April 26, 2011 (JUBA) – A senior official in the semi-autonomous Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS), has described as ‘baseless allegation’ any claims by members of the Nuer ethnic group that they have been marginalized by the Dinka-led government in South Sudan.
- John Luk Jok, GOSS Minister of Legal Affairs and Constitutional Development (Photo Sudan Vote)
John Luk Jok, the minister of Legal Affairs and Constitutional Development in GoSS and also a member of the Nuer community, which is the second largest ethnic group in South Sudan after the Dinka, said he was disturbed by false claims he hears from the community members that the Nuer are being marginalized in the government. He made the remarks while addressing thousands of Christian members in the Nuer congregation of the Presbyterian Church in Juba during the Easter celebrations on Sunday.
Luk who strongly criticized the Nuer military leaders who have rebelled, including Peter Gatdet, because of alleged exercise of tribalism in the government, said those rebels did not understand that they were running away from the government in which the Nuer have a significant representation.
“We [Nuer] have seven ministers and also the post of the Vice President in the Government of Southern Sudan, and yet you complain of being marginalized. That is not true at all,” he told the congregation.
Luk said while others fear the fact that the Nuer soldiers are by far the majority in South Sudan army, the SPLA, and their officers are in command of most of the brigades and units deployed across South Sudan, yet those of Peter Gatdet still run away from the very army.
“The SPLA Chief of General Staff, James Hoth Mai, is also son of the Nuer community. The Nuer sons and daughters are the majority in the SPLA in the whole of South Sudan. Even if you go to Greater Bahr Ghazal itself, you will find that most of the soldiers and officers in charge of the SPLA forces in the field are from Nuer,” he further explained.
The minister appealed to the Nuer community to try to convince their sons and daughters who have rebelled against the government to abandon the rebellion and come back to the system. He expressed concern that the violent situation is becoming Nuer fighting against Nuer on both sides.
“Now because the rebels are mostly composed of Nuer fighters, and the SPLA is equally mostly composed of Nuer sons and daughters, when the rebels confront the SPLA, it will be the same sons of Nuer in the SPLA that will fight them,” Luk lamented.
Major General Peter Gatdet rebelled against the government and decided to wage war in Unity state, killing his own people, he said. Luk further explained that the commander in charge of the army’s Division Four in Unity state, Major General Gatduel Gatluak, is also a Nuer and is the one currently clashing with Peter Gatdet. The same situation with Gabriel Tanginya, a Nuer, whose forces clashed on Saturday with the SPLA forces in Jonglei state, commanded by another Nuer, SPLA Brigadier General Gatwech Gai.
He recalled a similar situation during the inception of the SPLM/A in 1983, when the movement was fighting against Nuer forces of those of late Samuel Gai Tut and Gordon Koang Chol, of Anya-nya II, during which the Nuer were also the majority in the SPLA’s early years.
The minister’s public concerns attracted a lot of reactions from members of the congregation after the Sunday’s Easter celebrations.
“I do agree with the minister that we as a community or Christians should discourage armed rebellions against our government anywhere and by any community,” commented a junior government official from the Nuer community who wanted to remain anonymous.
“Of course, we as Nuer have the post of the Vice President and the seven ministers in GoSS, in addition to the army Chief of Staff who represent us in the government and army.”
He however said the minister should not generalize the whole Nuer community as warmongers just because of individuals who decided to rebel. “You know, it is not right to blame a community as a whole as if it is responsible for the rebellion of individual military officers who happen to come from the community,” he cautioned.
He said some other communities have individual senior officers who have rebelled against the government such as General George Athor from Dinka ethnic group, Olony from Shilluk and David Yauyau from Murle.
“As the minister himself did correctly confirm that the Nuer officers are the majority in charge of SPLA forces in the field, and since those majority Nuer officers and soldiers deployed in the ten states of South Sudan have not rebelled like Peter Gatdet, then any rebellion of a single or few individual officers should not be seen as community-based,” he argued.
“There is a point His Excellency John Luk has missed though I generally agree with his advice against violence and all that,” said another commentator. “I think people like Peter Gatdet did not rebel on behalf of the Nuer community. If they say they are fighting against corruption and tribalism, then that corruption is not only affecting the Nuer community and tribalism may not necessarily mean tribalism against the Nuer in particular. It could be against other minority tribes, which Gatdet might have seen being marginalized and wanted to fight on their behalf,” he inquired.
He said he read in the media that the rebels were talking about the type of constitution for transition they want to see implemented on July 9 and the rights of other political parties in South Sudan. “Is Nuer community representing the constitution and the other political parties which the rebels talked about?” he asked.
“Yes, minister John Luk’s advice is very good for the community. Sometimes we have our sons who think they are always available to fight on behalf of others and that always puts our community at the disadvantage,” said an elder.
He further exemplified that while others in South Sudan submitted to the system of British colony a century ago, the Nuer took up the challenge of defending their territories until the British was discouraged from continuing with its colonial mission to South Sudan and left. “That was the beginning of disadvantages to our community because we were historically condemned by the British, then the Arabs, and denied us access to education for fear of developing us into future educated defenders of ours and others rights in South Sudan,” he further explained.
The elder further emphasized on the consequences of war against development, saying the senior government officials from the Nuer community should support peaceful dialogue with the rebels to end the confrontations.
“We can be proud of our courageous history that we had a visionary prophet, Ngundeng; we were the first community in Africa to be bombed using planes during our courageous encounter with the British; and also the first to bring down a plane used by the British during the encounters,” he said, adding, but the situation disadvantaged us in terms of access to education, which we are not proud of,” he continued.
He further advised that it is time for children of the Nuer community to go to school like the rest without their security being violated by rebels from the community. “I support dialogue with the rebels to end the violence. John Luk was right that it is becoming a Nuer-Nuer confrontation. May be that was what our Vice President, Riek Machar, warned would happen and therefore was not for war against the militias or rebels but preferred peaceful dialogue with them,” he said.
The elder also warned that the violence between the SPLA and the rebels can quickly turn into tribal war if the rebels, commanded by Peter Gatdet or any other Nuer rebel, carry out attacks into states or areas inhabited by other ethnic communities.
He said since the Nuer have the positions already mentioned in the government, they are therefore better off than the rest and would as well “eat their share silently.”
“Yes, John Luk is right. Why are the rest who are more disadvantaged not rebelling?” asked a university student. Let me tell you this shocking fact, even the Dinka tribe that some Nuer are collectively blaming for allegedly dominating the government and corrupting it don’t make their people in their home counties to benefit from what they have looted in terms of development? They eat the money here in Juba and send the bulk of the money like refugees to foreign banks abroad in East Africa, Europe or Australia and may get confiscated from there one day,” he said.
“We would be victimizing the whole Dinka population for no reason because, during my routine visits to Lakes and Warrap states, people are still walking half naked in their villages; no schools, no hospitals, no agricultural schemes, no roads or any sign of considerable civilization that can be brought to their home areas by any form of organized tribal corruption.”
He said the Nuer officers should not rebel this time but wait patiently for implementation of federal system after July 9 when, he explained, Juba will no longer control much of the resources coming from the states, during which the rich states will compete with others using large share of their own resources, and work to minimize corruption.
The university student said the type of corruption in South Sudan is not an organized tribal corruption, but a selfish one which only benefits few individuals at the expense of even their own ethnic groups.
“You see, in some other African countries that have corrupt tribal-based leaderships, they loot the wealth of that nation in order to invest it and develop their home towns and villages,” adding that this is always to benefit populations of their ethnic groups on the ground in order to have economic upper hand over other ethnic groups.
“But this is not happening with the type of corruption we talk about in South Sudan. So, I don’t call it Dinka or Nuer marginalization of others or organized Dinka tribal corruption because 99% of their populations have not benefited from the looted resources for the last six years,” he further observed.
He said it is a small clique of people from various ethnic groups, including Nuer and Dinka that have been squandering the resources of the nation without even benefiting the bulk of their respective ethnic populations in their constituencies.
However, another Juba university student partially disagreed with the view of his colleague. “First of all, I do agree that corruption in South Sudan should not be blamed on a single tribe, such as the Dinka as an organized act, but the son of that community who happens to be the president should be held responsible for condoning corrupt practices,” he argued.
He further argued that because the president is the only top official in government with the constitutional power to appoint, assign and remove senior government executive officials and army and police officers, he should be blamed for appointing some wrong people or condoning corrupt practices for the last six years, despite his zero tolerance policy on corruption.
He further explained that since the president [Salva Kiir] happens to come from the Dinka ethnic group, people from other ethnic groups also assume that when things go wrong under his watchful eyes, that condoning leadership style on corruption and other matters also represents the collective attitude of the Dinka ethnic group as a whole.
“Some people say maybe if somebody else from a different ethnic group becomes president with such constitutional powers to appoint, assign and remove officials, maybe that person could use that constitutional power to make things change better by effectively following up implementation of good policies,” he said. He added that this view is where the blame is put on the president, which is then perceived to be representing his community’s interest when not acting to prosecute senior corrupt officials such as the former two GoSS finance ministers who happened to hail from the Dinka community.
He also blamed the Nuer senior officials in the government, including John Luk, for allegedly not being proactive in influencing the government’s security strategy in South Sudan, which he said should include recommendation of peaceful dialogue with any militias or rebels as the solution to end the violence before 9 July.
“If minister John Luk and his colleagues in government are seriously concerned about the violence between the SPLA and the rebels which kills sons of the Nuer community from both sides, then let them turn away the guns which are aimed at the Nuer community by strongly recommending peaceful dialogue with the militias or rebels,” he said.