Speaking on 15 February in Juba Pagan Amum revealed that an estimated 200 individuals had died in the recent upsurge of violence between the troops of his government, the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA), and the forces loyal to the ex-SPLA general George Athor in Fanjak, Jonglei state. According to the BBC Amum the Minister stated that most of the dead were civilians chased into a river by the rebels. On his part Athor accused the SPLA of inciting the violence despite a ceasefire signed between the two parties on the eve of the referendum. Notably, James Kok, the Humanitarian Affairs Minister in the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) coined the confrontation a “massacre”. He said referring to the victims “They were chased into the river. I was the one who put them into a mass grave”.
The two ministers I presume chose their words consciously, to dually de-politicize and criminalize the presumed offenders, Athor and his forces. ‘Massacres’ and ‘mass graves’ in this sense are not to be understood but reflexively condemned for what they are supposed to represent, absurd violence. Assuming the very gaze of their international observers the two ministers bought into the inexplicability of African violence, as it were, apart from the ahistorical notions of atavistic tribal drives, this time in the favour of their own position as statesmen facing an insurgency.
Rather than defend Athor’s resort to arms in his attempt to challenge the outcome of the April 2010 elections the point here is to highlight that the SPLA is equally a party to the cycle of violence in Jongeli, either directly or through its manoeuvre to crush Athor through arming vigilant Murle youth groups under the leadership of an SPLA officer, Joshua Kony, a strategy that backfired when the Murle youth aligned with the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) turned their guns against the Luo Nuer. With that in mind the Luo Nuer/Murle dispute in Jonglei, officially presented as a virtually eternal cattle-rustling war, feeds in one aspect at least from the GoSS plan to outsource its conflict with George Athor, the standard by-proxy twist that the SPLA had to face during its war with Khartoum.
Now, it seems the GoSS has borrowed both the tactics and the language of the Khartoum counter-insurgency. I wonder what the NGO beholders in the South will make of these developments.