Oliver Modi is 52 years old and a father of four children. Six feet tall and today a bit plumpish, he is nonetheless jolly and sprightly. His great laughter belies his age. Not only is his age hard to guess, but you would never tell the brutal life and near-death experiences that he has had to undergo this far – unless of course you know him personally, or he volunteers to tell you.
Modi, a South Sudanese, is a product of two major wars: one very short, the other a protracted one.
I have known Modi for close to a quarter of a century. When I met him in 1994, we were both foreigners in an East African country that gave us both refuge and an education. Today, he lives and works in Juba, the troubled capital of South Sudan.
When we reconnected again at the end of last year, he was his jolly self: laughing and full of gusto and shaking my hand numerously in great disbelief. Then suddenly, assuming a sombre posture, he tapped my knee and said to me: “My friend, for the last four years, I have been a restless man.”
And true he looked it: It is a restlessness that I had first detected in 1994, when we first met and became friends. He would momentarily get lost in deep thought, and as if he was in a trance, he would be completely transposed into another world and all that was there was his physical self.
SPECTRE OF ETHNIC CONFLAGRATION
I sensed that restlessness once again – when again he momentarily got lost in the netherworld deep into the clear sky night in the lobby of a Nairobi hotel where he was staying. When he came out of it, he told me: “I am really tired of the war. I lived through the war, I was hoping my children will not have to experience the bad, terrible and ugly war that I had to live to witness.”
In December 2013, South Sudan, Africa’s newest independent state, was barely two years old when it slipped back into a fratricidal war and, for the past four years, the country has been gripped by internecine warfare that, if not checked, will dismember the fragile country and trigger an ethnic conflagration, in the process setting the stage for a genocide of unmitigated proportions.
Modi was only 10 years when Anya-Nya II broke out in 1976. Although it lasted only seven years only, it was the beginning of Modi’s many-times brushes with death and its attendant war machine.
The Anya-Nya war or insurrection in Sudan first took place in 1955 and lasted 17 years, until 1972. In that year, the warring parties decided to sue for peace and hoped to cobble up a workable peace agreement in Addis Ababa. When the parties could not agree, the talks collapsed and four years later, a new rebellion erupted against the government of General Gaafar Mohammed Nimeiri.
Anya-Nya II was to birth the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) in 1983, under the leadership of John Garang and lasted 21 years, till 2004.
The second phase of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) High Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF) on South Sudan has been going on at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in Addis Ababa since February 5. The HLRF was mandated to convene by the Extra-Ordinary IGAD Heads of State Summit that held its meeting in the Ethiopian capital in June 12, 2017.
The meeting’s agenda was threefold: to institute a permanent ceasefire, to accelerate the implementation of the provisions of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the South Sudan (ARCSS), and to agree on the new timelines and implementation schedules towards the democratic elections at the end of the transitional period.
The revitalisation talks, which end on February 16, are led by a three-member team each: From the government side – SPLA/M (IG) and SPLA/M (IO). IG stands for “in government”, while IO denotes “in opposition”.
DOUBTS ABOUT PEACE PLAN
Nhial Deng Nhial, who is leading The Government of National Unity (TGONU) and is a special adviser to President Salva Mayardit Kiir, last week told the special convocation “that no matter the magnitude of the suffering of our people, only a peacefully negotiated political settlement will bring the suffering to the end”.
Pleading with the international community, he asked them “to devote more time and resources to help the people of South Sudan realise peace and eliminate the political root cause of the human suffering”.
Yet, when I spoke to Dr Peter Adwok Nyaba, a veteran of the SPLA war and a public intellectual, he was unequivocal that “the liberal peace plan being driven by the West will not work”.
His contention is that the peace process does not address the fundamental problem. “The West does not realise the people have been radicalised and it is just a matter of time, that there will be a revolution in South Sudan.” Adwok admonished that “there seems to be no exit out of this situation, except by complete destruction of Kiir’s ethnocentric totalitarian regime”.
IDEOLOGY OF DOMINANCE
As it is today, the country is in the grip of the Jieng Council of Elders that Adwok describes as an outfit that perpetuates a hegemonic ideology of dominance. The council is largely made up of Bah rel Gazal, Bor and Upper Nile Dinka, the largest single ethnic group in South Sudan. Adwok described the council as a terrible and wicked construct of the post-independence South Sudan development since 2011.
According to Adwok, “the IGAD and international community’s attempt to revitalise ARCSS that was signed in December 2015, will only raise false hopes in the people.”
Adwok, who was a minister of higher education in Kiir’s government before being sacked alongside other “dissenting” cabinet ministers, says “the Cessation of Hostilities (CoH) which was signed on December 21, 2017 is already a dead document even before the ink that signed it on paper dried”.
The former minister said the SPLM government under Kiir had miserably failed and that is why the reunification attempts to bring together SPLM (IG), SPLM under Taban Deng Gai and SPLM former detainees (SPLM-FDs) has not taken off.
EXPLOITING RIEK MACHAR'S ABSENCE
Adwok, equally has harsh words against Riek Machar, the exiled leader of SPLA (IO). “Riek doesn’t know what the problem is: he thinks Salva is the problem.” Riek, who started the SPLA (IO) in December 2013, as the rebel-in-chief of Kiir, is currently under “house arrest” in Pretoria, South Africa, and hence SPLA/M (IO) is managed from the southern Africa country.
This dislocation of the SPLA/M (IO) has meant that it is politically and militarily weak and, therefore, allows the Kiir regime to perpetuate itself, regardless of the deepening economic destruction.
“Hence, the Juba regime is hoping to defeat the SPLA/M (IO), as it tries to persuade the people that peace is achievable and it’s around the corner,” observes Adwok.
Since the breakdown of the insurrection in December 2013, close to four million South Sudanese have been displaced and exiled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.
Modi was flying out to Juba the following day after our evening meeting. “I will then head to Koboko in northern Uganda to check out my family,” he told me. Modi told me he had been forced to relocate his family to safer grounds in 2014, after Juba became too hot and dangerous.
Mr Kahura is a senior writer for 'The Elephant', a Nairobi-based publication. Twitter: @KahuraDauti