Friday, May 17, 2024

SPLM's predatory elitism and the red army’s betrayed generational mission in South Sudan

 Published on Friday, May 17, 2024. 

Photos: WHAS11; City Reviews

'Garang also reiterated the importance of education to the red army as future leaders in his speech to Sudanese refugees in Itang Refugee Camp (also in Western Ethiopia) in 1988. Garang told civilians that Southern and Western Sudanese were excluded from power in Khartoum because they are said to be uneducated. “Why are they not educated?” he asked. He added that “this is why we have built schools for the red army because they are the future generation. No one will say in the future that they are not educated.”'


As we yet again commemorate another May 16th, I think about the future of South Sudan through these three generational groups: The SPLA generation, the red army generation, and the youth (as conventionally defined by the United Nations and the African Union). 

When I read in Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth that “Each generation must out of relative obscurity discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it”, I wonder about the youth in South Sudan and my generation (the red army generation). With the current political and economic situation in South Sudan, the red army generation seems to have betrayed its generational mission.

But is this generation to blame? First, what is this generation and why it is important?

The red army generation, called the lost boys of Sudan in the United States where some of them resettled as refugees in early 2000s, were born in the late 1970s and the early 1980s. To the Southern rebels (1983-2005)—the Sudan’s People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA)—the red army generation was to furnish Sudan with disciplined, educated post-liberation leaders.

Of course, SPLA recruited some of these boys as combat infantry in the 1990s. These older boys, called Jesh el-assuot (black army) informally because they were of fighting age according to the SPLA, were hardly adults as conventionally defined. It is however important to note that the SPLA leadership believed in the education of this generation. With all their short-comings, which are very well documented, SPLA  leaders did not blindly use them all as child soldiers. The future was a haunting presence.

While the use of child soldiers must be condemned, and rightly so, it is important to understand the cultural and the survivalist context in which SPLA recruited and inducted them as child soldiers. This cultural dimension, while not necessarily acceptable per se, must be factored into any analysis of South Sudanese liberation history and all its complex dimensions. It cannot be ignored, or oversimplified, if the present status of the youth and the red army generation in South Sudan is to be properly contextualized.

The SPLA senior leadership also understood that a revolutionary agenda without any strategic plan for the young generation is foolhardy. Speaking in 1988 to Jesh el-amer (the red army) in Pinyudo Refugee Camp in Western Ethiopia, John Garang de Mabior, the co-founder of SPLM/SPLA and its ideological architect, said that the duty of the red army generation is “to re-build the country.”  Garang added that “my responsibility and the responsibility of my generation will be to dismantle Old Sudan…we will raze it to the ground.”

Garang also reiterated the importance of education to the red army as future leaders in his speech to Sudanese refugees in Itang Refugee Camp (also in Western Ethiopia) in 1988. Garang told the civilians that Southern and Western Sudanese were excluded from power in Khartoum because they are said to be uneducated. “Why are they not educated?” he asked. He added that “this is why we have built schools for the red army because they are the future generation. No one will say in the future that they are not educated.”

The importance of education for the red army is also underscored by the decision by the SPLA to send about 600 young men and women to Cuba in the mid-1980s for education. Another important educational program encouraged by the SPLA leadership to educate the red army generation produced scholars of Face Foundation of Polotaka, Eastern Equatoria.

Additionally, in refugee camps (Itang, Pinyudo, Dima, Kakuma, etc) where the red army settled, SPLA appointed leaders to supervise them. They emphasized the importance of education to aid agencies providing relief services in these camps. On a personal note, I completed elementary and high school in Kakuma Refugee Camp due to SPLM’s emphasis on education. It is with this emphasis on education that a prominent SPLA commander, after talking to my mother in 1995 in Mangalatore Displace Camp, accepted to take me to Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. Schools in Mangalatore were poor. Because of the itinerant nature of internally displaced persons, I found it difficult to benefit from constantly interrupted schooling.


With this emphasis on education and the red army as future leaders, why then are the youth and the red army generation marginalized in South Sudan?

The obvious answer is what SPLM leaders have become. Instead of building an inclusive economy and democracy, or allowing the red army generation to play that role, SPLM has built a self-enrichment kleptocracy where a coterie of powerful political and military elites siphon state resources to foreign banks. Within this system, the youth is seduced into it or marginalized. This predatory “gun class”, as South Sudanese scholar an former minister Majak D’Agoot calls them, has become callously parasitic on state resources.  So the conditions in which the youth and the red army generation could fulfil their generational mission, in state-building for instance, are non-existent.

As D’Agoot has noted, “SPLA has morphed into a degenerative gun-toting aristocracy that straddles the sociocultural, political, and economic spheres like a colossus.” This has enabled a predatory elitism, an elite-centred economic system of reciprocity. They have made it the political and economic culture in the country. The youth and the red army generation joins them because it pays. Others join this predatory elite on ethno-centric basis. The generational mission has become an inconvenience or a threat to personal safety.

To stop the gun class from money-laundering, the United States sent Sigal Mandelker, the Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, to Kenya and Uganda, which have become money-laundering hubs for South Sudanese gun class. After Mandelker’s visit, money laundering continues. State-building and service provision have been abandoned.  

Instead of being allowed to fulfil their generational mission, the youth and the red army generation face arbitrary arrests, tortures at national security secret locations, and the unexplained disappearances. Frustrations has also caused self-destructive decisions for this generation. The rebellion and subsequent assassination by the South Sudanese army of businessman and philanthropist, Kerubino Wol, and the arrest by the FBI of Dr. Peter Biar Ajak, resulted from these generational frustrations. It is the attempt by the youth and the red army generation to fulfil their generational missions that puts them in trouble with the South Sudanese national security.

Those in positions of power are appointed through nepotistic arrangements or through political cronyisms. They are mere tokens without real power. For instance, the deputy governor of Jonglei State, Atong Kuol Manyang, is the daughter of a powerful former SPLA commander, Kuol Manyang Juuk. Kuol is also a senior advisor to President Kiir. The deputy Mayor of the city of Juba, Thiik Thiik Mayardit, is the nephew of President Salva Kiir.

The governor of Jonglei State, Mr. Denay Jock Chagor, the national minister of health, Ms. Yolanda Awel Deng Juach, and the national minister of petroleum, Mr. Kang Chol, are among the red army generation who were appointed through the revitalized agreement for the resolution of the conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCISS) signed by SPLM-In-Government and SPLM-In-Opposition in 2018. SPLM leaders find it nearly impossible to appoint the youth and the red army generation into positions of power on merit.

Co-opted South Sudanese youth and the red army generation must therefore reject SPLM’s predatory elitism however solvent. Otherwise, corrupt, and self-centred leaders in their 60s, 70s, and 80s will continue to be the past, the present, and the future of the country.  


Dr. Kuir ë Garang is the editor of TPR. 

Thursday, April 18, 2024

South Sudanese Youth Complicity in their Systemic Marginality

Top: Dr. Peter Biar Ajak (left) and President Salva Kiir (right)
Below: Minister of Petroleum, Mr. Puot K. Chol (left) and late Mr. Kerubino Wol (right)

In South Sudan, the youth is marginalized and confused. These are obvious realities to South Sudanese at home and abroad. The reason for this confusion and marginality is, however, not so apparent. We may fault culturally inspired political ageism. But that is easy.

So, making sense of how political ageism marginalizes the youth needs more than the proposition that ageism is to blame. The youth themselves enable the system that keeps them at the margin of power and decision-making in the country.

Of course, the structural dynamics of youth economic and political marginality, which is outside youth control, is not something I downplay. The youth are, however, not helpless bystanders in the ageism power matrix. They are complicit as pawns of the elite and ethnic chauvinists.

The youth, who are ethnic chauvinists or wannabe-elite make political ageism effective and marginalizing. These youth do not mind septuagenarians or octogenarians monopolizing politics and economics if these youth join, or are favored by, the political and economic elite.  South Sudanese scholar, Majak D’Agoot, has referred to this youth-marginalizing South Sudanese elite as the “gun class.”

An Analysis of the land issue in the Equatorias

In this case the youth support the gun class, however incompetent and corrupt, because these leaders come from their tribe.  They complain that the older generation is not giving the youth a share of power. However, these marginalized youth support leaders who tell 40-year-olds that they are “leaders of tomorrow.”  For instance, some local youth associations in South Sudan are headed by “youth” in their mid-40s. This is why, on April 17, 2023, Daniel Mwaka, a South Sudanese youth leader, suggested that the youth age bracket in South Sudan be delimited at 35.

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