Child Soldiers Recruitment was justifiable in the Pre and Post Independent South Sudan

By Dak Buoth

Mama Rebecca Mabior tells Al Jazeera that South Sudan famine was created by Salva Kiir or bad leadership from the leaders (Photo: file)

Mama Rebecca Mabior tells Al Jazeera that South Sudan famine was created by Salva Kiir or bad leadership from the leaders (Photo: file)

March 19, 2017(Nyamilepedia) —— ‘‘My aim here is to suggest how to organize for power: how to get it and use it. I will argue that the failure to use power for more equitable distribution of the means of life for all people signals the end of the revolution and the start of the counterrevolution’’ Paul Alinsky. This excerpt is meant to shed lights on what Rebecca Nyadeng uttered in Aljazeera TV on child soldiers’ recruitment during John Garang’s era in the 1980s. A few who have not had the glimpse of this talk show, she was hosted by one renowned Mehdi Hassan in program dubbed ‘‘Upfront’ in Washington DC on 24th February 2017.

I would like to compliment and add weight on what she said with view to make it fit and comprehensible in the context of human Rights. In doing this, I will try as much as possible to be factual for I think the number ten ‘rule of the radicals’ still right that ‘‘never go outside the experiences of your people’’

Bear in minds that this agenda is diverse and real. As such, we should not be too quick to judge Mama Nyadeng wrong with only one word she said regarding the same. It is very unfortunate that some people had already thrown the first stone on her forgetting the log in their eyes.

I find it unnecessary to mention her name as Rebacca Nyadeng Garang De Mabior for people to know and accord her the attention and respect she deserves. Of course, she and late John Garang are one and the same by virtue that they are married, and only death separated them. However, in the context of their roles in the pre-and post-independent South Sudan’s struggles for democracy, I would say they’re comrades serving under SPLM/A but performed distinctive functions for the movement.

For long time, she has been out and seen as real woman and leader in her own rights.

At the onset of the conflict in December 2013, she continues to feature prominently among the outspoken South Sudanese who have spoken meticulously on gross human rights violation in our country.  Her eloquent articulations of the vices emanating from ongoing civil war have earned her immense love and mounting hatred in equal measure. An old adage says guilty are always afraid; and the guilty ones who are heckling at her will only envy what she say, but they won’t deter her and company from doing what is abundantly rights.

I’m always glad that her views shared mine. Nyadeng fled juba for Nairobi after the crisis in 2014. While in Nairobi, she was frequently appearing on the first page of Kenya Newspapers demonstrating to the world what went wrong in South Sudan, and who the wrongdoers are as an Insider who is privy to the intrigues and dynamics of the rogue ruling SPLM party.

One fine day in March 2014, an idea crosses my mind. I say haah, why must we hear Nyadeng on the newspapers alone? I said it would be prudent if we could organize small forum of like-minded patriots and invite her to talk to South Sudanese opinion leaders with view to impart and give us first-hand information on the crisis so as for us to make informed choices.

Immediately I thought of this, I first approached my friend Lual Mathiang from Bor’s Duk County about it. On hearing this, Lual got impressed and said Mama Rebecca Nyadeng would be glad talking to us on the prevailing political turmoil in our land. He then advised that we can meet and share the idea with Bor community Chairman Mr. Dabek Duot Yak. I told Lual, if that be the case, than lets also brings on board comrade David Atem Ayuel Atem, Deng Akoi and Manyok Abraham. We said that once we agreed altogether, than we can initiate how to meet her and plan the event thereafter. Lual went on to phone Dabek straight away and conveyed to him that there is an issue we would like to brainstorm on with Dak in town. Dabek replied positively that he was going to be in Nairobi town round 5:00PM east African time.

Soon after, Lual and I flew to Nairobi central business district for this meeting. At about 5: 30pm, all of us gathered at certain coffee house opposite Six Eighty Hotel. When we settled down, I opened the agenda and talked about it for closed to 15 minutes. After i opened the topic, Lual shed light on the same. The rest of the guys inserted their inputs. Dabek spoke last, when he spoke, I verily recalled he first invoked a biblical verse which I can remember in parts. The verse read like warning in the sense that it suggests that the youth should wait for their right time to do what is required of them. Up to now I failed to understand what moment is ripe for youth. Dabek convinced us to abandon the idea on ground that the meeting of this nature was untimely and untenable at the time. I did saw some sense in his comment, however if I was him we could have proceeded. In response, I said its fine. They all hail from the same region which bordered mine.  I knew without their blessings we could not meet Nyadeng let alone inviting her because I do not know her before. As matter of fact, I had no other agenda rather than to meet as compatriots and share opinions with view to find sustainable solution to the skyrocketing catastrophe bedeviling our South Sudan.

Let’s get back on tract, sorry for taking you in ziz zaz. Prior to her visit to Washington DC where she was later invited to Aljazeera TV, I met her at Milimani law courts in Nairobi on January 27th 2017 during the trial for Samuel Dong Luak and Aggrey Idri who were irregularly deported to Juba. I found her stronger, daring and kicking than ever before.

To begin with, I would like to paraphrase what she said in Aljazeera TV. The host Mr. Mehdi Hassan asked her among other questions, ‘‘as part of the liberation struggle in the 1980s, did you and your husband (John Garang) recruited child soldiers to fight? In respond, she said we did not recruited child soldiers; arguing that sometime, the Boys often followed the SPLA voluntarily to get food, and that their parents would sometime bring them. This comment did not go down well with many listeners some of whom are former child soldiers. The people I talked to said they were outraged on hearing Nyadeng saying that child soldiers joined army for food.

However for me, I decided to respond and not to react. Rebecca Nyadeng is entitled to her opinion. I normally said time and again that social critics are not always right in whatever they say, and this writer is no exception. Each discussant has his or her owns share of faults. Notwithstanding, their views continue to influenced decisions among the populace at the grass root.

Compatriots, before we delve on whether child soldiers were recruited forcefully or not, let us first recognized two fundamental things: one being that there was spiraling war and that systematic killing was rampant at that time. Secondly, child soldiers issue is real, it is still there now and it has not yet stop. Once we agree on the aforementioned points, than we will agree and appreciate the necessity for SPLM/A to recruit child soldiers, and the reasons for young Boys or girl to join army for food.

In my view, Rebecca Nyadeng erred in parts for failing to acknowledged or accept the fact that John Garang recruited Child soldiers in to SPLM/A. It is easy to admit than denying the truth in public domain. There was no problem to admit it because it’s justifiable for reasons i cited herein. It common knowledge that Child Soldiers’ recruitment did takes placed under the John Garang’s leadership. On the other hands, it is irrefutable that some child soldiers joined SPLM/A to access foods and other goodies.

I was born in the late 1980s, at the height of political turmoil where massive killings and destruction of properties were the norms. It is for this reason why my Parents called me DAK; and ‘Dak’ mean catastrophe or calamity in Naath vernacular. However, the good part of it is that when you’re named Dak you automatically become anti-catastrophe and anti-calamity, instead you become peaceful. For instance ‘Mandela’ means trouble-maker but Madiba later became beacon of peace and reconciliation in South Africa and beyond.

John Garang did recruited child soldiers for three consecutive years, starting in 1987, 88 up to 1989. This recruitment exercise was done formally through the village chief. Thousands of child soldiers were ferried on boats from Barel Gazal and Western upper Nile region, later they find themselves in south Sudan-Ethiopia border.  Their parents were lied to that they were being taken to school in Ethiopia.

As they were traveling, many of these Child soldiers alias ‘Red Army’ perished on their way at the rivers and deserts. Some of them died of hunger and diseases. As they were trekking on foot, many got exhausted on the way because the journey was long and tiresome, it led to dozen of them disappearing in the process. This is common knowledge, and I’m not alluding that what I’m saying here is news. I know I’m narrating an old but true story that is at everybody‘s fingertips. There are many survivors around among the child soldiers commonly known as LOST BOYS who can attest to these tales.

Soldier (s) was the first available occupation and profession at the time. I tell you soldiers were feared and respected across the breath and length of all villages in Southern Sudan. An Army could take anything valuable he find from the villagers, and nobody could dare asked him why.

In Liech region, now unity state, there are two prominent stories about soldiers. One day, a woman found a soldier defecating in the middle of her maize farm, on seeing the guy, the woman asked loudly, ‘‘who is that person defecating in my farm? The guy just raised up his head a bid and told the woman I’m a soldier. And when she saw the guy was in military fatigue, the woman replied apologetically, ‘heee, lay ni gatda’ meaning ‘okay just continue defecating my son’.

In another occasion, it was said that, three soldiers entered a house and find people cooking inside. When the food was ready, they grabbed and ate it altogether leaving owners salivating. As they were leaving, one of them picked a blanket up in the room and put it on his shoulder without permission. The owner of the blanket went outside and said sarcastically. ‘‘Gaatke, sile patant mi chi pen jearun’’ this mean in English, ‘‘my sons is there blanket that has fallen on your shoulder:’’ she saw the soldier pulling it down, and she was also seeing the blanket on the soldier’s shoulder but she could not tell him directly to brings her blanket back, she has to ask them politely whether a blanket fall on their shoulders. Luckily, when the soldier in front heard her talking about blanket, he turned and ordered the one holding the blanket to give it back which he did.

You cannot entirely dismiss the ‘food factor’ in the all child soldiers’ recruitment. I believe Food was contributing factor then. Remember not all child soldiers were taken to Ethiopia. There were child soldiers all over South Sudan. Let us agree with Nyadeng that there were elements of child soldiers who voluntarily get recruited to SPLM/A for food. I’m not in any way saying that  SPLM/A had food to offer at the time, all I’m arguing is that once you became bona fide SPLM/A Army holding a ripple you are at liberty to grab other’s food. In other words, not all soldiers joined the army to liberate the country from the yolk of Arab colonialism and oppression; many others had ulterior motives best known to them.

There was moment in the late 1980s and in the 1990s when SPLA soldiers engaged in robbing and looting spree. More often than not, they could grabbed civilian’s properties and kill their livestock for food without accountability. When this unprofessional altitude spread within the SPLM/A ranks and files, several people including older children went to join the SPLA and other forces on their own accounts.  Immediately they graduated from the training camp, some could come back home straight to grab the cows of those who did not join. Moreover, you would agree that food and other were necessities are scarce at that time of war, and those with power of arm weapons will obviously take advantage over unarmed civilians. In a nutshell, what I’m reemphasizing here is that we cannot rule out the question of ‘food’ in the child soldiers’ recruitment. In other words, some went on their own volition.

The greatest point of concern that I wants to emphasize here and now is that child soldiers’ recruitment in 1980s was justifiable. At that time, the world was fondly aware that we were being marginalized and dependent on aids for survival; and they knew we were fighting for independent from the Arab Monolithic regime in Khartuom. On the one hand, the world was cognizant of the fact that Sudan army forces (SAF) was then killing us en mass. Their ware planes could come day and night to bomb us indiscriminately. They do not spare any old, blind, lame, child and women. And because we were facing extermination in the face of humanity, our leaders were left with no choice but to recruit child soldiers to fight in defense of the land. Remember even if children were left at home, still they were not treated with kid gloves. Notwithstanding these tribulations, the Southern Sudanese remained steadfast and determined to achieve their independent by hook or crooks; no child was left out in this quest for liberation. You must have heard total number of people killed during the war of liberation was estimated to be over 2 million.

Child soldiers’ recruitment still justifiable in the onslaught against Salva Kiir’s brutal reign. In Rebecca Nyadeng’s interview on Upfront, she stated quite frankly that President Salva Kiir did trained soldiers that were predominantly Dinka to kill Nuer civilian in Juba on 15th December 2013. In the first few weeks of the crisis, about 30, 000 Nuer civilian were reported killed in the capital juba alone.

As the intense fighting was still going on in Juba and other parts of the country, I met Dr. Deng Akoi in Nairobi in the company of Kim Bany, former Panyijiar community chairperson along mama Ngina st. Nairobi on 5th January 2014. Deng Akoi told me Dak, have you heard Gen. Peter Gadet has captured Bor town, and he is now mobilizing underage Boys around Lou Nuer and Gawaar Areas leading them to juba to overthrow the government in Juba. He added that what Gadet was doing was incorrect; that these underage Boys of white Army were likely to die in the combat.

In reply, I told Deng Akoi you could be right, but you should remember that there is nothing more brutal and barbaric than killing innocent civilians in cold blood. I told him Gadet could not mobilized 4,000 in few days, and that those self-trained young soldiers were joining the war at will.

Justifiably, I told him the white Army decided to join their General (Peter Gadet) because they heard and confirmed that their innocent relatives, brothers, sisters, father and mother were being murder in cold blood on the bases of their ethnicity. It was an act of provocation. On similar note, I said it is better killing young Boys in battle field than murdering an old or mature innocent person in cold blood.

As we speak, child soldiers are part and parcel of the armies fighting in the ongoing civil war in South Sudan. The SPLM regime is openly killing civilian en mass, and it has further adopted a policy of raping girls and women as form of payment and compensation. This is not known to law.

In the wake of this state sponsor terror, the mature Boys mainly from Nuer nation have no other option but to voluntary join the progressive forces in trenches to resist extermination attempt on them. It crystal clear that Salva Kiir regime keeps defiling and brutalizing South Sudanese with impunity.

Right now, there is huge present of child soldiers in the Panyijiar Civil Defense Forces (PCDF) guarding their ancestors’ land. The same scenario applies in chollo community of Malakal. The non dinka communities in south Sudan are now fighting and will continue to fight Salva Kiir and cohorts in self-defense, thus the age factor is immaterial.

The Writer is the Chairman of the Congress of South Sudanese Patriots for Peace and Reconciliation, and he can be reached for comments via eligodakb@yahoo.com

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