Regional Dynamics in South Sudan’s search for peace

Following the fighting that happened in Juba from 7-11 July 2016, there have been calls for arms embargo by the UN and other aid agencies. Several revelations about the companies that sold arms to both sides of the conflict including a Polish arms Dealer and the diversion of a weapons Shipment by a China (weapons meant for Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services). South Sudan’s Government prior to the start of the civil war in December 2013, had entered a contract for a supply of arms with Norinco (a Chinese weapons manufacturer). The death of two Chinese Peace Keepers on July 10th has been met with outrage from the Chinese population.

An article by Eric Reeves, a scholar on Sudan and South Sudan alleged that there was an attempted coup. The President Salva Kiir on an interview with Jeff Koinange in which he gave a step-by-step guided tour of how and where the fighting started echoed the same sentiment. On 21st July President Kiir in an interview with CCTV stated that Dr. Riek Machar came to the Presidential Palace on 8 July armed with a pistol moments before the deadly shootings started.

Part of the article reads:

“a coup in Juba is being led by Riek Machar, First Vice-President of the Government of South Sudan. The military side of the campaign is being led by Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) Commander James Koang Chuol, who has today been communicating with Peter Gadet.”

Although Eric Reeves retracted his assertion days after the fighting stopped, the letters which he used to support his bold claim were corroborated by a report by IRIN on Chinese arms caught in Nothern Unity. He referred to a complete text of the English translation of leaked 31 August 2014 minutes of high-level security, military meeting; posted 29 September 2014 on his website. The central figures who mention south Sudan in relation to weapons and training are the 1st. Lt. Gen. Hashim Abdalla Mohammed – Chief of Joint General Staff and Lt. Gen. (PSC) – Imadadiin Adawi – Chief of Joint Operations

Lt. Gen. (PSC) – Imadadiin Adawi – Chief of Joint Operations:

The greatest threat to us is coming from South Sudan. They are refusing to agree on drawing the zero line. We suggested the formation of joint forces with them, but they also refused. They are still supporting the two divisions of Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile. Accordingly, we must provide Riak forces with big support in order to wage the war against Juba and clean the whole of Greater Upper Nile area. Riak and Taban during their visit to Khartoum disclosed to us everything about the logistical support from Juba to the rebels, the route of supply and who transport it to them. Also gave us information about the meetings held between Juba and the rebels in regards to the disengagement between the two divisions and the SPLM/A South.

1st. Lt. Gen. Hashim Abdalla Mohammed – Chief of Joint General Staff:

 We must change the balance of forces in South Sudan. Riek, Taban and Dhieu Mathok came and requested support in the areas of training in M.I. and especially in Tanks and artillery. They requested armament also. They want to be given advanced weapons. Our reply was that we have no objection, provided that we agree on a common objective. Then we train and supply with the required weapons. For sure we will benefit from their discourse. Taban apologised for the support he rendered to Darfurian movements and the role he played in Hijliij battle. That Dinka used them in that battle to spoil their relation with the North. But they discovered the mistake of late.

Now they are fighting to achieve a federal system or self- rule for each region. I think any self –rule for Greater Upper Nile is good for us in terms of border security, oil resources and trade. Now we have to study how to enable them own a well-trained force with efficient M.I. and logistic staff.

Following this meeting, there was a subsequent letter to the administration in Sudan by Peter Gadet. This letter dated 20th June 2015 threatened to wreck the peace agreement between the Dr Riek Machar and the South Sudanese Government. In the letter from now renegade rebel commanders of the SPLA/IO Simon Gatwech Dual, Peter Gadet Yaak, Gathoth Gatkouth Hothnhyang, and Gabriel Tanginya—directly to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir—we find a request that arms shipments from Khartoum be sent specifically to them at specific locations. Gabriel Tanginya took the letter to Khartoum. It reads:


Your Excellency [President Omar al-Bashir], we are not happy with the way Dr. Riek [Machar] and Taban Deng [Gai] are handling the logistics you offers to us. Due to that reason, that is why the operation is not going well on the ground in South Sudan and we don’t understand how the logistics is being managed. Therefore your Excellency we don’t want politicians to run our military logistics for political reasons hence, we would like the military supplies to come directly to the military council under command of Chief of General Staffs, Simon Gatwech Dual. As follows:

(1) Logistics supply to Unity State should go under direct command of Gen. Peter Gadet Yak

(2) Logistics supply to Upper Nile state should go under direct command of Gen. Gathoth Gatkuoth and Maj. Gen. Johnson Olony

(3) Logistics supply to Jonglei State should go under direct command of Gen. Simon Gatwech Dual and Gen. Gabriel Tanginya

(4) Logistics supply to Greater Equatoria should go under direct command of Gen. Martin Kenyi

(5) Logistics supply to Greater Bahr El Ghazal should go under direct command of Gen. Dau Aturjong and Maj. Gen. Thomas Bazylio

A confirmation of the shipment of weapons being received in Northern Unity state was done by a London based Conflict Armament Research group(CAR). CAR told IRIN that in May it documented 1,300 boxes of ammunition captured by the government military, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).

Government forces captured the ammunition from a rebel faction of the military known as the SPLA in Opposition, or SPLA-IO. The ammunition was discovered in Northern Unity State, which borders Sudan, and the boxes had been painted to obscure shipping information that showed they originated in China, said Justine Fleischner, CAR’s South Sudan researcher. “Despite these efforts, CAR identified that the materiel was part of a 2014 consignment to Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service,” she told IRIN. “The consignment date also suggests that the materiel was very quickly diverted to the SPLA-IO in Unity State, presumably by NISS.”

Peter Gadet has long since the start of the peace process indicated his reluctance to participate in the peace process stating that the root cause of the conflict remains unaddressed. In may 2016, an interview posted by Radio Tamazuj revealed he didn’t approve of the peace agreement and would continue fighting. His reasons for rejecting the peace agreement being, “Salva Kiir and Riek can never unite the country. They are the cause of this division and never can the same people reconcile and unite the country. It cannot happen.”

The subsequent breakdown of the Security arrangements in the build up to the shootings at the Presidential palace to the declaration of ceasefire on 11th July 2016 show that the fracture in the SPLA IO had raptured. In an interview on BBC Focus on Africa, Dr Riek Machar after calling for the ceasefire revealed that the attack on the Presidential Palace (J1) was an attempt to assassinate him and possibly the President.

Since fighting broke out in Juba from 7-11 July, several notable developments have been reported. The defection of Dau Aturjong marked a turning point in the dynamics of military relations within the SPLA IO. Several defections emerged and were subsequently reported in the same way as the 2013-14 media rhetoric. The subsequent appointment of General Taban Deng Gai as First Vice President by President Kiir, in an attempt to salvage the Peace agreement, met virulent opposition from the members of SPLA IO pledging allegiance to Dr. Riek Machar.

Dr Riek Machar, who was previously opposed to the deployment of foreign forces has subsequently changed his position on the matter and called for the expeditious deployment of a third party protection force. This regional Protection force was accepted by the Government delegation which was led by the acting First Vice President Taban Deng Gai. General Taban has offered to step down when Dr Riek Machar comes back to assume his former role.

The shifting dynamics of the violence and allegiances make it increasingly difficult to speculate about the future of South Sudan. The proposals and communiques show that the international community is equally perplexed at the complexities that emerged after the IGAD led peace agreement. How then will the peace process be salvaged, or should the peace partners revise the terms of the peace agreement?

Hilde Johnson’s South Sudan the Untold Stories reveals internal politics of the IGAD led peace talks in which Sudan was pitted against Uganda while Kenya and Ethiopia competed on hosting and mediating the Peace Talks. Casie Copeland wrote on 12 July, a day after the ceasefire was declared:

The South Sudanese warring parties signed the 2015 peace agreement, brokered by the regional security organisation, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), under tremendous external pressure, particularly from neighbouring Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya, as well as China and the U.S. Following the signing, regional powers greatly reduced their focus on South Sudan and IGAD’s mediation became inactive. 

Uganda having previously intervened in 2013 after the civil war broke out. The subsequent revelations of support for the SPLA-IO forces by the Sudanese government makes their participation in The Countries Contributing forces for the recently approved Regional Protection force a challenging prospect. Previous warnings against the Intervention force alleged that such a force would  destabilise the Security in these countries. The Crisis group addressed this in an article highlighting the complex alliances within the region. The Mandate which has been given to the Regional protection force shows they will be under the Command and Control of UNMISS as stated in a IGAD communique . Whether this could solve the conflict remains to be seen.

It remains evident however that the biggest challenge to the implementation of any peace agreement is the participation of the local communities. South Sudan remains a deeply fractured society, with high levels of illiteracy and a largely under developed public infrastructure. All actors interested in implementing a peace agreement must put it in mind that a sustainable peace process must reach out to these communities rather than engage in high level diplomacy.

Since the start of the fighting, Social Media has been the preferred method for spreading rumours and communication. Hate speech and news laden with rumours spread panic to South Sudanese resulting in a mass exodus out of the country. Facebook and Twitter also kept informed people of where heavy fighting was occurring, with South Sudanese in Juba creating Facebook pages like #JubaSafe. The posting of forged documents, one alleging the firing of Taban Deng Gai, also spiked the political environment with repeated references to it. Another letter alleging the Army chief of staff gave orders to shoot down any planes with specific reference to UN initials, resulted in the cancelation of many flights out of Juba. South Sudanese in the Diaspora have been found to be the main sources of these information, which has prompted a “#DefyHateNow” campaign in South Sudan. An analysis by Obi Anyandike on how South Sudan moves forward, highlights the challenges and emphasises the need to implement the peace agreement.

With so many vested interests at stake, as the United Nations Security Council discusses the extended mandate for the UNMISS. The composition of the contributing countries to the Protection force to be deployed will be interesting to see. Kenyan banks operating in South Sudan have reported losses due to the civil war. Ethiopian businesses are also experiencing the downturn in business especially in their hotels. The evacuation of several foreign nationals and refugees after media reports warned of a protracted civil war following the 7-11 July fighting  has greatly impacted the economy of South Sudan. The upsurge in number refugees will undoubtedly have an impact on the economy of the neighbouring countries and thus poses a challenge in the implementation of the the peace agreement.


NB:The opinion expressed here is solely the view of the writer. The veracity of any claim made are the responsibility of the author,