By Lul Gatkuoth Gatluak
OPINION – This article is a sequel to my article dated 29 March 2022. Its focus is to critically look at Stephen Kay’s report which is devoted to one side of the South Sudan political crisis. Stephen Kay is an international British lawyer who has been paid 17 million United States dollars by the South Sudan Government to write a report that was released by the country’s National Security Services on Tuesday March 29,2022. The report dismissed the African Union report which found no evidence of a coup in Juba in 2013 and renewed the government’s alleged claim that First Vice President Dr. Riek Machar Teny and Vice President Taban Deng Gai planned a coup in 2013 and 2016. Steven and his Nine Bedford Row International (9BR) law group not only disputed the African Union report but also failed to mention the killing of Nuer civilians who were massacred door to door in the period: December 16-19, 2013. Below is an attempt to set the record straight regarding the South Sudan crisis.
In school, students are taught to look at both sides of any issue. This core teaching scenario helps students develop a sense of fairness in their future encounters either supporting or opposing. Such practice has not been the case in relation to Salva Kiir and his new lawyer Stephen Kay. On Monday, 28 March 2022, in a hurriedly convened press conference, President Salva Kiir spoke over the “current situation in the country”. Through the press statement he released during the conference, the President announced to the audience that “For the implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement to be genuine, we need transparency on the root causes of the conflict. It is for this reason that I am directing the National Security Service and its partner, the BRL law Firm to declassify all information about the conflict’s genesis in their possession (intercepts, audios and personal accounts)”1. Apparently, the press conference was convened to counter a press release issued by the First Vice President, Dr Riek Machar2, that morning explaining the cordoning off of his house the night before by the SSPDF forces under the orders of the President. The press statement avoided any reference to the incident but at question time, the president was pressed to comment. He denied that the military deployment was anything other than to protect the First Vice President but then if that was the case why wasn’t he informed beforehand.
Therefore, the objective of declassifying the information in possession of the NSS and “its partner”, according to the president, is to enable genuine implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement by unearthing the root causes and genesis of the conflict. A corollary of this statement would be that the implementation of that agreement hasn’t been genuine thus far in the absence of that vital information about the root causes and genesis of the conflict but we shall defer consideration of this aspect for the time being. On that basis, the people of South Sudan were expecting the declassified information to deal precisely with the root causes and genesis of the conflict. For sure, the president must have been aware of the information to be declassified. The audience were left wondering: why release the NSS information now when the atmosphere was charged because of the standoff between the president and his first vice president? Was the objective really to create conditions for reconciliation and healing as the president claimed?
The NSS complied and in less than twenty-four hours they released a document titled “Pushing the Reset Button For South Sudan”3 written by Steven Kay QC. In introducing the report, Steven Kay explains how the idea of writing that document came about as follows
In October 2021 at a meeting with officials from the Government of South Sudan (GoSS), we discussed the policies of the international community towards the new state of South Sudan, primarily shaped by the African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan (AUCISS) and the reports of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). The complaint was made that these and other international institutions had ignored and rejected the statements made by GoSS upon the causes of the conflicts within the brief history of this state and a completely erroneous narrative had been promulgated that prevented it from developing as a nation on its own terms.
Unmistakably, the lawyer was hired in order to sway the opinion of the international community on the way it looks at the crisis in South Sudan in favour of president Kiir and his regime. Steven Kay concludes his introduction of the report that:
“The findings in this report suggest that it is now time for the international community to push the reset button in respect of how the events of the past ten years have been perceived and in so doing, how the future governance of South Sudan should proceed on terms for reconciliation, peace and justice that are workable within its unique history and experiences.
In the process of trying to persuade the international community to change its mind about ‘how the events of the last ten years have been perceived’, the author of the report chose to paint the opponents of the regime as coup plotters and war mongers bent on unseating Salva Kiir from the presidency. Hence, there was nothing reconciliatory in the tone and tenor of the report. It offered a binary stark choice between the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys.” The lawyer chose to build his case on the old claim of the regime that the events of 2013 were triggered by a coup d’état by its opponents to overthrow the government of Salva Kiir. He even stretched his imagination too far to also claim that the shootout at J1 (State House) on 8 July 2016 was similarly a planned coup d’état against the regime. The person behind the coup was identified as Dr Riek Machar, their bete noire. However, the ‘intercepts’ implicated other senior members of the government currently loyal to Salva Kiir, chief among them are Vice President Taban Deng Gai and Amb. Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth. His “evidence” in all this is the wire-tapping of telephone conversations of the target group. The author is locked into his thesis to the extent that he is in a complete state of denial of what took place in December 2013. On that, he had the following to say “there is no supportive evidence that the conflict that took place was ethnically motivated, whereas the political alignments that were the cause for the conflict are clear.”6. A question has to be asked: did the report of the learned lawyer address the ‘root causes and genesis of the conflicts’ as the president asserted that this was the objective of ordering the release of the report?
These and other related issues are the subject of this response to the report of Steven Kay. We start by putting the matter under discussion into context.
The claim of a coup d’état
The first public reaction of President Salva Kiir to the violent events that took place on 15 December 2013, came in the morning of the next day, December the 16th. He appeared on TV in military fatigue surrounded by some of his loyalists. In the speech he delivered, he accused Riek Machar of being behind the violence in execution of a coup d’état he and his associates had planned, that his (Salva) forces had crushed the coup and that its leaders were on the run. Since then, the regime has been claiming without evidence that the 15 December 2013 events were triggered by a coup d’état planned by Riek Machar in his thirst to become president. Naturally, the international community and before them the South Sudanese could not buy a claim which is not backed by evidence. Now, it seems that Steve Kay was hired and set forth to provide such evidence. Was he successful in doing so? We shall see.
The Oxford Dictionary defines coup d’état as “a sudden change of government that is illegal and often violent.” In addition to this general definition, it is instructive to note that Sudan has since independence undergone three successful coups d’état: in 1958, 1969 and 1989 and a number of aborted coups, such as in 1971, 1975, 1976, 1990, etc. Certain elements must be obtained for a military move to be characterized as a coup d’état. First, it must have a command, Second, it must be planned well before the time of executing it (the H-hour or zero hour). Third, on execution its first targets are key government institutions that are considered as the nerve center of the regime. These include the general headquarters of the army as well as other vital military units, detention or disabling the head of state and some important ministers, taking control of the official Radio and Television stations not only to deny the regime their use but for the coup makers to use them so as to disseminate their messages to the people. Coup d’états are more often than not conceived by politicians and executed by military officers. We shall apply these characteristics of a coup d’état when considering the report of Mr Steven Kay later on.
Background to the conflicts
The power struggle among the SPLM leaders first came to the open in May 2008 when the SPLM held its second Convention. The power struggle caused the Convention to last for ten days on how to avert a schism in the SPLM because of the power struggle. Salva Kiir wanted to be re-elected Chairman of the party but did not want his 1st Deputy, Dr Riek Machar, and the Secretary General, Pagan Amum, to be part of the new SPLM leadership. He was faced by a resistance he wasn’t prepared for and it had to take the intervention of two Southern Sudan statesmen, Abel Alier and Joseph Lagu, to bring the bickering SPLM leaders to a compromise. Thus, a schism was averted but after a lot of damage was inflicted on the trust among those involved and within the rank and file. The SPLM Constitution, one of only two documents discussed and passed by the convention, stipulated that the National Convention shall be held every five years.
The next National Convention was due in May 2013. In March, Dr Riek Machar made it public that he would put his name forward for the Chairmanship of the SPLM at the next party’s convention. He identified six areas he argued were evidence of Mr. Kiir’s failure: the dysfunctional SPLM, widespread insecurity all over the country, mismanagement of the economy, rampant corruption, tribalism, and the poor conduct of foreign policy. Not long after, two other members of the Political Bureau, Mrs Rebecca Nyandeng Garang and Pagan Amum Okyiech, threw their hats in the ring. Even the docile James Wani Igga indicated that he would be interested if Kiir was not contesting. Salva Kiir wasn’t amused and thus the power struggle turned vicious.
Kiir used his executive and party positions to scuttle the challenge against him and create conditions that will favour his re-election. The discussion centred around the suggested amendments to the party’s constitution, especially on the procedure of electing the Chairman. Relying on his ability to buy support among the party leaders through executive and party positions, Kiir and his supporters wanted him to appoint up to 20% of the delegates to the Convention. Such a move would definitely give him an advantage over his competitors even before the votes are cast. Kiir also wanted the voting system changed to a show of hands rather than by the secret ballot. As expected, the move was opposed by the contenders and got them united in their opposition to Kiir’s scheme to rig the vote in his favour. The period between March and mid July 2013 saw Salva Kiir instituting legal measures against some of his colleagues who did not support him, directing governors, rather than the party organs, to oversee the selection of delegates to the Convention in their respective States and publicly announcing the withdrawal of the powers he had delegated to his Vice President. On the 23rd of July 2013, President Salva Kiir dismissed the entire cabinet including the Vice President. The move was seen by the leaders opposed to Kiir’s re-election as being directed against them. The lines were drawn on the sand. They started to unite their ranks and organize their opposition to him.
Feeling confident that he now can control the process, Kiir ordered that the National Liberation Council meeting be convened on 9 December 2013 to approve the documents that he had wanted approved so that he could go ahead with the National Convention in which he would win the contest for the Chairmanship of the SPLM. He bypassed a Political Bureau meeting which is the party organ that calls for the convening of the National Liberation Council and sets its agenda. Riek Machar and his group saw Kiir’s decision as going too far in manipulating the party organs in his favour. Hence, they called for and held a press conference on 6 December 2013 in the party HQ in which they explained their position regarding their differences with Salva Kiir and insisting that it should be the Political Bureau to meet first before a meeting of the National Liberation Council. They made clear that should Kiir fail to accede to this demand, they will address the party members in a public rally at John Garang’s Mausoleum on the 14th. Kiir was then in France attending a France-Africa conference. His group under the leadership of James Wani countered with another press conference two days later heaping all kinds of accusations against the other group.
The 9th of December passed without event as Kiir had to travel to South Africa to attend the burial of the late President Nelson Mandela. In a confrontational mood, Kiir’s group shifted their date for convening the NLC to the 14th, the very day chosen by the other group for their rally. In view of the looming conflict, the church leaders intervened in an attempt to reconcile the two groups. Kiir’s group was adamant and could not budge. Riek’s group finally agreed to postpone their rally for another date. Thus, the stage was set for the controversial National Liberation Council meeting.
The National Liberation Council was held at the Nyakuron Cultural Centre in Juba on Saturday the 14th of December 2013. In his opening statement, Salva Kiir delivered a speech characterized by hostility towards the group opposed to him reserving most of the vitriol to his bogeyman, Riek Machar. Some members of the group including Riek Machar who attended the opening session saw that the atmosphere was not ripe for reconciliation and decided to boycott its sessions. This action angered Salva Kiir even more. His conduct indicated that he was ready and prepared to fight against his political rivals using all means available at his disposal to maintain power.
It was believed that Salva Kiir had decided to arrest the SPLM leaders opposed to his re-election as Chairman of the party. But there was a snag. The Republican Guard8, the force to carry out the arrests, couldn’t be trusted to execute the plan of Kiir against his colleagues because soldiers from the Nuer nationality outnumbered their Dinka colleagues8. Something needed to be done. On the 15th of December 2013, even days before that, rumours went out that Salva Kiir had ordered the commander of the Republican Guard to disarm the whole force and at night issue guns only to the Dinka soldiers. It was at this stage that some of the Nuer soldiers felt suspicious and at about 10:20 pm shooting broke out at Al Giada, the HQ of the Republican Guard that went on for the whole night.
The Juba Massacre
As soon as fighting broke out at Al Giada among the soldiers of the Presidential Guard, the incident was immediately labeled as an attempted coup d’état. Now, it was the opportunity for Kiir to arrest his opponents as coup plotters. The incident was also used to carry out targeted mass killings of civilians of Nuer ethnicity.
On the morning of the 16th December 2013, President Salva Kiir appeared on television in military fatigue surrounded by some of his ministers to announce that there had been a coup attempt by Riek Machar that had been foiled. He proceeded to announce a dusk-to-dawn curfew. It was to be the signal that sparked off the ethnic targeting of the Nuer in particular and other unfortunate people in Juba generally. That morning and for the next few days, Nuer soldiers, civilians, youth, women and children were slaughtered arbitrarily. It was clear that the perpetrators were executing a well thought out plan. The operational plan was to set up roadblocks all over Juba City and then send out the president’s private militias backed up by elements of the Presidential Guard and the National Security Services who would guide them, on house-to-house searches and targeted killings of Nuer people in designated areas.
By the 18th of December, thousands of innocent Nuer civilians were massacred. Those who survived are the ones who forced themselves into the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) compounds seeking protection in what became known as Protection of Civilians Sites (POCS) and a tiny few who escaped the ethnic cleansing by one way or the other. The marauding armed bands of Dinka ethnicity had also broken into the houses of the SPLM leaders opposed to Kiir’s re-election as the party’s Chairman, arresting almost all of them. Only Riek Machar and Taban Deng Gai managed to escape by a whisker. Riek Machar’s house was destroyed by Kiir’s private army, killing the soldiers who were in Riek’s house, about 34 of them.
The killing was brutal and dehumanizing. In the words of the AU Commission of Inquiry on the violence .
The extreme violence that is the focus of this Commission’s report was unleashed in two phases. The first was over three days, from the 16th to the 19th of December, in Juba. The second phase covered three states in the provinces and was centered around three towns: Bor, Bentiu, and Malakal.
The violence spread rapidly from the capital city to over 30% of the country in the matter of a few days. It was intense and brutal, and targeted specific groups: only Nuer in Juba, Dinka in the three states of Upper Nile alongside inter-ethnic violence that included Nuer and Shilluk in Malakal. The dimensions of this violence have been captured in various reports, in particular those by the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). The violence in Juba targeted one nationality, the Nuer. Those who survived either fled the town by motorized transport, or those who ran on foot to the UNMISS compound. The Commission held a public meeting at the IDP Camp, Protection of Civilian Site No. 1, Juba 3, on 26 April, 2014. It also held extended interviews with focus groups of survivors, women in particular, that same day. Some of the accounts below corroborate what we found in UNMISS reports.
The killers knew very well the residential areas of their victims and it was easy for them to get them. The AU Commission again.
Juba is settled along ethnic lines, and the killings took place in Nuer residential areas, as a house to house operation. One of its survivors narrated the mass killing of 307 persons: “On 16 December, after the fighting in the army stopped, they came house to house to collect and kill. I and three brothers were pulled out of the house and taken to the barracks. They put us in a container. Eleven died of suffocation in the container. There were three windows, tiny, but no wind. We were so many we could not sit; we had to stand – the whole day until the night. We heard gun shots all day. They would push people into the container the whole day. 10 at night, they started shooting through the windows that were bringing some oxygen. Then they opened the door and started shooting. It was continuous shooting until all fell down. They opened the door, lit a torch; if they saw you breathing they would shoot. If someone starts crying, they would come back and shoot. This happened four times. There was one boy who we advised to lie still, he ran, got to the door, touched it, it made a sound, and he was killed. Two others were injured in the container, but not dead. Three managed to escape. The following day, the 18th, we went back to the place with the Governor of Unity State, and got three other survivors. We know the numbers because there was a pastor who said a prayer for each of the dead. Among the dead there were three Darfurians and two from the Shilluk community.”
The gratuitous degradation of one’s humanity was a marked feature in many of the incidents of brutality narrated to us. Another resident of the camp told us: “I have seen people being forced to eat other humans. Soldiers kill one of you and ask the other to eat the dead one. Women are raped, people burnt. I was a student in Nairobi, Kenya. I am not a “military officer.” Of the Nuer who remained in Juba, few survived the killing spree of December 16-19, 2014: “Many of us survived killings because we were presumed to be dead.”
The heinous atrocities that were committed in Juba are documented in other reports and publications.
Salva Kiir’s Militia
The bulk of the force that carried out the targeted killing of the Nuer in Juba were a personal militia of the president. How did it come about?
As the confrontation between the SPLM camps was turning into a showdown, Salva Kiir travelled to Khartoum on 2 August 2013 and reportedly promised El Bashir that he would suspend all assistance to the SPLM-North, the provision of which he had always been denying. Afterwards, he toured Bahr El Ghazal region preparing for worse days ahead. In Akon, his hometown, he addressed a large group of people in Dinka language, which was aired live on SSTV. He had the following to say: “look, this power which I have belongs to you. You fought and died for it. Now, some people want to snatch it from me. Will you accept?” The whole crowd shouted back in unison: “ace be gam” meaning we will not accept. The same sentiments were repeated in a public rally in Rumbek town when he boasted that his name was tiger and the tiger has decided to fight his enemies. That trip lasted with him requesting 15,000 recruits to be trained by the SPLA as his guards but without being integrated into SPLA’s ranks. The Chief of Staff, James Hoth Mai, insisted that any recruitment into the army can only be done by the command of the SPLA and refused to train them. This did not slacken the resolve of Kiir to train a private militia. Paul Malong Awan, the then Governor of Northern Bahr El Ghazal, was tasked to secretly train them, the budget to do so came from the office of the President. On graduation the force was transported and deployed in Juba. The move caused disagreement between Salva Kiir and the Chief of Staff. The latter opposed the illegal recruitment of tribal militia without his knowledge as a chief of general staff and urged the army to stay away from political influence.
On the basis of the above background information, we are now in a position to discuss Steven Kay’s “Pushing the Reset Button For South Sudan” which we shall be referring to in what follows as “the Report”. The first thing to be observed about the Report is that it contains a number of serious errors. For instance, it states that “South Sudan became an independent state in 2012” (p, 10), John Luk appears repeatedly as “James Luk” (p. 2, et seq.), that “Salva Kiir was attending the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa on 6 December 2013” (p. 11) and Gen. Akol Koor Kuc is referred to as “the former Director General for Internal Security” (p. 39), etc. The second thing to notice is that Mr Steven Kay was oblivious to the root cause and genesis of the conflicts. As mentioned above, he even denies that aspect of the conflict. For him the whole thing was just a coup d’état against a government that was working hard to bring progress to South Sudan. The regime is portrayed as a victim of some power-hungry South Sudanese bent on taking power by all means. Of course, such a reasoning cannot stand as the facts are too glaring to be ignored.
As indicated earlier, the learned lawyer chose to build his case on the old claim of the regime that the events of 2013 (and also of 2016) were triggered by a coup d’état by its opponents to overthrow the government of Salva Kiir. In this he is claiming that the intercepted telephone conversations are the new evidence to prove his case. Well, the same intercepted telephone conversations were presented in a court of law when four of the accused were put on trial and the intercepts were thrown out as insufficient evidence to support a coup claim. The four were acquitted in a court of law in South Sudan. Also, and as admitted by the Report itself, the Director of the Internal Security presented the tapes to the AUCISS as evidence of a coup attempt. The verdict of the AUCISS was a comprehensive one as follows: “there are two competing narratives. The first holds that the violence was sparked by disagreement within the Presidential Guard. The second narrative which emerged on December 16th 2013 was that the violence was sparked by an aborted coup. From all the information available to the Commission the evidence does not point to a coup”
Therefore, there is nothing new to be extracted from the intercepts as new evidence pointing to a coup d’état. Still, we shall discuss the Report on its own claims. It cannot escape the attention of the reader that the understanding of the learned lawyer about a coup is a bit fuzzy, and that perhaps may explain his unfounded conclusion of a new evidence. For example, he asserts that “’aborted coup’ was not even the correct context of the GoSS submission – that it was a planned coup” Isn’t an aborted coup planned? He also confuses between an uprising and a coup d’état when he quotes Riek Machar as saying on 8 July 2015 that “citizens have every right to rise up and overthrow his [Salva’s] regime” and concludes that such a declaration was evidence of a coup d’état. By that time Riek Machar forces were fighting the government troops in the bushes of South Sudan and he didn’t need a coup d’état to overthrow the regime.
Assuming that the intercepts were not tampered with to fit the narrative of the author, let us consider them as presented in the Report as evidence of a coup d’état.
The intercepts attributed to Taban Deng Gai
The intercepts begin on 14 December 2013, the day of holding the meeting of the National Liberation Council. The Director of Military Intelligence, Major General Mac Paul Kuol, is quoted as saying that on 11 December 2013,” rumours were circulating that Major General Marial Chinuong tried to disarm the Nuer soldiers of the Tiger Brigades. Kuol contacted Marial but he denied the allegation stating that there was instruction from the command to put rifles in the armory, except those authorized or on duties”. “Disarming” and “putting rifles in the armory” practically mean the same thing. Therefore, there must have been apprehension among the forces concerned. The intercepts attributed to Taban are after that date. These cannot be taken as making plans to stage a coup d’état. The planning of such a serious move takes considerable time. Intercepts of earlier days or months were necessary to build up the case. The intercepts on the 15th of December were in anticipation of an attack on the forces communicating with Taban Deng Gai and urging them to attack first. If anything, it was trying to make the best of a situation that was already out of control. With or without Taban the fighting was going to take place as the rebelling soldiers were under the impression that they were going to be attacked. It was a clear case of mutiny and a politician or two trying to make political capital out of it. It was never a coup for even when they took control of Al Giada the mutineers didn’t know what to do next. The Radio and TV stations which were less than a kilometer away were untouched and continued broadcasting. No force went to attack J1, the seat of the President, nor to make arrests of the leaders of the regime.
The intercepts after the 16th of December 2013 after Taban Deng Gai has left Juba have nothing to do with a coup d’état but an armed insurrection against the regime. It is part of the strategies of armed guerrillas to seek military assistance from foreign countries and entities, exactly as the SPLA did in its war against Khartoum. There is nothing novel hear peculiar to Taban Deng Gai and his group.
The intercepts attributed to Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth
These were reported to be on the wee hours of 16 December 2013 (around 01:00 am) in a conversation with the USA Ambassador in Juba. Ezekiel Lol is reported to have said: “those who were fighting among themselves”, “Yeah those who are not happy with the speak (sic) yesterday”, “Yeah but when you rub salt into the wound, you know people are just angry everywhere, just angry, people are just angry…I am really worried, like I was telling you.”, “it started as an argument and just went out of control…that is what I was told.”
What can be discerned from these words is that the fighting was between the soldiers in Al Giada spurred by the events of the previous day. Clearly, there is no advance planning and hence cannot pass as a coup d’état. The claim of the author that this conversation “reinforces the coup attempt” (p. 42) has no basis.
Intercepts attributed to Gen Peter Gadet and David Yau Yau
No intercept or reference is produced in the Report to support the serious claim that “Major General Peter Gadet Yak, Commander of the SPLA Infantry Division 8 in Jonglei State was assigned by Riek Machar to mobilize the White Army in Lou Nuer areas and connect them with the insurgency group based in the Pibor area known as the Cobra Movement under the command of David Yau Yau.”
It is unsurprising for a rebel Movement fighting the government, the Cobra of Yau Yau, to aim at capturing Bor town. Gen Peter Gadet Yak is known for making his own rebellions against the government. He did so several times and got accepted back into the SPLA ranks. He doesn’t need any assignment from Dr Riek Machar, a man he is not a fan of. Therefore, his direct contacts with David Yau Yau and his officers can be explained in those terms. Some of those who keenly followed the events in Juba after the 16th December 2013 know that it took some good persuasion for Gen. Peter Gadet to accept hosting the fugitive Riek Machar in Bor town where he had already staged a rebellion against the government.
Referring to the fighting at Al Giada, Brigadier Inyasio Agany Deng is quoted to have said that “the fighting was organized” but he thought “there was no central command and control.” There can never be a coup d’état without a central command and control. What has taken place could be a mutiny that strived to acquire military hardware to continue the fight against the regime through protracted war.
Considering all the intercepts presented here as well as other arguments set forth by Steven Kay, we conclude that they do not satisfy the characteristics of a coup d’état. Therefore, repackaging an old untruth cannot change anything.
Salva Kiir was the real cause of violence
Salva Kiir stands accused for having stoked violence to keep himself in power. The only person among the contestants for the Chairmanship of the SPLM who planned for a long time for the show down that took place on 15 December 2013 is none other than Salva Kiir. He toured his home region four months earlier in order to raise a private militia that will act outside the state army so as to impose his presidency. He also abused his office by suspending Ministers who opposed his candidature for the Chairmanship of the party on old charges. Moreover, he overlooked the SPLM Constitution by not holding a meeting of the Political Bureau before a meeting of the National Liberation Council. Finally, his instructions to disarm the soldiers of the Republican Guard, on the day when the atmosphere was highly charged after his provocative speech, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The massacre that took place in Juba a day after the fighting at Al Giada that targeted the Nuer ethnic group was too repugnant to expect from a government worth the name. Tim Edwards has given a vivid exposition of how Kiir and his group planned for and executed the events that took place on 15 December 2013 and immediately thereafter.
It is significant to note that the statement issued by the US Department of State on 24 December 2013 included that:” we hope and pray today that the leaders of South Sudan will acknowledge the international community’s commitment and understand that those who seek to take or hold power by violence or division along ethnic lines will not have our support and may be in violation of international law. Hence, the problem is not only some individuals who are thirsty to become president but also those who want to hold on to the presidency by all means including dragging the country into unjustified destructive civil conflict.
Ordering the declassifying of Steven Kay’s report was meant to inflame a situation that got tense as a result of the President’s sluggish and selective implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement 2018. It is a document that insists on criminalizing some individuals by insisting on a coup d’état thesis that had failed to gain traction the moment it was suggested eight years ago. There is nothing reconciliatory in this document.
On Sunday night, 27 March 2022, SSPDF laid a siege around the house of the First Vice President, Dr Riek Machar. The next day a hurriedly convened press conference was addressed by President Salva Kiir in which he declared that he was ordering the National Security Service to declassify Steven Kay’s “Pushing The Reset Button For South Sudan” to provide the root causes of the conflicts so that R-ARCSS is implemented genuinely. The document promotes the old discredited theory of a coup attempt and that it indeed was the root cause to the conflicts. It dismisses any reference to the ethnicity as a factor in the events of December 2013. In what was meant to sway the opinion of the international community in favour of the regime of Salva Kiir, the author went about building a case on the old claim of the regime that the military shoot out in Al Giada in Juba was in execution of a coup d’état. He produced transcripts of what he claimed were phone-tapping of conversations between the ‘coup plotters. This study has concluded that the claim of a coup d’état is as baseless today as it was then in December 2013. Steven Kay was paid a hefty sum to produce this report. It is reported in the media to be 17 million dollars. In a press conference organized for him by the Press Secretary of the President on 29 March 2022, one of the journalists asked him as to how much money was paid to him but he declined to answer the question missing an opportunity to set the record straight as to how much he got. This is tax payer’s money and the South Sudanese have the right to know. Fundamentally, where did the NSS need to engage the services of a foreigner to produce such a report?
The South Sudanese are wary of a more serious matter. That is, such a report may be used to stoke division and confrontation rather than promote reconciliation among the Parties to the agreement. It opens the old wounds in quite a dishonest manner. Those behind its release at this particular time when the tempers are high due to the lack of implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement must be aiming at something which cannot be by any stretch of imagination reconciliation. The Press Secretary of the President gave out the game in the press conference mentioned above. A journalist asked as to why they were releasing that report at this particular time. He replied that the report was timely as they would want to inform the public that those who planned coups in 2013 and 2016 are planning another one. It is extremely disturbing and unnerving.
The veteran politician, Dr Aldo Ajou Deng, captured the general feeling among the populace when he stated that there is no meaningful reason to revisit historical narratives that triggered the wars and attention should focus on the implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement and in that respect the Report is irrelevant. Well, it is not only irrelevant but divisive and must therefore be dismissed.
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