Opinion: The looming crisis in Central Equatoria and Yei River State
The celebration of the revitalised peace agreement between the government of South Sudan and the opposition parties in Juba was a dubious event with its complexity for the people of Central Equatoria State and South Sudan. The onus of the success of this revitalised peace agreement mostly lies on the implementation phase of the peace process in Central Equatoria State or Yei River State.
There are already different indicators in the political scene in the country which show doubts about the prospect of the peace implementation benchmarks. Nevertheless, the people of the country are ready to embrace peace at all costs.
Unfortunately, the potential of crisis emerging with the security arrangements’ implementation in Central Equatoria or Yei River state is inevitable. Interestingly, with the celebratory peace between the warring parties to the conflict in Juba, it is worthy to point out the continuous military operations carried out by the government in Yei River State against the signatory forces to the peace agreement. Undoubtedly, some of the underlying issues of implementing this agreement in the country would be attributed to the question of funding, the creation of military cantonment and governance.
Acquisition of funding from the international community to implement the peace agreement is an uphill battle for the government of South Sudan. All of the donors and South Sudanese friends are sceptical about the commitment of the South Sudanese leadership to maintain and implement the security arrangements.
Furthermore, the level of expenses already incurred by the government’s preparations for the peace celebration in Juba was a turn-off point for the donors. Most importantly, the government in Juba has no reserve in her coffers to fund the implementation of this agreement, which is the government's primary responsibility.
For the record, the South Sudanese crude oil which is the only source of revenue for the government has been mortgaged until Jan 2019; according to public records. This explains one apparent reason why the timetable of the peace agreement implementation matrix was designed to start in August 2019.
This timetable itself is a double sword of its kind. It depends on whether the government in Juba is genuine in achieving or reneging on peace by launching a military attack against the opposition forces in case it chooses to do so. In either circumstance, it favours the government in Juba because of Khartoum’s commitment to secure the oil fields and expedite the oil production in Unity State, which in the long run will generate revenue for the government.
The creation of the military cantonment sites where the opposition forces would be mobilised in the Yei River state is a looming crisis because of the different armed groups within the territory and is an issue of a political disaster for the government. If not handled with good political maturity and will, the State is going to be the next Jonglei state in chaos. The level of insurgency and speed of its growth in the State is exponential. This Insurgency is an organic one by nature. It doesn't have an orthodoxical political leadership but a young political and military leadership which is radical in attitude and independent unlike the SPLM-In Opposition group in the Nuer Land which is commanded by their veteran politicians and seasonal military generals of their tribesmen that provide logistics to their groups through their connections with Khartoum.
Unfortunately, this is not the case with the insurgency in Central Equatoria state. Although some of the Central Equatoria State insurgency groups are affiliated with the SPLM-In Opposition; the groups don’t receive any funding or logistics from the leadership of the SPLM-In Opposition.
It is worth mentioning this fact because the illegal logging of the Teak and mining of Gold in those areas are the only means of gaining financial support for these groups in the state. At any given circumstance, these groups which are constituted of the Kuku and Kakwa tribesmen are not cohesive forces that are easily commanded and controlled by the leadership of SPLM-In Opposition.
The Kakwa insurgency as an example can be categorised into three different groups which operate under the SPLM-In Opposition, National Salvation Front, and Warlords or lonely wolves commanders from the different sub-Kakwa clans in the area. The commonality in these groups is the independent financial and logistic attitude they have mastered which has given them the political and military leverage of command. The gold mining business of the locals under their controlled military territories has sustained these groups to purchase their logistics and weapons.
The plausible political and security catastrophe that would stem from these groups during the security arrangements will be under two circumstances. One is when the governance clauses in the agreement are not well implemented primarily in the case of appointing the next governor of the Yei River state.
The second issue would be with the Uganda People Defense Forces invasion of Kakwa territories which are under the control of the independent commanders. With the gold mining business booming for the locals, any threat to their activities either from the Uganda People Defence Forces or the local Authorities to regulate the gold mining business will increase insecurity in the area. Also, any appointment of the governor of the state who would not be from the opposition will escalate the situation into a conflict.
Governor Bakasoro who is a signatory of the Peace Agreement and had a military presence in the Yei River state has turned out, by far, to be a political liability to the peace process and implementation. His political decision has caused him to lose trust, popularity, and confidence among his community, the Azande and his commanders in the state.
His own military Chief of Staff General Abraham Wani who hailed from the area has excommunicated him as the leader of their movement, as a consequence of his actions and betrayal of their cause. Interestingly, the military chief of staff who is from the State commands a large force of the Yei River’s boys, and he has managed to command and absorb most of the Azande and Muro commanders under his military leadership.
General Abraham Wani’s competence and CV as an army man in the warfare during the liberation movement is undoubtedly outstanding. He is one of the best SPLA military strategists, commanders and generals who fought in the Eastern front of Sudan and Equatoria zone during the liberation war and was victorious.
Currently, the political leadership that guides General Abraham Wani is no more the governor. So, Governor Bakasoro’s role is going to be unproductive in the peace implementation, peace building process, and reduction of insurgency in the state. Couple this with his health condition which is very fragile.
National Salvation Front under General Thomas is a thorn on the implementation of this security arrangement in the state since it is not part of this Khartoum Agreement. The leadership of the National Salvation Front group under General Thomas who is a well-respected and popular figure in the SPLA has managed to harvest from the shortcomings of the other opposition, government and Governor Bakasoro’s political and military blunders.
Those blunders have paved the path for the formation of a new political and military alliance between General Thomas and Abraham Wani’s group. It is important to acknowledge the special relationship between the people of the state with General Thomas. This bond is unique; General Thomas is considered their only Son whom they cherish and respect, and they saw that the Dinka leadership under the Jeng Council of Elders wanted to eliminate him in Juba. Hence, this sentiment has solidified the bond that will be hard to break between them.
Consequently, the people have developed a political truth that General Thomas is their only leader and saviour in this crisis. The people of this country have been reduced to serfs, as in the medieval era of feudalism by the government in Juba. The resilient people of the state especially the youth believe that the Dinka and their leaders have betrayed their trust.
For when the SPLM/A was going through difficult periods during the liberation war, the people of the state opened their hearts, souls and homes to welcome their fellow brothers with whom they fought shoulder to shoulder to liberate the land from the enemies. But when the war was over, they were abandoned by this very leadership.
Instead of getting services from their government, they have been mistreated, marginalised, and murdered in cold blood. Unfortunately, the rulers in Juba are not ready and willing to win the hearts of the people of the state instead of using them as political tools. Furthermore, the painful political betrayal of the people of the state is the handing over of the sovereignty of the country to the Ugandan government through the security arrangements.
Most important, the leadership vacuum created by the death of the late Dr Samson Kwaje, elder Samuel Abu John, and Eliaba James Surur in the country have contributed to the fuelling of this conflict. The current Equatorian leaders who are supposed to be the political pillars in Equatoria have disappointed the people of Equatoria and South Sudan at large.
The Equatorian leaders in the government are preoccupied with the marathon of accumulating material capital and preserving political prestige at the expense of the people instead of redressing the genuine political grievances of the people by reaching out and offering comprehensive solutions to the issues. Each of them has embarked on the journey of trying to absorb and buy individual commanders such as General Kenyi Lobouron and Abraham Wani in the Yei River state to defect to the government. This is the sad political reality in Central Equatoria and South Sudan today.
The author, Oliver J. Lomeri, is a South Sudanese political operative living in the USA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in ‘opinion’ articles published by Radio Tamazuj are solely those of the writer. The veracity of any claims made are the responsibility of the author, not Radio Tamazuj.