An American-Educated Warlord in Equatoria: A Profile of South Sudan’s General Martin Terensio Kenyi

Andrew McGregor

March 3, 2017

According to a confidential UN report, six million people, half the population of South Sudan, are in need of humanitarian assistance less than six years after the nation gained its independence as a result of militia warfare spinning out of control (AFP, February 15). Power struggles in the oil-rich but otherwise completely undeveloped nation have devolved along tribal and ethnic lines. Intensifying the problem is the large variety of South Sudanese warlords, invariably “generals,” whether self-appointed or granted this distinction in order to pull them within the orbit of the governments of Khartoum or Juba.  These inflated militia leaders share a habit of changing sides according to whatever profits them most, making rational solutions to the crisis in South Sudan difficult in the extreme.

General Martin Terensio Kenyi

One such “General” is Martin Terensio Kenyi, a member of South Sudan’s Ma’di tribe and the most important warlord in the hilly and forested Eastern Equatoria region bordering Uganda.

General Kenyi calls for a federal system in South Sudan that would break Dinka domination of the government, though the government claims he is working for the separation of Eastern Equatoria from South Sudan (Sudan Tribune, December 7, 2014). General Kenyi’s career is marked by a pattern of defections and changing loyalties based more on opportunism, tribal rivalries and personal relations with other warlords than the interests of the young nation.

Kenyi has called for a united front to dismantle the “tribally-dominated regime” of President Salva Kiir Mayardit, who many South Sudanese believe is intent on establishing the dominance of South Sudan’s Dinkas, the largest ethnic group in the nation (Sudan Tribune, January 31, 2015). When not in the field, the General lives with his family in Kampala, Uganda.

South Sudan

The Ma’di People and Eastern Equatoria

 In South Sudan, the Ma’di people live in Magwi County in Imatong State. Other Ma’di live across the border (including South Sudanese Ma’di refugees) in Uganda’s adjoining Adjuman and Moyo districts. The Ma’di have an intensive interaction with Acholi clans (some friendly, some not) that live side by side with the Ma’di on both sides of the border.

The tribe’s oral history claims a Nigerian origin, though this has not been substantiated. The Ma’di were among many southern tribes that endured slave-raiding by Egypt’s Turko-Circassian army in the mid-19th century. The Ottoman onslaught drove many Ma’di into the bush and others south to Uganda, though General Charles “Chinese” Gordon made efforts to end slavery in the region while Ottoman governor of Equatoria (1874-76). The slave raids left the southerners with a deep hostility toward their northern Muslim neighbors that would help fuel Equatorian participation in the Anyanya rebellion (a.k.a. “The First Sudanese Civil War,”1955-1972). Government repression was heavy and atrocities frequent during the rebellion in Equatoria, the conflict’s focal point. [1]

After a brief period of Belgian rule in part of the Ma’di territory (the “Lado Enclave,” 1892-1910), all the Ma’di fell under Anglo-Egyptian rule in the Southern Sudan or British colonial rule in northern Uganda by 1910.  The Second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005) arrived in Eastern Equatoria in 1985 when the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) began raiding Ma’di territory. The use of Acholi recruits on these raids heightened tensions with the Ma’di community for several years.  By 1986, some Ma’di began to form self-defense militias, though others, like Kenyi, joined the SPLM/A. [2]

Most Ma’di are Christian, though there is a significant number of Muslims, especially in trading families.  Syncretistic forms of Islam and Christianity are common and a minority continues to follow traditional forms of ancestor worship. Most Ma’di are sedentary agriculturalists specializing in tobacco and cotton.

Early Career

General Kenyi was born in the Sudanese border town of Nimule in 1962.  He and his family took refuge in Uganda during the Anyanya Rebellion, which ravaged Equatoria before a Ma’di officer named Joseph Lagu united the Southern guerrilla groups and forced Khartoum to negotiate the Addis Ababa agreement that ended the war in 1972.

The family returned to Sudan after the end of the war, and Kenyi eventually went to the United States to earn a B.A. in political science and economics at Iowa’s Loras College in 1986. After completing a M.A. in political economy and comparative politics at Western Illinois University in 1988, Kenyi returned to Sudan and joined the rebellion led by John Garang’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). [3] His American education earned him a spot in 1989 at the military college in Bonga, Ethiopia, a strongly Marxist institution that trained the rebel movement’s officers from 1984 to 1990 under the patronage of the military-communist Derg regime in Addis Ababa. [4] On graduation Kenyi was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the SPLA. Kenyi rose to the rank of captain and served as adjutant to co-founder and military chief-of-staff William Nyuon Bany (Nuer, killed 1996).

Early  SPLA Leaders: William Nyuon Bany (died 1996); John Garang de Mabior (died 2005); Salva Kiir Mayardit (current president of South Sudan); Kuol Manyang Juuk

Defection to the SSDF

In 1992, Kenyi followed Nyuon in defecting to the breakaway South Sudan Defense Force (SSDF), a Nuer-dominated umbrella group led by Riek Machar Teny (Dok Nuer) that incorporated a variety of South Sudanese ethnic militias aligned with the Khartoum government. Besides Nyuon, other leading members included Gordon Kong Chuol (Jikany Nuer) and the late Paulino Matip Nhial (Bul Nuer). However, there were serious tensions between the Nuer and the Equatorians in the movement that led to internal clashes and an assassination attempt on Kenyi allegedly ordered by Nyuon (Radio Tamazuj, November 23, 2014).

Birth of the Equatorian Defense Force (EDF)

Separating himself from the rest of the SSDF command, Kenyi assumed the role of military commander of the Equatorian Defense Force (EDF), which continued as a part of the SSDF. By 2001 Kenyi was a Colonel and the SSDF’s commander of the Equatoria military region. The EDF was one of dozens of pro-government militias operating in South Sudan during the Second Civil War.

With fighters from the Ma’di, Acholi and other small ethnic groups, the EDF fought Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA, still largely Ugandan Acholi at that point) along the Ugandan border through 2001-2004 (BBC Monitoring Africa, March 30, 2004).

The political wing of the EDF was led by Dr. Theophilus Ochang Loti. The movement signed on to the 1997 Khartoum Peace Agreement that committed the government to a referendum on independence, but the SPLM/A refused to sign the pact. The agreement called for the SSDF and its constituent parts to remain a separate entity from the Government of Sudan (GoS) army, but under a joint SSDF/GoS military command. This clause, like the referendum, was never implemented. [5] Nonetheless, the SSDF relied on Khartoum for arms and supplies.

In 2003, Kenyi claimed that the SPLM/A’s decision to negotiate a peace agreement with Khartoum validated his choice to collaborate with the GoS rather than rebel against it: “Today the SPLA is negotiating a peace agreement with the GoS. We are not opposed to such a process because after all these years the SPLA has come to follow our example.” [6]

With the encouragement of Riek Machar [7], Kenyi led the EDF out of the SSDF and re-joined the SPLA as a brigadier general after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005. A major consideration was the need to drive the irrational and bloodthirsty LRA out of South Sudan, an objective best achieved by uniting forces.  Kenyi was made deputy director for procurement at SPLA headquarters in Juba, director of procurement for 2009-2010 and then , 2013-14.

Assassination Attempts

Not all Ma’di oppose the Juba government; some have little interest in prolonging the violence and are willing to cooperate with the Juba government. Prominent Ma’di supporters of the regime include Dr. Anne Itto Leonardo, the presidential advisor on agriculture and food security, and John Andruga Duku, a former ambassador for the SPLM/A. Both are held in suspicion by some Ma’di who are wary of their ties to Dinka leaders in Juba (SouthSudanLiberty.com, May 9, 2015).

One South Sudanese media source cited a leaked government report in May 2015 that alleged Dr. Itto and Ambassador Andruga met privately with President Kiir on April 15, 2015 to discuss means of convincing General Kenyi to abandon his rebellion. Three plans were devised: the first involved bribery and assistance in resettling in South Africa; the second would drop capital offense treason charges against Kenyi, allowing him to return to Juba; while the third plan was to convince General Kenyi that his rebellion was unwanted by the Ma’di people, who suffered repression on account of it. Kenyi’s caution made face-to-face discussion of these options impossible, so Andruga allegedly led South Sudanese security agents on a mission to assassinate Kenyi in Nairobi, but a tip from a South Sudanese security agent allowed Kenyi to escape (SouthSudanLiberty.com, May 9, 2015).

With the Juba regime still believing that the elimination of General Kenyi would lead to the collapse of a number of other small rebellions in Equatoria, Chief-of-Staff General “King” Paul Malong Awon (Dinka) and Defense Minister Kuol Manyang Juuk (Bor Dinka) were alleged to have met with Equatorian General and 6th Division commander Johnson Juma “JJ” Okot (Acholi) in January 2016 to plan Kenyi’s assassination. This plan also failed when it was prematurely revealed (Nyamile.com, January 7, 2016). [8]   

The SPLM/A-IO claimed National Security Service agents attempted to kill Kenyi on July 1, 2016 by ambushing his car. Kenyi was not in the vehicle at the time, but his security chief, George Ruben Ishamala, was allegedly wounded, abducted, tortured and finally murdered by security agents who dumped his body in the Juba morgue (SouthSudanLiberty.com, July 3, 2016).

Renewed Alliance with Riek Machar

The South Sudan Civil War broke out in December 2013, ignited by a tribally infused rivalry between the nation’s Dinka president, Salva Kiir Mayardit, and his Nuer vice-president, Riek Machar Teny. The latter formed the SPLM/A-IO (“In Opposition”), which Kenyi joined in November 2014. [9] Riek Machar made Kenyi a major-general and placed him in charge of the movement’s forces in Eastern Equatoria.

In January 2015, Kenyi explained his reasons for joining the opposition:

[The government] has created an atmosphere for rampant corruption. It has created an army, inherited an army, which is so parochial, sectarian, tribalistic, nepotistic. It has created a system of governance that has no sense of accountability. It has created a system… which generates crisis, ill-feelings… There is a need to struggle to establish a democratic system in this country. A democratic system which will reflect the diversity and multi-ethnicity in this country. This can best be addressed by creating a federalist system in South Sudan… [10]

Despite his decision, Kenyi would acknowledge local calls to form an independent Equatorian front:

There is a call for [an] Equatorian front because the people of Equatoria have repeatedly found themselves marginalized and even now in the government of Salva Kiir. They are right. There is no question about [it]. They have been marginalized and even treated as underdogs and called all [kinds of] names, including being branded as cowards, even when some of us led in battles and we captured major towns [during the civil war of 1983-2005] (Sudan Tribune, February 1, 2015).

Riek Machar made Martin Kenyi deputy Chief of Staff for moral orientation in 2014. In early January, 2015, Kenyi was named commander of the SPLM/A-IO forces in Eastern Equatoria.

The arrival in Eastern Equatoria of Dinka herdsmen and their cattle fleeing the civil war added to ethnic tensions in the region when the Dinka showed little interest in returning home after South Sudanese independence in 2011 (Sudan Tribune, August 18, 2011). Since then, the Dinkas have demanded land, grazing rights and representation in local government, all opposed by traditional Ma’di chiefs (Radio Tamazuj, April 5, 2015).

On the Road to Nimule

The Juba-Nimule Highway – Perfect Ambush Country

Since 2014, General Kenyi has made efforts to cut the vital Juba-Nimule road (a.k.a. the A43 Highway), the only tarmacked road connecting the land-locked nation to the sea via Uganda and Kenya. The many dips and hills along the 192 kilometers (km) A43 make it perfect ambush territory, especially as it passes through heavily forested areas. Vicious attacks on all manner of road traffic by well-armed guerrillas believed to be under Kenyi’s command pose a serious threat to South Sudan’s economic viability and have brought his group into confrontation with the Ugandan military. Customs duties and taxes paid by traders are a significant source of revenue for the government of South Sudan, which is otherwise reliant on oil revenues. Cutting the road hurts Uganda as well; Ugandan Ministry of Trade statistics indicate that South Sudan is Uganda’s largest trading partner, with annual export revenue of over $350 million a year (ChimpReports, December 17, 2014).

Led by Lieutenant Jada Anthony Tibi, Kenyi’s men destroyed three vehicles on the A43 carrying food for government troops in mid-December 2014 and announced that Kenyi had closed the “Salva  Kiir Mayardit lifeline to the outside world” (Sudan Tribune, December 18, 2014). A Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF) spokesman warned that “this development will compel Uganda Special Forces commando units to use combat action to clear the rebels’ pockets of resistance along the Juba-Nimule road if it continues” (Nyamile, December 17, 2014).

Kenyi’s forces claimed to have overrun Nimule for three hours on July 4, 2015, capturing ammunition stores and vehicles after the local garrison fled into the bush following a short fire-fight. The attackers pulled out before retaliation from Ugandan and South Sudanese military units (Sudan Tribune, July 9, 2015). Two days later, a policeman was killed and three vehicles burned in an attack on an A43 checkpoint (Radio Tamazuj, July 6, 2015; Sudan Tribune, July 7 2015).

Burning Tanker on the Juba-Nimule Highway (Radio Tamazuj)

Kenyi’s forces under the operational command of Commander Marli Max attacked an SPLA-Juba barracks in mid-August 2015 and overran the town of Pageri approximately 25 km northeast of Nimule (Radio Tamazuj, August 18, 2015). Kenyi’s militia claimed the attack on Pageri happened only after they were attacked by government troops. The timing of the incident was curious, as SPLM/A-IO leaders had signed the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)-sponsored Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan the day before. [11] SPLM/A-IO Major General James Koang Chuol Ranley suggested the government attack was an attempt by the Salva Kiir government to derail the peace process (Sudan Tribune, August 19, 2015).

South Sudan – Uganda Border Region

Attacks on the road continued, with rebels killing truck drivers and bus passengers (Radio Tamazuj, November 24, 2015). Six Ugandans were abducted in July 2016 inside Uganda’s Lamwo District by rebels believed to be under Kenyi’s command (Monitor [Kampala], July 19, 2016). The UPDF was involved at the time in the evacuation of over 8,000 Ugandans and people of other nationalities from renewed clashes in Juba. By August 2016, heavy fighting again closed the A43. The attacks on government forces were believed to be retaliation for a security sweep of Ma’di territory that left 13 civilians dead (Nyamile, August 7, 2016).

Government troops flooded the Juba-Nimule road in September 2016 after two South Sudan security officers were killed on the road in a Ma’di area by attackers armed with rocket-propelled grenades and other sophisticated military equipment. Hundreds of Ma’di fled the area afterwards, fearing retaliation from the army (Sudan Tribune, September 2, 2016). A flurry of attacks on buses and fuel tankers followed, with one unfortunate driver being burned to death (Monitor [Kampala], September 5, 2016; Welyam.com, September 9, 2016; Sudan Tribune, September 11, 2016).

Observers from UNMISS (the 13,000-man United Nations Mission in South Sudan) confirmed reports of clashes between government troops and SPLM/A-IO fighters in Magwi County in January 2017. According to the SPLM/A-IO, its forces under the command of Major General Patrick Ohiti Chapuho ambushed the government troops as they burned Acholi villages in the region (Sudan Tribune, January 25).

Government troops have been accused of illegally detaining and torturing civilians suspected of supporting General Kenyi (Radio Tamazuj, May 20, 2015; Sudan Tribune, December 2, 2015). Serious abuses were reported in February 2017 by Eastern Equatoria’s Bishop Paul Yugusuk, who alleged government troops were using a base south of Juba intended to provide security for travellers on the A43 to commit large scale rapes, looting and illegal detentions and torture (Sudan Tribune, February 15).

Conclusion

Many Equatorians are uninterested in the conflict between the Dinka and Nuer and resent the activity of SPLM-IO forces, which inevitably draw reprisals on civilians by government troops.  An agreement was signed earlier this year providing for joint South Sudanese/Ugandan police patrols to provide security along the highway (Monitor [Kampala], January 27). General Kenyi has been unable to sever the Juba-Nimule highway on anything more than a temporary basis even while most government forces are deployed against larger SPLM/A-IO in the northern regions of the country. Though his activities have encouraged government repression of the Ma’di, this is consistent with terrorist/guerrilla strategies of inciting repression in order to compel rebellion.

Given General Kenyi’s pattern of changing sides, the question now is whether he will maintain his campaign along the A42 on behalf of Riek Machar, who has now fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, settle with the Juba regime or lead his fighters in a Quixotic struggle for the independence of Eastern Equatoria. Ultimately, this warlord, like his South Sudan counterparts, will do what’s necessary to maintain a personal stake in a nation blessed by oil riches but tormented by a tendency to resort to violence in nearly all issues, a proclivity bred by decades of brutal warfare.

NOTES:

[1] Edgar O’Ballance, The Secret War in the Sudan: 1955-1972, London, 1977, p.83.

[2]  Douglas H. Johnson, The Root Causes of Sudan’s Civil Wars, International African Institute, Oxford, 2003, p.86.

[3] “Maj Gen Martin Speaking Directly to the People of South Sudan,” January 29, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQPbMicLU3U

[4] Mawut Achiecque Mach Guarak, Integration and Fragmentation of the Sudan: An African Renaissance, AuthorHouse, Bloomington, Indiana, 2011, pp. 305-309.

[5] “Interview with Martin Kenyi and Garhoth Garkuoth of the South Sudan Defence Force,” Institute for Security Studies, Pretoria, June 22, 2003, https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/137116/SUDANJUN03A.PDF

[6] Ibid

[7] Matthew LeRiche, Matthew Arnold, South Sudan: From Revolution to Independence,” Oxford University Press, 2013, (p. 273, fn. 51).

[8] After persistent accusations of corruption and misappropriation of salaries intended for soldiers in the 6th Division (which led to troops rioting in October 2015), General Okot was relieved of his command in February 2016 (Radio Tamazuj, February 17, 2016).

[9] John Young, “A Fractious Rebellion: Inside the SPLM-IO,” Small Arms Survey, HSBA Working Paper 39, Geneva, 2015, p.30.

[10] “Maj Gen Martin Speaking Directly to the People of South Sudan,” January 29, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQPbMicLU3U

[11] Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan, Addis Ababa, August 17, 2015;https://unmiss.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/final_proposed_compromise_agreement_for_south_sudan_conflict.pdf

This article first appeared in the March 3, 2017 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Militant Leadership Monitor.

“A Doctorate in Fighting”: A Profile of Shilluk Militia Leader General Johnson Ulony Thubo

Andrew McGregor

October 5, 2016

South Sudan achieved independence in July 2011 but the era of peace most citizens had hoped the event would initiate remains elusive, thanks in large part to the ravages imposed by both a tribally oriented government and a slew of warlords with outsized personal ambitions. One of the most active of these warlords is General Johnson Ulony Thubo, a self-proclaimed defender of the Shilluk people, South Sudan’s third largest ethnic group (the Dinka are the largest, while their perpetual rivals, the Nuer, are second-largest).

ulony-1General Johnson Ulony Thubo (Gurtong)

In a land of extraordinarily tall people, Johnson Ulony’s size still makes him stand out. By repeatedly playing off one side against the other in Upper Nile State and threatening the young nation’s oil supply (nearly its only source of revenue), Ulony has cynically but successfully made himself a major player in the continuing struggle for South Sudan. In the process, Ulony has drawn the critical attention of the United States and been accused of war crimes by the UN and a former British Prime Minister.

The Situation in South Sudan

Fighting broke out in the Upper Nile State capital of Malakal between Dinka and Nuer elements of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA – the national army controlled by the Dinka-dominated Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement – SPLM) in December 2013 after President Salva Kiir Mayardit claimed Nuer Vice-President Riek Machar Dhurgon had attempted to overthrow the government in the capital, Juba. Machar fled north to rally Nuer and other allied troops under the name SPLA In Opposition (SPLA-IO).

Since then, the conflict has been complicated by President Kiir’s unilateral creation of 28 states from the original ten in October 2015, a move seen by many groups as an attempt to transfer traditionally held tribal lands to Dinka control. The decision is regarded as illegitimate by both the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC – an international peace monitoring group) and the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). In the case of Ulony and his personal Shilluk militia Agwelek, the changes are seen as “a naked power grab” and an attempt to transfer Shilluk lands on the east side of the Nile (including Malakal) to the Dinka Padang group (Radio Tamazuj, May 4). Kiir’s decree divided Upper Nile State into three new administrative territories; Western Nile State (dominated by Shilluk), Eastern Nile State (with a significant Shilluk population) and Latjoor State (mainly Nuer). Agwelek controls the west bank of the White Nile, while government forces control the east bank, including the regional capital of Malakal, an important Nile River port.

The Shilluk

With a population of 1.5 to 2 million people, the Nilotic Shilluk (a.k.a. Chollo, or Collo), the Shilluk are divided into kwari (clans) who trace their lineage to some contemporary of the kingdom’s legendary mid-16th century founder Niyakang, who established a kingdom at the confluence of the Sobat River and the White Nile after being exiled by his twin brother from a kingdom in the region of Bahr al-Ghazal. The clans are all under the authority of the Reth, a king traditionally regarded as a descendant and spiritual incarnation of Niyakang. The Reth is regarded as a form of “divine kingship,” in which the health and prosperity of the king is an instrumental and necessary element in the success of the community as a whole.[1]

ulony-sobatThe Sobat River in the Shilluk Heartland

The Shilluk built a navy of dug-out canoes and made themselves a regional power through control of long stretches of the White Nile and by sending boat-borne warriors to raid Arab communities to the north. This situation changed dramatically when Turco-Egyptian forces occupied the Shilluk kingdom in the 1820s and initiated large-scale slave raids and cattle-raiding expeditions enabled by possession of firearms.

ulony-shilluk-warriorLate 19th century Shilluk Warrior

The Shilluk capital of Fashoda (Pachodo) was established around 1700 CE as a royal residence and center for mediation activities and religious/political rituals. The Reth was not obliged to live there full time, but spent most of his time within the Shilluk Kingdom. A French attempt to claim sovereignty over Fashoda and the Upper Nile region in 1898 (the “Fashoda Incident”) nearly led to full-scale war between France and Great Britain, which was in the process of consolidating its control of the Sudan. Fashoda was renamed Kodok by the British in 1904 as part of an unsuccessful attempt to eliminate memory of the incident at a time of improving Anglo-French relations.

Though most Shilluk are today Christians (both Roman Catholic and Protestant) or Muslims, traditional religion is still a strong influence in Shilluk society.

Disarmament Campaign of 2010

Ulony, who hails from Panyakang County in Upper Nile Province, first came to prominence in the course of a nation-wide disarmament campaign in 2010 in which the SPLA was accused of massive human rights abuses in Shilluk territory. Despite persistent local rivalries over land ownership between Dinka and Shilluk, the government ill-advisedly sent Dinka troops to disarm Shilluk communities. Resistance followed, led by a former wildlife officer, Colonel Robert Gwang (Pachodo.org, July 27, 2010). Gwang joined the SPLA in late 2010, but his lieutenant Ulony and his men spent months waiting in a camp for integration into SPLA’s 7th Division before the alleged rape of a Shilluk fighter’s wife by an SPLA soldier sparked a battle that killed 14 on both sides.[2]

After initial clashes with the SPLA in Panyikang County in early March 2011, Ulony attacked Malakal on March 12, 2011.[3] Ulony’s militia was driven off by the SPLA, but it was only the first of a series of battles Ulony would fight in Malakal.

With integration now impossible Ulony led his men across the border into South Kordofan and joined a new armed movement opposed to the Government of South Sudan (GoSS). Formed by Dinka Lieutenant General George Athor Deng, the South Sudan Democratic Movement/Army (SSDM/A) attracted rogue commanders from several ethnic groups.[4]

When Athor was killed by South Sudanese border guards in December 2011, he was succeeded by Peter Kuol Chol Awan, who came to terms with Juba in February 2012. As led by Ulony and fellow Shilluk rebel Alyuak Ogot Akol, the SSDM/A’s Upper Nile faction rejected the peace agreement, with Ulony taking control of the dissident fighters still in the field. Ulony claimed Chol had already resigned as the movement’s leader due to health reasons and thus had no authority to negotiate an agreement with the ruling SPLM (Sudan Tribune, March 1, 2012).   Ogot accepted the amnesty in September 2013.

By early 2012, Ulony’s troops were active on Khartoum’s behalf against rebel forces of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army – North (SPLA-N – Sudanese rebels abandoned by the South’s 2011 independence) in Southern Kordofan and participated in the seizure of Jau, a town in the disputed oil-rich region of Unity State. Ulony continued to campaign in the South Kordofan region into 2013.

Conciliation with Juba – 2013

In April 2013, President Kiir issued another amnesty offer, which was accepted by several Nuer and Shilluk rebel movements (Sudan Tribune, April 27, 2013). Ulony rejected the offer, but an order from the Reth to accept the amnesty brought Ulony into the SPLM/A fold.[5]

After his arrival in Juba in June 2013, Ulony appeared on state media to declare his 3,000-man militia had received full support from Khartoum, including training, logistics and “any support we need.” Now, however, it was time to join the SPLA’s 7th Division and forget the past as President Kiir had urged (Sudan Tribune, June 6, 2013). Ulony joined the SPLA’s bloated general staff as a major-general as his men crossed into South Sudan from Sudan. However, when clashes between Dinka and Nuer forces erupted in Juba in December 2013, Ulony’s Shilluk militia had still not been fully integrated into the SPLA.

During his unsuccessful defense of Malakal against SPLA-IO attacks in February 2014, Ulony was shot and wounded in the neck by the rebel forces and was evacuated to Juba for treatment (Sudan Tribune, February 20, 2014) Having recovered, Ulony took a shot In July 2014 at the ineffectual but well-educated Shilluk politicians who had been unable to secure Shilluk territory, announcing he had “a doctorate in fighting” (African Arguments, October 6, 2014).

Child Soldiers and Terrorism Accusations

In February 2015, UNICEF accused Ulony of recruiting 89 (or “possibly hundreds”) of child soldiers between 12 to 15 years of age. Ulony was summoned to Juba to answer these charges but failed to appear as he was involved in offensive operations alongside the Presidential Guard (the “Tiger Division”) against SPLA-IO forces in Manyo County at the time (The Insider [Kampala], March 16, 2015; Radio Tamazuj, February 28, 2015; March 9, 2015). Possibly unaware that Ulony was at the time a Major General in South Sudan’s national army, former UK prime minister Gordon Brown described Ulony’s unit as a “terrorist group,” adding that they were “a cynical, hypocritical group of people” (Radio Tamazuj, March 19, 2015).

Following clashes at Malakal in April 2015, Ulony was ordered to report to SPLA headquarters in Juba. When he failed to appear, SPLA chief of general staff General Paul Malong Awan was forced to admit he was no longer in contact with Ulony and no longer received reports from him. Ulony, however, claimed there was “no problem,” stating that he was “still part of the government” (Sudan Tribune, May 14, 2015).

Defection to the SPLA/M-IO

Ulony’s April 2015 defection to the SPLM/A-IO was spurred in part by the April 1 killing of his deputy Major General James Bwogo Olieu (a.k.a. Johnson Bwugo) by a Dinka militia allegedly under the supervision of SPLA military intelligence (Nyamile.com, April 19, 2015; Sudan Tribune, April 6, 2015). At the time, however, Ulony publicly maintained that the Dinka youth militia had confused General Bwogo’s entourage with a Shilluk youth militia they had been fighting sporadically for several days, adding that his forces remained under SPLA command and were not a separate Shilluk militia as some (including SPLA-IO leader Riek Machar) had alleged  (Sudan Tribune, April 7, 2015)

ulony-shilluk-mapMap Source: Joshua Project / Global Mapping International

Formation of the Agwelek Militia

Having taken SPLA-issued heavy weapons with him during his defection, Ulony formed Agwelek, a Shilluk militia, on May 15, 2015. Agwelek accuses the “tribally-oriented” South Sudan government of grabbing Shilluk land and handing it over to the Dinka (Southsudannation.com, July 3, 2015). The movement’s declared objectives include:

  • The unification of all opposition groups in South Sudan
  • Implementation of federalism
  • Establishment of a reconciliation commission
  • Proportionate representation of all states in a “truly national army”
  • A complete overhaul of the police and all security services
  • Diversification of the economy as part of a socio-economic revival
  • The establishment of an Upper Nile/Fashoda Trust Fund of $500 million, 60% of which will come from international donors.
  • An allocation of 50% power sharing in Upper Nile State and the right to appoint the governor (com, July 3, 2015).

In June 2015 the SPLA-IO declared it had retaken Malakal in cooperation with Agwelek forces, though by this time the city was largely a depopulated ruin, most residents having fled for the protection of a squalid UNMISS camp on the outskirts of town (Radio Tamazuj, June 28, 2015).

In early July 2015 a government offensive pushed Agwelek troops from the Kodok (Fashoda) region on the west bank and retook Malakal from Agwelek and the SPLA-IO on the east bank without meeting significant resistance (Radio Tamazuj, July 11, 2015).

Hassan Otor, a commander in Aguelek, denied September 2015 reports from Khartoum that Ulony had defected from the SPLA-IO (Radio Tamazuj, September 17, 2015). Other Shilluk forces under the command of Major General Ogot’s deputy, Yohanis Okeich, defected from the SPLA to the SPLA-IO the next month (Radio Tamazuj, October 30, 2015).

The U.S. proposed a UN travel ban and asset freeze on Ulony in September 2015 on the grounds of perpetuating a conflict that was causing needless civilian deaths and displacement. The sanctions were ultimately blocked by Russia and Angola (BBC, September 16, 2015). Hassan Otor, described the sanctions as “illogical” and maintained that Ulony was only defending civilians from aerial and chemical attacks by Juba (Radio Tamazuj, October 2, 2015).

An International Incident

In late October 2015, Ulony and his militia sparked an international incident by detaining three barges on the White Nile hired by UNMISS to deliver fuel to a UNMISS base in Renk. Aboard the barges were 12 South Sudanese crewmen, 18 UN peacekeepers and 55,000 liters of fuel. The shipping company that owned the barges was also used by the SPLA, which was involved in operations on the river against Shilluk rebels at the time. Ulony’s spokesman insisted that some of the detainees were SPLA troops and agents of the National Security Service, proof of local collusion between UNMISS and the Juba government.

ulony-nile-bargeTypical White Nile Barge Transport

On October 30, 2015 a U.S. State Department spokesman condemned the seizure of the UN barge and suggested the action could constitute a war crime (Radio Tamazuj, November 2, 2015). Meanwhile, the failure of UNMISS to respond to the seizure for three days led the SPLA to believe UNMISS was in collusion with Ulony. The UNMISS chief finally condemned the detention as a war crime and the personnel were released, though Ulony’s men kept the fuel, the peacekeepers’ weapons and some communications equipment (African Arguments, November 4, 2015; Radio Tamazuj, October 30, 2015).

In the same month, General Yohannes Okich (or Okij) split from Agwelek, forming the Tiger Faction New Forces (TFNF).

Deposing the Reth

On January 13, 2016, conspirators including General Ulony overthrew Reth Kwongo Dak Padiet, the long-standing 34th king of the Shilluk, citing his support for Kiir’s creation of 28 states and the Reth’s extended two-year stay in Juba during a time of crisis in the Shilluk homeland. The king was replaced by a prince of the royal lineage. A statement issued by Shilluk elders asserted that Shilluk leadership customs don’t “allow absence of the king from soil of the kingdom for a long period as this could open gaps for bad luck to the people with the spirit of founder Nyikango and other ancestors deserting the land” (Sudan Tribune, January 17).

The Shilluk king is seen as the community’s guarantor of law and order, so deposing the king is not an action to be taken lightly, as it threatens the stability of the community as a whole. Was deposing the king, in Shilluk terms, an outrageous and revolutionary act? It’s difficult to say, as there seems to be no precedent of a Shilluk Reth abandoning his people to live elsewhere, a primary cause of his overthrow. Given the Reth’s spiritual importance to the survival of his people (and the presumption that he would continue to live amongst them), the idea that he would live elsewhere seems inconceivable, and the same reaction may have occurred at any time in the Shilluk past. In any case, the move appeared to have the support of many Shilluk.

Conclusion

General Ulony’s proclivity for changing sides in South Sudan’s seemingly interminable civil conflict suggests that his interests lie in his own personal advancement rather than the improvement of the Shilluk community of the success of South Sudan’s efforts at nation building. Ulony is hardly alone in this; indeed, a long list of South Sudanese warlords who look mainly to their own fortunes could be compiled with little effort. Nonetheless, Ulony’s machinations have now made him the commander of SPLA-IO Sector 1, which includes the 1st and 7th Divisions as well as the Aguelek militia, all located dangerously close to the heavily defended Paloich oil fields, South Sudan’s last remaining source of revenue.

Notes

[1] See E. E. Evans-Pritchard, The Divine Kingship of the Shilluk of the Nilotic Sudan, Cambridge, University Press, 1948.

[2] “SSDM/A-Upper Nile Faction,” Small Arms Survey, November 6, 2013, http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/facts-figures/south-sudan/armed-groups/southern-dissident-militias/ssdma-upper-nile.html

[3] SPLM/A-Shilluk Conflict in Upper Nile, Small Arms Survey, April 2011, http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/fileadmin/docs/archive/other/armed-groups/HSBA-Armed-Groups-Shilluk-Conflict-Upper-Nile-April-2011.pdf

[4] See “Renegade Generals Threaten Unity of South Sudan’s SPLA as Independence Referendum Approaches,” Terrorism Monitor, May 20, 2010, http://www.jamestown.org/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=36404&no_cache=1#.V-xEwiRqnIU

[5] Op cit, Small Arms Survey, November 6, 2013.

This article first appeared in the September 2016 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Militant Leadership Monitor

Romolo Gessi Pasha: Early Counter-Insurgency Lessons from an Italian Soldier of Fortune’s Campaign in Central Africa

Andrew McGregor

Military History Online, August 21, 2016

Gessi portraitRomolo Gessi Pasha

Successful counterinsurgencies typically combine the deployment of superior weapons, competent logistics, advanced tactics and the ability to win the “hearts and minds” of the non-insurgent population.  What is striking about the success of Italian soldier-of-fortune Romolo Gessi Pasha (1831-1881) against insurgent Arab traders and slavers in the south Sudan was his ability to overcome a much larger group of fighters who possessed similar weapons, had greater experience in both irregular and conventional warfare, held fortified positions, were at home in the terrain and had wide public support in the most influential parts of Sudanese society, including the military. Ultimately, Gessi Pasha would go down in history as the relentless weapon used by Sudanese governor-general Charles “Chinese” Gordon to smite the Arab slavers of Bahr al-Ghazal and destroy their expanding influence.

Early Career

Gessi is believed to have attended military schools in Germany and Austria before finding work as an interpreter for British forces in the Crimean War, where he would first meet Captain Charles Gordon of the Royal Engineers, later governor of Sudan’s Equatoria Province (1874-76) and governor general of the Sudan (1877-79).

Dr. Robert W. Felkin, an English medical-missionary and occultist, described the nervous energy that propelled Gessi, “a small wiry man, very impulsive and vivacious. He had grey hair, bright lively eyes and highly nervous hands; he seemed as if he could not sit still for a moment, but was always on the move, and continually occupied in making cigarettes… I think I never met a more entertaining companion.” [1] Gordon later described Gessi in his journal in 1881, when Gessi was 49-years-old: “Short, compact figure; cool, most determined man. Born genius for practical ingenuity in mechanics. Ought to have been born in 1560, not 1832. Same disposition as Francis Drake.” [2] Gessi’s colleague and sometime antagonist Carl Christian Giegler Pasha, the German deputy governor-general of the Sudan until 1883, remarked after Gessi’s death that he had been “one of the most striking figures in the Sudan.” [3] According to Giegler:

When [Gordon] went to the Sudan, he took Gessi with him, for he had a fancy for daredevils like Gessi… He knew how to tame such people and make them useful… Anyone was good enough for the wilds of Central Africa. It was of no importance to Gordon whether the people had previously been honest citizens or rogues. [4]

Giegler claimed Gordon once told him that “Gessi was a fellow capable of the worst and basest actions. Gordon once said to me in the course of conversation, ’Do you know Gessi yet? If I were to order him to kill his own mother, he would certainly do it.’” [5]

When Gessi accepted Gordon’s offer of a staff position in the Sudan in 1873 he was 42-years-old. Though the multilingual Gessi had only an acquaintance with Sudanese Arabic, he did speak Turkish, the command language of the Egyptian Army. While he was now under the authority of the Muslim Egyptian Khedive (Turkish – “viceroy”) and thus an official of the Ottoman Sultan, Gessi had a very low opinion of Islam, which he characterized as only “the first step from fetishism.” [6] Gessi once recommended “colonization on a large scale” to Christianize the Sudan, citing as a model the Protestant Dutch Boers in South Africa.  [7]

Gessi - Giegler PortraitCarl Christian Giegler Pasha

In 1875 Gessi led a mission to Uganda’s Lake Albert conducted on a lice-ridden open boat through continual storms; bananas were often their only food. Gessi feuded with an Italian compatriot on the expedition, beat his Arab sailors with a cudgel and made no useful contacts with the natives. [8]  Gessi claimed to have circumnavigated the lake, but according to Giegler, no one in Khartoum believed him. [9] Gessi was often consumed with sketchy money-making enterprises; Giegler and another official lost a substantial sum of money in Gessi’s attempt to speculate in sorghum, an incident that may have helped color much of Giegler’s later negative assessments of Gessi’s character. [10]

Gessi resigned after Gordon presented him with only a minor Ottoman decoration for his work on Lake Albert. [11] An 1878 mission to the Upper Sobat region followed and Gessi was planning yet another venture in the southern Sudan when news came that Sulayman Bey Zubayr had revolted in Bahr al-Ghazal Province, massacring the Dem Idris garrison and 400 loyal Arab traders before proclaiming the independence of Bahr al-Ghazal. Despite Gessi’s resignation, Gordon asked him to mount an expedition against the powerful rebels.

Bahr al-Ghazal in the Age of Slavery

After its conquest by Egypt in 1821, Sudan was ruled by elements of the non-Arab Turco-Circassian elite that dominated Egypt’s Arab majority. Though the Egyptian Khedive ruled largely independently of his nominal master, the Ottoman Sultan, the Egyptian administration in Sudan was dominated by Turks, Circassians and other peoples of the far-flung Ottoman Empire. Of local importance were the three powerful Arab tribes of northern Sudan, the Danagla, the Ja’aliyin and the Sha’iqiya.

In the mid-19th century so much of Sudan’s economy was built around slave labor that any attempt to simply abolish it would mean the ruin of the country and certain revolt. From 1837 to 1848, the Egyptian government maintained a monopoly on the south Sudan slave trade. This trade was eventually turned over to private merchants before Cairo yielded to international pressure in 1869 and engaged Sir Samuel Baker to abolish slavery in Egypt’s southern dominions. Baker’s often brutal methods succeeded mostly in displacing the slave trade from Sudan’s Equatoria Province to the less accessible Bahr al-Ghazal Province.

Prior to 1850, trade in the Bahr al-Ghazal was largely carried out by itinerant Arab and Arabized-Nubian traders from north Sudan known as jallaba. However, as ivory began to dry up, the traders turned to “black ivory” – slaves. Up to this point, the jallaba (not all of whom were slavers) had paid local rulers for trading rights and protection, but now aligned themselves with the armed trading establishments run by Khartoum-based trading houses.

Europeans and Levantines were also important as ivory traders in Bahr al-Ghazal, but most had sold their interests to Arabs by 1862 as a result of the depletion of ivory stocks, the undesirability of being associated with the expanding slave trade and the increasing violence in the region. [12] The slave markets in Khartoum were closed in 1857 but reopened in more inaccessible places in the south. Nonetheless, the European traders based in Khartoum continued to profit from the trade by offering high-interest loans to Arab slavers. [13]

In 1877 the Egyptian Khedive signed an anti-slavery agreement with the British government that called for an immediate end to the slave-trade and the gradual elimination of slavery over seven years in Egypt and twelve years (i.e. 1889) in the more slave-dependent Sudan. Gordon maintained that the agreement could never be properly implemented in that time-frame: “No man in the place of a governor would plunge the whole country into revolt on this question…” [14]

Most slaves were women who performed domestic tasks or were destined for harems in Cairo, Istanbul and other parts of the Ottoman Empire. Corvée labor was usually preferred to slave labor on large projects and plantation labor was rarely performed by male slaves, who were instead diverted to the army for training before being sent back to the Sudan as soldiers. Manumission, susceptibility to disease (particularly Cairo’s regular plague epidemics) and low fertility rates meant that the slave population was constantly in need of replenishment.

Most of the leading traders in Sudan established zariba-s, trading settlements initially fortified by encirclements of thorn bushes and later by earth berms and timber. The traders deployed thousands of armed men, many of them bazinqir-s, former slaves who were allowed a share of the profits in return for their service. Maintaining private armies was not cheap, however, and the traders increasingly focused on expanding the slave trade with the connivance of officials of the Turco-Egyptian government. Unable to assert its authority in the region, the government attempted to integrate the traders into the official administration, giving their activities a degree of immunity.

With the main occupation of Egyptian Army detachments in the region being the collection of slaves and ivory, the traders began sending their illicit cargoes north through desert routes to avoid the Nile. Mortality rates were now far higher, making it necessary to send greater numbers of slaves north in order to maintain the normal profit margins. Sulayman’s powerful father, Zubayr Rahma Mansur Pasha (c. 1831 – 1913), attempted several times to negotiate right-of-passage treaties with the Baqqara (cattle-raising) Arabs of southern Darfur, but despite agreeing to a pact in 1866, the Arab tribesmen could not in the end be persuaded that receiving payment for passage would ultimately be more profitable than raiding slave caravans. These difficulties eventually inspired Zubayr to invade Darfur and add it to his personal empire.

The slavers’ private armies were no mere rabble; in most cases they were as disciplined as government troops, often better fed and supplied, at least as well armed and frequently more experienced in combat and the use of firearms. The men were fiercely loyal to their commanders and were paid in goods, including cattle and slaves. [15]

Zubayr Pasha and Sulayman Bey

By 1865, Zubayr controlled most of the Dar Fertit region of Bahr al-Ghazal. Following a successful thirteen-month war with the militarily powerful Zande peoples, Zubayr found himself the strongest force in the region by early 1873. In the meantime, Zubayr had angered authorities in Khartoum in May 1873 by killing the government-appointed ruler of Dar Fertit, an adventurer from Baguirmi (a slave-raiding sultanate in southern Chad) who had tried to seize Zubayr’s goods on a pretext.

Gessi - Zubayr 2Zubayr Pasha

In December 1873 the Khedive issued a royal decree making Zubayr governor of Bahr al-Ghazal with the Ottoman rank of Bey (a high Ottoman administrative rank, second to Pasha). [16] With his status vis-à-vis the government now normalized, Zubayr began to use his ever-increasing wealth to bribe all levels of officialdom, making himself one of the most powerful men in Sudan.

After a series of disputes with the Khedive’s appointee as Darfur governor, Zubayr decided to travel to Cairo in 1875 to lay his case before the Khedive personally, leaving a force of 6,000 men under the command of his son Sulayman (Zubayr maintained Sulayman was 15-years-old at the time; Gordon believed he was 21, a more likely age). [17] Though he was initially received with great ceremony, Zubayr eventually learned that the Khedive intended his stay in Cairo to be permanent to sideline the possibility that Zubayr might create a mighty empire in Darfur that could eventually threaten Egypt. [18]

While in Cairo, Zubayr met with Gordon, who was on his way back to the Sudan. Zubayr entrusted his son’s safety to Gordon while writing to Sulayman to remain loyal. Shortly after Gordon’s arrival in Khartoum he succeeded in quelling a revolt by Sulayman, but rather than executing the young man, Gordon exacted a promise of future loyalty and released the would-be rebel. The governor-general’s decision to free Sulayman was calculated rather than based on moral softness; Gordon expected reciprocity when he was magnanimous and, in this sense, Sulayman’s days were numbered once he decided to launch a new revolt. [19]

An unconfirmed story claims Zubayr had gathered his officers under a Tamarind tree near Shakka (a town in south Darfur Zubayr had seized from the Baqqara Arabs) and instructed them to revolt if they received a message from Cairo to “carry out the orders given under the tree.” Gordon believed such instructions were sent after he refused to assist Zubayr’s return from Cairo. [20]

Gessi - GordonCharles George Gordon Pasha in Ottoman Uniform

Meanwhile, Zubayr’s empire had been damaged by the maladministration of Idris Abtar, a Danagla slave-trader and merchant who had been appointed in Zubayr’s absence. Rightfully sensing trouble with Sulayman and his Ja’aliyin following, Idris convinced Gordon that Sulayman was in revolt. Idris was given command of Bahr al-Ghazal and set out with some 200 regulars to bring Sulayman to heel. Sulayman reportedly wrote to Gordon, expressing his willingness to submit to a Turk or European, but not to Idris, whom he regarded as a mere servant of his father. [21]  Sulayman now seized Dem Idris and slaughtered the garrison, which brought support from other leading slave-traders opposed to the government’s anti-slavery measures. However, as Gessi noted, “Gordon Pasha was not the man to leave acts of revolt and the massacre of his soldiers unpunished.” [22]

Sulayman’s Revolt

Prior to Sulayman’s revolt, Bahr al-Ghazal, a massive province of over 48,000 square miles at the time, was held for the Egyptian government by only two companies of Egyptian Army regulars, 2 cannon and 700 irregulars, the latter including Arab Sha’iqiya horsemen, local slave-troops and a mixed bag of adventurers and bashi-bazouq (“cracked brains”), Ottoman mercenaries who worked mainly for loot. Sulayman, on the other hand, had four “superior” cannon (with ample supplies of shells and grapeshot), Congreve rockets, ammunition in “enormous quantities” and thousands of well-trained troops. [23]

If Gessi was unaware of the hopelessness of his task, there were many in Khartoum who were ready to remind him: “When, solicited by Gordon, I accepted my mission, everybody began to laugh, saying that Gordon wished at all costs to get rid of me, and that he was sending me to certain death.” [24]

Sulayman’s appeals for fighters brought in thousands of recruits eager to preserve their slice of the lucrative slave trade. According to Gessi, Sulayman had some 700 wives, concubines and slaves, his lieutenant Rabih Fadlallah had 400 slaves, individual Arabs typically had 50 to 100 slaves, and even the lowly bazinqir-s could expect to own five to ten slaves each.

Many of Gessi’s troops were former slaves purchased by Gordon, a recruitment method that earned Gordon the ire of the politically influential London-based Anti-Slavery Society. Gordon did not have great confidence in the rough types of dubious loyalty of the Egyptian Army in the Sudan commanded by Gessi, noting in his diary that: “I am very anxious about him, amid all that gang of scoundrels.”  [25]

Though a loyal servant of the Khedive, Gordon was at all times aware of the corruption and brutality that characterized the Turco-Egyptian administration of the Sudan, suggesting that had Zubayr’s group not been slave-traders it might have been better for the people if the revolt had been successful. [26]

In Pursuit of the Slavers

Gessi left Khartoum on July 15, 1878 on the steamship Burdayn with 40 soldiers before spectators entranced by the sight of men heading to a certain death. [27] The strategic goal was to prevent Sulayman’s forces from joining in the north with the 5,000 men under Amir Muhammad Harun al-Rashid, a Fur prince who was seeking the expulsion of Egyptian troops from Darfur and the re-establishment of an independent Fur sultanate. [28] Gessi believed that Sulayman was intent on using Darfur as a base to seize Khartoum and force the Khedive to free his father.

Gessi - BordeinThe Burdayn on the Nile

The difficulty faced in eliminating the deeply entrenched slave trade was apparent when Gessi detained a two-masted dahabiya (a shallow-bottomed boat designed for use on the Nile) carrying 92 slaves crammed below decks. The ship was government-owned, the slaves were in the care of an officer of the regular army, and the cargo allegedly belonged to Colonel Ibrahim Fawzi Bey, governor of Equatoria Province and a favorite of Gordon. The captain of the ship was the brother-in-law of Yusuf Bey al-Shallali, Gessi’s Nubian second-in-command. [29]

Gessi expected to collect more troops on the way, but when he reached the garrison at Fashoda, he found only sick and convalescent men, of whom “the greater part were afflicted with syphilitic diseases, festering wounds, and the itch.” [30] The Fashoda arsenal was empty; at Lado, officials made 240 antique firearms available, but hid from Gessi all the modern Remingtons and ammunition.

By October 1878, Gessi could only muster 3,000 of the 7,500 troops he expected to command. At Rumbek, he obtained four companies of regulars and 1,000 irregulars of questionable loyalty, most having friends and relatives in the rebel camp. Arabs enticed many of the men to desert, a practice Gessi inhibited by publicly executing a deserter and flogging others.

The annual floods in the region that inhibited campaigning began to fall, and by mid-November 1878, Gessi was ready to march against the rebels. Once the fighting had started, Sulayman received a telegram from his father urging submission, an approach also favored by a council of 12 elders established to advise the young Sulayman. This advice was dismissed, with Sulayman convinced that he and all the leading men under him would be executed if they surrendered. [31] Nonetheless, Sulayman consented to sending two delegations to Gordon; all members were executed by Gordon as spies on Gessi’s advice. [32] This marked the end of any possibility of a negotiated settlement. Success would now be the only means of survival.

From the beginning, Gessi’s advance overland was slowed by thick vegetation and the soldiers’ insistence on bringing their women, children and slaves with them, a practice Gessi knew would hamper his progress but felt unable to correct without provoking dissent in the ranks. [33] The camp followers left the columns in a “perpetual turmoil which at times threatened a hopeless confusion.”  [34]

Terrain was near impassable at times; one particular five-hour “march” through waist-high swamp water underlain by thick, boot-sucking mud was called “the Devil’s Walk” by Gessi’s men. Forty-two men declined to answer the roll-call that night, “lying in the mud, preferring to die rather than go on, as they had no more strength.” [35] Powerful lightning storms lit up the nights and rain fell “with such force that it took one’s breath away.” [36] Villages on the way had been emptied by the slavers, who also burned grain-stores and the boats needed to cross crocodile-infested rivers.

Fatal illnesses such as smallpox and dysentery struck with frequency, while Gessi complained it was difficult to convince fatalistic Muslims of the wisdom of preventative health and sanitation measures. Lack of medical treatment meant an agonizing death was the most common fate of the wounded on both sides. The methods of the few Egyptian doctors under Gessi’s command was eye-opening: “Never have I seen doctors beat sick soldiers!” [37]

Constant ammunition shortages were another problem. Sulayman’s Arabs made their own copper bullets with metal from southern Darfur and traded slaves for ammunition and food. At times, Gessi had to order his troops to gather spent rebel bullets to be recast into ammunition for government rifles, sometimes in the midst of a firefight. When ammunition did arrive, it was in the form of ingots of lead and barrels of powder. Paper for making cartridges was in short supply, with official stationary and books from Gessi’s baggage being pressed into use during one crisis.

When supplies of meat and salt expired, Gessi noted that Zande troops under his command remained healthy, “owing to the feeding on human flesh. Directly after a battle they cut off the feet of the dead as the most exquisite dainties, opened the skulls and preserved the brains in pots.” [38] What is implicit here is that Gessi, like the later Congo Free State army of the 1890s, tolerated such practices, preferring to reserve the use of authority for measures directly concerned with military success while enjoying the psychological threat cannibalism imposed on the enemy.

By December 12, Gessi had gathered 2400 soldiers under his command at Wau, thanks in part to the decision of trader Abu Amuri to join the government side, bringing with him 700 armed men. [39] This force enabled Gessi to advance on Dem Idris, which under Sulayman had been commanded by ‘Abd al-Qassim, “a wild beast in human form” alleged to have conducted human sacrifices. [40]

If he tried to assault Dem Idris directly, Gessi was guaranteed a ferocious fight from a defending force at least as large as his own when assaults on fortified positions usually dictated a minimum of a three-to-one advantage over the defenders. Gessi dictated a message to a captured spy warning of the imminent arrival of large numbers of government troops at Dem Idris. The letter, written in the spy’s own hand to guarantee its acceptance, was entrusted to a slave to deliver to Dem Idris. By dawn the next morning, the Dem Idris garrison was falling back on Dem Sulayman, leaving Gessi in control of the fortified position without firing a shot. [41] When the deception was discovered, Sulayman hurled wave after wave of fighters against Dem Idris, whose fortifications had been quickly improved at Gessi’s order. A thousand rebels fell in the 3 ½ hours of continuous assaults against the government troops, most of whom were facing gunfire rather than spears and arrows for the first time. Gessi was astonished by the determination of the rebel fighters: “The best European soldiers could not have shown a greater contempt of death.”

In late December, 1878, Sulayman again turned his forces against Dem Idris, so confident of victory that some of his 10,000 men had been issued with ropes to tie their captives. The Arabs and bazinqir-s stormed the zariba four times before being driven off with the loss of another thousand men. [42]

After receiving reinforcements, Sulayman determined to put an end to Gessi on January 12, 1879, swearing on the Quran with his officers to succeed or die. The rebels made two fierce assaults on Gessi’s defenses, with the Arabs driving the attack forward by decapitating black troops who faltered. The rebels returned to the attack the next day, but Gessi’s outnumbered troops managed to repel the rebels after an exhausting seven hour battle. Sulayman’s force returned to the attack twice more and his artillery set fire to the government camp, but Gessi advanced into the open and defeated the rebels in a further three-hour battle.

By March 1879, food was running short in the rebel camp and Sulayman had begun executing both Arabs and bazinqir-s who expressed dissent. [43] On March 16, Gessi launched four columns against the rebel camp after receiving a much-needed supply of powder and lead. Gessi’s guns and Congreve rockets (still useful, but already a military antique in Europe) set fire to the camp and its tree trunk barricades. Five rebel sorties were driven back, with Sulayman and the surviving rebels forced to abandon the blazing zariba: “The dead lay one upon the other, most of them reduced to a cinder… Our nostrils were offended by the odor of burning flesh, which flamed as if it were fat.” [44]

Gessi - Dem Sulayman battleEgyptian Troops Attack Dem Sulayman

By now, Sulayman had only 1,000 soldiers left while Gessi had begun striking those zariba-s that served as the prime rebel recruitment centers. After ordering local shaykh-s to kill any jallaba they could catch, Gessi’s native allies began arriving with numerous baskets of heads. [45] Unfortunately, this had the effect of driving the remaining unaligned jallaba into Sulayman’s camp for safety. With the addition of a column of Arab and Zande reinforcements (the Zande were present on both sides), Sulayman was now able to muster over 3,000 men. [46] Though troubled by an outbreak of smallpox and the question of how to feed some 12,000 camp followers, Gessi had received reinforcements and supplies of ammunition. Mass public hangings of captured slavers continued to rouse local support. [47]

After four and a half months at Dem Idris, Gessi’s small army left on May 1, 1879 to take the rebel headquarters at Dem Sulayman. Gessi’s troops defeated a group of rebels outside the camp before storming it on May 4. Sulayman and the rebels fled but pursuit was halted because Gessi’s troops were busy looting Dem Sulayman’s considerable wealth. Gessi later claimed to have found a letter there from Zubayr to Sulayman instructing his son to “free Bahr al-Ghazal from the Egyptian troops…” [48]

Gessi - slaversSlaver Killing an Exhausted Slave

Gessi was now pursuing Sulayman’s forces through uncharted territory as they tried to make for Darfur. Sulayman’s progress was marked by wounded bazinqir-s whose throats had been cut. When Gessi’s advance encountered the bodies of small slave children slaughtered by the traders because of their inability to keep up due to fatigue and hunger, his sorrow “soon gave way to indignation” and some thirty captured slavers were brought up to witness the sight before their execution; according to Gessi, “God punished them by my hand.” [49]

Sensing the time had come to destroy the rebels, Gessi, now made a general by Gordon, assembled a group of chosen men consisting of two companies of regulars and 400 bazinqir-s. The force was small, but von Clausewitz’s maxim was to hold true: “The weaker the forces that are at the disposal of the supreme commander, the more appealing the use of cunning becomes.” [50] Departing on May 9, Gessi’s talent for deception soon brought results.

Gessi avoided the usual roads as he closed in on Sulayman’s chief lieutenant, Rabih Fadlallah. While camped in a glade, several men approached Gessi’s camp shortly after midnight. Mistaking the camp for Rabih’s in the darkness, the men revealed they were an advance party from a group led by Idris al-Sultan, a leading slaver and ally of Sulayman. Staying out of sight, Gessi ordered his men to tell the advance party that they would wait for Idris further on the next day. In the early morning Gessi fell upon Rabih’s camp, killing many, though Rabih himself escaped. The area was cleared of all signs of a battle and Rabih’s flag was re-hoisted beside his tent. Encouraged by some of Gessi’s men posing as Rabih’s followers, Idris al-Sultan’s group was led into a massive ambush outside Rabih’s former camp that began just as a storm broke. Confused and disoriented, most of al-Sultan’s group was annihilated despite repeated attempts to break out. Gessi “felt sorry for these soldiers, but though I admired their pluck I was obliged to order the firing to be continued against those who obstinately refused to surrender.” [51] With food short, Gessi’s men now returned to Dem Sulayman with vast stores of seized ivory and many leading slavers in chains. [52]

Despite promises of great riches and future victories, the shattered morale of Sulayman’s men soon led to acts of insubordination and a rise in desertions. [53] Sulayman had roughly 20,000 people with him at the time, all of them hungry. Native tribes-people removed all the grain in the path of the column, forcing the rebels to subsist on leaves and roots. Hundreds died from hunger daily and those jallaba who fell out encountered the lances of vengeful tribesmen. [54]

The campaign slowed for several weeks as Gessi fell ill and devoted most of his time to sending in great amounts of captured ivory. Gordon, who had occupied Shakka to the north to stop reinforcements from reaching Sulayman, was able to meet with Gessi on June 25. The governor-general remarked that Gessi was “looking much older,” [55] but was able to give Gessi the news of his elevation to pasha, the award of a major Ottoman decoration and a cash bonus of £E 2000.

Constant shortages meant that Gessi was usually in greater need of supplies than men. Even when desperately under strength, Gessi chose not to take untrustworthy irregulars: “The irregular soldiers… were the scum of all that is bad. The greater part, escaping the justice of the Soudan Government, committed the vilest actions; every day they were intoxicated, ravished the native women and carried away everything that fell into their hands.” [56]

The campaign’s pace picked up in early July when a deserter informed Gessi that Sulayman was encamped at three days’ distance. Gessi hastened to catch the rebel, but Sulayman’s spies informed their leader and his force departed in three columns led by Sulayman, ‘Abd al-Qassim and Rabih to join Harun Rashid’s rebels in Darfur. To prevent this rendezvous Gessi led 290 men through rain and mud in three days of forced marches. Meanwhile, Sulayman was having his own problems, with his right-hand man Rabih arguing against the advance into Darfur (Rabih was proved right – Harun Rashid’s rebellion was crushed in March 1880).

As Gessi’s column neared Darfur, the terrain began to change. This region was dry and often waterless. Massive and isolated Baobab trees replaced the forest and the tracks of elephants, giraffes, gazelles and buffalo could be seen everywhere. The men often resorted to drinking stagnant pond water that made many of them ill, though food became less of a problem with the presence of game.

The Destruction of Sulayman

By mid-July, 1879, Gessi had finally caught up with Sulayman’s column at a place called Gara. Gessi encamped several hours away, instructing his men to avoid lighting fires and to maintain absolute silence to prevent Sulayman’s scouts from discovering their position.

Sulayman commanded some 700 men at this time, while his lieutenant Rabih had a similar number nearby. At daybreak on July 16, Gessi concealed his force of 275 men in the woods and sent a message to Sulayman’s camp that they were surrounded and had five minutes to lay down their arms and surrender or they would be destroyed. It was yet another example of deception as a weapon; Gessi actually feared that surrounding the much larger group would allow his force to be overrun and instead kept his detachment intact. Believing that Gessi had 3,000 troops and that their own end was imminent, the rebel camp broke into mass confusion, with some fighters fleeing into the woods while most, including the leaders, laid down their arms and surrendered. Sulayman was visibly dismayed when he realized the actual size of Gessi’s force, exclaiming to his captor: “What! Have you no other troops?” [57]

What happened next is still a matter of controversy. The leading prisoners, Sulayman and eleven of his chief advisors, were oddly not bound, the usual practice, suggesting there was some type of agreement between the antagonists. Austrian Rudolf Slatin Pasha (governor of Darfur, 1881-1883) claimed that an officer in the government expedition told him that Gessi had offered Sulayman a pardon in return for his surrender, but this has never been confirmed. [58] In the night Gessi claimed to have received reports that Sulayman and his chiefs were conspiring to escape; according to Gessi, the slave-traders’ horses were found to have been saddled and supplied with food and arms. This uncommon lack of security seems strange, but it supplied Gessi with a justification “to have done with these people once and for all.” [59]

Gessi - execution of SulaymanExecution of Sulayman Pasha

Sulayman and the chiefs were lined up in front of a firing squad. The young Sulayman reportedly fell to his knees in shock and anguish, but most of the chiefs met their death with dignity and defiance. [60] Gordon took full responsibility for the killings; “I have no compunction about [Sulayman’s] death… Gessi only obeyed my orders in shooting him.” [61] Gessi makes only a fleeting reference to the most important incident in his career in his posthumously published memoir, noting he ordered the executions after an escape attempt. [62] Meanwhile, Rabih had moved off to Dar Banda in the Zande country, going on to carve out his own slave-based empire in central Africa before he was killed and decapitated by French colonial troops and their Baguirmi allies in 1900.

Governor of Bahr al-Ghazal

Having eliminated Sulayman, Gessi was now compelled to turn his attention to the development of Bahr al-Ghazal. His first step was disarming many of his own troops, “who were no less brutal and savage than Suleiman’s troops.” [63] Harsh penalties were promulgated for all slavery-related offences. Public hangings were meant as a deterrent, but much of Gessi’s time was occupied in expeditions against the region’s remaining slavers with only 150 regulars. By now, long exposure to brutality, fever and isolation had helped turn Gessi into a delusional prototype for Conrad’s Colonel Kurtz character in The Heart of Darkness:

I am obliged to rule by fear, and it is quite a miracle that I am still alive. My whole strength lies in the inhabitants, who obey me as if I were their Deity, and, if necessary, I should have more than ten thousand armed men ready to defend and die with me. [64]

Gessi spent over two months of the summer of 1880 bed-ridden by an extremely painful Guinea Worm infection that also brought down many of his officers. During this time, Gessi (like the fictional Kurtz) stopped sending reports to his superiors in Khartoum and failed to organize the administration, creating strains with the administration of Gordon’s replacement, Governor-General Muhammad Ra’uf Pasha. The result was a demotion and cut in pay. [65]

The Death Ship

Departing Bahr al-Ghazal on his own initiative on September 25, 1880, Gessi left for Khartoum on the steamer Safiya to defend his actions to Ra’uf Pasha. Gessi ignored advice not to attempt the passage through the 30,000 square kilometer Sudd swamp of south Sudan without a trained crew, proper equipment or a steamer with sufficient power. [66] The Sudd is famous for vast islands of floating vegetation that impede navigation and can easily trap a ship.

Gessi - SafiyaThe Safiya in the Sudd

Carrying two companies of troops and their families as well as many Danagla Arab traders, the Safiya was a small wood-burning steamer equipped with a 40 horsepower engine, insufficient to force its way through the Sudd. The ship’s tackle and equipment, essential to working the ship through the swamp, had been allowed to rot with neglect. Giegler maintained (likely on the basis of the subsequent inquiry) that the ship’s crew insisted on returning until a better-equipped ship could be sent to cut the way, but Gessi demanded the attempt be made, wanting “to waste no time in reaching Khartoum and Cairo in order to give [Muhammad] Ra’uf and me [Giegler] a slap in the face, as he put it!” [67]

Most of the soldiers and crew believed Gessi’s return to Khartoum was a result of official recall, making it difficult for Gessi to assert his authority aboard the Safiya, especially when food became scarce after the Safiya predictably became trapped in the Sudd.

Sleep on the ship in the midst of clouds of malarial mosquitos was nearly impossible and starving and exhausted men were asked to perform the brutally hard work of entering the swamp to break through the bars of vegetation. Fuel for the steamer ran out and the captain took to his cabin to sell the ship’s stores to starving men at extortionate prices. After having eaten their shoes, the lethargic men laid still on the deck to await their death. Accused of hoarding food, Gessi was forced to keep his weapons close while his native bodyguards slept in the doorway of his cabin. According to Giegler, it was only the protection offered by ivory trader and former Gessi ally Abu Amuri that kept Gessi from being murdered by his own soldiers. [68]

Passengers and crew alike began to die at an alarming rate and were simply pushed overboard, where the stench of their rotting corpses and the arrival of hordes of feeding vultures only increased the misery of those still trapped onboard. By mid-December, nearly three months after departure, Gessi recorded only eight of his 149 Sudanese soldiers still alive:

We have reached the worst. I cannot remember anything like it in all my life. Scarcely does someone die than he is devoured during the night by the survivors. It is impossible to describe the horror of such scenes. One soldier devoured his own son. [69]

On January 5, however, the Safiya was rescued by the steamer Burdayn, sent out by Giegler. Over 430 people had died on the Safiya and Gessi, a “living skeleton,” was held responsible. [70] Results of an investigation considered embarrassing to the reputation of the Egyptian Army were eventually filed away in a dark corner in Cairo. Giegler claimed it was “clear that Gessi and Gessi alone was responsible for the misfortune but this did not worry him at all.” [71]

Desperately sick in Khartoum, Gessi sought to head north to put his case before the Khedive. According to Slatin, Gessi insisted on being accompanied to Cairo by his eunuch al-Mas (likely one of the young eunuchs seized during a raid on a eunuch manufacturing operation that Gessi claimed was run by his second-in-command Yusuf Bey al-Shallali [72]), but Ra’uf Pasha, fearing a scandal, forbade it. [73]

Gessi was still sick and weak when he set out and had to be carried across the burning desert to the port city of Suakin on a litter suspended between two camels. By the time he arrived in Cairo he was clearly dying, and even a last minute personal visit from Khedive Muhammad Tawfiq was not enough to provoke his recovery. He expired on April 30, 1881; in his last note to a friend, Gessi remarked: “I have suffered too much. I have been exposed to too many fatigues. The last catastrophe of the voyage has quite crushed me. Another in my place would have died of horror.” [74] Again, one is reminded of Kurtz’s last words in Heart of Darkness: “The horror! The horror!”

Was Gessi Actually Responsible for the Conduct of the Campaign?

One of the lingering questions regarding Gessi’s Bahr al-Ghazal campaign is the degree of success attributable to Gessi’s second-in-command, Colonel Yusuf Bey al-Shallali (later made a Brigadier and Pasha). Hailing from the village of al-Shallal on the First Cataract of the Nile, Yusuf had worked for Zubayr in Bahr al-Ghazal before receiving a military appointment from the Egyptian government.

According to Giegler Pasha, Yusuf was the “main-doer” on the campaign; “Though Gessi’s name is always connected with the history of the Zubayr Pasha revolt on the Bahr al-Ghazal, it was in fact Yusuf Bey who directed the whole operation. Gessi was responsible only for the end; he had Sulayman al-Zubayr captured and shot after the latter had acted so wildly.” [75] Giegler, like many in the Sudan administration, was not overly fond of the Italian mercenary, but neither did he hold a brief for Yusuf Pasha, who served the government under a certain degree of suspicion due to his reputation as a major slaver.  The matter seems fated to remain unresolved; Gessi himself gave Yusuf little credit for his role in the campaign, noting that “my faith in Yusuf Bey as an officer was not great.” [76] Elsewhere Gessi accused Yusuf of the greatest crimes, including murder, slave-raiding, and rampant corruption.

Nonetheless, Yusuf’s performance in the campaign brought him promotion in Khartoum and appointment as governor of Sinnar Province. [77] Yusuf replaced Giegler as military commander under the orders of a new governor-general, ‘Abd al-Qadir Pasha. In May 1881, Yusuf Pasha left Fashoda for the Nuba Mountains with 3500 mostly unwilling troops, four field guns and a rocket battery to put down the incipient Mahdist revolt.  Near Jabal Qadir, Yusuf uncharacteristically failed to post sentries around his zariba, allowing thousands of Mahdist troops to infiltrate the camp before attacking the still-sleeping soldiers. Yusuf, still in his underclothes, was killed in front of his tent and the entire Egyptian force wiped out.

Aftermath and Legacy: Tactical Victory, Strategic Failure

Bahr al-Ghazal only remained in government hands for five years after Gessi’s campaign, which inadvertently laid the foundation for the collapse of Turco-Egyptian rule in the region by disrupting the slave-based economy (for which no immediate alternative existed) and alienating many Arab groups. Those who joined the Mahdist rebellion were not, however, the Ja’aliyin Arabs who followed Sulayman Pasha, but rather Danaqla and Baqqara Arabs who had been promised much by Gessi for their support, but ultimately received nothing.  Other groups that had been provided arms by Gessi for use against the slavers turned these same arms against Gessi’s successor. Soon after Gessi’s departure Arab slavers and government troops alike began to re-indulge in the slave trade in Bahr al-Ghazal. Nonetheless, Gordon was pleased with Gessi’s efforts: “He has done splendidly, and I am greatly relieved… Gessi had most inadequate means for his work – at least five-sixths of those with him were, in their hearts, friends of Zubayr’s son…” [78]

Gessi was hailed by Italian colonialists shortly after his death as a model anti-slaver and notable explorer. Gessi’s remains were repatriated to Italy in 1883 and laid to rest in Ravenna. The transfer was used by pro-colonialist Italian factions to promote new 19th century Italian colonial adventures in Eritrea and Somalia. Gessi’s legacy was again revived in the 1930s by Fascist leaders seeking to build a new “Roman Empire” in Libya and Ethiopia. World War II’s Battaglione “Romolo Gessi” was an Italian combat unit formed in May 1941 from Italian and Libyan members of the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana (Italian Africa Police), a colonial police force. It was disbanded less than a year later after suffering heavy losses. [79]

In the post-WWII era, Gessi’s accomplishments were folded into an embarrassing and ultimately self-destructive colonial past that most Italians preferred to ignore. The availability of previously unexamined correspondence and documents in the 1980s shed a negative light on Gessi’s work and his often tempestuous relations with colleagues. More recent treatments of Gessi’s life have emphasized his weaknesses as an explorer, administrator, businessman and, most harshly, as a soldier. [80]

Conclusion: Lessons Learned in Counter-Insurgency

Though Gessi never explicitly described the actual lessons he might have learned over a year in the bush fighting highly capable and well-supplied insurgents, it is nevertheless possible to list those principles which served Gessi (and Yusuf) in their campaign:

  • Make liberal use of intelligence gained from deserters, prisoners and civilians hostile to the enemy
  • Impose iron discipline tempered by regard for local habits and customs
  • Adapt to local means of warfare by using ambushes, guerrilla tactics and mobile strike forces
  • Keep your force lean and avoid the use of undisciplined irregulars whenever possible
  • Employ ruthlessness as a force multiplier
  • Use deception whenever possible to even the odds against a superior enemy
  • Exploit local grievances to cut support for the insurgents
  • Improvise to cover weaknesses in supply and logistics systems
  • Offer economic alternatives to cooperation with the insurgents

Gessi was often hard-pressed to assert his authority over his own men as well as the enemy. In the circumstances, Gessi turned to severe discipline in the first case and ruthlessness in the second. Gessi later remarked:

I was the only Christian among all the Mohammedans whom I led against other Mohammedans, and who at any moment might have revolted and left me at the mercy of the enemy. Notwithstanding this exceptional positon, I used the utmost rigor against everyone. This discipline, and above all, Divine Providence, enabled me to succeed. [81]

As far as Gessi’s campaign was remembered at all in the U.K., it was mainly as an episode of the larger 19th century anti-slavery movement, while in Italy it was (in the pre-WW II era at least) an example of Italian superiority over the “lesser races” of Africa. The campaign’s controversies, the absence of other European troops, Gessi’s own death and the subsequent collapse of Egyptian authority in the Sudan did little to recommend its study in European military academies. As a result, many of the lessons that could have been drawn from the campaign had to be relearned later, initially by Belgian forces fighting their own war against Arab slavers in the Congo in the 1890s, and later by French officers like Colonels Roger Trinquier and David Galula, who developed modern counter-insurgency strategies during the bitter Indo-Chinese and Algerian insurgencies.

Colonel Galula described victory in counterinsurgency as “the permanent isolation of the insurgent from the population, isolation not enforced upon the population, but maintained by and with the population.” [82] In this sense, Gessi fell well short of ultimate victory; dissatisfaction created by Gessi’s failure to follow through on promises to his Arab allies helped promote the broader, religiously-inspired Mahdist rebellion that killed Gordon and expelled the “Turks” from the Sudan only a few years later. As the U.S. counterinsurgency manual notes, “killing insurgents—while necessary, especially with respect to extremists—by itself cannot defeat an insurgency.” [83]

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Azevedo, M. J.: The Roots of Violence: A History of War in Chad, Routledge, 2005

Barrows, Leland: Review of Zaccaria, Massimo, “Il Flagello degli schiavisti” Romolo Gessi in Sudan (1874-1881) con trentatre lettere e dispacci inediti. H-Africa, H-Net Reviews. November, 2001, http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=5654

Berlioux, E. Felix: The Slave Trade in Africa in 1872 (Trans. Joseph Cooper), London, 1873

Casati, Gaetano: Ten years in Equatoria and the return with Emin Pasha, 2 volumes, Brothers Dumolard, Milan, 1891

Chenevix-Trench, Charles: The Road to Khartoum: A Life of General Charles Gordon, Norton, New York, 1978

Clausewitz, Carl von: On War, Princeton University Press, 1989

Cordell, Dennis: Dar Al-Kuti and the Last Years of the Trans-Saharan Slave, University of Wisconsin Press, 1985

Crociani, P., and P.P. Battistelli, Italian Army Elite Units & Special Forces 1940-43, Osprey Publishing, London, 2011

Ewald, Janet J.: Soldiers, Traders and Slaves: State Formation and Economic Transformation in the Greater Nile Valley, 1700-1885, University of Wisconsin Press, 1990

Fawzi, Ibrahim, James Davidson Deemer and Zohaa el Gamaal: Kitab al-Sudan bayna aydi Gordon wa Kitchener: 1291-1302, (The History of the Sudan between the Times of Gordon and Kitchener: 1291-1302), al-Bayt University, Mafraq (Jordan), 1997. (First publication Cairo 1901)

Gessi Pasha, Romolo: Seven Years in the Soudan; Being a Record of Explorations, Adventures and Campaigns against the Arab Slave Hunters,  (Sette anni nel Sudan egiziano), London, 1892

Giegler Pasha, Carl C.G (ed. by R.L. Hill): The Sudan Memoirs of Carl Christian Giegler Pasha 1873-1883, Oxford University Press, London, 1984

Gray, R: A History of the Southern Sudan, 1839-1889, Oxford University Press, 1970

Hill, George Birkbeck: Colonel Gordon in Central Africa, 1874-1879, Thos. De La Rue & Co., London, 1881

Hill, Richard: Egypt in the Sudan, 1820-1881, Oxford, 1959

Hill, Richard: Biographical Dictionary of the Sudan, (2nd ed.), Oxford, 1967

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Hinde, Sidney Langford: The Fall of the Congo Arabs, Methuen, London, 1897

Jackson, HC: Black Ivory: The story of El-Zubeir Pasha as told by himself (Trans. and recorded by HC Jackson), Khartoum, 1913

Mire, Lawrence: “Al-Zubayr and the Zariba Based Slave Trade in the Bahr al-Ghazal, 1855-1879,” in: John Ralph Willis (ed.): Slaves and Slavery in Africa Volume Two: The Servile Estate, Frank Cass and Co., London, 1985, pp. 101-12

Mohamed Omer Beshir: The Southern Sudan: Background to Conflict, C. Hurst & Co., London, 1968

Moore-Harell, Alice: Gordon and the Sudan: Prologue to the Mahdiyya, 1877-1880, Frank Cass, London, 2001

Mowafi, Rita: Slavery, Slave Trade and Abolition Attempts in Egypt and the Sudan, 1820-1882, Lund Studies in International History 14, Scandinavian University Books, Maimö, 1981

Powell, Eve Troutt: A Different Shade of Colonialism: Egypt, Great Britain, and the Mastery of the Sudan, University of California Press, 2003

Reis, Bruno C.: “David Galula and Roger Trinquier: two warrior-scholars, one French late colonial counterinsurgency?” in: Andrew Mumford and Bruno C. Reis (ed.s), The Theory and Practice of Irregular Warfare: Warrior-scholarship in counter-insurgency, Routledge, London, 2014, pp.35-69

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Shukry, MF: The Khedive Ismail and Slavery in the Sudan, 1863-1879, Cairo, 1938

Slatin Pasha, Rudolf: Fire and Sword in the Sudan (Trans. by FR Wingate), London, 1896 (page numbers in footnotes refer to the Arnold edition of 1930)

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Thomas, Frederic C.: Slavery and Jihad in the Sudan: A Narrative of the Slave Trade and its Legacy, iUniverse, 2009

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Udal, John O.: The Nile in Darkness Volume II: A Flawed Unity, 1863-1899, Michael Russell, Norwich, 2005

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NOTES

[1] Cited in Udal, vol. ii, p. 346

[2] GB Hill, p.373

[3] Giegler, p.163

[4] Ibid, p. 28

[5] Ibid, p. 28

[6] Gessi, p.316

[7] Ibid, p.317

[8] Ibid, p. 125

[9] Giegler, p. 110

[10] Ibid, p. 49

[11] Ibid, p. 104

[12] Mowafi, p.56

[13] Berlioux, p.20

[14] Cited in Udal, p. 338

[15] Gessi, pp. 51-52

[16] Udal, vol.II, p. 170

[17] Shaw, p.674

[18] Ibid, p. 681

[19] Gessi, pp. 247-50

[20] GB Hill, p.372; Gessi, p.305

[21] Shaw, p.677

[22] Gessi, p.301

[23] Ibid, p.186

[24] Ibid, p. 344

[25] GB Hill, p. 343

[26] Ibid, p.373

[27] Gessi, p. 187; Giegler, p.117

[28] Gessi, p.288

[29] Ibid, p.190, pp. 355-57

[30] Ibid, p.194

[31] Shaw, p. 678

[32] Gessi, p.27; GB Hill, p.350

[33] GB Hill, p.370

[34] Schweinfurth, Vol. II, p.423

[35] Gessi, pp. 234-35

[36] Ibid, p.235

[37] GB Hill, p.375; Gessi, p.289

[38] Gessi, p.255

[39] Gessi, p.240; GB Hill, p.377

[40] Ibid, pp. 241-42

[41] Ibid, 242-43

[42] GB Hill, p.378

[43] Gessi, p.263

[44] Ibid, p.263

[45] Ibid, p. 268

[46] Ibid, p. 271

[47] Ibid, p. 270

[48] Ibid, p.307

[49] Ibid, p. 282

[50] Von Clausewitz, p.203

[51] Gessi, p. 286

[52] GB Hill, pp.384-385

[53] Gessi, p. 328

[54] Ibid, pp. 328-29

[55] GB Hill, p.370

[56] Gessi p. 350

[57] GB Hill, p.387

[58] Udal, v.ii, p.351

[59] GB Hill, p.387

[60] Ibid, p.387

[61] Cited in Udal, vol.ii, p. 351

[62] Gessi, p. 329. The number of chiefs arrested by Gessi differs from eight to eleven according to various accounts.

[63] Ibid, p. 359

[64] Ibid, p. 365

[65] Giegler, p.158

[66] Ibid, p.158

[67] Ibid, pp. 158-59

[68] Ibid, p. 159

[69] Gessi, p. 401

[70] Austrian Consul Martin Hansal, cited in Udal, Vol. II, p.369

[71] Giegler, p.160

[72] Gessi, pp. 355-357

[73] Slatin, p.35

[74] Gessi, pp. 416-17

[75] Giegler, pp. 117, 147

[76] Gessi, p. 207

[77] Giegler, p.117, fn. 11

[78] GB Hill, p. 348

[79] Crociani and Battistelli, p. 20

[80] See esp. Zaccaria.

[81] Gessi, p. 346

[82] Galula, p.57

[83] U.S. Army/Marine Corps, p.1-14

This article first appeared in Military History Online on August 21, 2016: http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/19thcentury/articles/inventionofcounterinsurgency.aspx#

The Pursuit of a “New Sudan” in Blue Nile State: A Profile of the SPLA-N’s Yasir Arman

Andrew McGregor

June 30, 2016

Yasir ArmanYasir Arman (Sudan Tribune)

Despite the 2011 separation of South Sudan, Sudan’s civil war continues in Darfur and what has become known as Sudan’s “new South,” Blue Nile State and South Kordofan. Though the fighting has often been intense, government forces in Blue Nile have been unable to overcome rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement-North (SPLA/M-N) led by veteran opposition leader Yasir Arman. Arman claims that many of the troops arriving in Blue Nile State for the current dry season offensive are Darfuri Janjaweed who have been absorbed into Khartoum’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and include Arab tribesmen from Chad and Mali (Radio Dabanga, May 14). The conflict has left tens of thousands of displaced civilians without any type of shelter and severe shortages of power, water and medicines are reported in al-Damazin (Radio Tamazuj, May 28; Radio Dabanga, May 23).

Early Influences

Yasir Arman was born the son of a primary school teacher in the al-Jazira region south of Khartoum in October 1961. Arman is a Ja’alin Arab, one of the three Arab tribes which, along with the Sha’iqiya and the Danagla, have dominated Sudanese politics since independence in 1956.

During his time studying law at the Khartoum campus of Cairo University in the 1980s Arman was implicated in the murder of two Islamist students, though he was later acquitted in court. As a student, Arman joined the Sudanese Communist Party, once a powerful political force in Sudan until its eventual repression by President Ja’afar Nimeiri. At the same time, Arman was engaged in political discussions with southern students and became interested in the ideology of South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC), a communist-influenced movement that was, like Sudan, faced with how to build a new nation from a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional population. Arman’s leftist orientation drew the attention of Nimeiri’s security forces and Arman spent parts of 1984-85 in prison, where he was able to have further political discussions with imprisoned southern students (New Sudan Vision, January 15, 2010).

Sudan Map - ConflictsSudan: Regions of Conflict (BBC)

Arman made the unusual and personally momentous decision to leave Khartoum in 1986 and join the almost exclusively non-Arab insurrection in South Sudan led by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M). The young rebel was assigned to the Blue Nile front, led by Commander Salva Kiir Mayardit, the current president of independent South Sudan. As an Arab and a Muslim, Arman endured suspicion from his new comrades, who, unsurprisingly, suspected his motives.

Committing to the “New Sudan”: Yasir Arman and “Dr. John”

Despite the reservations of some of his fellow combatants, Arman rose quickly in the SPLA ranks, coming into close contact with the movement’s leader, Dr. John Garang de Mabior. A Bor Dinka and American educated career soldier, Garang used his considerable charisma and fierce discipline to maintain control of a movement that always seemed ready to fracture due to personal and tribal rivalries as well as inducements from Khartoum. Though the SPLA was widely regarded as a Southern separatist movement, Garang sought the liberation of the whole Sudan from the rule of the riverain Arabs of the north, a “New Sudan” that would bring an end to regional and ethnic marginalization and establish a national unity and identity based on democracy and secularism rather than ethnic and religious differences.  Unlike many SPLA commanders who paid lip service to the “New Sudan” while believing Southern separation would be the ultimate outcome of the war, Arman became deeply dedicated to Garang’s vision, which became his guiding political principle.  In time, Arman became a well-known spokesman for the SPLA/M and a familiar voice on the clandestine SPLA Radio. Arman continued to raise eyebrows in the Arab north by marrying Awuor Deng Kuol, the daughter of Ngok Dinka Sultan Deng Mjok and a former member of the SPLA’s Katiba Banaat (Girls Battalion) (New Sudan Vision, January 15, 2010).

John Garang 1985Colonel John Garang de Mabior, South Sudan, 1985

Arman’s political and diplomatic skills were put to work as one of the main framers of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended Sudan’s long civil war. Only six months after the ratification of the CPA, John Garang died on July 30, 2005 in a still unexplained helicopter crash near the Ugandan border, destroying optimism that a New Sudan could be created. The SPLA/M was taken over by his second-in-command, fellow Dinka and ardent separatist Salva Kiir Mayardit. Disillusioned and marginalized by this turn of events, Arman briefly left the movement in 2007 to study English at Iowa State University, the same institution attended by Garang.

Presidential Candidate

Arman’s has described the international community’s “policy of appeasement” regarding President al-Bashir as similar to that which created Adolf Hitler and has described al-Bashsir as “a racist delusional person who happens to be the president of a state and who is wanted by the International Criminal Court and is committing genocide and crimes against humanity that the world will live to regret.” [1]

The CPA made it possible for Arman to face Bashir in the presidential election of 2010, though the SPLA/M later decided to boycott the presidential contest. Some pro-independence Southerners urged others in the South to vote against Arman on the grounds that, if elected, he would make national unity more attractive to Southerners prior to the independence referendum and might even use force to maintain a unified Sudan (South Sudan News Agency, March 19, 2010). Despite withdrawing, Arman still finished second by taking over 21% of the vote to al-Bashir’s 68% (Sudan Tribune, April 27, 2010).

Juba Waves Goodbye

The CPA’s ill-defined “public consultations” on the political future of South Kordofan and Blue Nile State  were never carried out, the victim of endless obstruction from Khartoum and the NCP-dominated parliaments in both states. The South, however, was not to be denied its chance for independence and a successful referendum was quickly followed by separation from Sudan in 2011. Arman blamed the division of Sudan on political Islam, citing the NCP’s “fascist vision,” intolerance and failure to accept democratic rule and cultural and religious diversity as the source of genocide and war crimes (Sudan Tribune, February 8, 2013). [2]

The South moved on, but left two locally-raised SPLA divisions (the 9th and 10th) stranded on the northern side of the new border. Khartoum demanded the divisions either disarm, be absorbed into the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) or cross the border to rejoin the SPLA, though these units had never actually served in the south. These rebels had fought for Garang’s “New Sudan” rather than Southern independence, and decided to continue the fight against NCP rule under the banner SPLA-Northern Command (SPLA-N).  Arman was dismayed to find the new movement isolated internationally, with both the U.S. and the UK urging South Sudan to end all support to the SPLM-N (Sudan Tribune, March 24, 2012).

The Dry Season Offensive

Shortly after the latest government offensive began in April, Arman’s SPLM-N claimed that Khartoum’s military and paramilitary forces had suffered “their biggest defeat in the six years of their military offensive” in Blue Nile State (Radio Dabanga, April 26).

President Bashir announced a unilateral four-month ceasefire in South Kordofan and Blue Nile in mid-June that would, in the words of an Army spokesman, “give the armed groups a chance to join the peace process and to surrender their arms” (al-Jazeera, June 18). Similar government “gestures of good-will” have failed in the past. Khartoum wants the SPLM-N to sign onto the African Union-brokered Roadmap Agreement, a deal that has been rejected by the movement and its opposition allies in the Sudan Call coalition (formed December 2014).

Conclusion

Amidst suspicions that Khartoum’s ceasefire was only buying time to evacuate trapped wounded and rebuild its forces in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, Arman suggested Khartoum prove its sincerity by immediately sending a delegation to join in comprehensive peace talks in Addis Ababa (Sudan Tribune, June 16). Arman continues to hope for a popular rising in Sudan, one that will embrace the concept of a New Sudan: “The vision of the New Sudan remains valid and in fact, it is the only game in town to build a viable state based on citizenship, recognition of diversity, democracy and social justice, and bringing a just peace and national reconciliation… At the end of the day, the current junta in Khartoum has only two options – they either accept change or they are going to be changed.”   [3]

Note

  1. Yasir Arman, “General Bashir’s Racism and Promotion of Religious Hatred are Behind the Burning Down of the Church in the Heart of Khartoum,” April 24, 2012, http://www.sudanjem.com/_upload/2012/05/04-24-12-General-Bashirs-Racism.pdf
  2. Yasir Arman, “The Sudan Question: A Failure of Nation-building and the Experience of Political Islam,” Speech given at the Monterey Institute of International Affairs, February 15, 2013, http://collectifurgencedarfour.com/yasir-arman-the-sudan-question-failure-nation-building-experience-political-islam/
  3. Ibid

 

This article first appeared in the June issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Militant Leadership Monitor

Why is the Ugandan Military Still in South Sudan?

Andrew McGregor

May 30, 2015

A full year after the planned departure date of the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) from its military intervention in South Sudan, the Ugandan military presence in South Sudan is growing in size and cost.

Uganda in SSudanThough the Uganda government recently announced $5.4 million in funding for its military operations in South Sudan, the true costs of the mission are obscured by conflicting claims from Kampala and the South Sudanese capital of Juba. While Juba has insisted it is paying the cost of the deployment (which has prevented the overthrow of the Dinka-dominated South Sudan government of President Salva Kiir Mayardit by Nuer-dominated rebel groups), Ugandan MPs claim figures related to the South Sudan deployment have not been made available to the parliamentary defense committee responsible for approving them and demand to know who is funding the Ugandan military operations. In response, Ugandan Defense Minister Crispus Kiyonga said providing such details would endanger the lives of Ugandan troops in South Sudan, though he did not specify exactly how that would occur (Uganda Radio Network, April 24, 2015; Observer [Kampala], April 27, 2015).

In early April, Ugandan government of President Yoweri Museveni came under criticism from John Ken-Lukyamuzi, the leader of the opposition Conservative Party, who claimed the Ugandan military mission in South Sudan “grossly violates international law.” The opposition leader cited a number of other problems with the mission:

  • The actual deployment came before it was approved by a January 14, 2014 parliamentary vote;
  • The mission’s extent has vastly exceeded the Ugandan government’s original declared intention to evacuate Ugandan citizens and protect the airport and presidential palace in Juba;
  • No documentation of a formal invitation for Ugandan troops from the South Sudanese government has been provided despite a request from parliament;
  • It is unclear who is paying for the UPDF’s presence in South Sudan (Observer [Kampala], April 9, 2015).

The Ugandan deployment was soon opposed by the other seven members of the regional trade bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) who have continued without success to urge President Museveni to withdraw his forces and allow a political settlement to take shape.[1]  Both the rebels and the United States have also called for a full withdrawal of foreign troops from South Sudan. Instead, South Sudanese media noted a major increase in the numbers of UPDF troops deployed in the region in February, 2015, claiming the size of the force had grown from 3,000 to 7,000 (Sudan Tribune, February 11, 2015; Uganda Radio Network, February 11, 2015).

Uganda in SSudan 2Uganda Chief of Defense Forces Katumba Wamala and Brigadier Kayanja Muhanga in Bor, 2014. Kayanja commands Ugandan forces in South Sudan. He is the former deputy commander of Ugandan forces in Somalia and is currently commander of the UPDF’s 4th Division.

The UPDF, which has received extensive American training through its participation in the African Union Mission in Somalia and the anti-Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) Operation Lightning Thunder, consists of five divisions with one armored brigade and one brigade of artillery. President Museveni restructured Uganda’s Special Forces (including the Presidential Guard Brigade) into a new unit, the Special Forces Command (SFC), under the leadership of his son Brigadier Muhoozi Kainerugaba in 2012.[2] The move solidified Muhoozi’s meteoric rise through the ranks of the UPDF and gave him full control of well-trained and armed troops responsible for the security of all oil installations and important government facilities. According to Fungaroo Kaps Hassan, the opposition’s shadow minister of defense, “Muhoozi is the de-facto army commander… Museveni has personalised the army… He calls it his army and has put Muhoozi in-charge, which is why you see Muhoozi posturing, going to Somalia doing things that should be done by his seniors” (Independent [Kampala], February 1, 2015).

Juba’s reliance on the UPDF comes despite massive defense spending by the young state; a report released last week by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) revealed a steady rise in South Sudan’s military spending from $982m in 2013 to $1.08bn in 2014, making it the biggest spender in the region. As a non-diversified petro-state, South Sudan is almost entirely dependent upon oil revenues in a stagnant market while still devoting an astonishing 60% of its net income on the military (Sudan Tribune, April 26, 2015; East African [Nairobi], April 25, 2015). Insecurity in South Sudan has immediate economic effects on Uganda – South Sudan is Uganda’s most important export market.

Uganda in SSudan 3

South Sudan

PROJECTIONS

The danger of Uganda’s deployment and the risk it may ignite a wider conflict was displayed in March, when Sudan’s state news agency reported the massing of 16,000 Ugandan troops along the border with (north) Sudan (SUNA, March 2, 2015). With Khartoum ready to act after receiving this alarming report, UPDF spokesmen were forced to issue quick denials to prevent an outbreak of hostilities between Sudan and Uganda, which have been fighting a proxy war for regional dominance for years at the expense of the region’s civilian population.

Juba is on the verge of economic collapse and cannot sustain its all-consuming defense budget, particularly as it comes at the expense of nearly all other forms of development and government services. No amount of defense spending will heal the political rift between Dinkas and Nuer (not to even mention the numerous other tribal rivalries that have spilled over into open conflict as a result of the current rebellion). Declining oil prices and interruptions in oil delivery through northern pipelines are placing financial strains on the Salva Kiir government.

Uganda will eventually present Juba with its bill for preserving the existing government; in earlier Ugandan interventions in the Democrat Republic of the Congo (DRC), these frequently took the form of concessions in resource-rich areas for leading Ugandan officers and friends of the Museveni regime. With discussions ongoing regarding a joint Ugandan-South Sudanese pipeline through Kenya to the Indian Ocean that would allow South Sudan to avoid Khartoum’s prohibitive transfer fees, Kampala may be looking to claim a share of South Sudan’s oil production, further assisting Uganda’s efforts to become a regional economic and military player in east Africa. This would also have the benefit of providing an additional pool of patronage funds to ease the political transformation from President Museveni to his son.

With a strong degree of opposition to such a move even within the UPDF (where Muhoozi is unpopular), Museveni’s efforts to turn Uganda’s single most important institution, its military, into a personal army loyal to the president alone may ultimately backfire, particularly at a time when similar efforts to extend presidential terms beyond constitutional limits or to create family dynasties in supposedly democratic systems are meeting heated opposition in many other African nations. Officers of the UPDF are forbidden from engaging in politics while serving; Museveni routinely denies UPDF officers who wish to enter opposition politics permission to resign their commissions, effectively bottling up opposition while simultaneously and inadvertently ensuring it has access to arms. Several senior officers who have managed to retire now figure in the leadership of several opposition parties despite starting out as Museveni loyalists during their military careers. President Museveni continues to surround himself with long-time loyalists in the upper ranks of the UPDF, but loyalty to Museveni does not necessarily extend to Muhoozi, who is viewed within the military as an arrogant upstart whose promotions have come at the expense of more senior and capable officers. The establishment of Uganda’s Special Forces Command as an army within an army under Muhoozi’s personal control is no doubt a response to this situation intended to guarantee a family dynasty in the president’s office, whether by acclaim or by force.

[1] Besides Uganda and South Sudan, IGAD includes Djibouti, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and Kenya.

[2] Not to be confused with Ugandan land forces commander Major General David Muhoozi.

South Sudanese Rebels Launch Recruitment Drive to Expand Military Operations

Andrew McGregor

From Tips and Trends: The AIS African Security Report

March 30, 2015

On February 2, a spokesman for the rebel faction led by former South Sudan vice-president Riek Machar (now operating under the name Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement in Opposition – SPLA-IO or SPLM-IO) declared the rebel movement was planning to undertake a massive recruitment drive before launching a new offensive to drive government forces loyal to President Salva Kiir Mayardit from strategic cities in South Sudan: “We now have more than 10 active fronts. There are already more than three major fronts in Bahr el Ghazal and another front in Lakes State will soon go into operation” (Sudan Tribune, February 2, 2015).

Abdel LatifMajor General Khamis Abdel Latif

Operations in the Lakes State will be led by Major General Khamis Abdel Latif Chawoul Lom, a controversial figure who defected from the SPLA to the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) in the 1980s and later served a year and a half in a Port Sudan prison after being convicted of rape (Nyamile.com, November 21, 2014). Whether the current struggle power intensifies or not will depend largely on the impact of a U.S.-sponsored motion to have the UN Security Council impose strong sanctions on both government and rebel leaders.

Washington has become fed up with the inability of both sides to follow up on any peace agreements or initiatives and the fighting has become something of a diplomatic embarrassment to the United States, which was the main sponsor of South Sudan’s independence. In response to the growing pressure, President Kiir has offered a conditional amnesty and reintegration into the government of the rebel leaders, but the package fails to address any of the issues that sparked the rebellion in the first place. Sporadic but often intense fighting can be expected over the next few months as the two sides jockey for position in ongoing talks.

South Sudan Rebels Now under the Command of General Dau Aturjong Nyuol

Andrew McGregor

From Tips and Trends: The AIS African Security Report

March 30, 2015

Aturjong 2

Major-General Dau Aturjong Nyuol (Upper Nile Times)

In command of the SPLA-IO fighters is Major-General Dau Aturjong Nyuol, a professional soldier with over two decades of experience who is regarded as an expert in guerrilla warfare. General Aturjong’s defection appears to have been the result of coming out the loser in a political struggle in Northern Bahr al-Ghazal with Paul Malong Awan, a powerful politician known as “King Paul” who was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the SPLA in April 2014 at the expense of General James Hoth Mai, a veteran Nuer commander loyal to the Dinka-dominated Juba government. Within the complicated network of personal, regional, political and tribal loyalties that dominate every government activity in the South Sudan, Aturjong is regarded as a follower of the late SPLA/M leader Dr. John Garang (d. 2005), while Malong is viewed as loyal to President Kiir, Garang’s one-time deputy who has taken the new nation in directions opposed to Garang’s vision for South Sudan.

South Sudan MapAturjong claims the southern revolution was hijacked by “a tyrant dictator [i.e. Salva Kiir]” after Garang’s death, accusing Kiir and his lieutenants of targeting innocent civilians of the Fartit of Western Bahr al-Ghazal, the Dinka of Jonglei State, the Shilluk of Upper Nile and the Murle of Jonglei State (Nyamile.com, May 30, 2014). The general became bitter after the SPLA/M turned down his candidacy for the governorship of Northern Bahr al-Ghazal in the 2010 elections, throwing its support behind Malong instead. Running as an independent candidate, Aturjong was defeated in an election that many considered rigged. Since his appointment as C-in-C of the South Sudan military, Malong continues to function as the powerful chairman of the SPLM in North Bahr al-Ghazal, a clear violation against the Ministry of Defense’s rules against serving officers engaging in politics (Sudan Tribune, February 24, 2015).

According to General Aturjong’s own biography, he left school to join the Anya-Nya II rebels and later the SPLA in the early 1980s. Like many of his generation, he received military training within Dergue-run Ethiopia in 1984. Aturjong was appointed commander of the Nile Battalion in 1987, was involved in several major campaigns in Equatoria in the 1990s and finished the war in Western Bahr al-Ghazal after having commanded a number of different brigades as well as the SPLA’s heavy artillery. In 2004, Aturjong studied military administration at Iowa State University (http://dauaturjongnyuolnbgs.blogspot.ca/). If ongoing reconciliation negotiations are unsuccessful, Aturjong could prove an important asset for the opposition’s military campaign against the Juba government.

New Rebel Movement Begins Operations in Western Equatoria State

Andrew McGregor

From Tips and Trends: The AIS African Security Report

March 30, 2015

South Sudan’s opposition movement welcomed news of the outbreak of a fresh rebellion in Western Equatoria State’s Maridi County in late January/early February. A new rebel movement going by the name Revolutionary Movement for National Salvation (REMNASA) announced its presence through an attack on SPLA troops in Maridi County, claiming to have killed six soldiers (Sudan Tribune, January 30, 2015; February 3, 2015). The movement is allegedly led by Major Losuba Lodoru Wongo, a young British-educated officer who was considered one of the more promising lights in the SPLA officer corps before taking some 100 to 200 of his men with him into the bush.

western equatoriaWestern Equatoria, with Maridi County in the lower right

Although Loduru’s defection was confirmed by the SPLM Defense Minister, Western Equatoria State governor Joseph Bakosoro has since questioned the existence of both the rebellion (which he claims to have only heard about from the media) and of Major Lodoru himself (Radio Tamazuj, February 23, 2015). Maridi County borders unsettled regions of the northeast Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) that provide refuge for various insurgent groups. Government authority in parts of Western Equatoria is weak and much of the work of defending local communities from cross-border marauders like the Lord’s Resistance Army in recent years has fallen to local self-defense groups armed with spears and bows and arrows.

Regardless of whether a rebellion in Western Equatoria gains steam or not, it is yet another warning that the main parties in the South Sudan conflict are running out of time to resolve their differences before the region plunges into yet another decade or two of inter-communal violence the young nation cannot afford.

Keeping it in the Family: A Profile of Jibril Ibrahim, Leader of Darfur’s Justice and Equality Movement

Andrew McGregor

May 30, 2014

Recent reports of military operations carried out in South Sudan’s northern borderlands by Darfur’s Ḥarakat al-Adl wa’l-Musawah (Justice and Equality Movement – JEM) have reinforced the movement’s reputation for mobility and political skills. Despite the loss of movement founder Khalil Ibrahim to an air attack in December 2011 and the subsequent loss of many of the group’s fighters following the controversial appointment of Khalil’s brother, Jibril Ibrahim, JEM remains a potent threat to the Khartoum regime.

JEM Leader Jibril Ibrahim

JEM was founded in 2003 by a core group of Islamists from the Zaghawa Kobe community (which straddles the border between Chad and northern Darfur) who were once close to Hassan al-Turabi, the architect of Sudan’s Islamist regime before falling out with President Omar al-Bashir. Khartoum takes JEM seriously: six years ago the movement launched a daring cross-desert raid on the capital (Operation Long Arm) that succeeded in entering the sister city of Omdurman. The lack of enthusiasm shown by the local garrison in repelling the raiders shook the regime badly. It was only the work of police and state security services that managed to drive out the JEM force, which was already badly weakened after having been split from the main force along the way by a clash with the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) in Kordofan province. On the May 10 anniversary of the 2008 raid, Jibril referred to the inevitable arrests and retaliation that focused on non-Arab Darfuris in the capital region following the attack: “The Long Arm operation broke the Sudanese people’s barrier of fear from the Khartoum regime, and unveiled its ugly racist face as after the invasion it targeted the citizens on the basis of their color, accent, and geographical background more than ever before.” The JEM leader then promised the movement would return to conduct its struggle in the streets of Khartoum: “We’re not interested anymore in fighting in the deserts and valleys” (Radio Dabanga May 10; May 12).

The Succession

At the time of his death, the SAF claimed that Khalil was leading his forces through Kordofan into the newly independent South Sudan, where it alleged a training camp and medical facilities had been prepared in Bahr al-Ghazal by South Sudanese authorities (Sudan Vision, January 3, 2012; January 6, 2012).

After Khalil’s death, Jibril pointed to “foreign hands” involved in the assassination, which involved “precise nighttime strike and the close tracking of the target, which require very modern technologies not available to the Sudanese air force,” while promising the “military option will remain in effect so long as the regime of the racist gang in Khartoum uses only security and military solutions to address the country’s issues” (al-Akhbar [Cairo], January 10, 2012). [1]

A congress of over 100 JEM leaders held in Bor, South Sudan, elected Jibril to succeed his brother as JEM leader in January 2012 over experienced field commander Ahmad Adam Bakhit, but the decision was far from unanimous. JEM fighters in the Jabal Marra region of Sudan under the command of al-Toum Ababakr left the movement in protest against the “lack of justice and transparency” in the process used to select the new JEM commander (Sudan Media Center, February 4). Another group led by Zakaria Musa Abbas “Dush” left to form the Justice and Equality Movement – Corrective Leadership (JEM – CL), citing the leadership transfer from one member of Khalil Ibrahim’s family to another in what it described as “a family company… [that] has dominated big decisions to consolidate narrow tribalism and racism” (Sudan Vision, January 14, 2012; Sudan Now, February 12, 2012). Before taking control of JEM, Jibril was pursuing a teaching career in London while serving as JEM’s foreign affairs chief. His lack of military experience was a major source of objections within the movement to his leadership (AFP, January 26, 2012).

Even before Khalil’s death, JEM was already a movement in transition following its expulsion from Chad on the heels of a Chadian-Sudanese rapprochement in 2010. Combined with the loss of its supply channel for arms and fuel from Mu’ammar Qaddafi’s Libya in 2011, JEM began to see its future in operations carried out in South Darfur and South Kordofan, far from its traditional base in northern Darfur’s Wadi Howar, but much closer to new sponsors in South Sudan. Juba, like Khartoum, is interested in sponsoring proxy militias. An alliance with JEM allows Juba to put pressure on its northern neighbor, though such sponsorships violate its agreement with Khartoum. Now operating far from regions where Zaghawa are found in any numbers, the movement began recruiting locally, at least in its lower ranks, before launching successful raids into North Kordofan from rebel-held territories in South Kordofan. Aside from its clandestine military cooperation with South Sudan, Jibril’s JEM also maintains a political presence in Kampala, which has generally poor relations with Khartoum, fuelled in part by the latter’s alleged sponsorship of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The September 2012 split over Jibril’s leadership that led to the formation of the Wadi Howar-based JEM-Bashar resulted in JEM losing much of its military presence in northern Darfur. After the death of the JEM-Bashar leader, Muhammad Bashar, command of the dissident unit passed to former JEM military chief Bakheit Abdallah Dabajo. [2]

Internal Opposition

Among those JEM leaders who rejected Jibril’s appointment as chief was Muhammad Bahr Hamdin, who served as JEM’s deputy leader and commander in Kordofan until he was dismissed in September 2011 after being accused of planning the overthrow of the JEM leadership, largely drawn from Zaghawa Kobe relatives of Khalil Ibrahim. Hamdin then formed a rival movement, the Forces for Democratic Change, while Jibril blamed the rupture on Qatari mediators who had encouraged Hamdin, JEM’s official negotiator in Doha, to accept a separate settlement with Khartoum (al-Sharq al-Awsat, September 30, 2011).

Despite Jibril’s lack of field experience, he has at times displayed a certain ruthlessness in dealing with JEM dissenters. Jibril’s fighters clashed with members of Muhammad Bashar’s JEM breakaway faction (JEM-Bashar) in April 2013, killing the group’s deputy commander, Saleh Muhammad Jarbo (Sudan Tribune, April 21, 2013). JEM-Bashar had angered Jibril by signing on to the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD) and agreeing to the integration of their fighters into the SAF. A few weeks later a JEM convoy caught up to Bashar near the Chad border, killing the dissident leader and his chief aide, Sulayman Arko (al-Jazeera, May 13, 2013; Sudan Vision, May 13, 2013). Some 28 members of JEM-Bashar were taken prisoner. According to one of the detainees who escaped, the prisoners were taken to the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan where they were tortured and sentenced to death before being transferred to Bentiu in South Sudan’s Unity State. The former prisoner maintained that ten of the prisoners obtained their freedom by joining Jibril’s JEM and fighting alongside South Sudanese government forces against the Nuer rebels of former vice-president Riek Machar, prompting Nuer retaliation against Darfuri civilians living in Bentiu  (Sudan Tribune, May 21; for JEM in Bentiu, see Terrorism Monitor Briefs, May 2). Both JEM and the South Sudan minister of defense have denied claims in a May 8 report issued by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) that JEM was conducting pro-government military operations in South Sudan (Sudan Tribune, May 19).

Rejecting the Regime

Shortly after taking control of what remained of JEM, Jibril led the group into an alliance with several other rejectionist rebel movements. The result was the creation of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), a broad-based armed opposition movement that includes the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army – North (SPLM/A – N), the Beja Congress of east Sudan and three Darfur rebel movements, JEM, the largely Fur Sudan Liberation Movement/Army – Abd al-Wahid (SLM/A – AW), and the largely Zaghawa Sudan Liberation Movement/Army – Minni Minnawi (SLM/A – MM) (for the creation of the SRF, see Terrorism Monitor, November 24, 2011).

In describing JEM’s aims and its reasons for rejecting the Doha peace agreement that was signed by numerous smaller Darfur-based rebel groups, Jibril said:

The regime wants security and military solutions, so it is futile to waste time with it and allow it to use negotiating forums for public relations and buying favors. The Doha Document is not suitable as a basis for negotiations in any coming phase because it is confined to Darfur at a time in which the SRF is striving for a comprehensive solution for the whole country (al-Sharq al-Awsat, May 16, 2012).

A New Dawn

In January 2013, JEM and the other members of the SRF issued the federalist New Dawn Charter. Signatories to the Charter called for a complete overhaul of Sudan’s political institutions and governance mechanisms but were not obliged to abandon their original political programs, with the content of the Charter remaining “open for debate, evolution and improvement.” In the security realm, the Charter calls for the dissolution of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) and the integration of SRF forces into a re-organized SAF that would “reflect the diversity of the Sudanese people”  (Sudan Tribune, February 2, 2013).

Jibril responded to allegations by the regime that the Charter called for the complete secularization of the Sudan’s Islamist-dominated government by saying:

The New Dawn Charter has not called for secularism and has no passage in the text that says so, except when words are twisted and over-burdened with superfluous meanings. The Charter calls for separation between state institutions and religious institutions and has phrased that in broad terms that allow further debate on the issue. However, the Charter forcefully calls for putting an end to political abuse of religion, a defining feature of the current regime and the result of that is obvious: genocides, war crimes, corruption, lack of fundamental freedoms, racism, blatant disregard to human rights, moral decadence, etc. The Khartoum junta should be the last to talk about Islam, let away defending it (Sudan Tribune, February 2, 2013).

Initiatives for Peace

In May, Jibril’s group called on those Darfur rebel factions who had signed onto the Qatari-sponsored DDPD to return to the armed struggle in Darfur and condemned Sadiq al-Mahdi’s National Umma Party, one of Sudan’s main opposition parties, with a substantial base in the Arab tribes of Darfur, for engaging in dialogue with the regime (Sudan Tribune, May 12).

Chadian president Idriss Déby met with Jibril in Paris in April, the first time the two Zaghawa leaders had met in over four years (Radio Dabanga, April 8). Relations between the two have been strained since 2010, when Déby expelled the movement from its bases in eastern Chad and its office in N’Djamena. Déby is reported to be under pressure from powerful Zaghawa leaders in Chad to encourage a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Darfur that would promote greater regional stability and allow for greater cross-border trade and development (Sudan Tribune, May 19). To this end, Déby has proposed inviting Jibril, Abd al-Wahid an-Nur (the Fur leader of the SLM/A – AW) and Minni Minnawi (the Zaghawa leader of the SLM/A – MM) to N’Djamena to discuss the participation of these leaders in the DDPD.

Jibril recently rejected the “Darfur-Darfur Dialogue” sponsored by the UN-AU Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and the Sudanese government’s Darfur Regional Authority, saying that the current circumstances in Darfur “are not convenient for a dialogue, in particular when it is controlled by the attackers” (Radio Dabanga, May 8). In April, Jibril and his Darfur partners in the SRF urged the UN Security Council to investigate UNAMID operations in Darfur, particularly what they described as deliberate misrepresentation of the ongoing level of violence in in the region. According to Jibril, “The UN needs to clear its good name of the serious charges… and punish those who have ruined the reputation of the organization, wasted its resources and delayed appropriate action, which led to the death and suffering of innumerable innocent civilians in Darfur” (Radio Dabanga, April 23).

Conclusion

Even as political change generated by the “Arab Spring” continues to sweep North Africa and the Middle East, Jibril insists JEM’s military approach to regime change in Sudan is fundamentally correct:

The Arab Spring cannot be cloned in its entirety. Transferring and applying it require substantial adaptation to fit with the unique circumstances of the people concerned and the country in which the change of regime is sought… Civil action produces no fruit unless it is hybridized with military effort because the regime straddling the chest of the people for more than two decades is deaf and hears only the sound of cannons… JEM tried dialogue before resorting to arms and found out from its long experience in negotiating with the regime that it believes only in military solutions and that dialogue with it would be futile (al-Hayat, March 27, 2012).

Just as the late Colonel John Garang’s vision of a “New Sudan” came into conflict with the much stronger appeal of Southern separatism within the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), Jibril Ibrahim’s focus on nation-wide political reform will continue to conflict with the focus on Darfur favored by many of his followers within JEM. Shifting JEM’s operational area from Darfur to South Kordofan has the potential of simultaneously weakening the organization through the loss of its Darfuri core while reinforcing its perception as the pan-Sudanese rebel movement it has always claimed to be. For Jibril Ibrahim, the ex-teacher turned rebel warlord, maintaining JEM’s political relevance and military capabilities will be an enormous challenge in the coming months.

Notes

1. For Khalil’s death and the JEM succession issue, see Andrew McGregor, “The Strange Death of Dr. Khalil Ibrahim and the Future of the Darfur Insurgency,” Terrorism Monitor, February 10, 2012. For a profile of the late JEM leader, see: Andrew McGregor, “A Close-up Look at Darfur’s Paramount Rebel Leader: Dr. Khalil Ibrahim,” Militant Leadership Monitor, January 30, 2010.

2. “Justice and Equality Movement (JEM),” Small Arms Survey, August 2013, http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/fileadmin/docs/facts-figures/sudan/darfur/armed-groups/opposition/HSBA-Armed-Groups-JEM.pdf

This article was published in the May 30, 2014 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Militant Leadership Monitor.

Crisis in South Sudan Part Two: Civilian Massacres Mark Struggle to Control Oil Industry

Andrew McGregor

May 2, 2014

Government of South Sudan (GoSS) forces are battling rebels under the command of former South Sudan vice-president Riek Machar for control of Paloch in Upper Nile State, home of the nation’s largest oil installation. The rebels have said they intend to take control of all of South Sudan’s oilfields to prevent President Salva Kiir from “using the oil revenues to finance his war and hire foreign mercenaries” (Sudan Tribune, April 23; Reuters, April 24). However, according to Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) spokesman Colonel Philip Aguer, it is “the dream of Riek Machar and his forces to either destroy the oil industry or control it or divert it. To whom, we don’t know” (VOA, April 24).