Taban Deng: A Nuer Savior?
By Chadi Michael,
British Columbia, Canada
April 18, 2017(Nyamilepedia) —— Why do I even bother writing about Taban Deng? Why do I help him gain popularity by dropping his name? For a while, I have been the akin observer to the so-called “Nas Kubaar” in South Sudan. Nas Kubaar would loosely be translated as “Honorable” or the people you need to fear. One must fear them because they make both life and death decisions. Their decisions can alter peaceful coexistence of citizens like in 2013 when dictator Kiir unleashed his beasts of war to prey on innocent civilians. At the same time, their decisions can end the suffering of millions of citizens pushed to extreme destitution and abject poverty by their actions.
With Taban Deng now being one of the Nas Kubaar, most of us must choose their words carefully. Well, not me. I’m not one of the people who have to watch out for Taban and his angels of death. I know his secret agents hastily weight an individual value by trying to figure out whether a critic is either a political heavyweight or a lightweight depends entirely on how Taban gauges such a value in relation to what he would obtain from the JCE out of it. It depends on whether he gets a bigger share of a pie after handing them over to the “the masters of the land” as far as the situation stands at this moment. Yes. I said it. It totally depends on whether his masters, the Jieng Council of Elders thinks an individual life has any significant value in silencing the mass populace.
I’m not afraid of the Tabanists or the Jieng Council of Elders. I’m not speaking on my own behalf. I’m speaking on behalf of millions of citizens who cannot speak for themselves, either because they lack information flow or they still live in the JCE captivity. Taban does not scare me a bit because I work for what I have. I’m not a lazy bump who pays lip service to get paid. I’m not going to sell my humanity and Nuerism just to please such a doorknob. As a matter of fact, I’m one of the very few in my generation who would never trade his God-given wisdom for money. A rare breed made from the rarest clay in Nuerland. A proud descendant of a god-warrior, one of the untamed lion-men of the 19th century Nuer who fought everyone in their proximity and won with dazzling pride and bravery. I work for a living. It is hard making money the right way I know that because it requires showing up for work, completing daily tasks and keeping oneself healthy to last the test of time and unpredictable life challenges. It takes hard work and the desire to succeed to make clean money. Despite having to work hard for it, money does not control my life or define my relationships with friends, family, and fellow human beings. I would never betray the trust and confidence bestowed upon me by fellow men and women, and the posterity of a nation in order to secure my daily bread.
Who is Taban Deng?
There are talks going around that Taban is in fact not a real Nuer. I have to dismiss such personal attacks and lies. But if the rumors are saying he is a bastard child, I would agree. Not for the fact that he had anything to do with his mother’s promiscuity and slutty past, but partly because he proves his critics right by the manner in which he currently conducts himself. Taban is a Nuer just like any other Nuer walking or living beneath the earth today. He is simply just not representing the Nuer people like Salva Kiir and his tribal council are representing their Dinka interests profoundly. Taban is Taban for his own good. He is too good to care for the Nuer, let alone formulating any serious political platforms for a nation.
According to his distanced relatives, he had a tough childhood, growing up around Bentiu and its adjacent townships. He was unfortunate like many who grew up in single-parent households and for that, he had to be tough in the street. He puts his hands on anything he finds. He robs and steals from anyone he comes across to compensate for the things his mother could not provide at home. His education background seems a little murky too. This is either because no real sources who can provide accurate accounts of this “Zol Kabir,” or partly because there is no any tangible academic documentation to report about him, besides being a professional bus conductor at the very young age. Whatever difficulty he might have had in school, he repaid that in full by working extra harder in the street to get the respect he thought was overdue.
But as a firsthand witness in Khartoum, Riak Machar offered Taban Deng and fourteen other generals from his faction, SPDF, a lifetime opportunity to study at the University of Juba. This was an effort by Machar to give back to his loyal generals in his rebellion who never had a chance to finish their university studies before joining the fight for liberation. It was a means for them to reintegrate back into the civilian lifestyle and be able to find paid employments upon graduation. It was also a plan B Riak put in place in case the Sudanese government did not live up to its end of the bargains in implementing the Khartoum Peace Agreement.
The majority of the fifteen generals was Nuer. So all these talks about Riak Machar not empowering or growing young Nuer leaders are either excuses to rebel against him or the justifications to avoid personal responsibility. Despite being very young at the time, I witnessed the history in making, the signing of the Khartoum Peace Agreement. I also saw how genius Riak Machar mapped out the future of South Sudan under the watchful eyes of millions of northerners. I still remember some of the key principles of the Khartoum Peace Agreement such as the constitution, the expansion of the Coordinating Council of Southern States into its recent ten states and much more.
Returning to the educational opportunities offered by Riak Machar to South Sudanese and ex-military officers, some of the generals short-listed include the current opposition Unity State military governor Gen. Ruac Kuol, Gen. James B. Gatluak Jock, Gen. Gatdoor Kiey and many others who grabbed such a once in a lifetime tuition-free education. Taban didn’t go through with his studies. Partly because it was too challenging for him or simply because a man of his statute often busies himself with politics to concentrate on his studies. It is somewhat true that those who went through childhood yearning for things they cannot afford end up becoming higher income earners. This is attributed to their competitive nature and their willingness to do anything to succeed.
In this case, Taban Deng proves it to us that anyone can navigate through life to get wherever they want to be in life. He robbed, stole, betrayed, aided and abetted in the killing of several young men in the SPLA-IO to become what he is now. And that is the reality we must deal with. It is not easy for most people to knock out obstacles on their path to stardom, but a ghoulish like Taban who lacks any human compassion, conscience, and moral convictions find it so easy to deviate from the cause. Taban cannot defend Nuer lives because he does not feel like he owes them anything. His bastardism cannot afford him the luxury to feel proud of his adopted father Deng Gai and his bloodline.
His Military Background
According to people in his inner circle, Taban left for Ethiopia like many youths of his age to be trained as one of the future South Sudanese military and political leaders. One cannot provide the exact details of such training. But others who highly regard him say he joined the war college set up by the SPLA leadership, supervised by the Ethiopian regime of the former president Mengistu Haile Mariam between the early 1980s to late 1980s. After completing the cadet training program, he was awarded a rank of 1st lieutenant in the military. Some sources also point to the fact that Taban was stationed in the Equatorian region during the liberation war, yet one finds this claim out of place because of many in the refugee camps around Gambella dispute such a claim for various reasons. First, those who lived as refugees in Itang, Ethiopia claim that Taban was their camp chairman or whatever title Garang gave him. A military officer, working as a camp chairman for the refugees is something odd. The whole premise itself contradicts his earlier claims about being a general in the SPLA.
Second, many credited Taban with helping the SPLA during those dire days. According to numerous sources, Taban as a camp chairman bought trucks for the movement. He would sell the refugees food to the Ethiopian traders for hard currency badly needed by the movement at the time. In return, he would then buy trucks, weapons and military equipment to support the rebellion. Such a contribution gained him the notoriety as one of the “yaal el assad,” meanings, one of the “lion cubs,” or the children of the beast. In the eye of Garang, he was one of the best gifts ever given to southern struggle. Members of John Garang’s Red Army often paraphrase Garang saying, “ if I had ten Taban in the SPLA, I would defeat the Sudanese government in no time.” That shows how much Taban meant to Dr. Garang and how the beast himself trusted him.
Some also say that Taban was deployed in Equatorian region during the liberation war. If he was stationed in Ethiopia as a refugee’s chairman, how did he wind up in Equatoria fighting the war? It seems as though there are numerous inconsistencies in his lifetime documentations because no human can be in two different places at the same time. He would have to be a superman or a spiderman to do so. Unfortunately, these action heroes are fictional characters. Either his sources have exaggerated their knowledge of him or disclosed such information under the influence of substances, which often distort short-term memories.
Whichever story is true, Taban was either a non-combatant who took sanctuary in refugees camp or a low-ranking officer in the Equatorian region taking orders from others. This would make him a hero in the eyes of many people. But if it becomes true that his occupation was simply a camp chairman for the refugees, his only heroism would be that he helped buy the SPLA war equipment and vehicles. Others disclosed to this author that Taban was stationed in the current county of Payinjiar between the early 1980s to late 1980s. He was tasked with the overseeing of recruitment drive in that region. His job involved gathering abducted children from Western Nuerland and then arrange to ship them to Itang, Bonga or Pugnido refugee camps where they were trained as soldiers. If that is true, then his war stories and heroism are completely under open suspicions and scrutiny. He would personally have to clear up the air by providing accurate accounts of his military service.
Championing Nuer cause?
Besides working for John Garang and the SPLA in Itang, Ethiopia, Taban has no evidence of contributing positively to Nuer progress, collectively as a society. As a matter of fact, he aided and abetted in the assaults of Gajaak Nuer in Ethiopia during his tenure as a camp chairman. Nuer from that region were reduced to domestic servants, janitors, and grave diggers while he was the top Nuerman in that particular locality. Gajaak people were mistreated by the SPLA and completely denied access to basic food and benefits everyone else was enjoying in Itang. Many with families resorted to scavenging and trash-picking for leftovers. It is a shame to see Lol Gatkuoth holding hands in public with Taban today, a man who once enslaved his tribesmen and women in order to be true to his Dinka masters. Whatever assistance Taban might have provided to the Nuer was probably on an individual level. It cannot be used to promote him today as the Nuer substitute for Riak Machar.
When Taban left the SPLA in 1991, or let say when he accepted to defect with others because his personal safety was in jeopardy as Nasir automatically fell in the hands of the new rebellion, he did not contribute tangibly in the struggle against the unionists headed by Dr. Garang. He was too good to face hardship and fight in front lines. After the signing of the Khartoum Peace Agreement, Taban suddenly became the Western Nuer darling. Many made the error in judgment by suggesting he would bring stability, jobs, and development to Unity State. This was done by citing the things he did to please his boss in the SPLA. People nominated him as the governor of the newly formed Unity State before assessing his character, checking his references, and qualifications. The majority of people including Riak Machar was glad Taban was on their side despite lacking any civilian management skills that come with that job descriptions. It was all too good. People carelessly placed their trust on such a con artist. They thought he was a great person who will champion their cause and tackle the most pressing issues in the state such as instability, private enterprise, and normalization of trades between the northerners and the southerners.
People preferred him over Lileiy, the guy Gen. Matip handpicked to be the next governor of Unity State. Taban was the mastermind behind the Unity State war fought among the Nuer in that region. He aligned himself with people from Leer, Rupkotni, and Guit counties. Up to now, I find it hard to pinpoint where Taban really hails from or where he calls home between Guit and Rupkotni. The Bul-Nuer became all of a sudden political rivals of the Dok tribe. They anticipated the worse when Taban brought most Dok people onto his wagon. Without anyone realizing the consequences of his action, Taban pitted the two biggest Nuer tribes west of the Nile River in order to loot while they engage in military hostilities. That war caused many innocent lives more than recently wasted by Mathiang Anyoor and the Monytuil guerrilla combine, especially, in Unity State.
A great number of young men died fighting either for Taban or Liliey. Western Nuer was divided into two camps. The first camp was led by Gen. Paulino Matip and another was by the late Gen. Tito Biel. The latter was called the “the Riak Machar’s” or the Dok group while the former was the Bul or Gen. Matip’s camp even though between the two forces were all members of Nuer tribes of the west bank with the exception of Nyuong Nuer hesitated to bandwagon with either side, partly because they knew Taban was destroying Nuer unity at the time where attacks were carried daily by the enemy from the Greater Bahr El Ghazal. Most Nyuong fighters did not participate in such a power struggle. They were engaging the enemy. As usual, Nyuong people ended up being the last people to engage in any leadership wranglings with others despite having the most educated and distinguished individuals among the western Nuer.
As Unity State Governor
Taban as the governor of Unity State was used by the Dinka as a weapon to destroy the Nuer unity. He helped create a disenfranchise society by retaliating on the Bul-Nuer for his loss in the 1990s war. He took it upon himself to mobilize the SPLA forces against the people of Bul to quash the rebellion in that state. He ordered an immense destruction of Mankien, burning down more than 7,000 homes in Mayom County. He displaced thousands of people to the north. He went as far as divorcing some of the rebel commanders’ wives against the established Nuer customary laws. This was the first time in the Nuer culture that a political leader would go that length to dictate traditional marriages and social arrangements. It was one of Taban’s lowest points in his leadership in Unity State and by far illustrated his inability to govern in the time of conflicts. His emotions run so high and get carried away easily.
Taban turned Unity State into the Dinka oil well. He was rewarding Kiir with most of the state royalty fees and pocketed the rest. He corrupted the minds of many by starving them and consolidated the power in the state to his advantage. For example, Taban took to bed several women and young ladies in Unity State during his tenure. Some include wives of his best friends, colleagues and cabinet ministers. He had his own cattle auction, a wrestling pool and held the entire state hostage to his madness and sinful ways. He did very little to improve the life of citizens in Unity State. He only satisfied and enriched his relatives and family members with public revenues. He turned the state into his own circus and amusement park. He named several properties after his mother and claimed ownership of a vast land he would never acquire if he were just an ordinary citizen. As a bastard child, he does not have a claim over such lands and property he now has in his possession in absence of any genuine inheritance or purchase.
Taban introduced a system of “economic torture.” By economic torture, I’m referring to the treatment one receives if he or she goes against Taban. If Taban learns that you are working against him, he cuts off your sources of income and simply places you on a life support. He would starve you and your family to the point that you would either flee the state or succumb to his corrupt system of governing. That way people in Unity State feared him more than they feared God. He bullied his opponents including Dr. Riak Machar by giving them 24 hours ultimatum to leave the state. For example, in early 2011, Taban ordered several Riak supporters to pack within 24 hours and evacuate Unity State even though all of them by their birthright were full citizens of the state.
He contributed negatively to the growing pain and suffering of the people in Unity State. Some of the folks he banned from entering Unity State with their families ended up in Juba where their lives were claimed by Mathiang Anyoor and the Jieng Council of Elders killing insects. Taban maintained loyalty to Kiir while his people suffered. He lost all the trust with the Nuer in Unity State just to get along with his Dinka masters. He grounded several citizens and dismissed them from their posts in his government. He replaced them with incompetent fools who simply submitted to his nepotic and heartless leadership. He took public lands and resources to torture his opponents while empowering the Dinka dynasty.
Opposition Chief Negotiator
By luck and good fortune, Taban wound up with Riak Machar again. Machar is a soft-hearted individual whose compassion is beyond any ordinary human person. He surrounds himself with murders, hyenas and a bunch of no-good idiots who betray him when an opportunity suddenly becomes available. This is due to his trusting nature, intrinsic worldview and democratic ideals. Taban knows Riak’s shortcoming and uses that to his advantage. Riak often comes up short in terms of trusting. He trusts people who are not worthy of any human compassion. People who would never return him the favor when he is in a position of danger. He trusted Pagan Amum and the selfish infamous G-10 politicians including the current oil minister Lol Gatkuoth. He made their release a condition for peace talks and ceasefire. He wanted them to be released before he could accept any ceasefire even when the white army and Gen. Gatdet were advancing toward Juba with the speed of horsepower which prompted dictator Kiir to say, “if you take the power by force, you will not be recognized regionally.” After these crooked politicians were released, they did not publicly thank Riak Machar or acknowledge the sacrifices made by the white army who went through hell trying to rescue them from the Mathiang Anyoor’s captivity.
As anticipated, Taban took over the role of the deputy peace negotiator for the opposition forces. He stayed as the deputy pending the release of Pagan Amum. When Amum turned out to be one of those douchebags who does not appreciate those who aided their release from the Dinka dungeon, Taban fully became the chief negotiator for the opposition. A position anyone can be entrusted to administer if given the items list by the top opposition leadership. However, Taban acted as if he was the genius behind the cessation of hostilities and peace negotiations carried out in Addis Ababa. Nothing special about the role was given to him because he was just carrying out the agreed grievances not like he was asked to put his personal weight on the negotiations. He was handed the items list by the leadership, a role even a greased money can play at the negotiating table without any problem.
Becoming the chief negotiator for rebels was the break Taban needed to interject his personal issues and mend old wounds with former colleagues and boss on the government team. He built trust and confident with the negotiating parties such as AU, IGAD, and stakeholders. He friended his adversaries in the course of negotiation and against the will of the majority in the SPLM-IO, he reduced the movement bargaining and political leverages in the negotiations. He struck a deal with Kiirists and had to rush to Juba before they change their mind or to implement his evil plan he made long ago with Nuer enemy. He was promised to be the First Vice President as long he facilitated Riak’s assassination. Taban despises Machar. He did not respect him when he was the governor of Unity State.
I don’t seem to understand why he always comes to seek Machar’s counsel when he stuck and then turns around to bite him? Why does Machar always have to close his mind to Taban’s evil plans? Why does he always have to give him the top post even though he does not deserve it? Taban lacks the charisma, the charm and the education to back it up all. But I guess Riak falls blind to his own demise because his conscience and trust level are some of his biggest weaknesses. Taban knows all these weaknesses and uses them to his advantage. He knows Riak cannot imprison him or put his life in a harm way. He gets away with murders over and over. He attempts to take Riak’s life several times even though Machar always comes to his aid unconditionally in most cases.
As the governor of Unity State, Taban was poised to seal Riak’s fate. He worked inchoate with the tribal government in Juba to deny Riak and his supporters any chance to breathe whether in Juba or in Unity State. Before December 15, 2013, massacre, Taban was never a Nuer became he was basically working to ruin any chances of the Nuer climbing into the top of the food chain. He degraded Nuer people by mobilizing an army of spies to report those who were supporting Riak Machar.
It was the people of Mayendit that gave away Taban without any warning or who helped dilute Taban-Kiir’s political marriage. When the people of Mayendit went to the state of Warrap to revenge their people massacred in Jaloh and other Haak localities, Taban was brought out of the open by Nyandeng of Warrap. A small group of young men from the Mayendit County entered the state of Warrap and slain close to seventy people there and swung away with more than two hundred cattle. The event set the Dinka media on fire. They started to debate in their legislative chamber and in the hallways of the national parliament. Members of the Warrap legislative assembly threatened their governor with mass resignations because they wanted a swipe action against the Nuer. They branded the armed raiders as ‘rebels’ even though they knew too well that those who carried out the attacks on Warrap were civilians who took the matters into their own hands out of frustration with the government in Juba and Unity State inability to resolve pending issues peacefully.
When governor Nyandeng lashed out against the leadership of Unity State, by calling them criminals, Taban was seen on television defending his people for the first time in his tenure. He went on the television and denied that the people who attacked Warrap were rebels. He pointed out that they were civilians from Mayendit county whose relatives and children were killed by Warrap raiders two weeks before. Taban’s defensive response caused him the governorship. The Warrap Dinka coordinated their efforts with members of parliament and the dictator Salva Kiir to relieve Gov. Taban from his elected post a few months later citing insecurity as the main issue that prompted his dismissal.
As it turned out, Taban was right all along. He was just protecting his job because defending the interests of the Dinka was his only job security. And it is still his job security today. He is not representing the Nuer. He is simply a Nuer by name, but a Dinka by his action. He is the last person you would want to stand with you during a difficult time to face your enemy. Just with a stroke of a pen and a quick phone call to dictator Kiir, Taban was tossed out of the governorship.
Taban does not care about the Nuer, but himself. His only reasons for needing them right now are: first, he wants the Nuer to glorify crown him as their savior. He thinks he can buy or kidnap his way into stardom, especially with the recent abduction of the opposition politicians in Nairobi. He deploys a series of manipulative and blackmailing techniques to achieve his goals. Being under pressure from the Jieng Council of Elders to prove he is a man of the people or has any backing in the disenfranchise SPLM-IO, he resorts to unconventional tactics and policies very many of us have witnessed right after the infamous J1 onslaught.
Second, Taban is one of the worst con artists ever walked the face of the earth. He has no blood bond with his Nuer tribesmen. The only connection he has with the Nuer right now is to make them forget about Riak Machar. Just like other Nuer politicians who blame their fallout with their constituents on Riak Machar, Taban thinks Riak his an obstacle to his quest for power. And now with Riak out of his way, he thinks he can unite all the Nuer under his treacherous leadership and use them to increase his political leverage in the Jieng Council of Elders regime.
Third, he is a very dangerous human being. Since he hijacked the opposition leadership, especially in the Transitional Government of the National Unity, there have been more killings and instabilities than ever. He betrayed so many youngsters at J1 with his plan to assassinate Riak Machar. He masterminds the current turmoil in Lou-Nuer, Equatoria and Western Bahr El Ghazal. He is a power-hungry monster, but would never tell you that. He accused Riak of wanting to topple Kiir but he is actually doing the same thing in a non-confrontational fashion.
Overall, Taban is the last person Nuer would trust wth their lives and existence. He is currently working to scrap the so-called “hybrid court” and other judicial mechanisms put in place under the August 2015 agreement meant to prosecute those who instigated the Nuer Massacre in 2013 and various crimes against humanity. He is a sellout, a very manipulative and a poisonous snake you should never trust with your life.