Sipping on a bowl of Shorba, a commonly loved South Sudan soup made out of cow bones, Okello Ojullo sits in Adjumani town, northern Uganda, and airs his grievances against South Sudan’s government. Born in Akobo, Ojullo served in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) until December 2013 when he and a group of other soldiers fled the country after they were attacked by fellow SPLA soldiers in the army.
Ours will be a war for freedom.”
Ojullo Okello is part of a group of Anyuak, an Luo Nilotic group which is spread across parts of eastern Africa. He and his counterparts are seeking refugee status in Adjumani refugee camps and have threatened to revolt.
His anger is sharp: “We, the Anyuak, are not anywhere in the South Sudan leadership and our tribe has been sold off to Ethiopia by the current government,” he says, referring to how South Sudan has been supporting Ethiopia against the Gambella. “Even when they selected elders from various tribes in South Sudan to go represent their grievances at the peace talks in Ethiopia, no elder from Akobo was selected.”
“I know they will ignore us because they see us as a minority […], they call us Ethiopians but they won’t believe our impact,” he says. “We have teamed up and this won’t be a tribal war like the one the rebels have been fighting, ours will be a war for freedom and democracy for all South Sudanese.”
We are not recognised at all.”
And their resentments lie deep: One Anyuak elder, Daniel Agwa, who appears to be in his late 60’s and is also seeking refugee status in Adjumani narrated how his tribesmen were massacred to create land for the Nuer to occupy. “I think it was In 1982 or 83. The army massacred the Anyuak people, men, women, children were killed indiscriminately. Children were gathered in houses and were set ablaze, others were speared to death, others shot, stabbed or hacked. There had been some intermarriages between our tribe and the Nuer. The Nuer claimed they didn’t want to mingle with other tribes so they killed many of my people. But I didn’t believe them, those killings were an attempt to vacate Akobo for the Nuer because after that massacre, the Anyuak had nowhere to return to, the Nuer had occupied their land and homesteads,” he says. “The government has never done anything to help.”
“Look at this unfairness. The Akobo commissioner is a Nuer, Akobo representatives in Juba, Bor and even Khartoum are all Nuer. We are nowhere in the government. We are just living like the Nuer’s wives - we are not recognised at all,” says Ojullo Okello.
Another solider who declined to be identified and is also living in the refugee camp in Adjumani said: “First of all I escaped Juba because I was being targeted for being a Nuer. The only reason I choose to become a soldier is to protect my country or to rule my country. I can’t watch my people continue to suffer under these two mean leaders. I must do something.”
“We are telling you this so that the government knows what to expect,” says an Anyuak youth who said he was a key mobiliser of their group.
During the December 2013 violence in Juba, there were reports that Nuer soldiers were separated from the main army, the SPLA and killed. But the government denied these claims and said it was a propaganda, intended to cause friction and suspicion in the army.
Commanders that broke off from Rebel leader Riek Machar earlier this year remain a threat too. The defected generals who include Peter Gadet, Gathoth Gatkuoth and Gabriel Changson Chang, a group of high ranking rebel commanders in the SPLM/A-IO denounced Riek Machar as their leader, claiming Machar, Kiir’s former deputy, wasn’t fighting for peace but rather for his own position in the government.
Despite the recently signed peace deal in Ethiopia, the commanders are said to be in the process of forming a new movement that intends to remove Salva Kiir and Machar from government.
Resentments also run high among Equatorians, in the south of the country. A source from the Revolutionary Movement for National Salvation (REMNASA) party, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, says there was an assassination attempt on the life of Major Losuba Ludoru Won’go, who had formed REMNASA. The source says Salva Kiir and an Equatorian State Gorvernor allegedly planned to kill Major Ludoru as Salva Kiir fears that REMNASA is a threat to peace in the Equatoria region.
The source further says that those behind the plot gave Major Ludoru’s photographs to three men who were paid US$ 6,000 and assigned to carry out the mission in which they were to track Lodoru down in the Democratic Republic of Congo and assassinate him.
We need to stop the curse.”
Pastor Edema Francis and Pastor Justine Wani of Hope and Grace International Adjumani spoke out against South Sudan’s ethnically fuelled tensions: “We need to stop the curse. These people are not themselves, they are operating under a curse,” says Pastor Edema and Pastor Wani added: “God wants his people to be united, so this revolution is a wrong one.”
Prophet Ngudeng, a Nuer prophet who is believed to have died in 1906 and whose prophesies many believe have foretold current events in South Sudan, said that there will be war in the lands of the Nuer and Dinka and that people will see a lot of horrible killings but at last there will be happiness.
Another prophesy in Nuer songs says: “Kuar dang nguan ngot ni joor jalke jur ti kur ka bathdoori bi wang cuea da a cang kene paay,” which means ‘four leaders are yet to come with hundreds and thousands of strangers, on my right eyes will be sun and moon’. This prophesy, many now say, speaks of the presence of Ugandan troops in South Sudan.
South Sudan consists of 64 tribes. The Dinka is the largest and the tribe from which the president hails, followed by the Nuer, the rebel leader Riek Machar’s tribe. The other 62 tribes have been relatively peaceful, but observers point to underlying tensions because of the inequalities in government and a lack of peace in the country.
More than a month after the two parties signed a peace deal, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has confirmed that military action is already being carried out by the government against the rebels and vise-versa.
Although no official estimate is available, tens of thousands have died in the South Sudan civil war that began in December 2013. More than two million citizens, roughly one in six citizens, have been forced to leave their homes while 600,000 have escaped to neighbouring countries and 4.6 million people are facing food insecurity.