Opinion: Does State Terrorism exist in South Sudan?
On the 4th of November 2018, Vice President Dr James Wani Igga visited Yei in what appeared to be a campaign to garner support for the so-called Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS). The official statement was that he was there for peace mobilisation where he said the opposition groups that are opposed to the agreement would be regarded as terrorists after the pre-transitional period.
In the same vein, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Council of Ministers following their meeting in Addis Ababa on 16/11/2018 issued a communique alluding to what VP Wani Igga said. It was not a surprise to many as IGAD is a biased organisation for the simple reason that the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation is a member of IGAD's Council of Ministers. Therefore, whatever comes out from that Council concerning South Sudan, must have been initiated or influenced by the government.
I am glad that VP Wani Igga brought up the issue of terrorism which appears to be at the centre of what is going on in South Sudan. As VP Wani Igga has pointed the finger at the opposition groups that rejected the so-called R-ARCSS as the ones to bear that demeaning characterisation - it's essential to examine the facts to see if Igga's allegation carries any substance.
The opposition group that Igga was referring to is SSOA mainstream chaired by Lt. General Thomas Cirillo Swaka, the Chairman of the National Salvation Front (NAS). In addition to NAS; it's comprised of the National Democratic Movement (NDM) led by Ambassador Emmanuel Aban, South Sudan National Movement for Change (SSNMC), chaired by Dr Vakindi Unvu, People's Democratic Movement (PDM) under Dr Hakim Dario, and the United Democratic Republic Alliance (UDRA), led by Dr Gatwech Thich.
Before examining the activities of the above opposition groups, it is crucial to know what the word terrorism means. The definition of terrorism is - the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in pursuit of political aims.
No documented evidence links any of the said opposition groups to attacks against civilians, involvement in the kidnapping of aid workers or the blocking of humanitarian relief to the needy in the remote areas. They were never blamed for the killing or raping of foreign nationals who were endangering their lives to save the South Sudanese people caught in the fight or those in the famine-stricken areas. Some of these opposition groups don't possess ground forces. Those that have troops on the ground were never reported to have brutalised the civil population.
The NAS and the SSNMC were under relentless aggression by the Sudan People's Liberation Army-In-Opposition (SPLM-IO). Their acts were in self-defence in response to the attacks by the SPLM IO forces. The recent fight in the Minyori area that saw the defeat of the SPLM IO forces brought tranquillity and normalcy to the area. The locals are happy that the SPLM IO forces have finally been chased away from their territory. They are notorious for committing heinous crimes including shooting, looting, and the raping of victims among the local population.
It's to be noted that the UN and all the humanitarian relief organisations never accused SSOA mainstream of any atrocities committed against civilians. Similarly, there are no records from the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangement Monitoring Mechanism (CTSAMM) that implicate the group of violation of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) that was signed by all the parties to the conflict.
It's unclear whether Igga's characterisation of terrorist organisations encompasses the South Sudan United Front/Army (SSUF/A), led by former Chief of Staff of the SPLA, General Paul Malong. The SSUF/A was never invited to the peace negotiations in the first place. The government blocked its attempts to join the peace process. It clashed with the government forces at its outset. Such skirmishes are legitimate as they were in self-defence and did not involve civilians. I am not aware that the SSUF/A did attack or mistreat civilians.
Now, let's take a closer look at the government records and the party that VP Wani Igga belongs to. There are plenty of data that would show to the reader that the SPLM party and the defunct SPLA, where VP Wani Igga holds the rank of a General, is not foreign to what is regarded as terrorism. To attest to that here are some views expressed by foreign entities:
1. Early last month, US President Donald J Trump, called the SPLM a terrorist organisation that had terrorised the people of South Sudan.
2. The Western media and some organisations like the European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council have dubbed the SPLM/SPLA as the Khmer Rouge of Africa. They contend that the atrocities committed by the SPLA before and after the independence of South Sudan were comparable to what the terrible regime of Pol Pot did in Cambodia in the 60ties and early 80ties of the past century.
3. Priti Patel, the former UK Secretary for International Development, who visited South Sudan in April 2017, declared that the crimes committed in South Sudan, amount to tribal genocide.
4. The UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, Mr Adama Dieng said the following after visiting the Yei River area in November 2016 - "I am dismayed to report that what I have seen and heard here has confirmed my concerns that there is a strong risk of violence escalating along ethnic lines with the potential for genocide".
5. It was reported over India Today TV and website in March 2016, that in Unity State and elsewhere, the government of South Sudan had sanctioned its soldiers to rape women and loot the properties of civilians in lieu of their salaries that it failed to pay.
6. The African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan finally released its report in October 2015 about the events of December 2013 and beyond. It concluded that what took place was the result of government policy. It further elaborated that a group including some politicians were involved with the aim of "protecting the government and the presidency".
7. Some of VP Wani Igga's colleagues are under sanctions by the United Nations Security Council for committing atrocities or instigating such acts. The list includes the Minister of Information, Michael Makuei Lueth, the Chief of Staff of the South Sudan People's Defence Force (SSPDF), General Gabriel Jok Riak, The Deputy Defense Minister, General Malek Reuben Riak, the former Commander of the Presidential Guards, General Marial Chanuong Yol, and the Commander of the 3rd Division, General Santino Deng Yol.
The above are some of the views of the foreigners regarding the conflict in South Sudan. Mind you the list is non-exhaustive by far. Those expressed views do not differ much from the South Sudanese perspective.
(a) In December 2012, the SPLA opened fire on a peaceful demonstration in Wau town that led to the death of at least 25 people. The victims were protesting against the relocation of Wau County Headquarters to Baggari. Young lives were lost for exercising their Constitutional rights that allow freedom of speech as stipulated in the Bill of Rights. The killings were unlawful and represented State terrorism at its worst.
(b) The door to door killings of the Nuer civilians in Juba a year later after the above also falls within the confines of State terrorism. Similarly, the SPLM IO under Dr Riek Machar, Kiir's partner in the so-called R-ARCSS, committed atrocities on ethnic lines in Bor, Pibor, and Akobo around that time.
(c) The carnage in Malakal town in 2014 where the lives of inpatients at Malakal hospital weren't spared, was inhumane and showed how low in morality some people could descend. Both SPLM factions (SPLM IG and SPLM IO) can't escape the responsibility for the killings and devastation that occurred in Malakal town.
(d) Wau Shilluk, a village in Upper Nile, came under extensive bombing by an Antonov plane that destroyed homes and led to massive civilian displacements and famine. Amnesty International reported how the government troops killed many civilians throughout the offensive and got engaged in widespread looting.
(f) Perhaps the Yei River area disproportionately suffered the worst heinous crimes in South Sudan in the on-going civil war. It's where the Matiang Anyoor (President Kiir's Militia) is most active. Some of the crimes are unheard of in South Sudan like the beheadings that included women. Rape and looting of civilian properties are increasingly reported.
(g) In the capital Juba and elsewhere, we have the familiar phrase "killed by unknown gunmen" which is used by the authorities to explain the hundreds or thousands of the fatalities across the country. Speculations were rife regarding the identity of the unknown gunmen. It didn't take General Paul Malong long to uncover the secret after President Salva Kiir sacked him. Malong stated that the unknown gunmen are indeed members of the National Security Service (NSS) led by General Akol Koor, the Director of Internal Security. Regardless of what Malong had done or didn't do, many would feel indebted to him for decoding the puzzle surrounding the identity of these criminals. It might even indirectly save lives as the culprits have now been exposed.
(h) Juba is the only capital in the world where some citizens live for years in UN Protection of Civilians (POC) sites. There are numerous such sites across the country accommodating hundreds of thousands of civilians. Now, why would a citizen abandon his/her home and go to live in such sites for years?! And why would someone live like a refugee in his own country?! It baffles anyone apart from those who know the real situation on the ground in South Sudan. If citizens are feeling insecure in the capital city, then what would be the state of affairs in rural areas?!
(i) The regime went as far as engaging in the kidnapping of political dissidents from the neighbouring countries apparently in collaboration with those countries. The victims were then deported to Juba, detained, tortured, and in the worst-case scenario, liquidated. Where are Justice Peter Abdul Rahman Sule, Lt. General Elias Lino Jada, Dong Samuel Luak, and Aggrey Iddri? The regime is yet to answer about the whereabouts of these distinguished citizens.
The list goes on and on and points persistently to one thing which is a policy of terror and intimidation practised by the State against its citizens. It comes in different forms which include curtailment of the freedom of speech, bugging of telephones of those purported to be working against the regime, detention, torture, and liquidation of members of the opposition.
As mentioned earlier, VP Wani Igga was on a mission for peace mobilisation. However, many indicators point to the fact that the government had embarked on what I call as "Cyber mobilisation" against those viewed as antagonistic to its policies. It appears; (whether on its own or in collaboration with other regional powers), to have succeeded in influencing some media outlets not to publish materials or any articles from particular individuals, me inclusive. These websites claim to be independent and stand for freedom of expression within the acceptable universal regulations. But the truth is that they do practise censorship against individuals and organisations as a result of third-party influence. Sudan Tribune has long been known to be under such control. However, it's incredible that some independent websites seem to have fallen victim to such influence. As for firstname.lastname@example.org, the mouthpiece of the SPLM-IO, it would only publish a piece if it's non-critical of the SPLM-IO and Dr Riek Machar. The government wants everyone to sing the monologue of the fake peace and accept the status quo.
History has shown the oppressive regimes time and again that such policies are futile. The Nazis tried it exceedingly, but the result was total defeat. Similarly, the Communists in the previous Soviet Union applied the iron curtain policy that didn't save the evil empire, according to President Ronald Reagan, from collapse.
It's inconceivable that in the 21st century and with all the technological advances in communication and media capabilities, there are still regimes and people who think such policies could work. The Juba regime thinks it could pull it off by using the resources at its disposal to silence its critics for good. The said objective is unachievable, and the whole thing would end up as a wasteful use of our resources.
The attempt by the government and the IGAD to label the non-signatories to the so-called R-ARCSS as terrorists would undoubtedly get them to nowhere. They would soon find out that it's easy to accuse the opposition groups of terrorism, but it's much harder to make that characterisation stick on them. It requires documented evidence coupled with a pattern of conduct and activities. At present, there's nothing that could incriminate the opposition of terrorism unless the government and the IGAD consider the refusal to sign a coerced agreement (which is in itself a sort of terrorism) an act of terrorism.
Rather than threatening the opposition, VP Wani Igga should worry much about the precarious situation of his government regarding terrorism. President Donald Trump has labelled his party as a terrorist organisation and is one step away from branding his government as such. As for IGAD, convincing the world would be an uphill battle because one of its member States is struggling to get its name off the list of State sponsors of terrorism.
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