For the next two months, ReadCONTRA founder Rajiv Golla will be living in Juba, South Sudan, working with the South Sudan Action Network on Small Arms, local journalists, and a number of local politicians, professors, and community leaders to paint a picture of the Third South Sudanese Civil War. This is the fifth in a series of articles about his travels.
This morning I met Denis Dumo, the Rueters stringer and former Reuters fixer, that I had made initial contact with 4 months ago via Twitter. He arrived at my hotel in his Kia coupe and grabbed my hand tightly and met the face he recognized only through my profile picture with a big toothy smile.
“Welcome to Juba! How do you like South Sudan?”
“It’s a lot like India.”
“I guess we’re not so different, eh?”
He helped me stow my luggage in his hatchback and invited me to sit on the left-side passenger seat which had been refitted with black and white plush tiger print covers. The dashboard was topped with bottles of open cologne and perfume owing a strong and pleasant odor in the otherwise sweat and diesel congested city.
We went down the road weaving between the few bikes and cars that were out on Sunday morning, a truly sacred day of rest to a country made up almost entirely of Christians (save for the 5% of the people still practicing their traditional animist religion untouched by British missionary programs of generations past).
Synth-based Swahili gospel music hummed quietly on the car stereo, echoed by the hums of Denis himself. I asked what one of the Swahili words in the song meant and Denis laughed and shyly admitted that he did not know either, knowing only that the chorus –Mangu Wangu—meant “My God” and that the beat was straight fire. He was incredibly impressed that I knew some Swahili and even more floored when he learned it was taught at American universities. Africans themselves are not blind to the lack of curriculum and space they get in the American lexicon.
We went down one of the few paved roads of Juba that connected the airport with the offices of various ministries, parliament, and the presidential office. He pointed out the Dr. John Garang mausoleum on our left, where the independence day rallies would take place on July 9th. He urged me to get to the Ministry of Information first thing Monday morning to get my press accreditation so I may join him in the press pool to see the parades and listen to President Salva Kiir speak.
The tarmac soon ran out and the fragile undercarriage of our car was pelted with the pebbles and potholes that comprised the dirt roads that existed everywhere in Juba except its wealthiest areas. As we made our way to Jebel site, the tall mountain which lent its name to the neighborhood I would live in for the next two weeks (or longer if I felt security in Juba was strong enough). The closer we got to my house, the bumpier the roads became, and the more frequent white pickup trucks filled National Security and one of the largest army barracks of the city, which was one of the main theatres of the December 2013 violence that saw Dinka and Nuer soldiers violently attempt to disarm each other, each acting in wither self defense or following the orders of their superiors depending on whom you ask. I had been warned by some of my lunch guests yesterday that Jebel was one of the seedier parts of Juba where car jackings, murders, and theft were commonplace. This city was not doing great things for my blood pressure, which had been sky high since my plane landed.
We finally pulled up at a freshly painted walled compound over whose door bore sign reading “Hurry & Curry: Indian Cuisine and Lodging” and under whose door stood an older pot-bellied Indian gentleman with an arm outstretched to greet one of his own countrymen.
He invited both of us in the courtyard for a cup of tea and some conversation. My host, Kuber, revealed he had come to Juba 10 years prior, just months after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed. He took pride in his seeming rags to riches story in which he left his home in Tanzania to camp under tents in the fairly newly developing Juba while he build compound up himself.
“There weren’t even flights back home or else I would have been on the first one out.” These cowboy Indians just presented themselves at every corner of Juba.
Kuber’s face exhibited something of defeat as he described the current state of the country. The South Sudanese Pound was losing value every day, the war forcing more and more people into IDP camps, and business taking a beating, saved only by the UN staffers seeking housing while they served the nearby camps. This is not the South Sudan he had placed his money, hope, and pride in 10 years ago.
This was not the South Sudan any of the signatories or champions of the CPA (a surprising 99% of the population that voted for independence in the CPA mandated referendum of 2011) had imagined. When it was signed by representatives of Khartoum and Juba under the guiding hand of American diplomats and celebrities such as Colin Powell and George Clooney, it was exactly what its name suggested: the most comprehensive peace agreement signed since the dawn of the Southern independence movement in 1955.
Tenuous agreements were hurriedly put into place between the North and South to prepare for a post-colonial state as the British announced they would forfeit Sudanese occupation in 1956. One such agreement was to place military units in the South to give them some sense of propriety and autonomy but in 1955, these units were called to Khartoum. While some troops left, some mutinied and the Torit Rebellion became a canonical event in South Sudanese history, marking the beginning of the armed resistance struggle.
The first independence movement was a loosely bound alliance of defected troops and guerilla militias under the banner “Anyanya” or Snake Poison. They were represented politically by the Southern Front, which through several tactical political appointments and assignments Khartoum had split into two, with the other exile based party under the name SANU under the controversial leadership of Karthoum-sympathetic William Deng, himself murdered by northern forces when he denied their protection as he traveled the south to congratulate SANU politicians after local elections. The First South Sudanese Civil War ravaged the southern countryside—Khartoum’s strategy had been to keep the war contained to the south and further weaken local structures by using the rebellion against itself—from 1956 to 1972 when the Addis Ababa Agreement was signed under the Presidency of General Gafaar Nimeiri.
Nimeiri had come to power in 1969 through a coup in which he overthrew the first President of Sudan, Ismail al-Azhari. His rule was initially predicated on secular ideals, a political climate that alienated his fellow northerners that depended on Arabicization and Islamicization as primary means of control over the South. Nimeiri was also frustrated with the ongoing war that his predecessor was unable to control. He called a peace conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with representatives of Anynya, Southern Front, SANU, and northern parties. The conference was presided by Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie—God incarnate of the Rastafari movement (Selassie’s birth name had been Ras Tafari)—and the South was represented by Joseph Lagu and the North by Abel Alier, a South Sudanese under the thumb of the Nimeiri regime.
A tenuous peace was reached giving the south some measure of independence, more money from the north for development, and interestingly, claims to mineral and land rights in southern territories. Joseph Lagu, de facto leader of the Anynya movement signed the agreement happily and disbanded his troops. He was given a cushy position as a military commander in Khartoum and remained satisfied in his position for the rest of his effective political career. Alier, on the other hand, vied for the position of Vice President of Sudan to better represent the South but was repeatedly passed over for a northerner and remained third in command to assuage northern fears that if Nimeiri died, a southerner would not ascend to power. But all parties were not completely satisfied with the agreement and Anyanya II continued armed resistance under leadership of Paulino Matip and Kerubino, the man alleged to have fired the first bullet of the Second Civil War.
The peace held for 11 years under Nimeiri’s rule. But in 1979 Chevron discovered large oil deposits in the South, right on the border with the North. After 4 years of transforming secular policies to one of outright Islamic Sharia law, Nimeiri abrogated the Addis Ababa agreement and sided with northern political forces in a bid to control oil reserves in the South. When Nimeiri sent Dr. John Garang de Mabior to the South to talk to some political leaders and work out an agreement in 1983, Garang defected along with the southern army commanders and announced the establishment of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) whose political wing was dubbed the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), institutions that currently represent the only pillar of South Sudanese governance.
To be continued.
(Title image via).