Dear Ambassador Haley:
My view of South Sudan and the conflict is not at all popular right now. I have lost friends and garnered much hostility for speaking out. I have had colleagues roll their eyes and some South Sudanese call me “pro-Dinka” and “government collaborator.” But I am not. I am pro-truth, and truth has been replaced by a false narrative with convenient sound bites. I cannot stay silent. After 24 years of experience with Sudan and South Sudan, I know the players well. I know their character. And their lack of character. What I don’t know is why the United States is doing what it is doing.
Last Wednesday, October 25, 2017, The Washington Post declared, “Nikki Haley warns war-torn South Sudan that U.S. aid ‘at crossroads’ unless violence eases.”
But after your hasty departure from a UN Protection of Civilians camp (POC) wracked (and wrecked) in a violent protest by supporters of rebel leader Riek Machar, I am hoping that perhaps you can see just a taste of what South Sudan President Salva Kiir has been facing for almost four years from the Khartoum-backed, lobbyist-laden armed rebel combatants. The rebels have not been successful in their attempt to take over the country, but they have been overwhelmingly successful in their attempt to take over the narrative.
Try applying to the event at the POC camp the same flawed logic that the United States, African Union (AU), Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), United Nations, NGO’s, the media . . . pretty much the entire world has used on the overall South Sudan conflict. In the logic of the conflict’s “inclusivists,” moral relativists, and peace-at-any-price pacifists, when the riot at the POC camp began, the President was accountable to magically “stop the violence.” That’s how Kiir is told to deal with rebel combatants. “You’ve got to stop the violence.”
But simultaneously, Kiir’s critics, including your predecessor, demand South Sudan’s army, originally the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, (SPLA) observe a ceasefire with what they call the “rival army.” Put aside the notion of sovereignty that is challenged by the phrase “rival army,” and a nation’s right to defend itself (something which even St. Augustine assured Roman General Boniface was a “just cause” when the Visigoths were running around sacking and burning Rome). Ceasefires cannot “stop the violence” unless both armies cease fire, Ambassador Haley.
If only the government troops cease fire, at worst, they get shot and die. At best, they lose territory to the rebels. Is that what the United States, AU, etc. actually want, I wonder? It’s pretty certain that is what the United Nations wants, seeing as how many truckloads of weapons the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) attempted to deliver to Riek Machar a few years ago.
And here’s another way in which the riot at the POC camp is a microcosm of the country’s conflict. Since December 2013, you may have noticed that media accounts and even analytical reports professing to be serious investigations always describe the violence that began South Sudan’s conflict with such non-attributable expressions as “erupting” or “breaking out”.
And when it’s not described as spontaneous, the violence is always laid at the feet of Kiir’s government – or that at least is heavily hinted. But the same stories that insist that Riek Machar denied a coup attempt then go on to describe him leading a resistance movement with no sense of incongruity. (Just a case of “never let a crisis go to waste” on Machar’s part?)
The ‘non-coup-attempt’ rebels led by Machar began with the murderous, but deluded, White Army of very young, mostly Luo Nuer. The first place where their violence “erupted” was the site of Machar’s original 1991 betrayal, Bor, in Jonglei State. Days before the massacre they sent their own families to the UN compound for safekeeping and then slaughtered thousands of Dinka people.
The White Army is eerily similar to Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, right down to covering their bodies in white ash. As the co-author of a book about the LRA, I would bet this is no coincidence, Ambassador Haley. Machar also led the White Army in the 1990’s. And a former child soldier told me of Machar’s closeness to Joseph Kony. He also told me that Machar actually introduced Kony to Sudan President Omar al Bashir.