In July, Gen. Paul Malong Awany, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) of Chief Staff, was seen pacing up and down the verandah of Uganda House, here, making a long animated phone call. It was at the time when Juba was rocked in the violent confrontation between South Sudan President Salva Kiir and his then-deputy, Dr. Riek Machar.
It is common to see high-ranking South Sudan officials in the streets of Kampala; or the many ordinary displaced people, streaming in the villages of Northern Uganda, escaping the political fall-out between the SPLA/M (Movement) supremos.
But, like many well-to-do South Sudanese, here, Malong is alleged to own a plush homes in Muyenga, a Kampala suburb. It is reported that he is constructing a swimming pool atop his three-storied building in the Muyenga home.
Ugandans are aware that, many South Sudanese own property here. Elsewhere, many people did not know, until this week when, the Sentry, a United States activist organization revealed, the riches top South Sudanese officials are wallowing in the neighbouring states, while their newly-independent country festers in distress.
At a press briefing in the prestigious National Press Club (NPC) in Washington DC, Actor, George Clooney, the president of the Sentry, and a former fundraiser for the South Sudan government, in a show of dismay, disclosed what many suspected before, that the South Sudan government, military officials and their families are ripping the country apart of its natural resources.
According to Clooney and another associate, John Prendargast, these people are in collusion with international banks, multinational companies, mining conglomerates, arms dealers, estate developers and lawyers, forming “holding companies for oil and other minerals”.
SPLM/A officials have reacted angrily at this expose, threatening to sue the Sentry and Prendargast’s, Not on Our Watch, organization for what they regard as lies about their leaders.
South Sudan Information Minister, Michael Makuei Lueth, in a shouted frantic interview with the BBC, did not even want to give the newsman a chance to pose the questions to him. For an official holding such an office, his defensive denials were far from convincing.
The Sentry’s revelations were not a sudden off-the-cuff announcement. It has taken Clooney, Prendargast and their associates, two painstaking years of investigations to come up with this damning report. In any case, even a casual observer of South Sudan political scene, cannot miss the misfortune the 5-year old country has fallen into.
In a recent visit to Juba to assess the disagreement between Kiir and Machar, the United Nations officials, including Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon, were aghast at the level South Sudan has degenerated to a failed state status. In the July altercation, mayhem was wrought upon Juba, and its outlying areas , where Machar was based. The UN team noted “destruction everywhere”. It had led to more than 500 deaths of the militias of both Kiir and Machar.
Machar was forced to evacuate to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), by the remnant of his militias, in a month-long march through the forests, to reach Kinshasha, where the UN eventually lifted him off to Khartoum. He is now in the Sudan capital vowing that he will only return to South Sudan when the unity government agreement is supervised by a UN 4, 000 peace-keeping force that is due for Juba.
More than 50,000 refugees have fled to Uganda, many of whom are billeted in overcrowded refugee camps in Northern Uganda. Up to 300,000 have been killed; and two and a half million people displaced within South Sudan itself. This is at the backdrop of the top officials and their families living it off at the best of their lives in the East African capitals, such as Nairobi and Kampala; and in such faraway places like; the US, Australia, Ukraine, China and Turkey, of the few, the Sentry report has noted.
Clooney’s Sentry report was carried out by a team of investigative professionals who were headed by J. Rob Mailey, a former officer in the National Security Agency a team that reports to National Security Council that advises the President of the United States. Indeed, after the NPC meeting, Clooney, Prendargast and Mailey headed to the White House to brief President Barack Obama of the import of their report.
Of late the US and the UN have been under pressure from well-meaning people to reign in the carnage in Juba. There is a perception that South Sudan should come under the UN as a trusteeship territory, much like what happened to East Timor before.
That gives the Sentry a credibility that Kiir’s and Machar’s lawyers would find difficult to crack were they to sue the Sentry for what they term lies about their clients. Perhaps these lawyers should go ahead so that the whole world gets to know through the courts how the Juba bosses has been milking their country.