By General Stephen Buoy Rolnyang
OPINION, JANUARY 27th 2023 (SUDANS POST) – Some South Sudanese political and armed groups have been narrating that the root causes of one of the deadliest conflicts in Africa, the South Sudanese Civil War (as Wikipedia terms it), is tribal or ethnical in nature. I really disagree with this kind of conceptual thinking. In actual fact, the root cause of the conflict can be traced back to the SPLM/A-Anyanya-2 power struggle and leadership failure.
1. THE POWER STRUGGLE
THE FIRST POWER STRUGGLE
The first Power struggle among the South Sudanese liberators started in 1983, when Dr. John Garang and his colleagues Kerubino Kuanyin, William Nyuon and Salva Kiir among others went to the bush and joined the Anyanya-2 group that was already at Bilpam on the Ethiopian border. The Anyany-2 group was led by those of Akuot Atem, Samuel Gai Tut and Joseph Oduho among others.
The Anyany-2 leaders wanted Akuot Atem to lead and retain their seniority over the Bor mutineers with objective to fight for the liberation of South Sudan while on the other hand the Bor mutineers wanted John Garang to lead and retain their seniority over the Anyanya-2 with objective to fight for the liberation of the whole Sudan, and as a result the fighting ensued between the two groups and the Bor mutineers prevailed and supported by the then Ethiopian government.
The Anyanya-2 group was dislodged from Bilpam and went to South Sudan territory where they decided to operate as independent group and sought military support from Sudan government to fight the SPLM/A, the movement which was later formed by the Bor mutinners. The root cause was leadership and ideological conflict between Bor mutineers and Anyanya-2 group. Each group wanted to lead with different ideology.
Bor mutineers wanted to fight for unity of the Sudan while Anyanya-2 group wanted to fight for the separation of South Sudan from the rest of Sudan. In fact, the Anyanya-2 were called separatists and Bor group was called unionist. Most importantly, the leaders of two groups come from Dinka Bor, Akuot Atem of the Anyanya-2 group and John Garang of Bor group. Question: Where is tribal conflict here?
THE SECOND POWER STRUGGLE
The second power struggle among the South Sudanese liberators was in 1987, when Dr. John Garang had a confrontation with his two senior members of the SPLM/A political high command namely Kerubino Kuanyin Bol and Arok Thon Arok. Dr. John Garang accused the two senior SPLM/A members of attempting to overthrow him and took action to arrest them. The two high command members accused John Garang of running the movement as his own private property and blaming Dr. John Garang for failing to convene a meeting of the high command since the inception of the movement. (Question: Where is tribal conflict here, Dr. John Garang and the two high command members all hail from Dinka tribe). It was just a leadership struggle.
THE THIRD POWER STRUGGLE
The third power struggle among the South Sudanese liberators started in 1991, when the second group of the SPLM/A members of the political high command namely Riek Machar Teny Dhurgon, Lam Akol Ajawin and Gordon Koang Chuol announced a coup in Nasir on August 28, 1991. They accused Dr. John Garang of dictatorial tendency, running the movement like a briefcase business and prolonging the war of liberation struggle fighting for the whole Sudan.
The Nasir coup was quickly taken advantage by some unruly and rogue Nuer – Dinka militias and commanders who misconceived it as a fight between Dinka and Nuer and as a result the conflict spilled over into a serious tribal confrontation between Nuer and Dinka whereby the two tribes took the law into their own hands by targeting each other ethnic members residing on either side on tribal line and deadly cross border cattle raids continued for years.
The Nasir coup was not tribal, it was a leadership struggle within the SPLM/A, but because of command failure on both sides, the leadership of the two factions could not control their rogue and unruly commanders and militias who took the law into their own hands targeting tribal members of either side on ethnic line.
THE FOURTH POWER STRUGGLE
The fourth power struggle within the top leadership of the SPLM ruling party started in 2013, when Salva Kiir accused his Vice President Riek Machar of attempting to oust him from power. A move which spilled over into a military confrontation between the forces loyal to Salva Kiir and Riek Machar and plunged the whole country into a civil war.
As a result of total leadership failure, the unruly and rogue militias known as Mathiang-Anyor and some other uncivilized Dinka men in Juba took the law into their own hands by targeting Nuer in Juba. The conflict took tribal dimension and spread fast across the country causing serious destructions with civilians of either ethnic Dinka or Nuer being targeted on ethnic line and displacement of more than two million people.
- The lack of leadership qualities in the two leaders President Kiir and his Vice President Riek Machar contributed to breed tribal nationalism and hatred among the people of South Sudan. They failed to control their tribal militias and instead they armed their tribal militias to fight for them over their leadership struggle. The power struggle between President Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar are as follow:
- President Kiir and his Vice President Riek Machar become selfish, power greedy and arrogant. They do not want to work with the rest of the members of the SPLM as a team and tend to work with wrong non-SPLM members.
- President Kiir and Riek Machar refuse to adapt and do not understand self-leadership. They lack the ability to provide direction, coaching, motivation, and cohesiveness for their followers.
- President Kiir and Riek Machar lack national ambition and vision.
2. LEADERSHIP FAILURE AND CORRUPTION
The leadership failure in a country is like the shadow, darkening many areas and the poor leadership is misleading, lack of vision and direction, therefore, the administration of President Kiir lacks the ability to provide direction, coaching national consensus, and motivation.
Bad governance is always associated with high corruption which undermines the regime legitimacy and fosters political inequality and economic inefficiencies which promote tribal nationalism and hegemony over others. After the independence of the Republic of South Sudan, the efforts to promote good governance, rule of law and nation building failed because the top members of the SPLM ruling party who were expected by the people of South Sudan to promote them have involved in deadly power struggle and as a result the country is now at the verge of collapse and disintegration.
THE ABSENCE OF THE RULE OF LAW
Rule of law means that no one is above the law and the law applies to everyone and the government must follow the law of the country, but in the Republic of South Sudan, there is no rule of law because of leadership failure and as a result everybody is taking the law into his/her own hand. That is why there is rampant ethnic violences across the country which is termed by the UN as sub-national violences. In fact, they are national violences because they affect the whole nation, and the government is unable to arrest the situation because the tribal nationalism and hegemony prevail over the crippled national security institutions that are unable to provide protection and security for the citizens and their property.
The administration of President Kiir does not differentiate between private and public benefits. The narrow elites and inner circle of cronies have captured the wealth of the nation which has impacted the economic growth and aggravate the economic hardship, and as a result, the national army and civil servants go for many months without pay causing extreme abject poverty and unemployment in the country.
Rule of law and democracy are associated with less corruption. The government officials are supposed to use public office for public good than for private gain. This is not the case in the Republic of South Sudan where there is low level of democracy that promotes corruption, lack of freedom of expression and freedom of association. The disaffected and dissident groups and individuals are always being subjected to physical and mental torture, intimidation, and mistreatment by the security forces with impunity.
The leadership of the Republic of South Sudan does not follow the democratic values that include freedom of assembly, association, property rights, inclusiveness and equality, citizenship, voting rights, freedom from unwarranted governmental deprivation of the right to life and liberty, and minority rights.
The author is the Chairman and Commander in Chief of South Sudan People’s Movement/Army (SSPM/SSPA).
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