern Sudan where significant events take place and sooner forgotten. Big mistake.

Forgetting the past is as useful as an ostrich burying its head in sand in face of an advancing predator. Worst, we think we might try to mine gold where others failed before.

In my view, the so called Nasir Coup in August 1991, should accurately be described as Nasir split or rebellion. There, a number of members of SPLM High Command leaders managed to convince a significant number of SPLA soldiers to come out in the open and condemn the ideological direction of the movement (mainly the objectives) and human rights abuses. However, because of lack of communications between various SPLA units, it was difficult to coordinate such uprising or gain support of the majority of SPLA commanders. So was it coup? No. Split? Yes. Nasir coup makers had noble objectives: giving self-determination, protection of human rights, freedom of expression etc. They managed to send the May-Day call out to the South and the world, and then in their isolation and slow response from the populace and the world, they began to sink and choke under their own weight. However, the core message did reach all the ears and the rest is history.

Salva Kiir's Rumoured Coup of 2004 and How Eminent South-South Civil War Was Avoided

We were told that some SPLA members and supporters were openly accusing Salva Kiir of plotting to oust John Garang and install Bona Malwal. The question was often asked mostly in humorous manner. But that is how politics works. An accusation which Salva Kiir denied. Then came the rumours that John Garang was planning to dismiss and replace Salva Kiir. That too was denied by John Garang. But between those two extreme views, there were personal differences and power struggle.

Neither John Garang had power to dismiss Salva Kiir, nor Salva Kiir had enough support of rank and file to oust John Garang in a coup. However, trust between the two men was at an all time low. Great majority of SPLM members had no stomach for any adverse move from either of the two. They had no choice but to reconcile and show solidarity in public in Rumbek Reconciliation Conference that took place between 27th to 29th November 2004.

Had John Garang lived, continued frictions between him and Salva Kiir could have led to bloody military confrontations and probably to outbreak of a full blown Southern Sudan civil war for the first time. That could happen only if Kiir were to be dismissed or arrested. But apart from that, it was hard for Salva Kiir to start that confrontation unprovoked. One potential flash point was whether or not John Garang should hold both posts of vice president and that of president of Southern Sudan. Kiir's adherents were opposed to that arrangement.

Where will military support come from to each camp? During marathon Navasha peace negotiations and following a long cease fire, sources say that John Garang was recruiting and training an army aggressively near New Site. At the same time commander Malong Awan of Northern Bhar Al Ghazal was recruiting and training aggressively in Malwal Koun near Aweil. A part from those two centres, there was no recruitment or training going on anywhere. In fact, the rest of the SPLA soldiers apart from those working in Rumbek and Yei headquarters were totally neglected, under armed, unclothed, and were allowed to disperse and roam as much as they pleased. Some travelled as far as Khartoum without any permission!

Hence, were there to be a military confrontations between John Garang and his number two Salva Kiir, the bulk of Kiir's army was going to come from commander Malong Awan who is is rumoured to command more than 200,000! John Garang would get his forces from New Site and from Yirol and Nuba Mountains. The forces in Gogrial, Tonj, Rumbek and Equatoria, and Upper Nile could decide who was going to win depending on whom they think is "right" and would protect their interests. It would in large depend on who was to blame for initiating the conflict. As I said, it was unlikely John Garang was going to initiate it. Thank God, there was no such confrontation.

What are Chances that Oyai Deng Ajak would Organise A Coup?

The chances are negative to none. The main reasons for remoteness of such attempt is that the majority of South Sudanese would not buy it. It is unnecessary. It would not get international support. It will destabilise the already unstable South. It will derail the implementation of CPA. It is the last and worst thing the can welcome from anyone. Anyone with brain in his or her head knows full well that the current arrangements, historical records, and the Southern Sudanese cultural mindset is not attuned to coups. Everyone has to come through the main door. The arrangements within SPLA high command makes it hard for anyone to carry out illegal military activity such as planning a coup.

It was easier to install Salva Kiir as Garang successor because it maintained the existing order and avoid a damaging chaos that would see SPLA disintegrating into an army controlled by self-interested vote wielding war Lord commanders. Even if SPLA has its own internal contradiction, moving as one pack is the strongest deterrent against external predators!

And in a very sarcastic way, its therefore much easier for Riek Machar to oust Salva Kiir than Oyai can do, by doing something to get rid of him such as car crash or a good dose of cyanide or ricine. Then as number two, Riek Machar can be installed. That too is a remote scenario, though more plausible than the coup by SPLA Chief of Staff!

One last quetion: why are we still getting these accusations? Probably those who created the problems between John Garang and Salva Kiir are not yet confident enough that current arrangements will serve their short and long-term interests. They want to cultivate the idea and test the waters. These are wishful thoughts by real people. So I would not dismiss them. It is not Oyai Deng Ajak plotting a coup, it is a coup against Oyai Deng Ajak.

It is therefore vital that South Sudanese people are armed with enough information and how the pieces of the jigsaw fit together so that they do not easily fall prey to the schemes of power poachers.


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