By Duop Chak Wuol
Grave concern has been prompted by the recent statements of South Sudanese government officials, especially the statement made by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Deng Dau Deng regarding the lifting of United Nations Security Council sanctions on South Sudan. The arms embargo and targeted sanctions that the Security Council imposed on South Sudan were a direct result of what happened in December 2013. The sanctions were also an outcome of the roles played in the conflict by the people who have been blacklisted. The UN acted appropriately when it imposed the measures and exercised its moral obligation to stop the flow of deadly weapons and ammunition to South Sudan. The Council must keep the sanctions intact—indeed, lifting them could deny the young nation a path to stability and lead to the possibility of a return to war with far-reaching consequences.
On the 15th of December 2013, a civil war broke out in Juba. At that time, most South Sudanese who were politically aware knew the incident was well-planned, coordinated, self-managed, and executed, precisely based on what the architects of the war had planned. On the next day, President Salva Kiir, with some of his trusted government officials, held a press conference and informed the world that a coup attempt against his government was thwarted and that a group of disgruntled politicians led by his former deputy Dr. Riek Machar were behind the foiled plan. The world did not know that hours before the war erupted, Kiir secretly ordered his trusted military generals in the Tiger Division, responsible for his security, to disarm some soldiers within the division for a reason known only to him. Kiir gave such an order after a meeting of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) held by the party’s top decision-making body, the National Liberation Council (NLC) crumbled. The NLC members were discussing political differences between party leaders and who should be the party chairperson after Machar declared in July 2013 that he would challenge Kiir in the 2015 elections. The meeting collapsed as a consequence. It was also a known fact in South Sudan before the civil war broke out that most members of the NLC were in favor of Dr. Machar, which further infuriated President Kiir. For Kiir to say that he had successfully foiled a coup on the following morning was a sheer act of deceit. In reality, the entire saga was deliberately contrived and Kiir was the one who managed it.
However, Kiir’s announcement drew mixed reactions and skepticism from world leaders. The only leader who seemed to agree with Kiir’s coup claim was Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. World leaders were skeptical precisely because there was no scheme to remove Kiir from power. The reality was that President Kiir purposely designed the coup plot in a seemingly elaborate move in an attempt to rid himself of his perceived political opponents.
Coming back to the topic in question. There are crucial reasons why the members of the Security Council should not lift the arms embargo imposed on South Sudan. If the Council reverses the arms prohibition, then the regime in Juba will embrace such a decision as a gift delivered to them on a golden plate.
But what would such a decision mean for the people of South Sudan? Without question, such a decision would usher in the beginning of the prolonged suffering of the South Sudanese people. For example, such a reversal could lead to another destructive campaign of armed violence against those who oppose government policies, including ordinary civilians. From that day, the regime will go on a weapons shopping spree. The number of weapons Juba would buy, if sanctions were lifted, would be immense. It would be a mistake not to remind you about what the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs said on December 30, 2022. In his remarks at a news conference, Deng claimed that his government is incapable of stopping both communal and cattle-related violence in the country because civilians who are involved in these violent encounters have the same number of weapons the government has. Indeed, Deng told gathered foreign diplomats in the capital, Juba, “If the civilians have the rifles like what the army has, then you can expect the results will not be the same. This is why it is important that the government must get a bit of a superior armament so that they can be used as a deterrent force to be able to stop these youths that are moving across.”
The proclamations by the Deputy Minister are not convincing and were purposely made to gain public support. Only a morally bankrupt person or an extremist would believe these assertions. Deng’s claims are dishonorable and self-serving. In reality, the statements are designed to appeal to people’s emotions. This is why Deng uses violent acts committed by armed youths in the country as a way to win the hearts and minds of the members of the UN Security Council. What some people don’t know, especially those who do not have access to Juba’s deceptive policy, is the fact that the South Sudanese government is notorious when it achieves its goals unscrupulously conceived and executed for its survival. Their self-fulfilling claims are not new. Sometimes they behave like an uninformed opportunist who sits in the middle of a desert and hopes for a wind’s direction. This is exactly what the regime is doing. What Juba is hoping for is the following contingency, viz, that with the direction given to it by the East African regional bloc, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and by the backing of the African Union (AU), the members of the Security Council will have no choice but to lift the sanctions. I should remind my readers that the practices of cattle raids have been in existence for decades, perhaps centuries, and have consistently been the main causes of communal-related vicious attacks in South Sudan.
Indeed, the strategy of disarming civilians in the interest of peace is often employed by countries, even though this approach of disarmament does not always produce the hoped results. Moreover, to add to this general concern about the proposed strategy of disarmament, the history of disarmament in South Sudan is marred with controversy. In December 2005, for example—five months after Sudan’s comprehensive peace agreement was signed, the then-Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) led by Kiir himself carried out a disarmament campaign in Jonglei. But the disarmament was a targeted one. Kiir and his inner circle were only interested in disarming the Lou Nuer community, a main section of the Nuer society. This move was viewed with suspicion and harshly criticized because the people of South Sudan were wondering why the government was only interested in disarming one group of the society when clashes over cattle raids are everywhere in South Sudan. At that time, the majority of the South Sudanese population preferred a nationwide demilitarization rather than the cynical target strategy pursued by the government. The government continued this targeted disarmament practice; Kiir carried out other targeted disarmament operations even in his home state of Warrap in 2020. All these demilitarization campaigns ended up producing ruinous results with armed violence continuing to this day. It is quite clear that the government’s argument that the international community should lift the arms embargo so that it can halt the decades or centuries-old cattle-related violence is a self-defeating and destructive policy.
The request by President Kiir to the Security Council to lift the arms embargo is not about restoring calm in South Sudanese communities, as he claims. The request is one of his leadership’s cunning strategies. I should also remind readers that Kiir used this very same tactic before. Months after President Kiir and opposition leader Dr. Riek Machar formed a unity government in February 2020, the President and some of his high-ranking government officials started claiming in the media that the unified forces—a key provision in the September 2018 revitalized peace agreement–would not be trained because of financial difficulties. Kiir and his allies floated this idea because the international community told Kiir to use oil money to fund the process. The President and his allies did not stop there; indeed, the reality of the situation is that they continue to inform the world that Juba is short of the cash needed to graduate the unified forces. The people of South Sudan and the international community only saw the first graduates of the unified forces in August, followed by the second batch in November last year. Reading between the lines, one can easily comprehend what Kiir is after. If the sanctions are to be revoked, Kiir is attempting to ensure that he and his government are in a position to take advantage of such a decision; that is to say, Kiir will then be in a position to purchase modern weapons so that he can arm his forces, including his vicious pro-government militia groups that are operating in the country. These militia groups are active in Upper Nile, Lakes, Unity, and Jonglei States—just to mention a few.
There are other reasons why members of the Security Council should not lift the targeted sanctions against individuals found to play key roles in human rights violations and other crimes. People like Vice President Taban Deng who directed the January 2017 abduction of Dong Samuel Luak and Aggrey Ezbon Idri in Kenya should be made to answer for his actions in a court of law. There is irrefutable evidence suggesting that the kidnapped men, who were prominent supporters of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-In Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) and government critics, were later executed at a training facility owned by the National Security Service’s Internal Security Bureau branch situated on a farm in Luri, just 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Juba. In 2019, a UN panel ruled that the two activists were most likely killed by the government. Moreover, in 2019, the United States government reached the same conclusion, resulting in the U.S. imposing sanctions on those involved. In the sanction list, the American government identified John Top Lam, Angelo Kuot Garan (an Australian citizen), Malual Dhal Muorwel, Michael Kuajien, and Abud Stephen Thiongkol as the kidnappers of the activists. These abductors who were agents of the government were believed to act on behalf of none other than VP Taban Deng. Weston Wanjohi Wahome, a Kenyan member of parliament and supporter of President Kiir’s government is widely believed to be the one who was given an unspecified amount of money and then bribed some Kenyan police to carry out the abduction.
A situation like this, where the regime in Juba wants an arms embargo and targeted sanctions lifted without rational or ethical justification, inevitably generates serious questions. Which member of the UN Security Council wants to be complicit in this cunning scheme of Juba?
Since October 2020, South Sudan has deepened its lobbying campaign to get sanctions removed. As I write this piece, Juba has so far asked some non-permanent members like Japan, Ghana, Mozambique, United Arab Emirates, and Malta to help in its quest for the removal of sanctions. South Sudan has also lobbied two permanent members of the Council, namely Russia and China. Some of these lobbying discussions are still ongoing to this day. However, on the 12th of December 2022, a high-level official who works for South Sudan’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York and who has full knowledge of the ongoing lobbying campaign told me that a person whom Juba relies on for its lobbying scheme told the mission office that discussions are continuing but with serious roadblocks. I know for a fact that talks between representatives of the South Sudan government and some of the 15-member Security Council have been ongoing since October 2020; what these so-called “roadblocks” are or what they entail was not made clear. It is worth mentioning that lobbying at the United Nations is where an influential country can persuade enough nations to support its goal. But this is always done for the good and well-being of the common cause of humanity. A tyrant cannot ask the Council members to back his or her violent campaign against citizens of his or her nation. South Sudan’s government is running the country like a mafia corporation. The regime in Juba has normalized corruption, killings, tortures, and rapes, among other crimes. A country like this does not deserve to be forgiven, especially at this critical time. The Security Council must not turn a blind eye to the suffering people of South Sudan.
The Council members should know that the South Sudan civil war has not ended as some people think the conflict ended in February 2020. The war is still ongoing in shadow as daily arm confrontations between South Sudan People’s Defence Forces and the Sudan People Liberation Army-In Opposition occur occasionally in Equatoria and Upper Nile regions. The Security Council should also not forget the death of nearly 400,000 people who lost their lives as a result of the war. The UN should not justify their death by lifting sanctions. Juba’s request to reverse sanctions is political madness and should not be embraced by any responsible member of the UN family.
The regime in Juba is a documented master of deceit. Being duplicitous is deeply embedded in its policy. The regime’s seemingly self-serving propaganda has, thus far, served its cynical strategy. One month before the 2018 revitalized peace agreement was signed, President Kiir made known to the current First Vice President and opposition leader Dr. Riek Machar that the implementation of peace—if agreed upon, would be difficult because of a lack of funds. He stated in their conversation that the best way to pursue lasting peace was if Dr. Machar turned over all oilfields that were under the control of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) in Unity and Upper Nile States. Machar agreed by ordering SPLA-IO to vacate all oil fields under its control and turned them over to the government forces. Kiir then repaired the damaged refineries and resumed oil output. Regrettably, but not surprisingly, months later it was discovered that President Kiir was not funding the peace process as he initially claimed. But this political saga promised to become entirely morally inexplicable when the President knew that the member states of the UN were not supportive of his request and he still solicited the international community to provide funding for the execution of peace, accusing them of working against peace. This is exactly what Kiir is trying to replicate. The President is indisputably a master of deception.
President Kiir is not serious about peace. The only thing he is truly serious about is getting sanctions removed and maintaining the same political system that caused the December 2013 civil war. For example, the government is systematically refusing to put the rule amendments in place as stipulated in the revitalized peace deal. Furthermore, there are Juba-sponsored insecurities in many parts of the country including the capital, and millions of innocent civilians still live in UN-run camps commonly known as Protection of Civilians sites (POCs) because they are afraid of the endless targeted killing and violence. There is no protected and respected political space within which opposition leaders or parties can properly and safely function. This is primarily because the regime has a bribery strategy in place where it regularly bribes figures from leading opposition groups to fight among themselves further impeding the peace process. Moreover, the current regime continues to plunder the national coffers under the umbrella of spurious projects. These are facts—and these facts show that lasting peace in South Sudan is a far cry. The bitter reality is that the regime in Juba loves it because most of these issues are deliberately put in place to obstruct the peace process. These are some of the main parts of why the United Nations should not lift South Sudan sanctions.
The question of South Sudan wanting to be free from sanctions is a role for any sovereign nation to pursue on the international stage. But the United Nations Security Council was not established to cover up the actions of leaders or regimes that are documented to have committed appalling crimes. The Council must not abandon its main primary responsibility, which is to uphold the international peace and security of all nations that make up the UN body. Therefore, the world body must reject South Sudan’s government’s appeal to reverse sanctions. Lifting the measures would not only tarnish the image of the
Security Council; it would also make it complicit in Kiir’s regime’s cunning plan. Remember, President Kiir is the same man who now wants the United Nations to lift the arms embargo and targeted sanctions, claiming he wants the punitive measures reversed because he wants to contain cattle raids and communal violence in South Sudan. If this is not a classic 21st-century joke, then I don’t know what it is.
Duop Chak Wuol is an Analyst and Editor-in-Chief of the South Sudan News Agency. He can be reached at [email protected].