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Doctoral Thesis / Dissertation, 2017
58 Pages, Grade: A
THE CONFLICT PROFILE
History of the Conflict
The SPLM/A versus the Anya Nya II
The South Sudan Independence Movement (SSIM)
The Naath Profile
The Jieng Profile
Effects of the War
CAUSES OF THE WAR
1. Structural Causes
1.1. The SPLM Vision
1.2. The SPLM Factionalism
1.3. South Sudan Government Structure
The Prospect for Peace
ACTORS OF THE WAR
THE FIRST TIER
THE SECOND TIER
THE THIRD TIER
THE FOURTH TIER
Relationships between Actors
DYNAMICS OF THE WAR
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATION
The South Sudanese Conflict Analysis: Conflict Profile, Causes, Actors and Dynamics
This thesis analyses causes of the current South Sudanese civil war that broke out on 15 December 2013. The clash in the Presidential Guards Unit triggered the war when President Salva Kiir, from the Jieng (Dinka) ethnic group, ordered the disarmament of Presidential guards from the Naath (Nuer) ethnic group. He also ordered execution of anyone from the Naath ethnicity, which led to the massacre of more than 20,000 Naath civilians in the capital Juba within two days. In retaliation, the Naath conducted a counterstrike against the government and Jieng ethnic group, and slaughtered the Jieng civilians.
This research explores the history, causes, actors and dynamics of the conflict, and Pan-Africanists’ view on the causes of African wars, and concludes that the cause of the war is lack of knowledge within the leadership of the ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. Lack of knowledge produced poor governance, recklessness, kleptocracy, ethnocentrism, tribalism, loss of vision and lack of adherence to public causes.
South Sudan, Conflict, Civil War, SPLM-IO-Riek, SPLM-IO-Taban, SPLM-IG, SPLM-FD, Jieng Council of Elders, Anya Nya II, Naath, Jieng.
My father Domach Ruey Jal and mother Gnakim Kir Lual
My dear wife Gnakuon Gnael Guek
I thank my God for the health, insight and dedication he gave me during my studies. I could not have done this task without him.
I extend my gratitude to my advisor Dr. Jack Rosenzweig who guided me throughout the thesis writing. I owe him a debt of gratitude for his time and expertise.
I thank the Atlantic International University for the scholarship it offered me to cover some of my study costs.
I thank my tutor Kinmberly Diaz for her assistance throughout my studies. She was so instrumental in my studies.
I am so grateful to Yien Riang Duoth and Buom Malow Dong whose encouragements have strengthened me during my studies.
The current South Sudanese civil war, which evolved out of the Naath–Jieng conflict, broke out on 15 December 2013 in the South Sudan capital, Juba. The Jieng (Dinka) tribe is the largest ethnic group in the country and the Naath (Nuer) tribe is the second largest tribe.
The clash between the Presidential Guards loyal to the incumbent President Salva Kiir and guards loyal to Dr. Riek Machar, triggered the war. Machar served as Kiir’s Vice-President and the First Deputy Chairman of the ruling party, Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) from 2005 until 2013. The Presidential Guards Unit comprises the bodyguards of both leaders and those of late General Paulino Matip Nhial, the then Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the South Sudan Armed Forces — the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), which recently changed its name to the South Sudan People’s Defense Force (SSPDF). Like Machar, General Matip hailed from the Naath ethnic group.
The bodyguards of each leader were from their respective tribes and the leaders objected to the assimilation of their bodyguards into the national army because neither trusted the other, and because assimilation would mean that they would not have direct command over their own guards. Hence, they kept their bodyguards in their residences. The enmity and mistrust between the leaders reflects the latent conflict between the Naath and Jieng.
Eventually, however, their bodyguards were united into a single entity — the Presidential Guards — to protect the Presidency as a whole. The merger gave Machar and Matip an advantage over President Kiir because their combine guards outnumbered Kiir’s guards, which furthered Kiir’s sense of insecurity. Consequently, Kiir unilaterally recruited more of his tribesmen into the Presidential Guards Unit, a move that the Naath ethnic group interpreted as a sign of an imminent war. Moreover, the recruitment put the President at odds with General James Hoth Mai, the then Chief of General Staff of the SPLA. Hoth from the Naath ethnic group and Kiir were allies, but Hoth feared that the President’s recruitment would escalate ethnic tensions.
Hoth argued that Kiir should not bypass the military chain of command as recruitment involves budget. He contended that the President would have consulted him so he (Hoth) would evaluate the necessity of the recruitment. However, Hoth’s position did not prevail, and the countdown to the war began.
Tensions between Kiir and Machar had existed since 2005. Kiir argued on various occasions that Machar had tried to sabotage his government, accusations that Machar constantly denied. Kiir’s confidants had been advocating for the sacking of Machar from the Vice-Presidency for years, claiming that Machar plotted to overthrow Kiir. Nonetheless, Kiir was hesitant to fire Machar, fearing ethnic tensions. The tense situation persisted until Kiir decided to remove Machar from the government in 2013, along with cabinet members whom Kiir believed were “running a parallel government” with Machar. Machar continued holding his position as First Deputy Chairman with the SPLM.
After his removal, Machar began criticizing Kiir openly and demanded a change to the leadership. He accused Kiir of dictatorship, incompetence, nepotism, tribalism and corruption. Consequently, Machar called for the amendments to the national constitution of South Sudan, and of the SPLM, arguing that they gave Kiir absolute powers. However, he did not raise these flaws when he was the Vice-President, even though people complained of such injustice, and raised them now to injure Kiir politically.
Machar and his factional colleagues intensified their campaign to remove Kiir as the Chair of the Party. They regrouped as a majority in the Politburo and demanded Kiir to call an emergency Politburo meeting. However, Kiir refused to do so, knowing his position was in danger. Instead, he deployed the Ugandan military in Juba, a conspicuous sign of military confrontation. The tension continued until it became obvious that the country was sliding into a full-scale war. The international community, especially the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), attempted to mediate with the leaders, but to no avail.
Eventually, Kiir referred the matter to the National Liberation Council (NLC), the higher echelon of the Party, where he had the majority. Kiir summoned the NLC meeting to review the Party’s constitution, as Machar’s faction had demanded. Ultimately, Machar’s team lost in the NLC and marched out of the meeting before the voting. Thus, the NLC amended the contentious issues according to the will of Kiir (the majority).
As war loomed, the country expected Machar to desist from the campaign to remove Kiir because he had lost democratically. However, he kept intensifying his public calls to remove Kiir through civil unrest. His faction also penetrated the army and instigated military allies to attack should Kiir stand in their way. While Machar’s faction was busy with political mobilization, Kiir was busy amassing troops into Juba.
At the night of December 15, 2013, Kiir ordered the Commander of the Presidential Guards Unit, Major General Marial Chanuong, to disarm Presidential Guards of Naath origin. This triggered the war as the guards resisted the disarmament. The same night, Kiir also ordered the arrest of his opponents on the ground that they staged a coup d’état. The order incorporated execution of anyone with Naath ethnicity. Machar also confirmed that he received a call that night from a national security agent that an “execution squad” was on the way to kill him (Machar). However, Machar escaped to the outskirts of Juba, and the squad killed some of his bodyguards and bombarded his home with tanks.
The night the war broke out at the Presidential Guards Unit, which is also the Directorate of Operations of the SPLA, the war spread to the SPLA General Headquarters — Bilpam — and the surrounding areas. The forces clashed on ethnic lines: the Naath versus sixty-three South Sudanese tribes in the army. On December 16 and 17, 2013, the Jieng from the national army, police, Kiir’s private militias, prison and fire brigade personnel, slaughtered more than 20,000 Naath civilians in Juba.
The atrocities committed included compelling victims to eat flesh and drink blood of slain family members; executing the wounded and sick on hospital beds; executing the blind and disabled; compelling mothers to slit the throats of their children; forcing victims to have sexual intercourse with their mothers; and raping women, including the aged, to death. Woman died with huge pieces of wood inserted into their private parts. Would coup d’état allegation be the cause and motivation of such atrocities?
Two days into the war, Kiir described the war on the national television as a “senseless war.” What does this expression, which he continued using in his speech, mean? If his military action was a response to a coup d’état, why did he term his action “senseless”? Was he shifting responsibility to another person? Why did Kiir order such cruelty against opponents whom he had already defeated politically at the NLC meeting? If arrest or elimination of opponents was necessary, why did he arrest the “coup conspirators” that he would have killed if there were a coup, but massacred civilians that have nothing to do with the “coup”?
In retaliation, the Naath ethnic group, under Machar, launched a full-scale counterstrike countrywide against the government and the Jieng, with Machar’s forces slaughtering Jieng civilians. A month into the war, they disclosed that the number of the Jieng slaughtered exceeded the number of the Naath slaughtered in Juba. They declared their revenge mission accomplished even if the war ceased.
The war involved foreign powers. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Egypt, Somalia, Djibouti, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Cape Verde, Burundi, Mali, Zimbabwe, the Sudan Revolutionary Front (Sudanese rebels), the Ethiopian United Patriotic Front (Ethiopian rebels), China and Russia were all involved in direct combat by assisting the government. Sudan provides limited logistical support to Machar-led insurgents. What motivates these powers in the war is a significant topic to study.
In 2014, President Yuri Museveni of Uganda, the staunch military ally of Kiir, said at an East Africans’ summit in the presence of Kiir, that there was no coup d’état. The fact that Kiir did not oppose Museveni’s statement demonstrates his agreement with it. Then, what was the cause of the war and on what ground did Museveni deploy his forces in South Sudan even before the war?
Another development is the arrest of Machar in South Africa in 2016, which contributed to the disarray of his force. The African leaders — the mediators —argue that detaining Machar is the solution to the war, and they excluded his force, the Sudan people’s Liberation Movement-In-Opposition (SPLM-IO-Riek), from the peace negotiations. How could the African leaders exclude the only fighter from the peace negotiations, and yet, expect a solution to the war? Moreover, Kiir also came up with the national dialog program that excludes Machar. With whom is he dialoguing if not Machar, who is the main opponent?
The research question — What are the causes of the civil war? — explores the Pan-Africanists’ views on causes of African wars, and the history, causes, actors and dynamics of the war. The thesis argues that the SPLM’s lack of knowledge is the cause of the war because this led to poor governance, and to it becoming reckless, kleptocratic, ethnocentric, tribalistic, visionless and not adhering to the public cause.
The thesis has five chapters. Chapter I reviews the literature on the war, arguing that the cause of the war is the SPLM’s loss of vision, the Naath–Jieng animosity, kleptocracy, poor leadership, militarism and ethnocentricity.
Chapter II analyses the history of the conflict and focuses on the Naath–Jieng conflict and the SPLM wrangling as the history of the war. Though other tribes are part of the war, they were not part of the cause of it. Chapter III analyses structural causes, proximate causes and triggers of the war. The chapter argues that the SPLM’s incompetence is the structural cause of the war. The sacking of Riek Machar and colleagues from the government in 2013 is the proximate cause. The trigger of the war is the clash of the Presidential guards that led to the massacre of more than 20,000 Naath civilians in Juba.
Chapter IV analyses actors of the war. The thesis categorizes actors into four tiers. The First Tier comprises the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In-Opposition under Riek Machar (SPLM-IO-Riek), the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In-Opposition under Taban Deng (SPLM-IO-Taban), the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-Former Detainees (SPLM-FD) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In-Government (SPLM-IG). The SPLM-IO-Taban and SPLM-FD are partners of the government.
The Second Tier comprises ethnic groups that engage in the war, the Third Tier comprises foreign fighters assisting the government and rebels due to political and economic reasons, and the Fourth Tier comprises the African Union, United Nations, Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the Troika (United States, United Kingdom and Norway).
Chapter V analyses the dynamics of the war, including current issues of the war and obstacles to peace, and analyses the best-case, middle-case and the worst-case scenarios.
Pan-Africanists held the view that colonialists distorted the African tradition of governance and substituted it with an authoritarian, exploitative and chaotic system that Africans should eliminate if it is to survive as a nation. Such views were foundational to the unity of Africans in their struggle for the liberation and independence of Africa. President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe reminded African leaders in his 2015 speech at the African Union (AU) summit:
I still recall, quite vividly, the palpable collective resolve, dedication and commitment of our forebears, to unite and free our continent from the twin scourges of colonialism and poverty. Our freedom and the socio-economic progress, we have thus far attained, are ample testimonies of the correctness of our forebears’ vision (African Globe 2015).
Moreover, the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia furiously warned the African leaders who had advocated for the relocation of the AU (formerly Organization of African Unity) headquarters from Addis Ababa to another African city that such a move denied the sacrifice Ethiopia paid for Africa. He emphasized that founders of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) opted for Addis Ababa to be the headquarters of the OAU due to Ethiopia’s unwavering commitment to the liberation and independence of Africa. He argued that the relocation campaign desecrated the vision of the forebears of Africa. Here is the excerpt:
It was people like Julius Nyerere (Tanzanian President), Kwame Nkrumah (Ghanaian President), who decided that Addis Ababa should be the Headquarters of the OAU. Addis Ababa ruled at that stage by Emperor Haile Selassie - a person who is very different ideologically from this new generation of African leaders. Nevertheless, there is one fact that nobody can deny. Irrespective of what government rules Ethiopia, Ethiopia has always been committed to the African independence and liberation. Who trained Mandela? Emperor Haile Selassie! The reactionary trained Mandela the revolutionary! Mandela was trained in Ethiopia! Who supported Mugabe in his fight against Rhodesia? Mengistu! Internally Mengistu was a butcher! However, on the issues of Africa Mengistu was as solid as Haile Selassie was! Ethiopia’s commitment to Africa had not varied with the government! (Newsdire 2012).
However, after decolonization, the Africans’ search for new ideas on how to govern Africa caused further chaos and turmoil, which diminished national consciousness. Confusion prevailed because Africans were reluctant to follow the colonialists’ models of governance but were unable to invent their own effective models of leadership.
Consequently, they resumed their old ethnic feuds, fell onto the “get-rich-quick” trails and, ensnared by militarism, unsettled colonial strains and ethnocentricity, returned to the African warrior tradition, which is ideologically insignificant (Mazrui 1977; Bayart 1993; Gordon & Gordon 1996; Wunsch & Olowu 1990). These factors marked the fall of the African nationalism, sometimes referred to as a “loss of vision” or “a journey without maps” (Cartwright 1983, p. 71), which contributes to wars, grand corruption and underdevelopment. The Africans’ desire for political utopia ended in catastrophe. Is South Sudan on a similar path? The question reviews the political history of the South Sudanese under the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) from 1983 through to 2013.
The current war is the result of conflict that began with the inception of the SPLM/A as a rebel movement in the Itang District of Ethiopia in 1983. The SPLM was the political wing of the rebel movement and the current ruling party of South Sudan and the SPLA was the military wing of the movement; these terms are used interchangeably in this thesis.
Colonel Samuel Gai Tut (from the Naath ethnic group), Colonel John Garang De Mabior (from the Jieng ethnic group) and Mr Akuot Atem Mayen (from the Jieng ethnic group and a relative of Garang) were at the center of the rift during the launch of the South Sudanese war of liberation against the Sudan government in 1983. Two key questions polarized the South Sudanese:
- Who is the right person to lead the movement?
- Are South Sudanese fighting for the secession of Southern Sudan or a change of regime in Khartoum?
Although not as contentious, the question of whether the movement should follow the communist ideology was also an issue (Yoh 2009). Furthermore, as well as the leadership and ideological battles, there was a latent conflict of ethnicities, which added dangerous fuel to the political fire. Such latent conflict did not occur in isolation. The rivals took it with them from the Sudan and the new movement was about to be the next warfield to them. Control of the movement meant having an apparatus to oppress others.
Colonel Gai and Akuot Atem were in the same faction at this time. Gai proposed that Akuot, as a senior politician, was the right person to lead the movement and he (Gai) would be the Chief of General Staff. However, Garang objected to this proposition, arguing that Akuot does not qualify to lead because he had betrayed the Southern Sudanese during their struggle against the government of the Sudan. Garang proposed that Akuot should serve in a different portfolio, such as foreign affairs.
Garang had no problem with Gai becoming the leader. He argued that if Gai became the leader, he (Garang) should be the Chief of General Staff. Alternatively, he contended that if Gai wanted to be the Chief of General Staff, he (Garang) should be the Chair of the movement. Garang saw Gai’s proposal for Akuot as a ploy to sideline him from the leadership. However, Gai declined Garang’s proposal. It was an impasse, which the Ethiopian government attempted to mediate, but to no avail.
Concerning the objective and ideology of the movement, Garang argued that the movement, which comprised only Southern Sudanese, should fight for the regime change in Khartoum and establish a just Communist Sudan. He bitterly opposed the secession of Southern Sudan. After assuming the leadership of the SPLM, he said, “Our first bullets were fired against the separatists” (Paul 2011). Additionally, he held the view that unionism and communist ideology would enhance the support of the communist Ethiopia led by Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam. Ethiopia at that period had a problem with the province of Eritrea, as it was fighting for secession.
Although Garang’s analysis of the Ethiopian attitude was suitable, Gai’s faction opposed it. The faction maintained that the movement should not alter the desire of the Southern Sudanese to please the Ethiopian government. The faction insisted that if Ethiopians could not respect the will of the Southern Sudanese, the movement should find another source of support. Besides, Gai also argued that Southerners could not decide for the Northern Sudanese who were not interested in the liberation. The Naath spearheaded the secessionist ideology and Jieng spearheaded unionism, and the intelligentsia from other minorities had chosen sides as individuals.
Eventually, leaders went to the polls to elect their leader, and Akuot won through a simple majority vote. However, Garang protested the outcome and utilized his diplomatic relations with the Ethiopian government and got the Ethiopian government to nullify the election result. Ethiopia ordered the second round, which Gai’s faction rejected, and the polls went on without the participation of Gai’s faction. Thus, Garang won but Gai’s faction rejected the outcome. Then, the Ethiopian government decided to arrest Gai, but he escaped to Sudan and his force became the Anya Nya II.
As the SPLM–Anya Nya II war continued, Gai advised his leadership that the Southerners’ rift benefits the government of the Sudan. Gai convinced his leadership that the Anya Nya II should join the SPLM, with Garang as the leader, as that would end the polarization within the liberation movement, and Garang agreed.
However, when the Anya Nya II returned to Ethiopia in March 1984 as part of the deal, Garang changed his position; he either changed his mind or lured Gai into a trap. The SPLA and the Ethiopian military immediately attacked the Anya Nya II. Nevertheless, Gai avoided confrontation and retreated towards Sudan. The SPLA, commanded by the then Deputy Commander-In-Chief, Kerubino Kuanyin Bol from the Jieng, pursued the Anya Nya II and killed Gai in the Ethiopian town of Thiajak. Peter Adwok Nyaba, who was a SPLA Commander, said:
After Kerubino’s forces ambushed and murdered Gai Tut, he (Kerubino) refused the burial of the remains of Mr. Samuel Gai Tut and to have his corpse given eighty lashes daily until it decomposed (Nyaba, cited in Paul 2011).
Such is the “depth and magnitude” of the ethnic animosity between the Naath and Jieng. The Naath were furious about the humiliation of Gai. They argued that Garang lured Gai. This became a major war between the Anya Nya II and the SPLA, lasting until 1987 when both movements decided to reunite — a unity that the Anya Nya II hardliners did not accept. The hardliners opted to ally with the Sudanese government.
Since ascension to power in 1983, tribalism, murders and authoritarianism marred Garang’s leadership. He executed or detained those who challenged or advised him on the direction of the movement. As the number of killings of civilians, soldiers and politicians increased, the Politico–Military High Command of the SPLM/A were concerned about the future of the movement. Hence, members of the Politico–Military High Command, except Garang and Kuol Manyang, decided to conduct a military coup against Garang as the final solution to the political crisis.
On 28 August 1991, senior military officers, led by Commander Riek Machar, the current rebel leader fighting Salva Kiir, announced the overthrowing of Garang. They formed the “Nasir Declaration”, which subsequently became the South Sudan Independence Movement (SSIM). However, three months later, the coup suffered major setbacks when Naath civilians under SSIM attacked civilians of Bor — the Jieng subgroup where Garang hailed. The attack on Bor was a counterstrike because it was the Bor who first attacked the Naath civilians during Machar’s coup against Garang. Despite that, it was also on the minds of the Naath that they had to revenge atrocities the Jieng had committed against them under Garang (De Chand 2014). Amnesty International speculated the killing of 2,000 Bor civilians (Copnall 2014).
The SSIM also killed soldiers and politicians from the Jieng ethnicity who were under its command. Garang seized on this to help him mobilize the support of the Jieng and international community, describing the coup as an apparatus against the Jieng. Consequently, the Jieng abandoned the SSIM. Though Machar denied the massacre of Bor for years, he finally admitted and apologized to the Bor community in 2011 (The London Evening Post 2011).
Soldiers and politicians from other ethnicities also deserted the SSIM, citing Machar’s incompetence, as did the Naath. Machar was isolated, and consequently, he rejoined the SPLM in 2002 and occupied the third position in the SPLM hierarchy, and then the second position when Garang died in 2005.
In consideration of the above events, the Naath massacre of 16–17 December 2013 was a continuation of the Naath–Jieng animosity that had existed for decades, including the Bor massacre. Kiir said that the Naath who complained in Juba that their loved ones were killed “are even lucky” because Machar did not spare the lives of the Jieng who were with him (Sackur 2014). Such a statement indicates a premeditated carnage of civilians.
The then Chief of General Staff, General James Hoth Mai; the Director of Military Intelligence, Major General Mach Paul; and other senior military and intelligence officials, claimed that there was no military coup. Paul even testified before the Court of Law that there was no coup when summoned to testify during the trial of politicians accused of the coup. If the senior officers testified that there was no coup, then Kiir’s coup allegation was a scheme to eliminate his opponents (De Chand 2014).
Furthermore, a coup always involves the military. Politicians cannot conduct a coup without the participation of the military. Paradoxically, as the government did not accuse any soldiers, Kiir claimed that politicians had conducted a military coup without the military. The fact that Kiir ordered the killing of civilians and only arrested the “coup conspirators” suggests that Kiir’s action was deliberate.
On 11 June 2014, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda — a staunch military ally of Kiir — declared in the presence of Kiir that there was no coup in Juba. He said it was the clash in the Presidential guards that triggered the war, which occurred when the Commander of the Guards attempted, through the order of President Kiir, to disarm soldiers of Naath origin (Sudantribune 2014). Why did Museveni expose his best friend, Kiir, whom he has been assisting throughout the war? Obviously, it was an admission of guilt, which suggests that both leaders planned the war together assuming that it would be a simple task.
Johnson (2014), De Waal (2014), Rolandsen (2015) and Frahm (2015) analyze the cause of the civil war from different perspectives. Johnson (2014) argues that the incomplete integration of other armed groups (OAG) into the SPLM rank and file of the SPLA, and SPLM’s loss of vision, were the causes of the civil war. The OAG were remnants of the Anya Nya II and factions that defected from the SPLA and SSIM that operated autonomously under the auspices of the Sudanese government. They were threats to the SPLA because they were not integrated into the SPLA. Kiir avoided their integration because they were from the Naath, and the government mistreated them and attacked their positions. However, the OAG issue was not a cause of the war but an example of the latent conflict that exists between the opposing ethnicities.
In addition, De Waal (2014) argues kleptocracy, neo-patrimonialism and reckless leadership decisions are the brute causes of the civil war. Rolandsen (2015) contends that the causes of the war are structural, weak patrimonialism and legacy of rebellion mentality. These are cogent arguments that manifest an existence of the root cause of the problems. Therefore, the literature review concludes that the causes of the war are the SPLM’s loss of vision, the Naath–Jieng animosity, kleptocracy, poor leadership, militarism and ethnocentricity.
The current civil war is a political conflict between the Naath and Jieng ethnicities — the most powerful tribes in the country. Power is “population/territory, resource endowment, economic capability, political stability and competence, and military strength” (Waltz 1979, p. 1). Although all ethnicities are part of the war, analyzing the Naath–Jieng conflict provides an understanding of the war. If the Naath and Jieng did not clash, the country would now be at peace. Additionally, if the government did not attack minority tribes, the minorities would not be part of the war. Mr Pagan Amum, the Secretary General of the SPLM and from the Chollo tribe whom Kiir had arrested and later released through the efforts of the Naath, said the country cannot go to war because the government massacred the Naath civilians. However, when the government attacked his tribe, he condemned the government.
The Naath–Jieng traditions argue that the Naath and Jieng were descendants of one man, and that the Naath and Jieng patriarchs fought over a cow, which was the genesis of their conflict. Such tradition suggests that the Naath–Jieng conflict has existed since antiquity, and rivalries over pasture lands, water sources, cattle rustling, and land grabbing exacerbated it. To both ethnicities, cattle are the wealth; the more cattle you have, the wealthier you become. One could not get married without cattle.
During dry seasons, both ethnicities migrate to the swampy areas in search of water and better pasture for cattle that are “often infringing on land claimed by other communities” (ECC Platform 2017). The trespassing caused wars that resulted in children and women being abducted. If a man abducts children or women, the children become his children and women his wives. Having many wives and children is a sign of wealth and power. Due to their superior military power, the Naath usually had advantages over the Jieng. They assimilated the Jieng captives; consequently, a good number of the Naath is of Jieng decent.
The Naath’s original homeland was Bentiu, west of the Nile River in South Sudan. When they overpopulated the land, Latjor Duach, a noble man, led a migration of his clan in the 1800s and occupied the Jieng lands east of the Nile River. The objective of the Naath easterly migration was to occupy the Jieng land and assimilate the Jieng. Those who resisted the occupation faced military action and displacement. Thus, the Jieng had to choose between exile and assimilation in their homeland, which caused resentment. However, the Jieng who were willing to live under the Naath occupation were granted rights, including leadership rights.
When urbanization commenced during the colonial era, the Jieng went to towns and schools, and joined political parties prior to the Naath occupation. The old conflict took another twist and the Naath were disadvantaged because the Jieng were educated. When the Naath realized that education is power, their early adaptors went to schools. However, schooling or residing in towns were taboos to the Naath culture, and town dwellers and school goers were branded as being poor and thugs. As the Naath people became educated and joined politics, the Naath–Jieng conflict intensified.
During the formation of the SPLM in 1983, the same leaders who had political conflicts before going into exile confronted each other again in Ethiopia. They took with them the differences they had when in the Sudan and the rift emerged over the leadership issue of the new rebel movement. After Garang became the Chairman of the SPLM, he ordered the 1984 attack and displacement of the Naath from the Jieng lands that they occupied in the 19th century. The attack on civilians infuriated the Ethiopian leader, Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam, and ordered Garang to halt the massacre. He told Garang that he should be recruiting them to fight for him rather than killing them. The same year, the SPLA also killed Gai after luring him to make peace with them. In retaliation, Gai’s successor, Colonel William Chuol Deng, retaliated by killing Jieng intellectuals who were going to Ethiopia to join the SPLM.
Even though the SPLA–Naath war was halted, the SPLA continued mistreating the Naath civilians. The Naath also positioned themselves in opposition to the SPLA. They ambushed the SPLA soldiers whenever they found them, and provided intelligence to the Sudan government about the maneuvers of the SPLA. Though the Naath were in the SPLA, the Jieng persecuted them and the Jieng did not trust the Naath. Many of their intellectuals were murdered in cold blood.
The SPLM/A problem did not remain a Naath–Jieng issue. Other tribes and the Jieng intellectuals suffered persecution under Garang’s leadership. The SPLM/A was fighting the Sudanese government and concurrently fighting itself. It was unstable since its inception, and continues to be unstable to this day.
When Riek Machar conducted a military coup on August 28, 1991 and formed the SSIM, he allied himself with the Sudanese government and signed the Khartoum Peace Agreement on April 21, 1997. The SSIM did so because it had no weapons to confront the equipped and organized SPLA. The SPLA would have utterly crushed the SSIM if Machar had not signed the deal with the Sudan government. Consequently, Machar became the President of the Southern Sudan Coordination Council and Assistant President of the Republic of the Sudan. He changed the SSIM to the United Democratic Salvation Front (UDSF).
However, Machar’s political doctrine about the Southern Sudan self-determination did not put him in favor with the Khartoum government, who launched a divide-and-destroy policy that led to the disintegration of Machar’s forces and the enlistment of some of his forces in the Sundanese militia. As his movement disintegrated, Machar’s field commanders decided to elect a new leader. Machar abandoned his position in Khartoum in 1999 and returned to the bush with a new rebel movement, the Sudan People’s Democratic Front (SPDF). However, the defection did not save him from political turmoil and had to rejoin the SPLM in 2002 to save himself from looming failure.
Nevertheless, the Jieng elites of the SPLM/A opposed Machar’s return. They contended that Machar had damaged the SPLM/A and so should not be permitted to return to the movement he had destroyed. However, in realization of the Naath military power, Garang convinced the Jieng elites of the significance of the Naath in the war of liberation. He persuaded them that revenge would come after the defeat of the Sudan government. However, Garang died soon after the SPLM/A and the Sudan government signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005. Machar became Kiir’s Deputy President until Kiir dismissal him in 2013.
The Naath (Nuer) dwell in Upper, Jonglei and Unity States in South Sudan, and in the Gambella Region of Western Ethiopia. “Every Nuer, the product of hard and equalitarian upbringing, deeply democratic, and easily roused to violence, considers himself as good as his neighbor” (Mamdani 2016). According to the disputed 2008 South Sudan census, the Naath population represented two million out of eight million South Sudanese, placing them as the second largest tribe in South Sudan (Gurtong 2017).
The Naath had superior military power, but were politically weak. They were easy preys to other tribes in politics because they had difficulty understanding the psychology of their enemies. Machar is the only Naath national figure that has dominated Naath politics since 1991. They do whatever Machar tells them, as demonstrated by the 1991 coup against Garang and the outbreak of the current war when Machar mobilized them to go to war.
However, the Naath dissatisfaction with Machar’s poor performances in his handling of the current war is mounting. Analysis shows that the possibility of Machar’s ultimate fall is getting higher as some of his forces surrendered to the government and the majority in chaos. The Naath are fighting each other as Kiir has been using them to crush Machar’s rebellion. This is similar to what happened in 1990s when they were under three enemies: the Sudan government, SSIM and SPLM.
The Jieng tribe, the largest in the country, with a population of 2.5 million, dwells in Upper Nile and Bahr el-Ghazal regions of South Sudan and the contested region of Abyei in the Sudan (Gurtong 2017). In contrast to the Naath, they are militarily inferior but politically well organized, making them proud that they are “born to rule.” This pride persuades them that their decisions are always right. Even now, they still contend that Kiir was right in triggering the current war, and are unable to comprehend that they are destroying their government through an unnecessary war. “Born rulers” would be just, honest, logical and democratic. However, Kiir’s government lacks these qualities, which disqualifies the Jieng from being “born rulers.”
Moreover, pride clouded their thinking as they are under the influence of their military and economic powers. They ignored the Naath military power and never bothered to analyze the force ratio — to compare their military power with that of their enemy. If the Jieng had thoughtfully analyzed the force ratio, they would not had triggered the war. Such an error brought war to their country.
The Jieng formed the Jieng Council of Elders (JCE), the parastatal that directs Kiir. However, the decisions of the JCE will never stabilize the country because the decisions are oppressive, and the JCE does not comprehend the consequences of the war. In other words, all tribes in the country rebel against the JCE-led government, and if/when the rebels organize themselves adequately, the Jieng will be annihilated.
Unlike the Naath, the Jieng are secretive, flexible and revengeful if you have an issue with them. Whenever the Jieng fight the Naath, the Jieng deploy deceptive techniques to confuse the Naath and resort to peace when they cannot withstand their firepower. When war broke out in 2013, they thought they would easily annihilate the Naath. However, when friction emerged in the war, they realized their miscalculations in considering all the Naath as their enemies. They corrected the error, though they have already done damage. They immediately made a political U-turn by enticing the Naath onto their side. That genius tactic balanced the force ratio. Right now, if the JCE would offer a genuine peace proposal, the Naath, under Machar, would accept it because they (the Naath) are in turmoil, with their leader in detention in South Africa — unorganized, internationally isolated, and with limited military logistics.
The war has badly affected the entire country: disease outbreaks are rampant and the social fabric is broken; millions of people were displaced or took refuge in neighboring countries; hundreds of thousands of people perished; 180 health centers were destroyed; and 235,000 children are at risk from acute malnutrition. Gang rapes, massacre and recruitment of children into the armies of the warring parties is rampant (Mulupi 2015). The economy of the country has collapsed as oil production, its only source of income, has declined from 500,000 barrels per day to 130,000 barrels per day due to insecurity. All basic services are in ruin, the government cannot pay civil servants, including the army that protects the state.
The United Nations (UN) reported in 2015 that 6.4 million South Sudanese (half of the population) were at risk of starvation and US$1.81 billion would be needed to combat the problem. The 2015 Frontier Economics report argues that if the war continues for another one to five years, it would cost South Sudan between US$22.3 billion and US$28 billion (Wardheer News 2015). It is now the three years since this report was issued and the situation remains dire; the state may fail unless there is a quick solution to the crisis.
To conclude, this chapter analyzed the history of the war and explained the profiles of Naath and Jieng and explained why they were the key instigators of the war. The cause of the war is mainly the failure of the Naath-Jieng politics.
The causes of the civil war are multidimensional. Most problems that occurred since 1983 among the South Sudanese resulted from the lack of knowledge within the SPLM leadership. Thus, it is significant to examine key issues in the SPLM. This chapter analyzes structural and proximate causes and triggers of the war.
Structural causes of the conflict are consequences of a weak state policy, the social fabric, autocracy, authoritarianism and despotism. This section analyzes the structure of the SPLM from 1983 to 2013, including its factionalism and its vision.
A vision is “the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom” (Oxford Dictionaries 2017), and an “unusual competence in discernment or perception; intelligent foresight” (The Free Dictionary 2017). Did the SPLM have a vision from its inception? A political party that does not comprehend what stabilizes and destabilizes a country has no wisdom and, consequently, could not see its own demise. A ruling party has to foresee its future, based on its performances, to be visionary.
Since its beginnings, the SPLM has been known as a corrupt, despotic, ethnocentric, kleptocratic, and patrimonial and neo-patrimonial political force. Kleptocracy is a Greek word, which means a “government ruled by a thief or thieves” (AZ Dictionary 2017). The foundation of a thief’s government is group-centered, not people-centered, and lawlessness. And where lawlessness thrives, chaos is inevitable. This has been the SPLM’s key problem since its inception.
When Dr. John Garang oversaw the graduation the SPLA soldiers in the 1980s, he said to them, “you will eat through the barrels of your guns.” The SPLM also indoctrinated its fighters to “shoot even at your father” to defend the revolution. The people that Garang ordered his soldiers to shoot and from whom to steal properties, were the ones he was also liberating and were the foundations of his revolution. It is dangerous to teach a child that stealing and killing are part of life, as when that child grows up they will undoubtedly live by stealing and killing. It is why South Sudan soldiers are among the most undisciplined armies in the world. Hence, the SPLM’s problem is not a loss of vision but a lack of knowledge on how to govern the state.
A loss of vision means that an entity or individual did have, at some point, a vision to lose. The SPLM never had a vision and so could not lose it. A revolutionary movement that kills civilians, who are foundation of their success, must not have relevant knowledge. Knowledge provides wisdom, and wisdom provides vision. Where there is no knowledge, destruction is inevitable. An example that illustrates the SPLM’s lack of knowledge is the 2012 South Sudan shutdown of its crude petroleum, which represented 99% of its income, to penalize the Sudan government.
South Sudan shutdown the oil following a request from the Sudanese rebels of the Sudan Revolutionary Front so that it would be easier for them to topple the Sudan government. South Sudan used the Sudan Port to export its crude oil, and pays Sudan millions of dollars a month for oil export. Such a shutdown would destabilize the Sudan economy. Using the oil shutdown as a tool to depose the Sudan government, rather than purchasing arms with the oil revenue, was an example of misjudgment. The South Sudan leadership contended that South Sudanese would survive without the oil because they were accustomed to a harsh life brought about by the war of liberation. The leadership had regretted this decision within a year of the shutdown. However, the world generously provided financial assistance to South Sudan — perhaps donors compared the South Sudan’s reckless decision-making to juvenile actions.
The SPLM/A is polarized by factionalism on political, economic and ethnic interests, with the different groups talking only about how to dominate others within the SPLM, rather than working on a single objective for the country. When he rose to power, Garang groomed his loyalists, known as the “Garang Boys”, to implement his ideology without questioning it. After independence, this group regarded themselves as the genuine heroes of the war of independence. After the death of Garang in 2005, though Kiir attempted to sideline the Garang Boys from power, they remained in power through the effort of Rebecca Nyandeng —Garang’s wife. The faction controlled the military, intelligence and political affairs, and were powerful enough to bully the President.
In 1983, Gai’s faction split with that of Garang, which led to the SPLA–Anya Nya II war from 1983–1987. Though the warring parties reunited, the Anya Nya II hardliners opposed the merger, preferring to join the Sudan government. However, they merged with the SPLM/A in 2005 as part of the CPA between the SPLM and Khartoum government that allowed OAG to join the SPLA. The SPLM wrangling of the 1980s ended up in the unsuccessful 1991 coup against Garang and the formation of the SSIM, led by Riek Machar, which also fostered factionalism. After Machar rejoined the SPLM in 2002, factionalism did not subside, as Garang, Machar and Kiir continued with their factions.
When OAG joined the SPLA, the Naath ethnic group formed 65% of the SPLA (Nyaba 2017). The Jieng were nervous of such high percentage. Consequently, the SPLA proposed to retire some of them. However, the initiative caused major friction with the Naath senior officers, which led to a volatile stalemate in the army. Hence, the SPLA slaughtered the force of General Gabriel Gatwech Chan and the Naath civilians in the village of Kaldak on 23 April 2011. The SPLA arrested General Gatwech and the wrangling continued until the outbreak of the war in 2013.
As the ruling party, the SPLM is responsible for the formulation of policies, and for government oversight. However, this has not been the case and it appears that the SPLM does not know its mandate, and has not lay down a clear vision or mission. The Party has no functioning policies and never oversee the government. The government and Party work contrary to each other, and the government has inherited the Sudanese administrative structure, which is not transparent.
South Sudan is a subsistence economy. The majority of inhabitants live in rural areas without basic services. There is neither economic development nor security reform in the country. Employment is through relationships, while power abuse, marginalization of minorities, ethnic segregation and corruption dominate the system. The government accuses reformists of disturbance and insubordination, with some ending up being dismissed.
The country has indebted itself with development loans that ended up in individuals’ pockets. Neither the SPLM nor the Parliament has control over the government. From 2005 to 2012, South Sudan exported more than 500,000 barrels of crude oil a day. If the government did not develop the country with the oil revenue, how could it do so with loans? The SPLM leadership acts like a temporary government that knows it will not be re-elected.
What contributes to the impairment of the South Sudan government is the autocracy of President Kiir. He has absolute constitutional powers, including the ability appoint and dismiss elected officials. The Parliament and SPLM invested him with absolute powers, not realizing the dangers associated with autocracy. Parliamentarians thought they were displaying allegiance to the President but the President abused that power.
When Parliamentarians refused to endorse the President’s preference for Vice-President in 2013, the President bluntly warned them that he would “dissolve the Parliament and make the lawmakers roam in the streets” (Sudantribune 2013). This is when the Parliamentarians understood their fault. The Parliament could not oversee the Executive because it constitutionally transferred its powers to the President. Hence, the country has no proper governance structure to run the state.
In July 2013, Kiir sacked his entire cabinet, including Vice-President Machar. The sacked officials did not accept the dismissal, though the President has a constitutional power to remove them for whatever reason. They regrouped in the Politburo to remove Kiir from the Party leadership. They also incited the public that Kiir is incapable to lead, and many heard their call. In that crisis, Kiir was in a defensive position from attacks of Machar’s faction. However, he was preparing for a military confrontation though Machar’s faction ignored him.
Confident of his power in the Politburo, Machar demanded that Kiir call the Politburo emergency meeting to address the crisis in the Party, especially to revise the contentious constitutional issues such as the voting system. However, Kiir resorted to military action, but his advisors advised him to avoid military confrontation. They advised him to offer executive portfolios and financial incentives to NLC members to gain their support. Realizing the materialization of the advisors’ plan, he summoned the NLC meeting.
The voting system was contentious during the NLC constitutional review. Machar advocated for a secret ballot, whereas Kiir wanted the raising of hands to be the constitutional method of voting. The trick here is that Kiir doubted loyalty of some of his supporters whom he had offered political portfolios and financial incentives. He wanted to intimidate them through the raising of hands.
Likewise, Machar knew that if the voting system was not secret, he would be the underdog because there were NLC members who secretly rejected Kiir but wanted to keep the jobs Kiir offered them. They would lose their jobs if Kiir saw them voting for Machar. It is a wonder how Machar trusted such tepid politicians. If they tricked Kiir, how did Machar ensure that they were not eluding him as well? Eventually, Machar lost because the votes were not secret, or perhaps, because the half-heartedness fooled him.
Despite the democratic defeat, Machar’s faction resumed the move to topple Kiir through civil unrest. Because he lacked tactical skills, Kiir quickly resorted to military action again. Though aware of Kiir’s military plan, Machar wrongly assumed that the international community would convince Kiir not to use force. Machar also thought he would counter Kiir militarily because he penetrated the military. Poor analytical skills made him underestimate the intention of his foe. As a former general, he would had saved the country from destruction if he had recalled the Sun Tzu principle of “know the enemy and know yourself” before picking a fight.
While in military preparation, Kiir did not ignore the threat Machar’s loyalists posed. In recognition of this, he deployed the Ugandan army in Juba as his backup. However, his analysis of the force ratio between his force and Machar’s was wrong. The Naath composition of 65% of the SPLA and their superior military skills were not threats to be ignored. Since 2013, the Naath under Machar have been fighting 18 countries. Hence, like Machar, Kiir made a serious strategic miscalculation in underestimating the force ratio.
Therefore, Kiir’s dismissal of Machar as Vice-President is the proximate cause of the civil war. If he did not sack him, Machar would have comfortably served him. Moreover, had Machar and his team acknowledged the constitutional powers of the President, Kiir would had not resorted to military confrontation. Machar’s political pressure forced him to make an unwise decision.
On the night of 15 December 2013, Kiir ordered the Commander of the Presidential Guards Unit, Major General Marial Chanuong, to disarm soldiers from the Naath ethnicity, assuming that all were Machar’s supporters. The soldiers opposed the order and the war erupted. It was a serious miscalculation to think that a force that made up close to half of the entire guards would lay down their arms. The war quickly spread to Army General Headquarters — Bilpam — and the vicinity. It resumed next morning, and Kiir forces targeted any person from the Naath tribe; on 16–17 December 2013, Kiir’s forces from the Jieng ethnicity massacred more than 20,000 Naath civilians in Juba.
The method of killing was horrible. The soldiers made a house-to-house search hunting for the Naath. Children, women, the elderly, patients on hospital beds, were all executed; some were put into houses en masse and burned alive. The killers compelled the victims to eat flesh and drink blood of slain relatives, mothers coerced to cut the throats of their children, and a woman was found dead with a piece of wood inserted into her private part (Ruey 2014). Some victims were forced to have sexual intercourse with their mothers at gunpoint. The humiliation angered the moral Jieng, who even saved some of the victims.
When the Naath heard how the Jieng humiliated their people, they launched a full-scale counterstrike in Upper Nile, Jonglei and Unity States, targeting Jieng and government soldiers. Hundreds of thousands of innocent Jieng, who knew nothing about Kiir’s atrocities, perished. The Naath did not spare the lives of children, women or the aged. At this stage, the war was uncontainable, though the international community urged the warring parties to control the matter as quickly as possible.
Ethnic incitement, war crimes, ethnic-based paramilitaries and the spread of war to other tribes emerged and prolonged the war. Between 2013 and 2014, the war was between the Naath and the sixty-three tribes in the army. However, as war progressed, the government attacked other minority tribes, which escalated the situation. Hence, in self-defense, these minorities established ethnic-based paramilitaries under Machar. The war is now between the Jieng (supported by foreign armies) and sixty-three tribes in the country.
Though many tribes support Machar, disintegration of the SPLM-IO-Riek strengthened the SPLA. Rebels accused Machar of incompetence. The SPLM-IO-Riek does not even have unity of command, which is a significant operational requirement. Machar refused to arm his forces, arguing that his forces would exterminate the Jieng and the International Criminal Court would consequently indict him. Rather than training his forces about the rules of war, he opted to a self-defeating strategy that is unheard of in any warfare.
Moreover, the usual wrangling in the SPLM over positions damaged the SPLM-IO-Riek as the dissatisfied surrendered to the government. One could join the rebels today and in a month’s time would return to the government because he did not get the political position he expected. The wrangling over positions cost the SPLM-IO-Riek dearly. Members of the SPLM-IO-Riek never understand that one has to first till the land, and then cultivate and harvest a crop before eating a food. They fought over executive portfolios while they were not in government.
South Sudan will never be at peace under the SPLM, be it under Machar, Kiir or anyone else, because the problem is the SPLM. Peace, however, could prevail under a new leadership that could reform the entire structure of the country and atry under the UN Trusteeship, and then chooses a leader in consultation with the warring parties and the people. The new leader would form a constitutional committee, elected by the people, to enact the constitution to ensure that the constitution reflects the will of all.
To conclude, the SPLM’s lack of knowledge that resulted in tribalism, factionalism, loss of vision, lack of adherence to public causes and poor leadership are the structural causes of the war. The proximate cause is the sacking of Machar and his colleagues from the government in 2013. The clash of the Presidential guards, resulting in the massacre of Naath civilians, triggered the war.
Actors of the war comprise parties engaged in active combat, supporters, and those positively or negatively affected by the war. They embody national and international actors, but the research only discusses the main actors and categorized into four tiers.
The SPLM, the key actor in the war, has four factions:
1. SPLM-In-Government (SPLM-IG), led by Salva Kiir
2. SPLM-In-Opposition, led by Taban Deng (SPLM-IO-Taban)
3. SPLM-In-Opposition, led by Riek Machar (SPLM-IO-Riek)
4. SPLM-Former Detainees (SPLM-FD), led by Pagan Amum.
The SPLM-IO-Taban and SPLM-FD are partners of the SPLM-IG. The Jieng Council of Elders (JCE), Gelweng (Kiir’s private militia), the SPLA and the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) are apparatuses of the SPLM-IG.
The interest of the SPLM-IG is to crush the SPLM-IO-Riek and the Naath ethnic group, the power base of Machar. The SPLM-IG triggered the war out of concern that Machar was about take over the country’s political leadership. However, it now realizes that it cannot destroy Machar by fighting the Naath ethnicity because the four-year war experience proves that military victory is impossible. Now the interest of the SPLM-IG is to remain in power at all cost.
The goal of the SPLM-IG is to use financial incentives and executive positions to attract Machar’s followers to join the government. It conducts this strategy simultaneously with military maneuvers to weaken, frustrate, and pressure the SPLM-IO-Riek to surrender. The government also minimized massacring the Naath civilians as a tactic to gain the support of the people.
As the government fragmented, the economy collapsed and the security of the country deteriorated, the government realized that peace is the best option, but contended that negotiations should exclude Machar. To the government, Machar was never a peace partner because his objective to be the President.
The government has institutional capacity to bring peace, by reconciling with the people and insurgents, or to prolong the war. For example, Kiir signed a peace treaty with the SPLM-IO-Riek on 17 August 2015 after the international community threatened him with sanctions and war crimes indictment. Though he signed it, he argued, “The agreement is not a Bible.” Based on the agreement, Machar was sworn in as Vice-President on 26 April 2016, but the peace collapsed on 23 July 2016 when fighting erupted around the Presidential Palace while Kiir and Machar were inside the palace.
Consequently, Kiir chased Machar for 40 days until the UN peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo rescued him on humanitarian grounds. Taban Deng — Machar’s former ally who conspired against him — became the Vice-President. The UN report confirmed that Kiir instigated the fight (Lynch 2016). In this situation, if Kiir had been ready to make peace with Machar, he would had done so.
In his capacity, Kiir convinced the world that Machar is a spoiler of peace. He let Machar be arrested in South Africa in 2016. Even though his forces are active at the frontline, Machar is now out of the equation. Hence, if Kiir utilizes his wherewithal to bring stability in the country he would succeed. However, he is not ready for a genuine peace. His tactic is to seize Machar’s fighters without proper agreements so that he can treat them as individuals that have no political power.
The SPLM-IO-Riek has two interests: Machar, the Chairman, has his own interest, and his followers have a different one. Machar’s interest is to be the Vice-President by political means. His initial interest was to dislodge Kiir, militarily, so he would be the President. However, Machar changed his mind from military means because the international community had threatened him with indictment for war crimes if he insisted on military solutions to the crisis.
Conversely, the SPLM-IO-Riek military and people want to overthrow the government by military means. They contend that a political solution will never materialize under Kiir. They also contend that they are not fighting to return Machar to power, but to revenge the 20,000 Naath civilians that Kiir massacred at Juba. However, they do not oppose Machar’s political return to power, such that he would remove Kiir.
The goal of the SPLM-IO-Riek is to continue fighting the government so that Machar becomes the President, or to use political means so that Machar will become Vice-President and then overthrow Kiir. The movement is not in a position to denounce war until they achieve this goal.
The position of this actor is to pursue the release of its leader and resuscitate the 2015 peace accord that collapsed in 2016, and so Machar would be Vice-President.
The SPLM-IO-Riek has the capacity to bring further instability, or bring stability in partnership with the SPLM-IG. Though it is in shambles, it is a threat to peace. No peace would prevail in the country without its participation.
The SPLM-IO-Taban is a splinter faction of the SPLM-IO, led by Machar. Taban Deng, the incumbent Vice-President, was the Chief Negotiator of the SPLM-IO in 2015, but defected from Machar because Machar refused to appoint him as Minister of Petroleum. Thus, Deng allied himself with Kiir and together they ousted Machar in 2016. The interest of the SPLM-IO-Taban is for Taban to be the Vice-President.
The goal of the SPLM-IO-Taban is to dismantle the peace accord the government and the SPLM-IO-Riek signed, and to destroy Machar’s forces so he (Taban) would remain the main government partner. The resuscitation of the agreement would remove Taban from the Vice-Presidency. Taban ensures that the gap between Kiir and Machar remains wide.
The position of this actor is to force Machar to denounce war and return home as an ordinary citizen. It played a major role in the arrest of Machar in South Africa.
Taban Deng, the leader of the SPLM-IO-Taban, has the capacity to destroy peace because he has access to government resources. He is a spoiler of peace.
The SPLM-FD is a faction of the SPLM officials who were sacked with Machar in 2013. They worked with Machar to remove Kiir from the Party leadership. However, when war erupted, Kiir arrested them, later releasing them through Machar’s efforts during the negotiation for the cessation of hostilities (All Africa 2014). Machar threatened that, unless his men were freed, there would be no cessation of hostilities.
However, when released, Machar’s men distanced themselves from him, contending that violence was not their objective to power. They opted to have their faction negotiate directly with the government. They are now part of the government. The interest of this actor is to return to power.
The goal of this actor is to get the political positions they had lost in 2013 because that was the cause of their dissention.
The position of the SPLM-FD is to reunite the fragmented SPLM. However, they oppose Machar’s return to power. In addition, some of the faction’s members are also proponents of Kiir’s removal.
The SPLM-FD has the capacity to stabilize the country because they were close associates of Kiir prior to the war. They had contributed to the unsuccessful reunification talk of the Party in Tanzania in 2015 (Kuany 2015).
The Second-Tier actors comprise ethnic-based paramilitaries that include the South Sudanese diaspora. All sixty-four tribes in South Sudan belong to this tier. However, they belong to different factions.
The interest of the tier, except the Jieng, is to overthrow the government through an armed struggle. Likewise, the interest of the Jieng is to quell the rebellion so that they would maintain control over the land. Some Jieng want to replace Kiir but do not have wherewithal to do so. There is no harmony among the tribes because each would like a leader from its respective tribe.
Military means is the main tool used by the Second Tier. However, the Jieng also deploy political and financial means to subdue their enemies.
The position of the tribes in rebellion is to resuscitate the 2015 Government-SPLM-IO-Riek peace agreement, return Machar to Vice-President and conduct a transparent, free and fair presidential election. Nevertheless, the Jieng are in direct opposition to such positions.
This tier has the capacity, as the power base of the combating parties, to bring peace, but only through the consent of the leaders. They could dialog positively among themselves if leaders ceased inciting them.
This tier comprises foreign powers that have been fighting alongside government and rebels: Egypt, Sudan Revolutionary Front (Sudanese rebels), Ethiopian United Patriotic Front (Ethiopian rebels now in government), Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Somalia, Djibouti, Zambia, Cape Verde, Burundi, Mali, Zimbabwe, China, and Russia. Furthermore, the Sudanese government conducts limited military aid to the rebels.
With the exception of Egypt, Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) and Ethiopian United Patriotic Front (EUPF) — whose interest is political — the members of the Third Tier are mercenaries whose interest is money. However, China’s interest is protection of the seat of the government and oil fields. Additionally, Russia also limited its intervention to Juba. When war erupted again in 2016 around the Presidential Palace, China and Russia fought alongside the government. They even rejected the UN Security Council resolution to sanction the government because the government has been committing genocide (Idris 2017).
Egypt has a water conflict with Ethiopia over the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile River. Egypt argues that the dam threatens its national security, and prepares for war with Ethiopia, but they have no border. South Sudan offered operational space to Egyptians to confront Ethiopia, but the areas it offered Egypt are under the SPLM-IO-Riek. Therefore, Egyptians have to help the government of South Sudan fight the SPLM-IO-Riek and use areas captured from Machar as its operational environment.
The SRF is an alliance of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, Justice and Equality Movement, Sudan Liberation Movement-al-Nur and Sudan Liberation Movement-Minnawi, fighting against the Sudan government. It gets logistical support from the South Sudan government. The two Sudans have been in proxy war since 2005. Obviously, SRF has to support the South Sudan government because the moment the government demises SRF also falls.
The leader of the EUPF, General Thowath Pay from the Naath ethnic group of Ethiopia, has a chronic political conflict with Machar. Machar loathes the rise of Pal, even though they are from the same ethnic group and different countries. When the South Sudan war erupted, EUPF received military assistance from the South Sudan government to attack Machar positions and use the locations to attack Ethiopia. Hence, the interest of the government allies is to keep Kiir in power. Likewise, Sudan helps the SPLM-IO-Riek to overthrow Kiir because he (Kiir) arms the Sudanese rebels.
The goal of the government supporters is to mobilize diplomatic and military support in favor of the government, while the goal of the Sudan government is to provide arms to the SPLM-IO-Riek and counter South Sudan government allies.
The position of the government supporters in this tier is to exclude Machar from the peace agreement, arguing that his return to South Sudan would prolong the war. However, Sudan believes that exclusion of Machar prolongs the war.
Actors in this tier have great capacity to bring peace in the country if they unite and pressure Kiir and Machar to work together. However, they took sides, making it impossible for the government and rebels to return to the negotiating table.
The Fourth Tier comprises the African Union (AU), Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the Troika nations (United Kingdom, United States and Norway) and the UN. These actors engage in mediation but IGAD and AU are not neutral because they were involved in the detention of Machar. Their mediation is biased, and in fact, they should disqualify themselves from mediation.
IGAD and AU argue that Taban is the right peace partner for Kiir. This is an underestimation of the reality of the conflict. Neither Taban nor any other rebel figure enjoys the support Machar enjoys in the rebels’ camp. To rebels, Taban is a traitor. Thus, preference of Taban over Machar complicates the conflict.
The interest of these actors is to find a shortcut to end the war. However, they ignore the reality of the ethnic conflict. In ethnic warfare, tribes always need a person that reflects their glory and protects their interests. There is no shortcut to this war.
The goal of this tier is to confine Machar, assist Taban and Kiir to work together, and facilitate the national dialog that Kiir proposed.
These actors want to stabilize the country. However, Kiir frustrates them, especially the UN and Troika, through its lack of commitment to peace.
This tier has the capacity to bring peace in the country if it exercises its powers effectively. However, international politics prevents it from exercising its powers. Russia and China vetoed the UN Security Council resolutions against the government. The AU and IGAD are pro-government institutions proven by the fact that they involved in the detention of Machar. If this tier cooperates, peace would prevails in South Sudan within a month.
There is a strong relationship between the SPLM-IG, SPLM-IO-Taban, SPLM-FD, AU, IGAD, Jieng ethnicity, and foreign fighters. Their position is to crush Machar’s leadership, and are successful in every step except breaking the will of Machar’s grassroots supporters. There is a strong possibility that the combined effort of these actors will eventually collapse the SPLM-IO-Riek.
However, Machar, as the leader, has limited interaction with international and national actors. He has weak communication between his army and people, does not even discuss the seriousness of his arrest with his supporters, and does not care about the future of his movement. If he does, he would have ordered his forces to replace him while in detention, and perhaps, return to power when his movement wins. His detention resulted in his forces becoming disorganized.
In summation, this thesis categorized actors into four tiers: the First Tier comprises the SPLM-IG, SPLM-FD, SPLM-IO-Riek and SPLM-IO-Taban; the Second Tier comprises ethnic groups that engage in the war; the Third Tier comprises foreign fighters assisting the government and rebels; and the Fourth Tier comprises the AU, UN, IGAD and Troika.
The above chapters analyzed the profile, causes and actors of the war. Then, what scenarios result from these issues? What are the current issues? Is there the possibility of peace?
After the collapse of the 2015 peace agreement between the government and the SPLM-IO-Riek, the humanitarian catastrophe was exacerbated; the SPLM-IO-Riek became fragmented due to power vacuum; there was frustration over the lack of ammunitions; and disorganization and international isolation increased. Consequently, many of its fighters deserted the warfield for refugee camps or joined the government. The government captured the SPLM-IO-Riek Headquarters — Pagak — in August 2017. These trends indicate that the SPLM-IO-Riek is on the verge of collapse.
Moreover, the government’s massacre of civilians has reduced to improve its image internationally and attract civilians to the government. Despite that, people still run away from the government. In addition, the effort of the international community to bring peace into the country dwindles. There are signs that the future of the country will be determined in the battlefield not at the table.
Peace between the SPLM-IO-Riek and the government is getting impossible because the rebels camp is so weak in the battlefield. The government would not negotiate with a failing movement. The fact that the government has no interest in making peace with Machar threatens opportunities for peace, which leads to various scenarios.
Three scenarios emerge from the war — the best-case, middle-case and the worst-case scenarios.
The weakening of the rebels suggests that they will join the government, the SPLM-IO-Taban or retire in rural areas until security improves. The rebels’ failure provides a chance to the government to transform itself into the people’s government that could bring stability.
The country is in a situation where no-one is winning the war, though the government is winning the battle. Civilians continue to suffer and the gap between the warring parties is still wide. Though advancing, the government is incapable of bringing stability in the country. These factors will force people to exile, as many have no desire to stay under the government. Hence, South Sudan will be a failed state.
Since peace talks stalled, there is a possibility that the rebels will secure military aid, reorganize and counterattack the government. Currently 17 countries fight alongside government and one assists the rebels. There is possibility that the SPLM-IO-Riek will provide operational space to the Ugandan rebels. Egyptians and Ethiopians will also fight in the South Sudan–Ethiopian border over the Nile water issues, and China will solidify its defenses in the oil fields. There is a possibility that the South Sudan civil war will causes regional war or even a world war if rebels get military aid from the west.
This thesis investigates the cause of the current South Sudan civil war. The research analyzed the SPLM politics since 1983 and the Naath–Jieng conflict that existed since antiquity as one of the causes of the war. The Naath–Jieng conflict was exacerbated by rivalry for grazing lands, water sources, cattle rustling and land grabbing.
Founders of the SPLM — the architects of the current war — were officials who had differences in the Sudan before going to exile in Ethiopia. The differences re-emerged when John Garang from the Jieng, and Samuel Gai from the Naath ethnicity, fought over the leadership of the new movement. Gai argued that Akuot Atem, an ethnic Jieng, would be the Chair of the movement and he (Gai) would be the Chief of General Staff.
However, Garang opposed the proposal arguing that Akuot was not the right person to lead the movement. He proposed that either he (Garang) or Gai had to be the Chair. He argued that if Gai wanted to be the Chair, he (Garang) would be the Chief of General Staff and vice versa. The leaders went to the poll to resolve the matter democratically. In the first round, Akuot won, but the Ethiopian government abolished the result through the influence of Garang and ordered another round, which Gai’s faction opposed and did not participate. Consequently, Garang won the second round, but Gai’s faction did not recognize the result.
The dispute ended in a factional war between the Anya Nya II, led by Gai, and the SPLA, led by Garang, when the Ethiopian government attempted to arrest Gai. Gai’s faction retreated to the Sudan in 1983 and returned to Ethiopia when the two movements reconciled in 1984. However, Garang changed his mind after the Anya Nya II arrived in Ethiopia, and the SPLA killed Gai. The war resumed, and the warring parties reunited in 1987, but differences remained intact.
Garang’s leadership was marred by killings of opponents and the massacre of non-Jieng civilians. His unionist ideology was also contentious because secession of Southern Sudan was the aim of the Southern Sudanese. The disagreements forced the Politico–Military High Command of the SPLM/A to stage a military coup against Garang in 1991, which caused a major rift in the movement. The coup leaders, led by Riek Machar, formed the Nasir Declaration, which became the South Sudan Independence Movement (SSIM).
However, the SSIM suffered blows when the Naath civilians, under its command, massacred the Jieng civilians of Bor. Consequently, the Jieng withdrew from the SSIM, and other tribes abandoned the movement citing Machar’s incompetence. The Bor massacre was an issue that the Jieng wanted to retaliate and was one of factors of the Naath Massacre in Juba in 2013.
The research concludes that the cause of the South Sudan war is the SPLM’s lack of knowledge of state governance, which resulted in poor leadership, recklessness, kleptocracy, ethnocentrism, tribalism, loss of vision and lack of adherence to public causes. The removal of Machar and colleagues from the cabinet is the proximate cause of the war, while the clash of the presidential guards was the trigger of the war.
The research concludes that peace will never prevail in South Sudan under the SPLM because the SPLM is part of the problem. Hence, the research recommends that the UN should consider putting the country under the UN Trusteeship and work with the people to elect a new leader who is not a member of the SPLM. The new leader would first form a constitutional committee, delegated by the people to enact the constitution and pave the way for a general election. Alternatively, the people of South Sudan should consider establishing a popular revolutionary movement that would dislodge the SPLM with all its factions and form a just system.
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