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SPLM Factions - South Sudan - Tribal Warfare 2013-2014

Three major factions existed on the basis of ethnicity/regionalism and allegiance to the memory and the vision of John Garang.

The first faction counted those who were closest to Garang and who continued to support to varying degree his vision of a unitary Sudan and the SPLM as a national party. This faction included Garang relatives, the most senior officers in the Sudan People's Liberation Army [SPLA], and prominent SPLM Ministers in the Government of National Unity. Ethnically, this group drew support from Garang's Dinka Bor clan and most other Dinka groups along the Nile, and the majority of the Shilluk. It also had the allegiance of the small southern tribes along the eastern portion of the border with Kenya and Uganda, although these groups had traditionally vied for greater political power for Equatoria and supported Equatorian politicians within SPLM. In the years after Garang's death the adherents of this faction drifted towards the other two factions. But as late as 2014, Rebecca Garang, the widow of former SPLM leader John Garang, was being backed by at least part of the old Garang camp - people who were unhappy with some of president Salva Kiir's policies. Before the fighting in December 2013 escalated, Rebecca Garang had sharply criticized President Salva Kiir for his autocratic leadership style and the corruption within the government.

The second major SPLM faction consists of those who support Salva Kiir and were put off by the autocratic style of Garang. The SPLA rank and file as well as many junior and mid-level officers support Kiir, who is perceived more as soldier than politician. Kiir is well respected in the South, but he does not have the large coterie of powerful followers in the political class or the popular adulation formerly accorded to Garang. He is the least divisive SPLM leader in ethnic terms: he satisfies the ambitions of the plurality Dinka groups that form the core of the SPLM without raising the specter of Dinka Bor hegemony that troubled other ethnic groups during Garang,s tenure.The Kiir faction enjoyed support among the Dinka in the northwest, especially the Rek and Malual, and from Bahr el Ghazel. Kiir also draws support from the Fertit and Zande -- the latter because of conflicts with displaced Dinka Bor in Zande lands in Western Equatoria State -- and, increasingly, the Nuer from Upper Nile.

The April 2010 presidential election, which resulted in the election of President Salva Kiir Mayardit, was deemed generally free and fair within the semiautonomous region of Southern Sudan by international observers. As President, he is untainted by corruption, his political instincts are strong, and his consensus style of governance gave hope for a democratic future for Southern Sudan, Kiir is a unifying force in a culture deeply susceptible to and threatened by tribal and ethnic divisions.

The third SPLM faction was headed by GoSS Vice President Riek Machar, who became Vice President of the Government of Southern Sudan and SPLM Co-Chair of the Joint Executive Political Committee in August 2005. Since 1983, the SPLA had been divided into 3 main factions: the SPLA Torit faction led by John Garang; the SPLA Bahr-al-Ghazal faction led by Carabino Kuany Bol; and the South Sudan Independence Movement led by Riek Machar. Riek is a much traveled veteran of southern politics who has cycled in and out of the SPLM. A Nuer from Western Upper Nile, Machar was founder or co-founder of Southern Sudan Democratic Forum, Coordinating Council of South Sudan, and United Democratic Sudanese Forces.

In 1991 Machar split from the main body of the SPLM and, along with others, armed the White Army to protect the Lou Nuer, who were neglected by both the SPLA and Khartoum. The result was a largely apolitical, but heavily armed tribal militia that provided protection for cattle camps, but also engaged in notorious cattle raiding against neighboring groups, including their traditional rivals, the Dinka Bor. Machar's ambition to lead Southern Sudan was not a secret to anyone, but his frequent switch of allegiances during the war and his signature of the Khartoum Peace Agreement with the National Islamic Front in 1997 alienated many Southerners.

The history of oil exploitation in Sudan has been marked by northern domination, killings, displacement, community destruction, environmental degradation, arms purchases, and accusations of cheating on revenue sharing. By 2006 there were rumors and recriminations among senior SPLM members who wanted an accounting of the bonuses paid and more transparency in the deals. Many suspected Vice President Riek Machar, among others, of profiteering, although a key minister, albeit with reported ties to Machar, assured Juba officials that the bulk of the funds are banked. Many in the party admit the deals lack transparency, but assert that the SPLM had the right to sign these contracts and say they want to handle the corruption issues internally.

The SPLM National Convention met in May 2008, and debated the future of Dr. Riek Machar, given the embattled Vice President's legacy of untrustworthiness and brutality within the South The rank and file delegates were gripped by rumors that Machar's ouster from the party leadership would push him to foment violence among his fellow-ethnic Nuer that would divide and destabilize the region.

The SPLA-IO is a disparate force with an array factions with localized agendas, some competing against one another.

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Page last modified: 14-02-2016 20:11:16 ZULU