South Sudan: war without end – By Richard Dowden

Richard Dowden, the Director of the Royal African Society speaking at World Economic Forum onf Africa, 2011(Photo: via

Richard Dowden, the Director of the Royal African Society speaking at World Economic Forum onf Africa, 2011(Photo: via

March 27, 2015(Nyamilepedia) — Last week President Salva Kiir of South Sudan rejected all the main proposals put forward by the African Union to bring peace to Africa’s newest state.

Standing on the temporary podium erected for Independence Day just over three and a half years ago, he refused all attempts at compromise with Riek Machar, the former Vice President.

Standing in a black suit and cowboy hat, surrounded by praise singers, ministers, religious leaders, foreign ambassadors and school children, he read laboriously from a script. With a few thousand others I stood in the searing Sudan sun listening to his rejection of a peace deal.

No to more parliamentary seats, he said. No to more ministers. No to federation – unless the people demand it. That was, I suspect a private joke: no one is allowed to demand anything here. There were no substantive concessions to anything that Machar, now at war with the president, is demanding. President Kiir rejected the idea of a ceremonial head of state with an executive presidency. “Riek must be number two to me,” he said. He did offer an amnesty but that they “must accept the line I give them”.

This means war.

The crowd was peppered with suited security men. Some of them stopped me and asked why I was not wearing a pass. I didn’t have one. They didn’t know what to do next so I wandered freely around the podium but as I, and two western journalists left, we were stopped and questioned. “Why are you leaving before the President finished speaking? You are insulting the President.” Of course I denied it but it would have been a perfectly sensible reaction.

What, I kept thinking, have the Southern Sudanese learnt from the rest of Africa’s post-independence mistakes over the last 50 years? How could South Sudan avoid the coups and bitter personal enmities that rivals tribalised to make war on each other? Who was able to stop the gross theft of state funds?

Why did so many African rulers live in paranoid secrecy and total security? Above all why did those rulers lack any interest in development for their own people? I had seen it in Idi Amin’s Uganda, in Moi’s Kenya, in Mobutu’s Congo, in Abacha’s Nigeria, in Houphouet-Boigny’s Cote d’Ivoire. And here, now, in 2015, in Africa’s newest country all those criminals are being mimicked by this scarcely literate clown in a black cowboy hat.

The rival armies have already fought a few rounds. As the war develops further a few more fighters will be killed but thousands of South Sudanese, mainly women and children, will die of preventable diseases having been forced to flee from their homes. I was in South Sudan in 1991, the last time they fell out with each other.

They seemed to fight with more bitterness towards each other than they fought the Khartoum government. Whole villages were sacked and burned and women and children slaughtered. Maybe, despite being handed one of the most beautiful and potentially wealthy countries in the world, the leaders simply decided that killing, looting and raping were more rewarding than development.

There is not much to choose between the two warlords and their numerous fickle allies. Riek is admittedly a far better educated man. He holds a PhD from Bradford University in engineering and can discuss global issues with great insight and knowledge.

He deploys great charm to foreigners. But he is allied to the White Army, a militia of young Nuer killers and rapists who have committed some of the worst atrocities. If the International Criminal Court had been a success, Machar would be a prime target.

Perhaps war is what they are most comfortable with. The region has been a warzone on and off for more than 1000 years. From the 10th Century, maybe longer, Arabs began to raid what is now South Sudan for slaves.

In the 19th Century the British took over the region to control the Nile from the source to the sea, but their administration was more like an imperial military occupation than colonialism. There was no development for the people except what the Christian churches managed to organise. Each denomination was given an area to Christianize.

Independence came suddenly in 1956 and the south was then ruled from Khartoum. War broke out immediately but paused in 1972, which allowed 11 years of peace and a little development.

That changed in 1983 when Colonel John Garang, one of the few southerners with a university education, launched the Sudan People’s Liberation Army – not to fight for independence, but to turn the whole of Sudan into a “united, democratic and secular Sudan”.

The war officially ended in a US brokered peace agreement in 2002 and South Sudan became independent with the agreement of the north nine years later. That brought another brief period of peace but also theft on a vast scale as some ministers have simply stolen the entire budgets of their departments.

In 2011 the American ambassador had some of these thefts tracked, made a list of the names and bank accounts, and handed it to the President. Nothing happened. As Alex de Waal wrote in African Affairs in July last year: “Kiir’s strategy for managing the SPLM/A’s fractious leaders was to indulge their appetite for self-enrichment.” He argues that when the money ran out the recipients simply went back to war – it being what they were used to.

One positive thing that has emerged from this horrific tragedy is an African Union report that has been leaked. African Union reports do not normally leak and if they do, they are so anodyne and inconsequential that no one can be bothered to read them. But this report is different. It is bluntly honest, quotes ordinary South Sudanese, attributes blame to individuals – including the President – and recommends extraordinary measures.

It reveals that a South Sudan Army has never been created. It remains a collection of tribal militias amounting to officially, but improbably, 480,000 men. Each general – for which you can read ‘warlord’ – gets paid and is supposed to pay his men. Many do not. That is in part what caused the return to war.

Here are some of the gems from the report:

A quote from the street:

“They put a knife into what bound us, turned the crisis from political to ethnic.”

The population of South Sudan is 10 million people and its revenue is $5 billion. 75% of the population is illiterate. One in 50 dies at childbirth (this is the worst indicator in the world). There are a large number of returnees from Sudan. 70% of government budget goes to pay people in arms. Small arms are proliferating. Socially excluded youth have evolved into a volatile force, and a very large group of unemployed youth are ripe for manipulation.

The violence, which originated as a schism in the governing elite of South Sudan, targeted one particular ethnicity, the Nuer. Its intent and effect was to divide the civilian population along ethnic lines, to destroy the middle ground, thereby to polarize the society into ‘us’ and ‘them.’

“Every time we integrate, someone declares in Khartoum that we have a militia. We integrate them and give them a rank. Most of these militias are illiterate – led by illiterate Major-Generals. Even today, we have not integrated them. We tried to demobilize them, but that was difficult. You cannot demobilize someone who has a gun. You give him money under DDR. When the money is finished, he will go back to the bush.”

South Sudan has never had an election. Salva Kiir was elected Vice President of Sudan, but never President of a state called South Sudan. It is wrong to think of South Sudan as a failed state – for the simple reason that South Sudan never was a state. There was no bureaucracy, no judiciary, there was nothing to fail.

There were only fighting forces, most of the time fighting one another and a make believe state whose leadership was propped up and feted by important sections of the international community. South Sudan may exist as a state on paper, but more as a juridical fiction than an institutional reality.

To think of South Sudan as a failed state is to overlook the simple fact that the very political foundation for the existence of a state – a political compact – has yet to be forged within the elite and between the communities that comprise the country.

Jok Madut Jok, a South Sudanese academic, described the looting spree during the CPA: “The period following 2005 was a period of entitlement, we are entitled to eat, we liberated this country. But… flagrant theft of public money created serious injustices.”

President Kiir publicly accused 75 top officials of being responsible for the cumulative theft of $4.5 billion. There are three main sources of corruption in South Sudan: oil money, government employment and land. Haile Menkerios, former Special Representative of the Secretary General of the UN (SRSG) to Sudan and South Sudan, told the Commission: “Oil revenue for Sudan as a whole was $50-60 billion from 2005 of which 50% came to South Sudan. There is nothing to show for it.” He said oil is sold in two ways, in the open market and in the spot market: “None of the spot market money got into the bank. It is divided between individuals.”

“International donors,” wrote Peter Ajak, the presidential advisor, “deployed legions of foreign technical assistants who, eager to showcase immediate results, ended up doing everything themselves, transferring little know-how to South Sudanese civil servants.”

The prime targets of large scale land acquisition, what has come to be called ‘land-grabbing’, are the areas of peasant cultivation in the south of the country, mainly Equatoria. The editor of Juba Monitor told the Commission: “Equatorians are very unhappy. Their major grievance arises from land grabbing. A lot of land around the President’s house was taken with no compensation.”

Elite reconciliation has evaded South Sudan for decades. The only program around in which different factions managed to come together was the campaign for independence.

Since independence, the South Sudan political class has lacked a project around which to coalesce. The responsibility for this falls squarely on the shoulders of those who designed and steered the six year transition period ushered in by the CPA. By focusing on Sudan to the north as the enemy to be confronted the CPA lost an opportunity both to confront its past failure at reconciliation and forge a national project around which the South Sudan political elite could unite.

The split in the SPLA in 1991 was never resolved – it was simply deferred. The accommodation that was made at Wunlit in 1999 was pragmatic, not principled.

Former President Thabo Mbeki recalled 1991 as a recurring theme in his discussions with President Kiir: “Salva told us: Riek killed a lot of Dinka, and we will not give him the opportunity to do so again. Rebecca (Garang) said we agree with Machar that Salva must go but I will never allow Riek to be President – never a fellow who did that.”

Hilde Johnson, UN Representative, “This crisis is beyond anything we have seen in scale, magnitude and depth. A quick fix power-sharing agreement will not work – problems of the country and leadership are too deep.” She repeated, for emphasis: “We need to re-boot South Sudan – no quick fix, no deal, will do it.”

The ambassadors of the Troika (the U.S., U.K. and Norway) agreed that President Kiir should step down and, indeed, both Kiir and Machar should both step aside.

The British envoy: “Dinka without Kiir will not settle; Nuer without Machar will not settle; and yet, the two will not work together.” The US envoy said “there is so much hatred they can’t move forward even with both of them there.” The Norwegian envoy concurred: “There is no reflection yet on why things went wrong.”

Commission therefore recommends a transitional period with three distinctive features: (a) a High Level Oversight panel to guide the period of transition; (b) a transitional government that excludes those politically accountable for the crisis; and (c) a transitional program that address the question of justice in different forms.

Richard Dowden is Director of the Royal African Society.

  5 comments for “South Sudan: war without end – By Richard Dowden

  1. Ghol Chot
    March 27, 2015 at 11:23 pm

    “South Sudan: war without end”

    What a piece of a headline! The War in Darfur, Southern Khordupan and Southern Blue Nile in North Sudan which have lingered on for some time now, have no end insight, Somalia, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Palestine and Iraq wars have no end insight either.

    But a South Sudanese war that some of these evil criminals in the west like the trash who wrote this shit of article thought it would just be resolved by bully their Riek Machar puppet through by means of their evil intrigues and threats of sanctions. Nice try!

    This “white trash” with this trashy article of his does has some guts to belittling the South Sudanese leader, for his luck of education. When this shitty article of his isn’t “even closer to an article written by a learned journalist”, but by an “eight grader” pupil!

    Riek Machar was sacked for insubordination and he staged a coup to take power by force, “Mr. White Trash”, get it. And there is no where in the wider world would a sociopath who wants to take power by force be rewarded with anything, never.

    I do agree with those who say, “that there is no way the Dinkas and Nuers would live together with Riek Machar” as would be Nuers leader in future, that is not going to happen again, never ever. Salva Kiir is going to be voted out just like he was voted in.

    For Salva Kiir to resign when he has not done anything wrong, but just to appease the Nuers isn’t going to happen—–This is a pure black-mail, plain and simple. Many Nuers who were killed in Juba were coup plotters and in a bloody coup, people die that is the way it. How many Nuer women and children were killed Juba? zero.

    As for corruption, that this “white trash” wants to pin on Salva Kiir, Salva even asked the US and some of those corrupt evils in the UK to help bring those monies back, but the US and those evils in the UK refused. And Now those monies in the foreign banks are just used as “black-mails” like freezing of assets! Who do these “white trashes” think they are?

    The Nuers have been honestly asked to forget their Riek Machar and bring another sane Nuer and everything would be settle in a matter of days, but they believed they want Salva Kiir to go as well. Okay, let them [the Nuers] fight to bring their Riek Machar into power in South Sudan, but I think, the Nuers would be extinct in South Sudan before they bring their Riek Machar sociopath into power in South Sudan.

    With Riek Machar Bradord University’s education? it has been question??


    • GatNor
      March 27, 2015 at 11:58 pm

      By definition of character, Salva Kiir Mayardit is a SOCIOPATH having planned and carried out the Juba Massacres of ethnic Nuers in Dec/2013 to date. Deal with that reality because its his and yours to own alone and must be accountable for it. Kiir and many of you Jaang are destined for ICC.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Gatgong
    March 27, 2015 at 11:30 pm

    For one,I heard it all said and said not just but by and with in depth insight !!


  3. GatNor
    March 27, 2015 at 11:42 pm

    SPLA/M under Kiir and Garang killed thousands of Nuers based on their ethnicity since early 80th and tenth of thousands more from Dec/2013. Garang became president the then Autonomous South Sudan and first vice president of Sudan, after the death of Garang Kiir who is now a mass murderer accountable for many ethnic Nuer massacres in Juba continue to be the incumbent president.

    According to some South Sudanese, it is perfectly okay to have anyone in the office of presidency if that person killed Nuers and other ethnics but when and if that person killed Jaang then he or she must never be allows to the presidency of South Sudan? I think there is a double standard here which is not only unlawful, ful of injustices, unfair and divisive. For such practice and bias believe to continue it is better that this hell hole called South Sudan be burned to the ground.

    Liked by 1 person

    April 2, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    I agreed with the author that the war in South Sudan will not ended sooner as many people may have thought. I do not trust Dinka anymore and I will never allow them again to provide my security. If they don’t trust me then I wouldn’t blame them because they knew what they have done to my people in Juba and the displacements and the destruction of the entire Greater Upper Nile. Nuer people are now the only people suffering inside the UNMISS camps meanwhile the Dinka people have destroyed their livings and threatening those inside the UNMISS with death. The magnitude of hatred is beyond the human capacity where by no one in this world will prevent the revenge. To me the world must think carefully on how they will bring this war to an end. One possible equation they may think about is that the South Sudan can be repartitioned into three Independent states and this will stop the current war if not nothing will workout.


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