Julius Malema an opportunist: SACP

King William’s Town – The SACP in the Eastern Cape on Thursday criticised a visit by EFF leader Julius Malema to ex-miners in King William’s Town as “opportunistic”.

“Be vigilant of one enemy in many colours,” provincial SA Communist Party spokesman Siyabonga Mdodi said in a statement.

He said Malema met the ex-miners on Tuesday and promised them money owed by the mineral resources department.

“This should be viewed as nothing else but sheer opportunism and blatant abuse of the plight of our people.”

Mdodi said his party met the department and the process was on track to pay the ex-miners between December this year and March 2014.

“Julius Malema’s visit to the province represent(s) an attempt to hijack the process.”

Mdodi said the party urged people to always identify a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

“No matter how many times it may attempt to convince us that it is a sheep; the wolf must never be allowed to be in our flock, for he has no other intention but to taste blood.”

Economic Freedom Fighters spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said the party would not dignify the SACP’s statement with a response.

“We will not dignify the permanent empty speech of SACP with a response. It will be giving them existence that they do not have,” he said.


Explaining the Ethiopian outmigration: Incentives or Constraints?

By Seid Hassan and Minga Negash1

In both theory and practice, pull and push factors drive migrants out of their own countries of origin. The factors are complex but they are in general categorized as: (a) demand-pull factors, represented by better economic opportunities and jobs in the host (new) country; (b) supply-push factors, represented by the lack of economic opportunities, jobs, and economic downturns, political oppressions, abuses of human rights by home country governments, religious intolerance (constraints), war, conflict and insecurity in the home country; (c) mediating factors that accelerate or constrain migration which may include the existence or prevalence of opportunities available to human smugglers, fly by night
recruitment agencies, registered recruitment agencies operating within the legal system and government policies encouraging/incentivizing citizens to migrate; and (d) social network (pull) factors such as the existence of relatives, friends and acquaintances in host countries, available opportunities for family unifications in host countries, and success stories of diaspora migrants. The role played by each of these factors and their relative importance and dynamics depend on the economic, political, societal conditions and geographical proximity between the home, transit and destination countries.

In attempting to explain the Ethiopian outmigration, our conjuncture is that the push factors play the dominant role in driving out Ethiopians out of their country, prominent among them being abject poverty and bad governance. Bad governance and economic constraints are highly correlated, for bad governance basically means the lack of rule of law, political freedom, accountability, transparency, efficient institutions and increased corruption and insecurity. Development economists have repeatedly shown that bad governance plays significant roles in retarding development in addition to exacerbating economic inequality, increasing poverty, corruption, conflicts and environmental degradation.

Development economists have also documented that economic mobility and geographic mobility are correlated. Unfortunately, the ruling party’s ethnic policy is known to have restricted internal migration. That is, by restricting internal migration, the ethnic based governance and political structure, has limited the economic opportunities of the citizens and the country’s capability to absorb migrants internally. As Gray, Mueller and Woldehanna (2012) show, barriers within Ethiopia indeed exist, thereby prohibiting citizens from freely moving within regions, hence denying them the basic constitutional right of mobility. The expulsion of “others” from the Benishangul-Gumuz, and Gura Ferda and the Ogaden regions, considered by many to be crime against humanity is the extreme version of it. Another political problem which has a colossal economic impact on migration is the corruption conundrum. As Ariu and Squicciarin argue, the prevalence of corruption within a nation tends to drive relatively skilled workers out of their own country in part because they distaste a non- meritocratic and nepotistic regime. The “prolonged loss in human capital” in turn leads a country to be afflicted by brain-drain which is known to be a major obstacle to economic growth. In the case of Ethiopia’s opaque system, there is a widespread perception that one can only advance his/her career and economic opportunities using close knit ties established through one’s ethnic stock, family connections or through corruption. This captured state of the Ethiopian State has been dealt in the special edition of the Ethiopian E. Journal for Innovation and Research Foresight (Volume 5 No 1 2013).

In explaining the Ethiopian migration to the Middle East, which we believe is largely economic, we ask two interesting questions: Firstly, why do Ethiopians leave their birthplaces en masse when their country is alleged to have been registering double digit real economic growth rates for nearly a decade? Secondly, are there any overarching identifiable factors that explain the Ethiopian exodus? Managing the variables enables policy makers and the international community to find mitigation strategies for the outmigration, and the resultant human tragedy experienced by the migrants.

As indicated earlier, the research-based literature unanimously documents economic motives such as increased poverty playing a prominent role in international migration. In other words increased economic growth in the source country is a declining function of outmigration from that country. Hence, in order to understand the Ethiopian outmigration, it is important to briefly examine the state of the Ethiopian economy. The alleged double-digit growth, if it is real, should have served to keep citizens to stay put if not even serve as a magnet to attract foreign immigrants. The Ethiopian exodus, therefore, is incompatible with a growing economy. We argue that the fundamental determinants of economic growth and development (see Barro: 1996 and Petrakos et al: 2007, for example) and the realities on the ground do not support the economic expansion that the Government of Ethiopia (GoE) has been claiming. Furthermore, there are no indications that the alleged fruits of the growth are shared with the citizenry for the country’s income disparities have been rising (Shimeles & Delelegn: 2013, Gebre-Sellasie: 2012, Leite et al: 2009).

Luckily, some economists and commentators have been questioning the credibility of the statistics that has been and continues to be produced by the GoE. A good example is the short commentary by Professor Daniel Teferra (2013) who not only poked holes on the government’s claim of sustained double-digit growth rates but also criticized multilateral institutions such as the Africa Development Bank, the IMF, and the World Bank who happen to echo the government’s claim in a rather scandalous proportion. The Economist magazine described the Ethiopian inflation figures as “fiddled with even more than those in Argentina” and “the double-digit growth rates predicted by the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi look fanciful.” On a fundamental level, Professor Abu Girma Moges has shown that there is no reduction in poverty in Ethiopia as claimed by the GoE since the base for the claim is the “recent poverty index computation is the 2010/11 Household Income, Consumption and Expenditure Survey (HICES) conducted by the central statistical agency (CSA, 2012) was flawed and incorrect, “perhaps by design.” Fortunately, still, other observers have begun questioning the GoE’s double-digit growth rates and sustained economic development. The GoE’s central planning which is a reminiscent of the old USSR planning system has caught the attentions of writers on Ethiopia. The French writer Rene Lefort, in his piece of 26 November 2012 observed what economists of Ethiopian origin have been stating for a long time. It is only in the Ethiopian context where the ex-ante economic forecasts (budgets) are nearly identical to the actual outcomes! Lefort succinctly puts the ruling party’s performance evaluation (gim’gema) system as follows:

“The first question concerns the reality of its achievements, notably the famous ‘double digit growth’ since 2004, which the authorities constantly extol. In fact, this figure is the product of a vicious circle. The government sets absurdly ambitious targets. The work of every public servant is assessed against those targets. Their careers depend on it. And of course, they claim to have achieved them. Then the targets are raised again. Once again, they claim to have met them. The lie becomes institutionalized. The gap between basic national realities and the image that the authorities perceive and communicate, from summit to base, has become so great that it could be said that Ethiopia has turned out to be not so much a Potemkin village, as a Potemkin country. Sooner or later, the authorities will have to deal with the shockwave that results when the truth inevitably comes out.”

Similar accounts have been made by Epstein whose finding was based on her own field-work that took her around the country as well as by Abbink, (2009:21).

Having noted the incompatibility of outmigration with real growth, we now move to the second question of identifying the economic variables that explain the migration phenomenon. The economic variables however are affected by a number of mediating factors. One mediating factor that exacerbates outmigration is government ineffectiveness. We alert researchers on the Ethiopian outmigration to consider the following conjectures/hypotheses in any way they deemed it necessary. In particular, we observe that the existence of an organized crime, whose main purpose is reaping the benefits from smuggling and human trafficking. This highly organized criminal activity enjoys an interlocking relationship with the strength of the institutions of governance and the political effort to delegitimize the Ethiopian State, ironically connected to the history of the ruling regime itself. Furthermore, the breakdown of law and order is in part explained by the GoE’s increasingly repressive methods of resolving dissent. Our observations indicate that criminal syndicates pertaining to human trafficking have become powerful; often connected to either the law enforcement agencies or the various armed groups that claim to have political grievances. We also observe that the majority of migrants are coming from rural areas; they are poor, uneducated and unskilled and hence unable to legitimize their immigration. We therefore predict that the Saudi mass expulsion of Ethiopians will not be the last we would observe. Nor would we see Ethiopians stopping emigrating unless the root causes of the exodus and the mediating factors are recognized, and appropriate mitigation policies are put in place.

We list a few of the inter-related push factors that explain the Ethiopian outmigration below.

Factors that explain the Ethiopian outmigration

As one of the current authors illustrated earlier, the repeatedly devalued birr (conducted without addressing the economic fundamentals of the country) which in turn was created by politically driven monetary and fiscal policy measures, raised prices sharply leading to a rise in the cost of living and a massive fall in living stands. Worse, the regime unwisely adopted price caps measures, despite warnings of its damaging effects. All the price caps measure did was create shortages without reducing prices. It is refreshing to see Sendeq, one of the country’s local newspapers in its November 27, 2013 edition rather boldly articulating the rising cost of living as one of the drivers of the Ethiopian outmigration.

Land policy: Gebru and Beyene document that landlessness is one of the key factors for outmigration in Ethiopia. This fact is buttressed by the significant portion of Ethiopian migrants to the Middle East being from rural areas where about 80% of the population depends on farming and nomadic cattle raising for its livelihood. The abject rural poverty that peasants are facing cannot be separated from the government’s landholding policies (Gebresellasie, 2006). Unfortunately and as Gebreselassie noted (P.4), the GoE’s “insertion of the issue of land in the Ethiopian constitution [has made] rural land increasingly [to] become a political affair”. By inserting the land policy in the constitution, the GoE has effectively eliminated the possibility of flexible application of policy, extended its control over the population and made free and fair election only a dream. Worse, it has eliminated all meaningful debates about efficient utilization of land (Nega and Degefe, 2000). The net effect is that instead of curbing migration, the landholding policy is used to disown and evict peasants from their ancestral lands. The evictions are made in part to give way for the government’s sugar plantations and facilitate for international agri-business which ironically come from Saudi Arabia and Asian countries. Furthermore, the lack of productivity in the agricultural sector is also connected to the GoE’s land policy. According to a report published by the Ethiopian Economic Association (p.2), the government’s bad land-holding policy has led to “declining farm size, tenure insecurity, and subsistence farming practices”.

Rapid Population Growth and Weak Industrial Sector: Poor family planning and population policy when coupled with problematic land policy makes the situation explosive. As noted earlier more than 80% of the population lives in rural areas and depends on subsistence farming. The population growth rate hovers around 3%. The rapid growth in population has reduced the land that is held by each farmer, making it uneconomical for the small farmer to stay in rural Ethiopia. The effect of the land shortage is to create an influx into urban centers, which themselves are under extreme pressure. The manufacturing and the service sectors of the economy were supposed to absorb the rising population. This however is not the case as government itself admitted its disappointments about the industry sector of the economy. The fact that population growth has been outstripping food production, which is associated with increased land scarcity and environmental degradation, has been proved by the last and current regimes’ attempts of repeated land redistribution schemes.

Remittances not invested: According to some estimates the annual revenues from remittances is close of three billion US dollars, a figure that is much higher than the country’s revenue from exports of goods and official development assistance (ODA). The bulk of the remittance is coming from the Middle East countries. The remittances are spent for repayment of debts (often borrowed from family, friends or loan sharks) and fees for recruitment agencies. Most of the financial flow is outside of the banking system and involves the money laundering networks. Anecdotal evidence indicates that income generated by migrants is rarely invested in productive assets. The leftovers from debt and fee repayment are used to support and alleviate family constraints and hardships. The few that is remaining is invested in real estate, an investment sector with no multiplier effects.

Most Ethiopian migrants to the Middle East are poor, women, uneducated and unskilled: Economic and migration theory indicate that relatively highly skilled workers are mobile, flexible and have a better chance of negotiating and enforcing employment contracts. Contrary to this fact, most Ethiopians who are migrating to the Middle East are relatively unskilled, less educated and destitute which makes them to be vulnerable for abuse. Dawit Wolde Giorgis and David Weinberg connected the labor brokerage system in the oil rich Kingdom to a form of modern day slavery. On the other hand the poorest households would have greater incentives to send their children in order to benefit from the accrued remittances. The poor households however would not have the financial wherewithal to afford sending their household members abroad to pay for the journey and the human smuggler or recruiter ((Taylor, 2006)). Even though the country exports both skilled and unskilled labor, the mass migration of unskilled manpower of the country is peculiar to the country. To make matters worse, there was no meaningful effort on the part of the GoE to equip the migrants even with basic household management skills such as the operation of washing machines and stoves. The GoE did not and probably still does not have labor counselors in its embassies.

Unemployment is the main driver of the outmigration: According to Serneels of Oxford University, Ethiopia has “one of the highest unemployment rates worldwide, around 50% of the urban men between age 15 and 30 are unemployed.” The official statistics for unemployment however is much smaller than what is indicated above. Widespread poverty, lack of jobs and hopelessness, particularly among the youth, disadvantageous economic and social position of women (see also Endeshaw et al/IOM) are the driving force of Ethiopian migration. The great majority of the deportees from Saudi Arabia and the new arrivals in Yemen and Southern Africa are young people who are desperate about their future. They are by and large in the 20-30 years of age. This fact further indicates the inability of the local economy to absorb the younger and more productive portion of the labor force. This also should negatively affect productivity and Ethiopia’s growth capabilities. The massification of higher education and the 10+2 education policy have not helped to mitigate the problem, which in turn has resulted in an alarming level of poor education quality and high dropout rates, as reported by Hassan and Ahmed: 2010); Dyson:2012; Tekeste Negash:2006). This puts the country in a vicious circle.

Drought and climate change are major problems. The country has been frequently hard hit by drought which exacerbates the financial constraints of households and increasing food insecurity. The country has not been self-sufficient in food and about 20% of the population is in donor-supported social safety net program. The massive environmental degradation of the few virgin lands by commercial farmers when coupled with the eviction of peasants exacerbates both the despair and the outmigration.

Labor exporting policy to mitigate shortage of foreign currency: Exporting people is considered by the GoE as one of the best sources of foreign currency. Unlike in other countries, the government encourages its citizens to migrate. The GoE’s encouragement comes in two forms. The first is political while the second is economic. The immigration of political opponents is seen by the ruling party as a sign of relief. With regard to the economic reasons, Kebede notes that the government encourages and has instituted migration policies, to the extent of being “active in facilitating the recruitment of workers for employment abroad (p. 22) but without adequately informing migrants about the dangers they would face in host countries, and without negotiating with host countries on labor conditions. The diaspora did not disappoint when it comes to the latter, as it helped finance the ruling party’s mega projects by buying diaspora bonds, participating in government housing construction (condominium) schemes, building houses and increasing own family consumption expenditures. Both the government and families of emigrants view remittance flows as an important source of finance.

No reverse brain drain is observed. Countries such as China, India and Korea were able to attract their skilled members of the diaspora to help them develop their economies because as their economies grew, the diaspora was pulled back into these countries. The fact that Ethiopia is unable to do this suggests that the so-called growing economy either does not exist or is incapable of absorbing the skilled part of the Ethiopian diaspora, in part due to lack of opportunities (Fransen and Kuschminder (2009:23). The political tensions exacerbate the problems of brain drain.

Voice and accountability problems. Ethiopia is ranked very low in most of the international and regional governance indicators. It is also in the list of the world’s 20 failed states. Interestingly, the alleged economic expansion started to occur immediately after the 2005 election crisis. However, outmigration accelerated right after the 2005 election. This may indicate two factors playing a big role. One is the political difficulties the regime has faced since the 2005 election debacle. The second bolstering the claim made about the nonexistence of the much trumpeted growth of GDP and/or not reaching the majority of the people. Indication are that both maybe working together as Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen shows that in countries where governments are accountable, human misery is low. The controlling nature of the ruling party is documented by Arriola: 2005, Abbink: 2006, Epstein: 2010, Human Right Watch: 2010 and others.

In conclusion we surmise that Ethiopia’s outmigration is largely explained by several interconnected push factors. According to one of the aforementioned researchers, 71% of the migration from Gojam and SSNPR is “related to push factors in places of origin, and 29% to pull factors in places of destination.” The pull factors are largely out of the control of the GoE and it may only have limited influence. The TPLF/EPRDF had 22 years to originate and implement policy, a job that Endeshaw et al (IOM), the U.S. State Department, Kebede, Teshome and others have indicated that the GoE has failed to do. In other words the present crisis is yet another evidence of government ineffectiveness. Furthermore, it is hard to imagine that such a highly lucrative business involving huge network of migration facilitators, local brokers and recruiters and human trafficking networks, to the extent of making the country the hub of human trafficking, would exist this long without being sanctioned by the regime, particularly in a system which controls each individual citizen with the notorious 1-to-5 bonding scheme.

[1] Seid Hassan is Professor of Economics at Murray State University and Minga Negash is Professor of Accounting at the Metropolitan State University of Denver and the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

Taking stock of South Sudanese crisis

By Steve Paterno

Finally, relative calm has returned to South Sudan’s capital, Juba, after the city witnessed blaze of gunfires and blast of rockets, which lasted for several days, in which the government reports was an attempted coup d’etat, carried out by disgruntled politicians led by former Vice President Riek Machar and his supporters.

Now, some few details are beginning to emerge and the most debated questions are as to whether there was really an actual coup attempt as claimed by the government and what will likely the future holds for the nascent nation of South Sudan. To have a better understanding of this, the issues must be looked at on a context of development of events leading up right into the crisis and then project how the future will unfold.

The last several months and weeks, showed flary of political activities by the so called disgruntled group, led by Riek Machar, a group consisting of individuals who were fired from their government positions and some of whom were awaiting investigation for insubordination and corruption accusation. The group grew emboldened in their tones and becoming more harsher against the President, with their criticism. They vowed to continue with political activism until the president relent and cave in on their demands. The group warned they will take whatever action necessary to capitulate the President. Now it is open for wider interpretation as to whether “whatever action necessary” entails a forceful removal of the President.

On his part, the President seemed to have been oblivious about the activities of this group, relentlessly targeting him. The President simply ignored them, referring to them as a disgruntled group without real mandate or even public following. Matter of fact, in span of this period, the President was largely absent from the nation, managing to travel in four separate countries. This would have of course ideally provided the alleged coup plotters to take advantage of the vacuum and oust the President in his absence.

However, it still remains unclear whether at the time there was a real plot to oust the President militarily or if there was such a plan, it might have still yet in pipeline and premature for execution.

The grim and fateful event of December 15, and subsequently, nevertheless, sheds some light into this mystery. The day was a conclusion of the meeting of National Liberation Council, one of the highest organs of SPLM party. This disgruntled group from within the party reluctantly attended the meeting and even boycotted some of the sessions, when the group found out they were not given platform to present their grievances. The meeting preempted the political rally of this group, scheduled on the same date the National Liberation Council meeting commenced. The group actually preferred this meeting to be held after the Political Bureau meeting, where they thought they could have a potential chance to overrule President Salva Kiir, also the chairman of the party.

At any rate, tension that day was exacerbated due to unfolding political wrangling within SPLM party, which was already built beyond fervor point. The most plausible account of that night is that certain section of presidential guards unit, known as Tiger Batalion of a Nuer origin perceived to be loyal to Riek Machar were about to be disarmed and in process, they defied the orders, and ended up over taking the military headquarters by force. The firefights then spread across the city, even at some point reaching within the presidential palace compound. The government then in its effort, launched a counter attack, pushing the mutinied soldiers out of the town and starting detaining suspected ring leaders behind the military skirmishes. Subsequently, several of such mutiny sprung up in several locations, particularly in Jongolei, where a powerful general, one Peter Gadet rebelled in support of Riek Machar.

Going by this version of events, the pertinent questions and plausible answers are as follows: did the government tried to execute disarmament out of a tip of a potential coup or it was acting out of precautionary measures? Was the government trying to preemptively detain those members of the so called disgruntled group? Did Riek Machar and group have influence over the military so as to mobilize them against the President? Were the disgruntled group coordinating among themselves and if so, does such coordination extended to military units?

These and many unanswered questions will ascertain matter factly as to whether there was a real plot to oust the President through a coup d’etat. For example, we can never know for sure whether the government was acting out of a tip of a potential coup or in a precaution, when it decided to execute a disarmament against members of Nuers in presidential guards unit. The President of course has a swiping constitutional powers to detain some of those disgruntled politicians at will, without necessarily resorting into violence as he is accused for orchestrating the violence by his opponents. The fact that the President was able not only to fire the entire cabinet, but also the top military brass with ease underscore this point. Besides, some of these disgruntled individuals were already under criminal investigations, where they could easily be napped through legal means as oppose to violence. Reik Machar among his group wields significant influence among the military, based on tribal affiliation. The question remains though whether Riek Machar was coordinating with those in military to plot ouster of the President. This is also a challenge for the government to prove whether those suspected politicians detained were coordinating with the military. It is already true in public that the group were coordinating among themselves. Their political activism and media statements during this crisis is enough prove that they were in concert with one another. It is also possible that the government was keeping tab on their communication channels throughout the time they organized as a disgruntled members of the party.

Therefore, it is up to the government if it intends to legally prosecute these individuals that it proves beyond reasonable doubt by linking them to the actual breakout of the firefight. Whatever the government decision in handling these individuals, it is obvious, there are going to be mounting pressure from international community for their unconditional release. Unfortunately, though, for these people, beside Riek Machar who is basking on tribal popularity, the rest of these individuals are lone wolves, without constituencies or any significant public following. So, the government is at a liberty to deal with these individuals in whatever ways it deems necessary. The situation already created a recipe for a civil war, though dangerously aligned along ethnic loyalties, with a potential of Rwanda style genocide looming in a horizon. Eventually, Riek Machar and the group will ultimately negotiate their ways back into the fold, but the critical question and way ahead remains, what will happen before then. The President already expressed a willingness to sit down and peacefully negotiate with Riek Machar and the group even though Riek Machar is calling on an overthrow of the President by violent means. In all of this, of course, some innocent souls are lost in process, properties destroyed and the the livelihood forever disrupted.

Steve Paterno is the author of The Rev. Fr. Saturnino Lohure, A Romain Catholic Priest Turned Rebel. He can be reached at stevepaterno@yahoo.com

The “Coup” Attempt in South Sudan: What we know

By Eric Reeves
It must be said first that there is a great deal that we don’t know about events that began in Juba Saturday, December 14. Indeed, it appears that there is more of importance that we don’t know than we do. But reports are coming from the ground in Juba and from a range of Sudan observers. Other sources with close contacts with the government and the military have also conveyed substantial information.

It is certainly clear that substantial military violence began the night of Sudan, Sunday, December 15 and continued into Monday, December 16. News reports today from various quarters, with a range of sources, suggest that heavy fighting resumed last night and continued into this morning (Tuesday, December 17); however, a report from someone traveling by car to different sections of Juba indicated (Tuesday, 6pm GMT) that fighting had died down since noon. But scores have been killed in the fighting, hundreds hospitalized, and ethnic tensions between Nuer and Dinka have been badly exacerbated. Many thousands of primarily Nuer have fled for the safety of the two UN compounds (the compounds are part of the UN Mission for South Sudan, UNMISS), to churches, or left Juba altogether. The United States is sufficiently concerned that it is evacuating its non-essential staff from Juba and advising U.S. citizens to leave; various humanitarian organizations are seeking to extract their personnel as well, a deeply ominous sign.

What follows is not so much a narrative as a chronology with commentary and assessments of plausibility. Much has been confidentially conveyed, though much is also sourced. Inevitably there is a lag-time between completion of writing and the events that are occurring in that moment. Even so, public news reporting has been sufficiently ragged, inconsistent, or incomplete that some attempt at broader clarification seems warranted.

If there was a genuine attempt at a military coup d’état, we need a full account. It may be as characterized by Magdi el-Gizouli of the Rift Valley Institute: “‘It doesn’t seem to be a full-fledged coup attempt in the sense that there’s an organized attempt by Machar to seize power. It appears a bit disorganized” (Wall Street Journal [Kampala], December 16, 2013). Others in Juba also find the nature of the coup puzzling—its apparently ad hoc quality hardly signifying a well-planned action. It may be, as one highly informed observer with numerous contacts in Juba has said, a “coup” that began by accident but took on a predictable political and ethnic character, of a sort that could be expected in the event of a fully developed coup plan:

“On Sunday evening shooting began in a former Joint Integrated Unit camp [stipulated by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement]. We are not yet sure about what triggered the fighting, but those who began shooting are members of the Presidential Guard allied with Riek Machar. Some of his guards and those of Paulino Matip’s [a notorious defector, and re-defector, died 2012] forces were absorbed into the Guard.” (email received 5pm GMT December 16) (all highlighting within quotations is mine)

Yet another source, cited by Hannah McNeish writing for Al Jazeera, also has a good deal of plausibility:

A security expert close to the army—who asked not to be named because his access to the military depends on his anonymity—brushed off any ideas that the initial fighting was a coup attempt. He said it was sparked by rumours of arrests following a series of public statements criticizing Kiir’s increasingly dictatorial style, saying it was “an accident centred around paranoia and rumour.”

But he said the factional fighting within an army that is “a reflection of politics”—in a nation where many complain of the major tribe’s influence as a “Dinkocracy”—had the potential to ignite serious ethnic fighting nationwide. “It’s the real lack of control that anyone has that’s the dangerous thing, and especially if fighting spreads to the peripheries,” he said.

What we know is that ten former senior officials have been arrested as of 3pm GMT (Tuesday), including former Finance Minister Kosti Manibe. Just what their role is in the violence that broke out Sunday night needs to be assessed fully and with as much detail as can be established. Any judicial process must be scrupulously fair and transparent. The events of the past few days have been an immense shock to the political system in South Sudan, and pose deep and likely ongoing threats. We may be sure that the Khartoum regime, which has long waged a deliberate war of economic attrition against Juba in the hopes of its collapse, will take every opportunity to exploit present political instability.

A brief and highly selective historical chronology:

1991: Riek Machar, the focus of so much attention currently, defected from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army led by John Garang; he was joined by Lam Akol (Shilluk) and others, and the defection of troops proved a disaster for the SPLA. Ethnic tensions between the Nuer (the tribal group to which Machar belongs) and Dinka (the tribal group to which Garang and the majority of the SPLA leadership belong) were greatly exacerbated. The infamous “Bor Massacre” (of Dinka in the Bor area) for which Machar was responsible stands as an enduring historical symbol of civilian slaughter. Turning Southerner against Southerner on the basis of ethnicity was Khartoum’s most potent weapon in the long civil war.

Though these events occurred more than twenty years ago, they live on in the minds of many in their assessment of Machar.

1997: Riek Machar and Lam Akol signed the absurdly futile “Khartoum Peace Agreement.” Far from working to end the civil war, it removes Nuer and Shilluk forces from the opposition to Khartoum’s military forces and militias, setting the stage for large-scale oil development in what was at the time known as Western Upper Nile. The years from 1998 – 2002 are among the most violent and destructive of the entire civil war, with mass civilian clearances of areas in all directions around Bentiu, currently capital of Unity State and at the time epicenter for oil development activities by Canadian, Chinese, and Malaysian oil companies.

January 2005: The Comprehensive Peace Agreement is signed, guaranteeing South Sudan the right to a self-determination referendum in six and a half years. John Garang remains as leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A)—effectively the interim government of South Sudan.

July 2005: Garang is killed in a helicopter crash, and Salva Kiir Mayardit is named his successor. Although also a Dinka (from a different region of the South), Salva is widely credited as being a conciliator, and this was demonstrated in his choice of Riek Machar as Vice President.

July 2011: South Sudan gained its independence, but extreme tensions remained with the Khartoum regime, which in May 2011 had ordered the military seizure of the Abyei region; Abyei was to have had its own self-determination referendum in January 2011. The results of such a referendum would certainly have seen the “residents” of Abyei vote to join the South. In March/April 2012 fighting broke out in the area south of and in Heglig, a contested border area near Abyei and in the center of oil production. The approach to resumed war was far too close.

2011 – present: It becomes increasingly clear that the South has squandered many opportunities for economic development, and that neither executive nor cabinet powers have been creatively or productively deployed, leaving the South without a single means of exporting its oil except via the pipeline through Sudan (to Port Sudan). As of December 2013 there is not a single operational refinery in South Sudan, although construction has belatedly begun in earnest. Any overland export of oil to the south or east remains years away, certainly if the commitment to an oil pipeline for transport remains primary.

Capacity within South Sudan—in all forms—remains dangerously weak, as suggested in a recent characterization of current dysfunction by Jok Madut Jok, one of the most talented men to have served in the GOSS:

“The first leg for any government is a disciplined military. We have problems with the way our military functions today. That’s a broken leg. We have civil society; right now it is very weak. The third leg is delivery of services. It is hard to deliver security … The fourth leg is political unity. We had political unity in the days leading up to the referendum [which led to independence]. Since the referendum, we have been having difficulties uniting our ranks. So right now the animal is standing on four crooked legs. If we do not fix these legs, the future is going to be very, very difficult.” (Al Jazeera, December 17, 2013)

By 2011 it had also become clear that massive corruption has seen billions of oil revenues siphoned off by a number of Southern officials. The figure is a matter of controversy, as is the question of who is responsible; but the amount is staggering and accounts for much of the lack of economic development. There has still been no adequate account of the failures in oversight of these revenues.

Spring/Summer 2013: Vice President Riek Machar and his followers engage in increasingly sharp sniping at Salva Kiir, until in July President Kiir decides that such criticism could no longer be leveled at him from within his own government, and relieves Machar of his post as Vice President. A more comprehensive cabinet shake-up occurs subsequently in July 2013, leaving many disgruntled former minister and cabinet members feeling aggrieved. Pagan Amum, a powerful figure in the SPLM/A for many years, was relieved of his role as Secretary-General of the SPLM/A in late July 2013, putting him in the camp of those critical of Salva Kiir.

Notably the charges against Salva, for the most part, are not of corruption but of wielding power “dictatorially.” Tensions have continued to build until the events of this Sunday, December 15, and exploded out of what appears to be an unplanned military confrontation that nonetheless is framed by the ethnic and political vision of Riek Machar and those disgruntled former officials who have sided with him. Since the army remains multi-ethnic, the role of Nuer-Dinka tensions—while still unclear—is almost certain to have been significant, since Machar’s personal security is almost exclusively Nuer.


Events since Saturday, December 14: (sources of information are often confidential)

Figures of note (a very partial list; those with asterisks [*] have reportedly been detained):

Salva Kiir Mayardiit: President of the Republic of South Sudan

Marial Barnaba Benjamin: current Foreign Minister, former government spokesman

Riek Machar: former Vice President of the Republic of South Sudan; dismissed July 2013; apparently in Juba, but whereabouts unknown

*John Luk: former Justice Minister

*Kosti Manibe: former Finance Minister

*Majak d’Agoot: former deputy Defense Minister

Pagan Amum: suspended Secretary-General of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, and a chief negotiator with Khartoum; he remains in Juba but his whereabouts are unknown

*Deng Alor: former Foreign Minister and Minister of Cabinet Affairs

Rebecca Garang: widow of John Garang, and former minister

Taban Deng, former governor of Unity State; apparently in Juba, but whereabouts unknown

*Oyay Deng Ajak, former head of national security

*Madut Biar, one-time telecommunications minister

*Cirino Hteng, former minister of sports

Saturday, December 14:

The opening of the National Liberation Council was attended by all who were politically opposed to Salva, with the exception of Deng Alor (who had left for Ethiopia several days earlier) and Pagan Amum, because he had been suspended from his position within the SPLM.

Riek, Rebecca Garang, Kosti, Gier, and several others proposed that they vote by a secret ballot instead of a show of hands; but the rules require that a third of those voting support such a motion and in the event it was defeated. There was another motion challenging the appointment of staff by the President to the National Liberation Council; again the motion was defeated.

Sunday, December 15:

Riek leaves his home, apparently to go into hiding, taking with him his personal security force.

Other members of the opposition group were not present on the Sunday session of the National Liberation Council.

Pagan Amum is reported not to have been seen since Sunday.

The most plausible account of how the fighting began is that offered above:

“On Sunday evening shooting began in a former Joint Integrated Unit camp [stipulated by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement]. We are not yet sure about what triggered the fighting, but those who began shooting are members of the Presidential Guard allied with Riek Machar. Some of his guards and those of Paulino Matip’s [a notorious defector, and re-defector, died 2012] forces were absorbed into the Guard.” (email received 5pm GMT December 16)

Monday, December 16:

Fighting continued into Monday morning, when government forces gained control of Juba, and President Salva Kiir held a press conference, announcing inter alia that there would be curfew from 6pm to 6am. As widely expected, although there was relative quiet during daylight hours, fighting began again Monday night and has spilled into today (Tuesday). It is difficult to gauge how significant the fighting was, but reports received from Juba and in wire reports suggest it was substantial.

Tuesday, December 17:

There have been many reports of heavy fighting overnight from Monday to Tuesday, continuing well into Tuesday morning. The most recent reports suggest fighting is much diminished, and sporadic. The GOSS announced its detention of ten figures implicated in one way or another in the “coup.” There is still no word on the whereabouts of either Riek Machar or Pagan Amum.

Again, the United States is sufficiently concerned that it is evacuating non-essential staff from Juba, suspending normal embassy operations, even as various humanitarian organizations are seeking to extract their personnel as well.

The Future

As noted above, Salva Kiir has been celebrated in the past as having a conciliatory manner, in sharp contrast to the often autocratic style of John Garang, who was leading a rebel movement, not governing a country. That reputation has served Salva well, but many argue—including those in the opposition group—that he has become increasingly “dictatorial.” Indeed, the word is a virtual mantra in criticism of Salva. It is here that judgments will vary most. What it is important to say of Salva is that he has not taken action against those who have opposed him politically outside the government. At the same time, government security forces have often trampled badly on press freedoms, especially when news reporting is critical of the government Salva heads. (A lengthy recent conversation with a senior GOSS official convinces me that the problem is certainly recognized, and that greater efforts are being made to halt these threats to a basic freedom.) There have been severe human rights abuses in Jonglei, both in disarmament efforts and in the ongoing effort to defeat the Khartoum-backed rebel forces of David Yau Yau of the Murle tribe. Atrocities have been committed again Murle civilians, although Salva’s government has recently moved against these abuses and there have been a number of arrests.

But events have forced on Kiir the most difficult challenge of his presidency, and have called into serious question his viability as a candidate in the 2015 presidential election as the SPLM candidate. There are a number of urgent steps he must take to secure the confidence of the international community, and to put the Nuer community at ease in the Juba area and elsewhere. Critically, he must ensure that fighting does not spread, and he must do whatever is necessary to forestall this most dangerous of possibilities. A South divided against itself will be largely helpless to resist military incursions by Khartoum’s forces, either in the oil regions (Upper Nile and Unity states), in Kafia Kingi and other areas in Western Bahr el-Ghazal that clearly are in the South according to all maps of 1956, and in the contested areas of Northern Bahr el-Ghazal, especially those around Kiir Adem. Abyei, seized in May 2011, will become fully part of northern Sudan.

There are no simple answers here. Salva must recognize that the charge of his being “dictatorial” has taken deep hold, and he must do what is necessary to shed the label as much as possible. There are a number of possibilities. He must also do more to enlist the “best and the brightest” of South Sudanese—whatever ethnicity or political disposition—in the critical tasks of building a South that functions effectively in utilizing its many resources: human, agricultural, minerals and oil, timber, eco-tourism, and others. But others must put aside their personal agendas and work shoulder to shoulder with Salva. The task of building South Sudan is one for many hands, and if those hands are carrying guns, they cannot possibly do the work that is essential.

Eric Reeves can be reached at: ereeves@smith.edu

Obama deploys small US military contingent to South Sudan

The Associated Press

President Barack Obama has deployed a small U.S. military contingent to South Sudan to help bolster security at the U.S. Embassy amid escalating violence in the fledgling African nation.

In a letter to Congress, Obama said the 45 military personnel were sent to South Sudan on Wednesday. Although they were equipped for combat, Obama said their purpose was to protect U.S. citizens and property and that they would remain in South Sudan until the security situation there improved.

“South Sudan stands at the precipice,” Obama said in a written statement. “Recent fighting threatens to plunge South Sudan back into the dark days of its past.”

The president appealed for an end to the violence and urged South Sudan’s leaders to show courage and reaffirm their commitment to peace.

Violence broke out in South Sudan, the world’s newest country, late Sunday when the presidential guard splintered along ethnic lines. Violence in the capital of Juba spiraled from there, then extended out into the country.

Earlier this week, the U.S. ordered nonemergency government personnel to leave South Sudan and suspended normal operations at the U.S. Embassy, although the embassy was still accepting requests for emergency assistance from Americans. On Wednesday, the Pentagon flew 120 U.S. diplomats and others out of the country, while the State Department warned U.S. citizens not to travel to South Sudan.

“U.S. citizens who choose to stay in South Sudan despite this warning should review their personal security situation and seriously reconsider their plans to remain,” the department said in a travel warning.

Statement by President Barack Obama on South Sudan

In 2011, millions of South Sudanese voted to forge a new nation, founded on the promise of a more peaceful and prosperous future for all of South Sudan’s people. In recent years, against great odds, South Sudan has made great progress toward breaking the cycle of violence that characterized much of its history. Today, that future is at risk. South Sudan stands at the precipice. Recent fighting threatens to plunge South Sudan back into the dark days of its past. But it doesn’t have to be that way. South Sudan has a choice. Its leaders can end the violence and work to resolve tensions peacefully and democratically. Fighting to settle political scores or to destabilize the government must stop immediately. Inflammatory rhetoric and targeted violence must cease. All sides must listen to the wise counsel of their neighbors, commit to dialogue and take immediate steps to urge calm and support reconciliation. South Sudan’s leaders must recognize that compromise with one’s political enemy is difficult; but recovering from unchecked violence and unleashed hatred will prove much harder. Too much blood has been spilled and too many lives have been lost to allow South Sudan’s moment of hope and opportunity to slip from its grasp. Now is the time for South Sudan’s leaders to show courage and leadership, to reaffirm their commitment to peace, to unity, and to a better future for their people. The United States will remain a steady partner of the South Sudanese people as they seek the security and prosperity they deserve.