Post-war states in Africa are more often than not characterized by long, protracted wrangles and a common failure to live up to peace agreements, regardless of interventions made by both internal and external parties.
This is the unfortunate story of South Sudan. The silent unease that characterizes the transient peace in South Sudan should be a major cause for worry to anyone who has any basic understanding of the genesis of the war in the country.
How the war has been fought through the years, the consequences of the continuing conflict, and perhaps most importantly, what imprint the war has left in the memories of the various communities involved – they all remember it differently.
Two years after gaining independence from Sudan, war broke out in South Sudan. Infighting had erupted in the SPLM because Salva Kiir had decided to sack Dr Riek Machar.
Allegiances came into play, spurring the conflict not forgetting the clear rift between the Dinka and Nuer; the two dominant tribes at the centre of power in the country.
Any hopes that had been birthed by the independence from Sudan in the North were quickly dissipated, the result of which has been hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of internally displaced persons, refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries and a never-ending crisis in a country with so much regional potential.
The Pope’s gesture of love and appeal to the country’s leaders helped some, as did his visit to the country later. There were isolated reports of a drop in armed violent attacks, especially by the peace deal signatories.
The various factions also managed to implement some of the elements of the peace accord. These have, however, been nothing but reprieve as the country continues to struggle with new bouts of conflict as well as extensive corruption.
But…like I mentioned earlier, the uncomfortable peace in the country is like a see-saw, always threatening to teeter too much to one side depending on the prevailing conditions—always threatening to tip the scale.
Lasting peace is still a concept that is too good to be true for the young nation. The recent rumours of an attempted coup point to a malignancy in the peace deal. The swift action by the president in dealing with the incident personally may also answer any questions about whether or not it indeed was a coup attempt.
What happened – the action
The spokesman of the SSPDF, Major General Lul Ruai Koang gave an official government position when speaking to Radio Tamazuj on the 11th of this month, to allay any fears of and quash any rumours about an attempted coup in Juba, South Sudan. The allegations of the coup pointed to an attempt by National Security Services officers to forcefully remove 72-year-old Salva Kiir from power.
There had been no advisories and for all intents and purposes, the security situation seemed normal in the capital. The tell-tale sign however was the markedly increased military presence at checkpoints. Residents also noted heavier than usual security presence at the Juba International Airport and around the president’s residence.
General Lul however dismissed all these allegations as baseless and as the work of enemies of progress who simply wanted to create tension in the country. He attributed the heavy police presence deployed to select parts of the city to an increase in cases of robberies at night.
Despite these efforts to assuage the citizens of South Sudan, subsequent events have only worked to fuel the rumours of the attempted coup. The level of deployment of security forces on the streets of Juba seemed like overkill for a simple case of ‘increased cases of robberies’ as the Major General alleged.
The President shows his hand – the reaction
Barely two days after the statement by the SSPDF spokesperson, sources revealed that security agencies in the country had detained 27 officers in connection with the attempted coup.
Of the 27 officers apprehended, 17 belonged to the National Security Service and 10 to the SSPDF and in particular, the Tiger Battalion which is the president’s guard.
Even more notable was the action taken by President Salva Kiir Mayardit. The president, who at the time was in Saudi Arabia for the Saudi-African summit on Sudan peace, sent a decree that was read out on South Broadcasting Corporation, a state-owned broadcaster in the country.
The decree was in essence the immediate dismissal of the country’s Inspector General of Police General Balok. While the decree did not spell out any reason for the summary dismissal, the assumption (especially due to the timing and the events surrounding it) was that it had to do with the fact that rumours of a coup were flying around on his watch.
In the decree, the President replaced Gen. Balok with Lieutenant General Atem Malor Biar. This swift and personal reaction by the head of state has left tongues wagging and speculation rife that he might be questioning the loyalty within the security forces as instability once again takes root within the country.
South Sudan is, hopefully, gearing up for elections come December 2024 and cracks can already be seen forming on the seemingly even crust of the peace deal.
Smoke can only signal a fire
Africa has become the coup hotspot in recent years and the South Sudan situation while still only a suspicion, should be treated with a lot more care than is currently being accorded.
If what has culminated in Mali, Niger, Sudan, Gabon, Guinea, Burkina Faso and Chad is anything to go by, there are always huge scarlet flags waving way before the actual coup, signalling what is to come.
In the unique case of South Sudan, it may be more beneficial to reduce the element of surprise. African countries must adopt a ‘anticipate and plan’ approach for scenarios such as what is brewing in South Sudan.
Trigger points are usually common in most cases. These can be studied and predictive models developed to help mitigate the outcomes if the result is a coup.
African presidents currently face a confluence of factors that would be daunting for any head of state; climate change effects, pressures of inflation, a downturn in the global economy not to mention unique challenges faced by different countries.
It is imperative at this point in time for heads of state, South Sudan included, to ‘read the room’ and address the growing dissatisfaction both within military ranks and among the citizens.
South Sudanese have lived through perpetual war and it is not surprising that the citizens keep hoping for some kind of peace dividend.
However, the longer this dream takes to come true the more disillusioned the populace gets and the result will likely be finger-pointing as the different tribes accuse each other of favoritism in government and inequitable resource allocation.
A clear lesson in this anatomy of a coup should be the case of what happened with the Kordofan, Darfur and Blue Nile regions of Sudan in the North.
South Sudan leaders should take a step back and see just how wide the gap between the people and the government has become. The gap should lessen quickly to avert a looming crisis.
The country needs a credible election next year; this can no longer be procrastinated. It is the scupper that South Sudan needs to drain off the excess water before the entire ship sinks with everyone in it.
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