Salvaging Jonglei: The Cry of the True South Sudanese Patriot



OMAHA, NE — FOR the 8 years South Sudanese have been exercising self-rule now, violence has ruled in the same span across the state of Jonglei in ways that continue to defy understanding. Last month’s rebels attack on two administrative centers of Maar and Paliau in Twic East County riveted national attention on the never ending specter of violence—echoing the gravity of terror and violence on civilians by militias whose senseless killings have torn Jonglei communities apart. Most South Sudanese, including myself, are appalled by such senseless killing of innocent civilians. Equally appalling or disconcerting has been the apparent lack of response (swift or otherwise) from the government every time these kinds of morally irrepressible attacks have been carried out on the civilians.


In the midst of all the confusion after the tragedy in Maar and Paliau, with people still grieving and aching with all the loss, the collective cries of the natives of Jonglei are in the form of all questions people have been asking for so long. Did we really fight the north for all those years to have this level of insecurity accepted as norm in some of our states like Jonglei? To what extent has the government forgotten the heroic sacrifices made by the great people of Jonglei who contributed greatly in bringing about the realization of the country we proudly call South Sudan? Wasn’t Jonglei supposed to be the heart of South Sudan—the one among ten indispensable North Stars without which the country falters and loses direction or credibility?


To wit: I’m going to talk about liberation history for once. By way of a short historical review, Jonglei is South Sudan’s largest and most populous state—the state better known, like the other states, for having produced successive generations of pioneers in the resistance against centuries-old oppression from the Arabs and other colonial masters.  As a matter of full disclosure, what I’m going to say next is not hero worshiping. But Jonglei is also home to some of the most prominent political leaders and visionaries who have served or are still serving our country.


Among the list of fallen heroes and statesmen from Jonglei who died for our country included: the late Paul Awel Ruai of Anya-Nya One Movement; the late Aquila Manyuon of Anya-Nya One; the late Samuel Gai Tut of NAM/Anya-Nya II ; the late Akuot Atem Mayen of  NAM/Anya-Nya II; the late William Abdalla Chuol Deng of NAM/Anya-Nya II movement; the late SPLA/SPLM commander, Mr. Nyancigak Nyachiluk; the late SPLA Commander, Mr. Thon Ayii; the late SPLA/SPLM commander, Mr. Arok Thon Arok; the SPLA/SPLM commander, Mr. Dau Manyok Deng; the late SPLA/SPLM commander, Mr. Martin Majier Gai; the late SPLA/SPLM commander, Mr. George Athor Deng; the late SPLA/SPLM deputy Commander in Chief, Mr. William Nyuon Bany; and of course the late SPLA/SPLM chairman, our liberation icon, and the statesman, Dr. John Garang de Mabior, who founded the Republic.


Among the list of statesmen from Jonglei who have served or are currently serving our country, include: justice and elder statesman, Mr. Abel Alier Kuai, who headed the High Executive Council in the 70s; elder and former SPLA/SPLM commander, Mr. Chagai Atem Biar; elder and former Governor of Central Bank, Mr. Elijah Malok Aleeng; former Governor of Jonglei, Mr. Philip Thon Leek; former Minister of Petroleum during the Government of National Unity and now MP, Dr. Lual A. Deng; former South Sudanese Deputy Minister of Defense, Dr. Majak D’Agoot; former South Sudanese Justice Minister, Mr. John Luk Jok ; South Sudanese Minisiter of Information, Mr. Michael Makuei Lueth; Foreign Affairs Minister, Dr. Barnabas Marial Benjamin; SPLA Chief of General Staff, Gen. James Hoth Mai; Under-secretary at Ministry of Defense, Gen. Bior Ajang Duot; former Government Chief Whip, Mr. Atem Garang de Kuek; Under secretary in the South Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Charles Manyang de Awuol; former Presidential Advisor and First Lady, Rebecca Nyandeng de Mabior; former South Sudanese Minister of Roads and Bridges, Mr. Gier Chuang Aluong; former Governor of Jonglei and now South Sudanese Minister of Defense and Veteran Affairs, Lt. Gen. Kuol Manyang Juuk Chaw; SPLA Spokesman Col. Philip Aguer Panyaang; and of course former South Sudanese Minister of Defense and now Care-Taker Governor of Jonglei, Mr. John Koang Nyuon.


The state of Jonglei stands like a pearl on the Nile, famous for its ethnic diversity; it is home to 6 tribes: The Dinka, the Nuer, the Anyuak, the Murle, the Jie and the Kachipo. It is also home to millions of beautiful wildlife, oil, some minerals and a Canal bearing its name. Jonglei’s capital city, Bor, is where the SPLA Revolution started 30 years ago.


As a native of Jonglei, my deepest roots find their oasis in Twic East County—the scene of the most recent gruesome and senseless attack by David Yau Yau militias which resulted in the loss of 80 people; the same attack that wounded several civilians and resulted in the abduction of 24 innocent children, notwithstanding the 25,000 heads of cattle that were raided from Adubaar I, Adubaar II, and Maakir cattle camps, all carried out on Sunday, October 20, 2013, on the towns of Maar and Paliau.


It is worth mentioning that the town of Paliau holds such a rare political heritage in the history of our state for it is the very town where the top 28 traditional leaders from the Dinka Bor, including the paramount chief, were massacred by Jellaba, nearly 50 years ago, in February 1967. This was during the Anya-Nya One Movement. The chiefs (God rest their souls in eternal peace), being the true faces and sole leaders of their communities at the time, were seen by the Khartoum government as the major obstacle and the cause of resistance; hence their total elimination.

Some Background: Inside the Century-Old Menace Called Cattle Rustling


To provide a bit of context, it is right to state that inter-tribal feuds and cattle rustlings have been around since time immemorial. The Murle, for example, have been living off cattle rustling for ages and they are notorious at that. It is their way of life. Meanwhile, the ethnic communities in Jonglei (Anyuak, Nuer and the Dinka in particular) have lived with that kind of menace for as long as they can remember. But this century-old menace never shook those pastoral communities to the core. Matter of fact, before the civil war devastated the entire country, feuds emanating from cattle rustlings were rampant in those areas but the waves of attack and the ferocity of marauding Murle gunmen were no match for the virtually fortified villages and cattle camps that were always under the watchful eyes of brave Dinka youth—young men whose bravery and fortitude ran deep across age-set systems. The Murle raiders would come with their guns only to meet the stiff resistance of swords and spears—and a lesson in versatility. But it was terror nevertheless, especially for women and children who were constantly on the lookout during times of attacks as men would protect cattle and act as best lines of defense—something we as little children witnessed growing up through escapes or hearing of those stomach-turning warnings such as the occasionally blaring khiew issued by women or khoka— the Dinka special drumming (modern siren)—all traditional means of alerting people during impending attacks. Need I say that, back then, there was no government to depend on for security or protection— life was being lived according to the old earthly dictates of every village for itself and nature for us all?


Later at the height of the north-south civil war, as we children from Jonglei began to meet with our brethrens from Bar el Ghazal in refugee camps, we came to learn that a similar version of our terror was Maraam (Dinka for murahiliin} whose menacing ubiquity was immortalized in that popular yet infamously dreadful song: Maraam acin te liiu en thin, Muonyjangda, keril aci wuo jal yok. So in short, our understanding of childhood world was bridged, thusly: Maraam was to northern Bar el Ghazal what Murle was to Jonglei. But then we all knew our Movement had just set its sights on the archenemy, the oppressive governments in Khartoum, which trumped all else. After the war of liberation, there was the assumption that the government of the was going to communicate all expectations having to do with our new found system of self-government, starting with addressing all lingering fears and doubts among ethnic groups and of course without taking away from the ever larger issues of development. South Sudanese then began busily thinking about charting their new era of personal empowerment.


But like the saying goes, old habits die hard. In 2005, the age-old modes of cattle rustlings quickly became reactivated in Jonglei. Except this time it was going to be a totally different kind of cattle rustling—one that got infused with the deranged politics of a nation where everyone is competing to be politically active. The Murle went on their killing spree. And then on our way to 2011, at times when we were at the cusp of independence, something terribly wrong happened: David Yau Yau was born a terrorist. A shocking indictment of the independence that was yet to come!

‘The Pendulum of Violence’


Jonglei, by all accounts, was supposed to be the heart of South Sudan—the one among ten indispensable North Stars without which the country falters and loses direction or credibility. Yet it is the very state that our government has sadly allowed to descend into the ‘abyss of darkness.’ It is being fractured by violence. Some of the violence has been inter-communal, involving communities who have tried some sort of peaceful reconciliation or are still nursing conflict wounds but much of the violence has been committed by tribal militias mostly from Murle. In effect, Jonglei has in a period of 8 years become the infamous laboratory for perennial conflicts and massacres since the 2005 peace treaty (CPA) put an end to the north-south civil war.


Since 2006 the natives of Jonglei living in the rural areas have been brutally hunted down in the comfort of their villages and watched to grapple with heinous acts of terrorism in a manner that no civilized societies must allow. Conservative estimates by international agencies that have been keeping tabs on the conflicts show that close to 10,000 civilians have been killed in Jonglei. And what has remained puzzling during all these years is that the government has continued to turn a blind eye every time there is an attack on these law abiding civil populations.

WHY? Is there some conspiracy already in the works or being plotted against the citizens of Jonglei? If there is not, why would the national leadership allow Jonglei—the heart and lungs of the country—to corrode without any strategic plan to salvage it?

Speaking at the recent gathering of the UN General Assembly in New York, Vice President James Wani Igga had the guts and the audacity to tell the international community to stop focusing too much attention on the crisis in Jonglei because according to him, there are other 9 peaceful states.

“We call on the ‘experts’ on South Sudan to also appreciate the bigger picture of how well the country is run outside Jonglei state of the ten states we have,” Mr. Wani said in a prepared speech during the 68th gathering of the United Nations convened on Sept. 27, 2013.

“We are presently running a government with acceptable standards of competence. A decentralized system of governance was a conscious decision by South Sudan’s political leadership enshrined in the Transitional Constitution, 2011 to build a broad-based democracy in the post conflict setting,” the vice president added.

Really? Why have we not seen the same kind of strategic thinking, and competence shown in terms of dealing with the national security crisis that is the Jonglei? Why are the same strategies which brought peace and stability to the other 9 states not applied to Jonglei? Or has the government admittedly given up on Jonglei? And why would anyone allow or take comfort in seeing Jonglei, the home of John Garang, being destabilized? South Sudanese citizens should be ashamed of a government that speaks to them in such condescending ways. I’m ashamed.

I would like to know if the view by vice president James Wani is the overall position of the government in terms of how it has been dealing with the crisis in Jonglei. What does the veteran politician, and elder, Mr. Abel Alier who I believe has the president’s ears, think about the statement Mr. Wani made at the UN? And does he (Mr. Abel Alier) think the South Sudan of today where states like Jonglei is left in turmoil is the kind of country he and all the patriots envisioned decades ago when they started fighting for self-government? What do military and political leaders from Jonglei think about the endless violence in their home state especially as it relates to the security of the whole country?

Politicization of the Conflict: How Truth and Problem Delineation also Became Casualties


The reason the crisis in Jonglei has continued to boggle the minds has to do with the way the government approached the conflict from the get go; it is appalling the indifference and callousness the government has shown in the face of violence on vulnerable communities who were disarmed first and left to struggle without protection or recourse. But I think the mishandling of Jonglei started when the government failed to tell the truth and resorted to tinkering around the edges. And when it failed to properly diagnose the issue, that created confusion among the public and the political discourse was turned into a circular argument. Why did it initially matter for the government to dismiss or view the violence as tribal anyway? Isn’t the role of government or free society supposed to discourage all forms of violence, whether it is communities against communities or militias against civilians? The issue should not have been simply cast as tribal conflict. To me that was a false choice to begin with.


What has also been disturbing is how the conflict has been allowed to evolve into a spectacle. For the most part, it has been treated or handled like a sport. There has been no shortage of commentary pertaining to it. In fact there has been plenty of it on the Internet and in public squares. Such commentary has sadly been full of political gymnastics, at times presented in a depressingly illogical manner like in the case of all those misinformed UN operatives who, for whatever reason, feel the urge to do the bidding for David Yau Yau or the Murle through uttering of false equivalences or oversimplifications such as ‘bigger tribes pitted against smaller ones’, forgetting that it is the Murle who have been terrorizing everyone across the state, far and wide. Sometimes the commentary has also turned bizarre, and so unhinged that some people, either because of the hatred they harbor for Jonglei, decided earlier on to join the bandwagon on the road to the unseemly. Either jokingly or otherwise, those people have gone as far as to suggest that the Dinka could choose to leave their ancestral homes in Jonglei or allow a separate state for the Murle as the possible solution to the problem. And with such kind of talk, you have to wonder, what is the world coming to?


Whether the motivation behind that had to do with politics or mere lack of judgment, we may not know. But this much is clear: the crisis in Jonglei is a fatal ‘failure of imagination’ on the part of the government whose job was supposed to capitalize on the CPA from the get go, as a matter of priority, by communicating among all South Sudanese communities all the strategies for confronting all the bad legacies of the civil war. Now that Jonglei is a full blown national security crisis, some leaders in Juba are beginning to feign surprise. How naïve and hypocritical!


The whole conflict also became susceptible to wrong and biased reporting. Some in the global news media never bothered to practice what Tom Friedman of The New York Times calls the supposed rule of Journalism in which he cautions those in the Journalism profession “Never try to be smarter than the story.” But as is always expected, journalists with their flimsy kind of reporting ran with the first lines they heard from Juba and illogically presented to the world the story of the conflict in Jonglei as simply a matter of ‘larger communities targeting smaller Murle community,’ when it should have been reported as an act of terrorism. And in case anyone still has doubts about what to call Yau Yau activities up to this point, then here is the universally agreed definition of terrorism: it is defined as “the unlawful use of force or systematic use of violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government or its citizens to further certain political or social objectives.”


In retrospect, the government made such a gross mischaracterization of the specters of violence by dwelling on the semantics, even going as far as calling the David Yau Yau terrorist acts as tribal conflicts pitting communities when it was clear to every reasonable human being that such was a fatal aggression by a non-state actor, predictably with outside help from Khartoum, who had declared war on the state. When that truth was not told, then a combination of commentators, and the UN operatives bought into the mindset and the result is now the conundrum or the quagmire we are in.


This is one reason I think John Garang was God’s gift to South Sudan. His loss, as painfully crushing as it still is, has left a gaping hole that is being felt by everyone including those who celebrated his death. Garang was a rare and one of a kind leader—a man who had a knack for outwitting and defeating his enemies in places where many had failed before—a man who possessed superior military and political skills. Looking back now, it is those Garang skills that are sorely lacking in all the dynamics playing out in South Sudan and beyond. Those skills would have come in handy and would have been brought to bear in tackling the Abyei irredentism or the current Jonglei conundrum.


Either the Jellabas were right or they were planting a political curse ahead of South Sudan when they kept distracting chairman Garang at various peace negotiations with their tired ‘problem of the south’ retort that never was, contrary to what Garang kept saying: that the tumor plaguing the Sudan was not originating from the south but rather in Khartoum and that it was spreading from the ‘center to the periphery.’ As was later vindicated by the CPA, Garang’s diagnosis was spot on: what we were fighting to correct was the ‘problem of the Sudan.’ But we are now seeing maybe what the Jellaba was wishing us all along: the actual ‘problem of the South’ that is being mirrored through the malaise the country is in as well as the Jonglei crisis.

Continued Dithering in Juba Led to Legitimization of the Crisis: Has the Government been playing it Safe?


Since 2006, the world has been watching the slow unraveling of Jonglei. In Juba, laws have been promulgated, our country became independent, anniversaries have been celebrated and we have debated the wisdom of disarmament or lack thereof. All the while Jonglei burned. All the while the president and his myopic brain trusts were busy dividing the country’s leadership into ‘Garang boys’ and ‘Kiir boys’. But many well-intentioned South Sudanese were busy suggesting all sorts of great ideas and plans for arresting the situation in Jonglei before it would escalate. Many South Sudanese advised against selective and poorly conceived disarmament. They implored that the UN concept of ‘community policing’ be tried.


In 2009, when Jonglei first became engulfed by conflicts involving Lou-Nuer and the Dinka, well before independence, I joined the chorus of concerned would-be fellow countrymen and made my proposals known in a piece that was published by The New Sudan Vision on November 2009, titled “Making Sense of Self-Government: Why the Crusade for Perpetual Security is the Last Best Hope for Southern Sudan.”


The security traumas caused by Lou Nuer may have been targeted at Wernyol, Baping and Duk Padiet communities of Jonglei, but in a larger context they {were} a telling indictment of the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) and its management of all of its security affairs in the last four years,” the article said.


I talked about the violence being a detriment to self-government. “My fervent plea to the GOSS, and the state of Jonglei, all communities, large and small, {was} to reassess, and define public consciousness and not take a back seat to the disturbing security trends in Jonglei and all over south Sudan, because the brand of insecurity we have got threatens to corrode the very lungs of our society and any plan to save lives must go beyond disarmament—it does not require short-term fixes but permanent ones,” the article said.

“A crusade for perpetual security is needed as our only best hope for stability in Southern Sudan,” I suggested in the same article.


I went further to suggest these 5 pointers: (1) Leveraging community policing (2) Prioritizing societal imperative, (3) Fighting organized crimes even if it meant enlisting the help of Interpol—the reputable international police organization that helps nations combat all sorts of crimes and insecurities, (4) consulting and communicating with constituencies, and (5) cultivating civic sensibilities.Concerned South Sudanese have also called on the government to deploy the army/SPLA to protect civilians. The civilians in Jonglei have waited for the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to enforce its Responsibility to Protect (R2P), all but to no avail. If that is not a scandal, I don’t what is. Lack of response from the government has caused huge frustration among communities. For example, when the youth from Lou Nuer attacked Pibor in 2012, the government never responded. As a result, there have reprisal attacks between the two communities.


And nowhere has government’s lack of response been more pronounced than during the recent attack in Twic East County as captured by this opinion article in Gurtong Trust website. In his article titled “Beware of Security Deficit Mr. President,” Jacob Akol, the editor at Gurtong, wrote:


“Earlier on Monday, the staff of the new Jonglei Public Radio (intended to serve peace in the state), their consultant trainers and the Deputy Director of the station, had agreed that the lead news of the day had to be the attack at Twic East. They would take care not to put any blame on any ethnic community. But the news was ordered off the air as it was being read, with the explanation that the government had not given them permission to announce it.”


And was there any moral outrage from the President? No. Instead, all we saw 4 days after the attack was a president Kiir who was so scripted his statement lacked any expression of support to the communities affected or the victims. What President would call on the victims of terrorist attack and flooding to show ‘restraint?’


Following the the tragedy in Maar and Paliau, there is growing political consensus, if late, that David Yau Yau and his militias should never have been viewed as lightly and that the full resources of the state or national government (the army and police) should have been employed to protect innocent lives. Few days after the attack, a motion was tabled in the Parliament that could label Yau Yau as a terrorist.


But then one never stops asking: Why has it been hard to actually flush militias out of Jonglei all these years? Why is this madman called David Yau Yau not made to pay for his crimes or made to surrender like the M23 rebels who used to destabilize the Congo? How different is David Yau Yau from the LRA in Uganda or the Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria?


Despite all those crimes of terror, the public has not heard any declarative statement coming from the president saying that Yau Yau will someday pay for those crimes he has been committing. Has the president been playing it safe all these years because of some unfounded fear of human rights abuse charges from those UN operatives—and by the way some of those operatives are a fraud who seem happy and invested in seeing lawlessness and misrule— who have no contextual understanding of the complexities of our history, traditions, homeland and its people? If the UN seems only concerned about Yau Yau, how will South Sudan look like if crimes committed by him are not viewed as human rights violations? Or are the innocent citizens in Jonglei not guaranteed the same equal protection afforded everyone under the national or the international law? Has the urge to hold to power blinded the administration so much that preserving even a single life from a state that has already lost close to 10,000 people is not worth a single effort?


It is true the government has been bullied into believing that it can’t separate the real Yau Yau militias from his Murle supporters. The bullies (those NGOs and UN operatives who have been doing the bidding for Yau Yau with a straight face) have been running roughshod over critical issues of national sovereignty. To matters even worst, those at the state houses in Bor and in Juba, for some unfounded fears, also thought that by dealing with the militias offensively that they would run the risk of being charged with human rights violation. Since they are sheltered in cities, away from the insecurity, those politicians have continued to thread the needle with regard to the violence and naively hope it goes away. And that amounts to acquiescence and legitimization of conflict itself.

Failure in Adapting the CPA to Confronting the Painful Legacies of Civil War


The ongoing conflict in Jonglei or across South Sudan is rooted in what Dr. Jok Madut Jok and Augustino Ting Mayai of the Sudd Institute aptly called “the historical baggage from the liberation wars” in their Nov. 9 policy brief on the attack in Twic East County. The attack on Maar and Paliau has evoked a long list of dark chapters in the history of Jonglei and our country for that matter. For the Dinka of Duk, Twic East and Bor Counties, the Martyrdom of 1967—that year of the killing of chiefs— became seared into the collective memory of every generation as Ruon e Bany, and since then only suffering and trauma have been added as various tragedies began to multiply and pile up along the way. Starting in 1983 with the SPLA Revolution in Bor, hundreds of thousands from Jonglei joined fellow South Sudanese and took a plunge to fight for our freedom under the venerable SPLA banner. Sadly, many of those patriots never returned. Then half way through the civil war, another tragedy was revisited on Pan Bor: this time through the infamous 1991 Massacre. But the community continued to show dignity. People stood strong, walked with their heads held higher and with grace. Despite many horror stories of families having their doors closed down forever after losing all family members, the community created some light out of the most trying of circumstances and made efforts to look ahead as it tried to rebound from the tragic incident. Even with all their property pillaged, their spirit remained unbreakable—the true mark of a strong-willed people.


After the civil war, millions of surviving freedom fighters across South Sudan including those from Jonglei who witnessed the historic birth of our nation on two occasions (January 9, 2005 and on July 9, 2011) did so with a thankful heart, confident in the knowledge that the steady hand of the SPLM as the very custodian of people’s liberation would bequeath them a country where their children and the children of all of our fallen comrades would live and dare to dream of a brighter future, a decent life, and a world class education—a future anchored by the protection of the most basic of human dignity: life. Such was the SPLM’s original and sacred promise to our civilians, to our heroes and our martyrs. With the transitions on the horizons in 2005, hopes were being renewed in many survivors as some were thinking of starting a new life, and may entertaining owning individual businesses after their government had built roads and other basic infrastructure that facilitate movement of goods and services among local economies, allowing for interstate commerce.


But for many in Jonglei and across the country, the dreams of a decent life and country were kissed goodbye on that July 30, 2005 when the very leader who shepherded us for 21 years was killed during the mysterious helicopter crash that has changed South Sudan forever. The leadership that took charge after Garang’s death not only failed to build on Garang’s legacy and the momentum of the CPA but has sadly allowed the programs and vision of SPLM to die on the vine.


As a result, we have a country that has become polarized in short 8 years more than any country I can think of, at least when measured against the first few years that a country achieves independence. Millions of citizens are voicless and have already lost trust in their young government. The underperformance and mediocrity of the weak government in Juba coupled with the incompetent presidency has given even weak oppositions fodder to doubt the SPLM credibility and, by default, Mr. Kiir’s leadership weaknesses have translated to hatred of everything Dinka.


And with Jonglei now as a cautionary tale, it is no wonder the search for meaningful social, political and economic models for South Sudan continues to remain elusive, at least up until the minute of the writing of this article.


If he (Dr. Garang) came back today and saw the crisis that is engulfing the whole country especially the carnage that is happening in Jonglei, it would break his heart.


The government has failed to note that attacks such as the recent ones serve to bring back the horrors of 1991 in the form of re-traumatization. These incidents of attack and pillaging of property will continue to make it harder for communities in question to heal because as we have seen, the pendulum of violence has been swinging back and forth and will continue to have far reaching impact on the already vulnerable population. Those vulnerable communities in Twic East County have already seen the wrath of disasters such as the recent floods. For those communities, not only did the aftermath of 1991 wipe out the elderly, women and children from these communities but it was also about pillaging of the property—their only economic way of life. That was then. In the last 8 years, whatever little economic value they have had got burned or looted like in the case of those 25,000 heads of cattle that were taken in one day. How about in 8 years, what have all communities lost?


So—yes—it is an indisputable fact that many families and communities in Jonglei will never recover from the aftermath of the 1991 tragedies because, let’s face it, uprooting people from their ancestral homes and destroying their only economic way of life is hard to overcome in a single generation or even in a series of generations. The children who survived the horrors of 1991 never had the luxury of returning to homes they grew up in because they were destroyed beyond recognition.


If our country truly has the capacity and time for introspection, perhaps it would not be improper to start with internalizing and accepting that the seeds for current destruction were planted in 1991 Massacre and in 2006 when the integration of militias was poorly handled. Those two irreparable episodes stand as precedents and have come to epitomize how rebels or militias have viewed South Sudan, resulting in their taking advantage of all the loopholes in our weak system of government. 1991 and 2006 are responsible for opening the floodgates of rebellions and militia activities that we have come to live witness in Jonglei and beyond. It is such realization that has been buried in all the myopia and commentary around the violence that has been paralyzing Jonglei.

Our government missed a real great opportunity to use the CPA as a template for addressing deep seated issues of identity, ethnic reconciliations and insecurity not only in Jonglei but across South Sudan. For once, the country needed a president who was supposed to treat the CPA not just as a referendum tool but a template for all things self-government. Matter of fact, the country still despairs for that kind of leadership.

Because if we were true believers in self-government, there is no reason why our leaders wouldn’t stay true to what the late John Garang said at the signing of the CPA more than 100 months ago:

“With this peace agreement there will be no more bombs dropping from the sky on innocent children and women. Instead of the cries of children and the wailing of women and the pain of the last 21 years of war, peace will bless us by once more hearing the happy giggling of children and the enchanting ululations of women who are excited in happiness for one reason or other.”

Where is that Steady Hand—the One Hero Who Will Stem the Tide of Violence in Jonglei?


Let me end by saying that it has been a hell of emotional roller coaster ride for the people of Jonglei during these last 8 years. But no one is under any illusions about the dynamics in the state of Jonglei. They were always going to be different compared to other South Sudanese states. Most people have always known that. While Jonglei is blessed with amazing diversity, it has been teeming with its own complexities and contradictions. Because of those two juxtaposing Cs, Jonglei is like a powder keg waiting to explode. But both the governments in Bor and Juba still have a chance to rid that state of violence. Both leaderships still have a chance to rid Jonglei of the politics of hate that has been spewing for years, especially from those rooting for it to fail. Those actors need to be proven worng. Even to the average person on the street, the national security crisis in Jonglei is salvageable. What the ethnic communities of Jonglei need right now are not more deranged criminals with guns purportedly demanding or fighting for two states that will never be. We have had patriots who fought and won our independence. This is time for peaceful ethnic relations. What Jonglei also needs is not more UN operatives or UNMISS personnel who will be riding roughshod over the political leadership. Instead, what Jonglei needs are statesmen with pioneering ideas—moral leaders with stiffness of spines who have courage and conviction to stare down this violence that has been tearing the state apart. Jonglei needs a superhero— a leader who is unencumbered by the trappings of power—someone with a political will.


The lesson Jonglei offers for all South Sudanese leaders, both current and aspiring, is that the country hungers for leaders who are forward looking and cleared-eyed about protecting all their citizens regardless of tribe, state or region—leaders who are not insecure but confident enough to thoroughly ground themselves in the social and political theory that Garang left in terms of the CPA—the vision that allowed our patriots to fight and win our freedom—the same pioneering spirit that must be re-awakened in order to embolden and allow us to reorient our behaviors, beliefs, attitudes and our way of thinking as we settle on what nature of state, country or society we want for ourselves, our children and generations to come.

The new Governor could signal a shift in the direction of relative stability in the state. He could activate state emergency declaration for Jonglei, and ask President Kiir to deploy the full resources of the military to ensure all civilians are safe. Then he can tap the best minds from a council of traditional and political leaders and put them in a room at the state house and with the help from all his advisors, guide them through until they come up with a workable, long term solution to the violence. Because the alternative question then becomes: how many deaths will have to occur before the people of Jonglei get some modicum of peace and stability?


The Governor could also make use of the other most feared institution in South Sudan: the news media, especially the radio technology to reach and communicate government plans to everyone/community in the state. Establish Radio Jonglei. It is inexpensive and probably the only best way to reach masses of people: both the literate and illiterate citizenry. Then start weaving the narrative—the Jonglei story. Invite all the stakeholders in the form of all communities of Jonglei to start investing in the cause of peace.


For years now, many concerned citizens of Jonglei at home and in the diaspora have played amazing roles through individual and grass roots initiatives such as the Jonglei Peace of Neighbors and the Jonglei Peace Initiative. But the people running those programs are not able to reach wider population and create the ripple effects of social change because of the inept governance. They need a government that is responsive in terms of providing security and an environment where civic engagement could also flourish.


Citizens of Jonglei have often responded very generously during violence and disasters like the recent cases of flooding and the attack on Maar and Paliau in Twic East County. Joined in solidarity by fellow South Sudanese, they have expressed moral outrage at public rallies and on social media. For example, when news broke that the situation was really worst in Maar and Paliau, the natives of Twic East in the U.S. contributed, through their leaderships, well over $28,000 in matter of hours or days. It was money needed to care for all the wounded people who needed critical medical care.


In short, the immediate challenge facing people in Jonglei right now is how to convince the government to save lives and get the state leaders to start imaging Jonglei as the paragon of what is still virtuous in all of human civilization.

Because with servant leadership that focuses on empowering citizens, especially motivating the youth to aspire to a brighter future, Jonglei could reclaim the potential to be a national leader in peace and development, not to mention enduring ethnic relations.


Otherwise if this currently deplorable state of affairs is allowed to fester, it will be too late for the vulnerable citizens of rural Jonglei who are waiting patiently yet sheepishly for that one steady hand that is supposed to salvage their state and eventually save South Sudan from collapse. Non-response by leaders, police or the military will mean people will be numb to violence and our government will have shamefully legitimized the separate but independent provision for those in Jonglei vis-à-vis the other 9 states.

How sad that pearl Jonglei—the state with such a rich legacy especially after decades of collective struggle for liberation and self-government is now being turned into a laughingstock!

Joseph Deng Garang is a native of Jonglei. The views expressed in this article are entirely his own. You can contact him via E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.“>This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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