Reasons Why Citizens of Greater Mundri in Western Equatoria, South Sudan Took Up Arms

A paper prepared to be presented to delegation of IGAD High Level Revitalization Forum for South Sudan Peace process

                                                                             By

                                                   Lt. General Wesley Welebe Samson

                                                     Deputy Chief of Staff for training

                                                                           SPLA/M IO

                                                                             Lasu

                                                                           South Sudan

                                      


Outline

  1. The story- briefly (Background)
  • Incursion of Dinka Bor pastoralist
  • Incursion of Dinka Agar and Atwot
  • Attempts at resolution of the impending crisis
  • Turning point
  • Getting allies/becoming members of SPLA/M-IO
  1. Summary of the reasons for conflict in Mundri area
  2. The aggressive and unacceptable behavior of the pastoralists, the destruction of crops and degradation of the environment by their livestock, coupled with lack of respect for the cultural and traditional norms of the people.
  3. The lack of respect to local authorities, elders, chiefs and the county authorities
  4. Arrogance, aggressiveness and impunity by the herders
  5. Insensitivity and inaction on the part of the SPLM (during the war) and by the post Agreement Governments of South Sudan to address their grievances
  6. Collusion between Dinka herders and the Dinka dominated army, security and police at Mundri and elsewhere in Greater Mundri
  7. Indiscriminate condemnation, ultimatums and threats by senior government officials in Juba without appreciating and addressing the grievances
  8. Alienation through indiscriminate use of lethal weapons
  9. Destruction of homes, arrest and killing of several civilians especially young men
  10. The way forward
  • The story- briefly (Background)

The reasons why the people of Greater Mundri resorted to taking up arms was the incursion of armed Dinka pastoralists from Bor, Yirol and Rumbek with their livestock and causing extensive damage to their crops, the other means of livelihood and the environment.  They also were alarmed because what they were seeing was the beginnings of the permanent occupation of their lands by the immigrant Dinkas. That was clear through the extreme reluctance of the Dinka to return to their ancestral lands and by the immigrants giving Dinka names to localities and directions. Furthermore, the local/ indigenous people saw clear reluctance by the leaders of SPLM/A, and later the Governments of South Sudan (who all were Dinkas) to repatriate the Dinka pastoralists. Lastly, they saw the partiality of the Dinka dominated government, the army, police and the national security organization towards the pastoralists; and the readiness of these bodies to cast them as the criminals in any dispute.

  • Incursion of Dinka Bor pastoralist

It began in 1991 with the incursion of the Dinka Bor across the Nile as they fled for dear life from the Nuer. Their kinsfolk the Aliab Dinka as well as the Mundari refused to give them refuge. Upon arrival, the people of Greater Mundri took pity on them and allowed them to settle. But soon that kind offer of refuge turned out to be a nightmare. Because, the Dinka pastoralists began to engage in practices that were anathema to the norms of the people. Their livestock destroyed crops as well as the environment; and they did not respect local cultures, traditions, norms and local authorities. The people were unable to deal with them because they were well armed by their brethren in SPLA. When this became unbearable, a delegation was sent to the Chairman of SPLM/A John Garang seeking the repatriation of the Dinka Bor and their cattle. But, though he sounded sympathetic, nothing concrete came out of his sympathy. However later, perhaps in response, some half-hearted and futile efforts were made to have the pastoralists return to Jonglei but they never left. In 2007, matters came to a head when, left with no recourse and following the killing of a farmer, the youth picked up arms and drove the Dinka Bor and their livestock out of Greater Mundri.  

  • Incursion of Dinka Agar and Atwot

The second difficulty arose with the incursion of armed Agar and Atwot Dinka herders from Rumbek and Yirol respectively. As neighbors and in the past, they used to come with their livestock to the northern areas in the dry season and return to their homelands at the onset of the rains. Their movement was however monitored and controlled by the chiefs on both sides. Consequently, there were no problems.

But as early as 2003/4 these group of herders began to move into northern Greater Mundri (Mvolo area) but with a much changed behavior. They began to misbehave exactly as the Dinka Bor. For this reason, violent clashes began between them and the Jur community. By 2011, those herders had penetrated deep into the Greater Mundri and were establishing cattle camps in areas which the people use as hunting grounds or for honey gathering.  They killed those who confronted them and burnt several homesteads. The county authorities were unable to control them as they were armed. The atrocities they committed were widely reported on by the county authorities, the NGOs and even carried by the news media. Yet, there were no responses either by the National Government in Juba or the State Government in Yambio.

  • Attempts at resolution of the impending crisis

As relationships got worse, the NGO Mundri Relief and Development Association (MRDA) arranged two meetings for the concerned government authorities, one in Rumbek and the other at Mundri. But the recommendations were not operationalized. In view of the failure of the meetings to tackle the problem and total silence from either the State Authorities at Yambio and the National Government in Juba, the youth decided and reorganized to fight and drive off the herders in defense of their people and land. As clashes increased, Juba got alarmed and a meeting was called by the Security at Mundri on January 16, 2015.  The meeting was attended by the Governor of Western Equatoria, Joseph Bakasoro, the Deputy Governor of Lakes and Senior Security Officers from Juba. A number of recommendations were adopted one of which was to send a delegation to speak to the youth. But the delegation, composed of local elders and clergy, had no mandate to make commitment to the demands of the youth and so was not successful. In the meantime clashes escalated between the youth on one hand and the herders on the other and in that clash the herders were openly supported by the Dinka dominated garrison at Mundri.

  • Turning point

The events described above radically changed the relationship between the youth (now armed) of Greater Mundri and the Government. Those were: apart from inaction on the part of the government, there was an open collusion between the Dinka herders and the Dinka dominated army and security personnel at Mundri. The army and security supplied the herders with weapons and ammunition and sometimes joined the herders in the clashes. Secondly, despite knowing clearly that the people (youth) took arms to drive away the herders, the Security personnel at Mundri continued to misinform Juba that, the people had rebelled and were fighting the Government. Hence, surveillance was heightened and killings began in Mundri by ‘unknown gun men’; which of course were the Dinka security agents in town. At this point in time, the collusion between the government army, the security agents and the herders were so high that the people began to see the government and the herders as one and the same; and bent to fight and kill them. That’s made more youth to join the group holding out in the forest. This situation was exacerbated by threats and ultimatums from Division Six Commander, Major General Johnson Juma Okot in Maridi and reinforced by other threats from Juba by the Ministers of Defence Kuol Manyang and of National Security Obutu Mamur,  about crushing the youth if they did not surrender. Additionally, the Minister of Information Michael Makuei called them criminals. On the contrary, instead of frightening the youth those utterances only served for them to get more recruits and hardened the determination to fight in defence of their people and land from a well-armed and heartless Dinka Government in Juba and their puppets in Mundri.

  • Getting allies/becoming members of SPLM-IO

From the above it is immediately clear that the reasons for which the youth of Greater Mundri took up arms pre-date the Government/IO conflict. It is rooted in their fear that the Dinka and their cattle are bent on taking over of their ancestral land. Since fighting the Dinka pastoralists, backed by the might of the Dinka dominated government, is no easy task, they began to look for allies. And given the adage that, ‘Your enemy’s enemy is your friend”, the youth voiced their support to the SPLM/IO of Dr. Riek Machar Teng, which at that time had begun to fight the same Government in Juba. In doing so, they saw no contradiction because they also believed in reforms in governance and in the party which Dr. Riek Machar and other SPLM party leaders were calling for. In fact, the reasons that led to the youth of Greater Mundri to pick up arms to fight the herders and later the government are the same reasons that have made the other communities of Equatoria (e.g. Madi, Bari, Pajulu, Kuku, Zande, Mundari, Luluba, Kakuwa, Baka, Mondo, Avokaya, Murle, and Toposa among others) to fight the Dinka dominated government in Juba. Therefore, there is need for IGAD High Level Revitalization Panel to address these issues, so as to achieve lasting peace in South Sudan.

  1. Summary of the reasons for conflict in Mundri area

The main reasons that compelled the youth of Greater Mundri to fight invading Dinka pastoralists and later to confront the Government can be listed as:

  • The aggressive and unacceptable behavior of the pastoralists, the destruction of crops and degradation of the environment by their livestock, coupled with lack of respect for the cultural and traditional norms of the people.

These behavior and practices included:

  1. Making cattle camps wherever they wanted to, without consultation and/or permission from the owners;
  2. Building fires in cattle camps that killed and/or drove away the bees;
  3. Cutting down the trees which the people use for placing their beehives;
  4. Allowing their livestock to destroy crops and aggressively threatening, beating up or killing of any person who dared to complain about the destruction of his/her crops. Often the retort was ‘uwa bi akol wen’ (where would it eat).
  • The lack of respect to local authorities, elders, chiefs and the county authorities

The herders did not respect the indigenous elders, chiefs and local authorities, would not obey and consequently accept to be disciplined by the local authorities, because they were armed.

They without permission harvested fruits (mangoes) from people’s homesteads.

  • Arrogance, aggressiveness and impunity by the herders

Because the government in Juba, the army, police and national security are dominated by the Dinka, and some of them had cattle in greater Mundri under care of Dinka herders, the herders felt the government was theirs and therefore could do anything to others with impunity. This is the reason for their aggressiveness and lack of respect for the other tribes. Indeed, when there is a fight between them and a non-Dinka, quite often, the Dinka officers do show partiality towards them.

  • Insensitivity and inaction on the part of the SPLM (during the war) and by the post Agreement Governments of South Sudan to address their grievances

During the war, though SPLM Chairman John Garang agreed to do something about disarmament and repatriation of Dinka Bor to their lands, nothing tangible and effective was done as the herders continued to stay until 2007. After the war, both the State and National Governments cared not to intervene to rescue the situation. This failure compelled the youth to take up arms to drive out the herders.

  • Collusion between Dinka herders and the Dinka dominated army, security and police at Mundri and elsewhere in Greater Mundri

It was an open secret that the Dinka dominated army at Mundri was very partial to their kinsfolk in the cattle camps. They even used to supply them with arms and ammunition. This collusion convinced the people that indeed the government was of the Dinka and for the Dinka and their lives and property did not matter to the government.

  • Indiscriminate condemnation, ultimatums and threats by senior government officials in Juba without appreciating and addressing the grievances

Efforts towards resolution of the conflict were thwarted by the incessant condemnation, threats and ultimatums by senior government officials (Kuol Manyang, Obutu Mamur in Juba; General Johnson Juma in Maridi and the local MP Hon. Joseph Ngere, now Governor of Amadi State) of imminent unleashing of government arsenal to crush the youth.

  • Alienation through indiscriminate use of lethal weapons

When fighting intensified, the Government resorted to using lethal weapons like gunships and aerial bombardment in total disregard of civilians. Consequently, many persons were killed.  As may be recalled, the indiscriminate use of lethal weapons is a crime against humanity for which President Assad of Syria is being fought by the international community. In fact, the Government’s use of lethal weapons against civilians was either equal to or worse than what the Government of Khartoum did in the last SPLM/A war. The lack of concern for their lives convinced the people further that indeed Kiir’s Dinka Government in Juba did not care for their lives, simply because they were not Dinkas.  

  • Destruction of homes, arrest and killing of several civilians especially young men

The army at Mundri looted and destroyed Mundri town as witnessed by a church delegation on 3rd November, 2015. In fact, at the sight of the destruction, Bishop Paride Taban shed tears. It can be boldly stated that the army units at Mundri, Lui, Lanyi, and ‘Buägyi have blood in their hands. They are known to have arrested several innocent youth and killed them without due process on the mere suspicion that they either were rebels or their collaborators. An example is the recent killing of three students at Mundri by the soldiers as they slept in their hut on 30 August, 2017.

  • The way forward
Simona Foltyn/Al Jazeera]

New recruits of SPLM-IO matching during training and reintegration in Western Equatoria(Photo credit: Simona Foltyn/Al Jazeera)

Globally, conflicts can begin at the national level and filter down to local levels. They can also begin at the local level and grow to be national ones. In both cases, once this has happened, the conflict can only be solved at the national level. It is deceitful that, while the conflict is raging in the whole country a peaceful solution can be achieved at the local level. As the case is, history is replete with failures of such endeavors. At home, we can recall how miserably the Government of Sudan failed to bring complete peace with say Dr. Riek’s SSIM, the Anyanya II or the multitude of renegade generals. And as we know it, peace only came at the national level with the CPA. Hence, it is our strong belief the local peace agreements being signed by Kiir’s agents with renegade groups at Yei, Yambio, Liech and elsewhere are futile and will not bring any total peace to the people of South Sudan.

It is thus the belief of the youth of Greater Mundri that, since their grievances have now been so much intertwined with the national disagreements, the upcoming revitalization of the agreement should take into account their grievances within the wider national context as part of SPLA/M IO grievances. This is true because the problems they have been facing with Dinka pastoralists is also being faced by numerous other tribes in South Sudan, particularly in Equatoria. We have the pleasure to list below some of issues which we strongly feel should be addressed during the upcoming peace talks being organized by IGAD.

  • Ending the domination of the army, police, security, immigration, customs and other regulatory bodies by the Dinka ethnic group; there should be fair and just representation of the 64 tribes in these institutions.
  • Ending the unfair domination of the national civil service by the Dinka so that a just and fair treatment can be extended to all ethnic groups. This would mitigate against preferential treatment as well as minimize the current practice to use Dinka language in official communication between officers, especially Immigration offices.
  • Devolving more powers and resources to the States and reducing the excessive powers of the President to dismiss elected Governors (over riding the will of the people)
  • Institute system of checks and balances that will restrain the President from transforming himself into the constitution and the law.
  • Enact laws and institute mechanisms to regulate the movement of cattle and permissible numbers of cattle per unit area all over South Sudan.
  • Return of all grabbed land to the rightful owners
  • Notwithstanding the right of citizens to live and settle in any part of South Sudan, this must be done with the consent of the indigenous people. This would minimize land grabbing
  • The President’s Republican Order Number 17 for the year 2017 to have all livestock owners from Jonglei and Lakes to drive their cattle out of Equatoria and back to their home land should be enforced; a high level body with sufficient power and resources should be tasked to effect it within a   specified time period. Thereafter a mechanism, should be created to regulate and monitor future movements of the herders and of cattle in general.
  • The earlier existing mechanisms that controlled and regulated the seasonal migrations of herders into Equatoria should be revived and made operational. Such mechanisms should as was the  case in the past, be operationalized by the chiefs and district authorities through regular border meetings
  • Disarmament, Demobilization, Reinsertion and Reintegration must and should be an integral part of the revitalized agreement. There must be a strong civilian disarmament component of the program. Otherwise, with the proliferation of arms as seen today, there will be no peace in South Sudan.
  • Revitalization of 2015 peace agreement with full participation of all  signatories and current parties in dispute. This process must not be left open ended but must be time bound, so as to end the suffering of innocent South Sudanese.
  • Release of SPLA/M IO Chairman and commander in chief Dr. Riek Machar Teny from detention in South Africa and permit him to participate fully in the revitalization of 2015 peace agreement with his team. This is because, he controls majority of armed rebel/opposition forces in the bushes of South Sudan and is one of the key signatories to 2015 South Sudan peace agreement
  • Speedy deployment of UN Regional Protection Force to Juba and other contested areas, so as to provide security, restore law and order.
  • Put a mechanism in place to punish or hold accountable any party who refuses to sign, implement or fails to implement the revitalized 2015 peace agreement.
  • The government of South Sudan must declare an immediate, genuine, permanent ceasefire, stop further arrests, torture and detention without trial of members of opposition groups and allow free movement of people in and out of South Sudan, regardless of which political party, tribe or group they belong to. Use of food as a weapon by South Sudan government is against human rights, international humanitarian law and the law of armed conflicts  and must be stopped with immediate effect.
  • The government of South Sudan must allow free movement of all humanitarian workers  and unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid to all needy areas and people of South Sudan, regardless as to who controls these areas. However, the humanitarian workers should not be accompanied by government army/security or their representatives.
  • The SPLA/M IO group who are currently in Juba, being headed by Taban Deng Gai, must not be recognized by IGAD and UN as they are now part of South Sudan Government, does not have any SPLA/M IO army and are no longer part of SPLA/M IO Led by Dr. Riek Machar Teny, who is the legitimate Chairman and Commander in Chief of SPLA/M IO. It is worth mentioning that Taban Deng Gai was dismissed from SPLA/M IO by Dr. Riek Machar Teny, before his appointment by Salva Kiir as his first Vice President.
  • Include all opposition groups, political parties  and civil society groups in the revitalization process of 2015  peace agreement, so that whatever is agreed upon will become binding  and result to a lasting peace in South Sudan.
  • Reconstitution of the new parliament and formation of new National and State cabinets must be nationally, regionally, geographically, ethnically and tribally balanced, based on competency, experience, dedication and integrity. This must include representatives  of citizens  of Greater Mundri who have taken up arms.

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