- Posted December 25, 2013 by
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Jok's Update of South Sudan - December 18, 2013
By: Jok Madut Jok
DECEMBER 18, 2013
Last week I posted a piece in this space praising South Sudanese leaders for what appeared to have been a willingness on their part to debate and dialogue on the political challenges facing the country without opting for violence, something that would have been a true sign of the nation’s political maturity. I was writing from Los Angeles at the time, but I came to Juba on Saturday afternoon. Well, obviously I had spoken too soon, perhaps even jinxed it, in the light of the events of December 15 through 18th in Juba, when members of the Tiger Battalion of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the nation’s defense forces, split and engaged in atrocious fights against one another. The fight broke out at two locations on Sunday night, the army command center located Southwest of Juba town and Bilpam army barracks to north of Juba International Airport, before it spread to other areas within the city limits. By Tuesday afternoon, the fight had reached state house and the residence of the president, triggering the heaviest artillery fight when a number of soldiers climbed to the top of the high rise buildings and launched fire into the president’s compound.
The government claims that this was part of an attempted coup orchestrated and lead by the former Vice President, Riek Machar Teny, and which the government has said to have successfully fouled. According to official counts, the fight has resulted in the death of 190 soldiers and 110 civilians, the latter of whom died in cross fire, including people who died inside their homes from gun shots and were crashed when tanks rolled over their bodies. Further reports suggest that the final count in the next few days will most certainly reveal a much higher death toll, injury and damage to property.
This is arguably the most devastating politically motivated incident since 2005 when the comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) was signed to end the north-south war of the old Sudan. Most residents of Juba that we interviewed during the second day of fighting spoke of being heartbroken that South Sudanese citizens should continue to die at the hands of their own leaders even in times of supposed peace and freedom. Thousands of people had to flee their homes and sought refuge inside the United Nations Mission camp, church and mosque grounds, with their relatives who were further away from the areas of fighting or fled the city all together. Normal life, if there is such a thing in South Sudan to begin with, was disrupted in times when people were preparing for Christmas and praying for this year to end peacefully and the next to usher in hope and promise.
The scenes of devastation have been turning my stomach. Dying men in hospitals that cannot be rescued due to lack of blood and no antibiotics, dead bodies piled up to rot, as relatives were too scared to move out to look for their loved ones. The displaced, especially children who suddenly found themselves without roof over their heads and no food to eat, as the shops remain close. All the while, sounds of gunfight, traversed with heart-shaking mortar and tank blasts, and which have continued sporadically well into today Wednesday morning, have all spread fear in the population, leaving them hostage to the madness of a few power-hungry men.
The damage of this incident on future national cohesion, image of the country and its efforts to encourage investment from outside will be even far greater. International flights to and out of Juba were already canceled for two days of the fight, businesses were already shut for as much time and curfew was imposed, all of which must have in serious consequences for business, the price of which is yet to be tallied. Also uncertain is the fate of political stability in the whole country, especially in light of the accusation of so many political leaders as the ringleaders of the botched coup, some of whom have been arrested and others remaining at large. Of these leaders currently detained, the government has confirmed the following:
1. Kosti Manibe Ngai, former Minister of Finance
2. Deng Alor Kuol, former minister of Cabinet Affairs
3. Pagan Amum Okiech, former Secretary General of the SPLM
4. Cirino Hiteng Ofuho, former Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports
5. John Luk Jok, fromer Minister of Justice
6. Oyai Deng Ajak, former Minister of National Security
7. Chol Tong Mayai, former elected Governor of Lakes State, fired before end of his term
8. Madut Biar Yol, former Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Service
9. Gier Chuang Aluong, former Minister of Roads and Bridges
10. Majak d’Agoot Atem, former Deputy Minister of Defense and Veterans Affairs
11. Ezikiel Gatkwoth Lul, former head of South Sudan Liaison Office in Washington, DC, USA
Those still at large and being searched for are the following:
1. Riek Machar Teny, former Vice President of the Republic and leader of the pack and who has been described as the architect of the attempted coup.
2. Taban Deng Gai, former elected Governor of Unity State, fired before end of his term
3. Alfred Lado Gore, former Minister of Environment
While the fighting within Juba town has calmed, there remain serious concerns, including the mistaken idea among some Dinka SPLA soldiers and rogue security agents that this is a Nuer-Dinka conflict, taking rather ghastly acts of revenge against Nuer. Innocent Nuers have already been killed in the neighborhoods, stoking what might escalate into tragic acts of ethnic cleansing. Some really heart-wrenching acts have already occurred where Nuer soldiers have been attacked and killed, Nuer government officials, even those serving in the offices of Nuer ministers, and ordinary citizens suspected of having participated in the fight against the government. One Nuer officer I happen to know personally who had been fighting on the SPLA side until Tuesday when there was a lull in the fight, and had taken a permission to go and check on his family, was found at home and killed by his comrades, simply because he was Nuer and they mistook him for an enemy. There are many stories of this kind and such are the stuff with which the collapse of a state is made of.
Other developments that are currently a source of worry are the reports that the situation is growing into a rebellion in many parts of the country. The most serious of these developments is the revolt in SPLA’s Division 8, which is stationed in Jonglei state and commanded by one Peter Gadet who has a long record of rebelling against the state. He has now reportedly done it again and has taken over some places in southern parts of Jonglei, rumored to be planning to meet up with Riek Machar Teny, who is also reported to have headed that direction. If the SPLA engages Gadet and possibly Riek and Taban, then we have an all out civil war in South Sudan, a mere two years after independence, and making good all the predictions by outsiders that South Sudanese will have limited capacity to build a peaceful nation.