At least ten Ugandans are thought to have died in the latest episode of violence in South Sudan that has left hundreds of people dead and forced thousands into refugee.
The latest fighting has been linked to forces loyal to President Salva Kiir’s former right hand man and Chief of Staff in the SPLA Gen. Paul Malong Awan who is now thought to harbour intentions of removing his boss and taking up leadership of some parts of the country.
Analysts say that even the two leaders of Sudan’s main rival factions President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar were taken by surprise by the latest fighting. And their appearance at a joint press conference calling for cessation of hostilities perhaps confirms this.
Before the latest fighting broke out, analysts viewed Malong, who is also the governor of South Sudan’s Northern Bahr El Ghazal state as the man who had the real power in Kiir government.
Many believe that Malong is the one behind the last few days’ events and point to the fact that on 8 July, SPLA troops around J1, the presidential palace, were reinforced from both the area surrounding Juba and from Luri, a cattle camp where Mathiang Anyoor recruits loyal to Malong, stayed before the 2013 Juba massacre.
Malong did make a statement on 9 July saying the situation in Juba was under control, but this was done through an intermediary and it is not clear where the man himself is. Some suspect he is in Uganda, others in Yei, and yet others say he is in Juba itself. At any rate, it is difficult to imagine the SPLA could have decimated Machar’s bodyguards on 8 July without the top orders coming from its Chief of General Staff. Kiir has called for an inquiry into the past two days’ violence, but if previous investigations are anything to go by, the perpetrators are likely to get away.
“There are rumours that Malong intends to wreak havoc and maybe even take control of Juba. He may also split from Kiir, but either way he will retain control over his Dinka militias, who are spread all over the Equatorias, as well as over some of the Bul Nuer fighters, who are based in Unity state and have close ties with Khartoum,”
According to the website, africanarguments.org, Malong established his authority over Northern Bahr El Ghazal and the SPLA during the civil war that spanned from 1983 to 2005.
“In this period, Malong dominated the local war economy and used its proceeds to cement strategic allegiances. He did this through the practice of large-scale polygamy and by godfathering his supporters’ marriages,” writes africanarguments.org
The site says that Malong offered to pay for the bride wealth for Kiir’ new wife, a role traditionally taken up by a groom’s father and his close and extended kin.
In 2005, after Garang’s death, Kiir took over as Vice-President of Sudan. And in 2008, Malong was appointed state governor of his home area of Northern Bahr El Ghazal.
In the following few years, as episodes of fighting with Sudanese forces continued, Malong managed to convince Kiir of the need to create a militia that would be loyal to them both. He took advantage of the economic disarray in his home region and began recruiting and training men into this new fighting force. Some members originated from Kiir’s home state of Warrap, but the majority were from Malong’s Northern Bahr El Ghazal. Malong was trying to position himself as the first leader from Northern Bahr El Ghazal with national stature.
The militia went by the name of Mathiang Anyoor (meaning ‘brown caterpillar’ in Dinka), but was also known as Dot ku Beny or Gel-Beny (meaning ‘rescue the President’). It was financed with the help of Ambrose Riing Thiik, the chairman of the Jieng (Dinka) Council of Elders (JCE).