Tag Archives: Murle

South Sudan – Yay Yau and Murle self-determination

African Arguments

David Yau Yau and South Sudan’s Internal Wager with Self-Determination – Mayank Bubna

IDPS in jonglei state

Amidst protracted conflict with Nuer rebels and a peace-negotiation impasse in Addis Ababa, the Government of South Sudan (GOSS) is also one year in to a brave political experiment granting semi-autonomous governance to a former rebel commander in southern Jonglei – a place that is largely home to the Murle people and smaller communities like the Jei, Anyuak and Kachipo.

On 30 January 2014, the GOSS formally codified a peace agreement between itself and David Yau Yau’s Cobra faction under the broader South Sudan Defense Movement/Army (SSDM/A). On 9 May, a presidential decree led to the creation of the Greater Pibor Administrative Area (GPAA), and Yau Yau was made administrator-in-chief in the region. According to the pronouncement, the GPAA would have independent government structures, be recognized at par with other states within South Sudan, and citizens of the GPAA could be appointed to national positions directly by the President. By most accounts, such a deal is unparalleled and Yau Yau appears to have drawn a good hand.

South Sudan, itself a product of a secession, is not unaccustomed to homegrown feats of dissent. Beset by political fissures and problems of elite conflict in the post-CPA era, the GOSS has attempted to bring rebel groups into the frame of ‘normal’ politics either by forcing their hand or offering incentives like blanket amnesties and military promotions.

Reaction to this process gave rise to the outbreak of a series of small wars between the SPLA and various non-state armed groups in 2010 and 2011. By mid-2013 however, almost all these groups’ leaders had accepted face-saving integration into the SPLA, been killed in action, moved north of the border or simply become inconsequential.[1] David Yau Yau’s Cobra Faction remained the last bastion of resistance, and its latest peace deal with the government – involving self-governance and partial territorial sovereignty – remains unprecedented in character and scope.

The ‘Murle secession’, although it is not always termed as such, is problematic from a state’s perspective because it implies the existence of a challenge to the dominion of South Sudan. So why and how did Yau Yau succeed in obtaining the sort of concessions that others failed to acquire?

A definitive answer is hard to come by, although several conjectures may be made: First, geographic concentration of the Murle is likely to have influenced and reinforced their separatist stance vis-à-vis the rest of South Sudan. Furthermore, the moment may have been opportune – given southern Jonglei’s strategic geographic location as a buffer between the Nuer-controlled Greater Upper Nile and the Equatorias, alienating the Murle on the advent of the newest civil war may have been perceived by the GOSS as a bad idea.

Last but not least, it is also likely that Yau Yau may have made a highly cognizant and judicious gamble in pursuing a “just about right” self-determination claim and carefully balancing external perceptions – neither appearing too soft (thus avoiding the fear of not being taken seriously) nor pursuing too radical an agenda (and by extension, being regarded a serious threat).

As Yau Yau engages with communities within the GPAA and transforms his militant group into an acceptable political entity, he has focused, sometimes by choice and often out of compulsion, on social welfare, economic development and building sustainable security arrangements. Schools have been renovated, agricultural activities restarted and health facilities re-introduced for the first time in a long time.

In September 2014, Yau Yau appointed seven commissioners, followed by additional ministerial appointments in December to kick-start local governance institution building.[2] A selection process for the GPAA council is underway and Pibor town has emerged as the de facto center. As of November 2014, local authorities have also started implementing fiscal policies to compensate for budgetary shortfall, and Yau Yau’s group have begun levying taxes on traded commodities and goods being moved in or out of the area.

Yet, the process of building a state within a state does not come without its own set of challenges. Amidst its institutional enterprises and promises of democratic representation, Yau Yau’s state system has had the whiff of hegemonic centralization. For example, in September 2014, Pochalla North youth communities protested the appointment of their county commissioner, a man known to be a close associate of Yau Yau, in favor of another nominee who was believed to have been deprived the post despite securing a higher vote count.

In October, Yau Yau’s choices for county commissioner for Fertait, Likuangole and North Pochalla were also rejected by local communities. Additionally, the Jie, an ethnic minority within the GPAA, have accused Yau Yau of taking a hard stance against them and failing to incorporate their demands for a separate county.[3] Some among the Jie community also felt the need to form their own separate armed group to protect the community’s interests. The GPAA project faces substantial discredit from within its constituency, and demarcation of the GPAA’s internal and external borders remains contested.[4] Internally displaced people returning to the area in the last few months have found their homes occupied by some of Yau Yau’s men.

Considerable confusion persists about the exact political and security arrangement between the GOSS and the GPAA. Some officials continue to see the GPAA as part of the Jonglei region, a position that Yau Yau and his deputies vehemently oppose. Some have suggested that members of parliament and ministers from Pibor serving in the central government ought to plausibly be removed from office and reinstated within the GPAA. Relations between the government and Yau Yau have further been strained over the SPLA’s presence in the area, procedural aspects of integration of the Cobra Faction into South Sudan’s armed forces, and his tumultuous relationship with Nuer rebel forces.

GOSS rejected an earlier proposal to integrate Yau Yau’s men as two divisions in the SPLA (at one point they claimed to be more than 27,000 strong), and although some of Yau Yau’s forces collocate with the SPLA in Pibor, a date for formal integration has yet to be set. Delays in the security sector reform process have left members of the Cobra faction in a state of limbo, some of whom are rumored to be facing food shortages.

Internal and external security for the GPAA remains weak. Earlier in 2014, a split within the Cobra faction occurred between elements aligned with the SPLA, those who chose to remain independent, and others who teamed up with estranged deputies. Tensions with the SPLA also escalated after Brigadier General Joshua Konyi, disfavored by Yau Yau, was temporarily appointed as the SPLA commander in the GPAA in December 2014 (his appointment was allegedly canceled after Yau Yau lodged a protest) and James Kuburin, a former member and later enemy of Yau Yau’s top military brass, was relocated in the GPAA with the SPLA. Furthermore, in October and November 2014, in Pibor town and Fertait County, fighting between the Lango and Kurenen and Nyakurumo – various age sets of the Murle – led to several casualties.

Continued clashes in December between the Lango age set – who have historically supported Yau Yau, but may have felt disenfranchised of late – and members of the Cobra faction threatened to undermine Yau Yau’s position as chief administrator in the GPAA. Yau Yau reportedly traveled around the GPAA in the last several months mobilizing youth from minority communities like the Anyuak to join the SPLA. Simultaneously however, he has created rivals among the Dinka Bor by resisting the idea of teaming up with the SPLA to clash directly with Nuer rebel groups from further north.

Yau Yau’s efforts to carve out his personal dominion may be well-intentioned and his control over the GPAA thus-far complete, however, in many ways he has been thrust into a situation that mirrors the problems that South Sudan has always faced. In trying to design a functioning framework for the realization of Murle minority rights in the midst of protracted warfare, the GPAA has become a microcosm of all that could possibly go right and wrong with governance at large in South Sudan.

Mayank Bubna is a researcher who has worked in various capacities in South Sudan since 2010. His travels in the region have taken him to Jonglei, Unity, Upper Nile, Central Equatoria, Abyei and Khartoum. Some of his past work can be sourced online.

South Sudan – militia starts releasing chold soldiers


A South Sudanese militia has freed 280 child soldiers as part of a wider deal to release about 3,000 underage fighters, the UN’s children agency Unicef has said.

More releases will occur in the coming weeks, said the agency, which helped negotiate the children’s freedom.

The soldiers were recruited into an armed group which has now made peace with the government.

Other rebel militias have been locked in a civil war since 2013.

Fighting began after President Salva Kiir accused his deputy of trying to foment a coup, triggering a descent into nationwide violence and forcing about 1.5 million people from their homes.

According to Unicef, around 12,000 children have been forcibly recruited by armed groups in South Sudan over the past year.

Child soldier case study: Silva, 11 years old:

I have been fighting for more than two years. I haven’t seen my mother and father since last summer.

I’ve seen many people killed when I was on missions.

I had an AK-47. It was heavy. I was fighting to protect my family and village.

Now I want to go to school and learn. I don’t want to fight anymore, I was scared.

Swapping guns for books

The 3,000 young fighters due to be released were members of a militia called the South Sudan Democratic Army Cobra Faction.

The group, which had been fighting to win greater rights for the Murle ethnic group, did not join the wider rebellion that erupted in December 2013.

Led by David Yau Yau, it was often involved in cattle raids and deadly revenge attacks and had been fighting for almost four years in Pibor county in Jonglei state.

“These children have been forced to do and see things no child should ever experience,” said Unicef’s South Sudan representative, Jonathan Veitch.

Unicef said it was trying to reunite the demobilised child soldiers with their families.

South Sudan – Yau Yau rebels demand new state in Jonglei

Sudan Tribune
Yau Yau rebels demand new state in Jonglei

March 23, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) – Yau Yau rebel group has demanded to establish a new state for the Murle tribe in South Sudan to better protect their pasture land and herds of livestock in the immense Jonglei state.

Delegation from the South Sudanese government and David Yau Yau rebel group resumed the South Sudanese church brokered peace talks in the Ethiopian capital on Thursday with observers from the European Union (EU) and United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

The chief negotiator of the rebel South Sudan Democratic Movement – Cobra Faction (SSDM-Cobra faction), Gen. Khalid Burtous, demanded to create a new state in the current Pipbor county in Jonglei state and to establish a development funds for the area.

Since the independence of South Sudan the Murle clashed several times with the Lou Nuer who share the same pasture and water sources. In 2012 and 2013 hundreds of Murle were killed during tribal clashes and other thousands fled the region to protect their lives.

The Murles, like other minority groups, say that their interests are not being represented within the new nation of South Sudan which declared its independence in July 2011.

The government delegation in its response to the rebel demands, on Friday, proposed to create additional counties in the greater Pibor County and to maintain the current boundary of the county as it was on the January 1, 1956.

The head of the government negotiating team, Canon Clement Janda, said the current Payams and Bomas in Pibor county can be upgrade into full county administration, provided that county creation set forth in the South Sudan Local Government Act. 2009 is adhered to.

Janda further said the governance structure shall be established with a Chief Administrator and his Two (2) assistants, adding that this chief administrator shall appoint commissioners to the newly established counties.

He further said that the government will taken into consideration the demand for development fund and pledged to file a proposal for establishment of a special development fund to be administrated by a body headed by a coordinator within the office of the president of the republic.

The chief mediator, Bishop Paride Taban adjourned the talks to Monday announcing that the rebel delegation will give its position on the government proposal on Monday.

The SSDM Cobra-faction, was a faction of the SSDM which was established in 2010 by the late general George Athor.

Like Athor, Yau Yau rebelled against South Sudan’s ruling party after losing the 2010 elections to represent the Gumuruk–Boma constituency in Pibor county at the Jonglei state assembly.

In 2011, the trained pastor signed a peace deal with the government and joined the South Sudanese army (SPLA) and was made a General despite his lack of military experience.

However, Yau Yau rebelled again in April 2012. He blamed the government for halting the disarmament process after collecting arms from his former fighters, as they remained exposed to attacks by the other ethnic groups, particularly the Lou Nuer.
Bishop Paride Taban (C) appluads as the signing of a peace deal between South Sudan government and SSDM/A Cobra Faction rebels in Addis Ababa, January 30, 2014 (Photo: Larco Lomayat)



Dozens killed in “cattle vendetta” in South Sudan


Gunmen have killed at least 51 people – mostly women and children – in the latest clashes in South Sudan’s troubled Jonglei state, regional governor Kuol Manyang has said.




At least 22 others were injured after attackers raided and burned the village of Duk Padiet, he added.

The wounded have been evacuated to Juba, the capital, he said.

A series of retaliatory attacks between ethnic groups in the region has displaced tens of thousands of people.

“We are expecting more to be injured because they ran to the villages last night,” Mr Manyang said.

Officials told AFP news agency the killings were carried out by the Murle group on ethnic Dinkas, as revenge for a deadly raid last month on the town of Pibor.

It is understood that some Dinkas accompanied some 6,000 Lou Nuer warriors who attacked Pibor.  Read more…

UN aid effort for displaced in South Sudan


Aid groups are mounting a “major emergency operation” in rural South Sudan after tribe-on-tribe violence sent tens of thousands of people fleeing and killed an unknown number of people, the UN said.



The UN says that three whole villages were burned to the ground and aid groups have evacuated 140 people who were wounded.

Lise Grande, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan, said on Saturday that aid groups are respondingto a call for help from South Sudan’s central government.

A column of 6,000 armed men from the Lou Nuer ethnic group were reported to have marched into Pibor in Jonglei state to target the Murle community in late December and early January.

Neither the central government or the UN has been able to give a final death toll.

The Juba-based central government says it is launching an investigation. A government official in Jonglei has said that thousands of people were killed but that number has not been corroborated.  Read more…

UN says “no evidence” of mass killings in South Sudan

Mail and Guardian

The UN’s top official in South Sudan on Saturday said “no evidence” had been found of reported mass killings but warned that 60 000 people were in urgent need of aid.

Hilde Johnson, UN Special Representative for South Sudan, said reports that over 3 000 people were killed last week when thousands of armed youths attacked the Pibor region of Jonglei state appeared to be a false alarm.

“Importantly, we found no evidence that support those numbers,” she said following a visit to affected areas where up to 8 000 rampaging armed youths set homes on fire and forced thousands to flee.

In a dramatic escalation of bitter tit-for-tat attacks, a militia army from the Lou Nuer tribe last week marched on Pibor, home to the rival Murle people, whom they blame for abductions and cattle raiding.

It was still not clear on Saturday how many people had died but with as many as a third of all thatch huts set on fire in targeted areas, some 60 000 people were in desperate need of help, Johnson added.  Read more…

UN says South Sudan attack by Lou Nuer repelled


Thousands of youths from a South Sudanese ethnic group which attacked a rival community, reportedly killing at least 150 people, have been repelled by government troops, the UN says.



The UN’s humanitarian co-ordinator in the region, Lise Grande, says 6,000 members of the Lou Nuer ethnic group have left the besieged town of Pibor.

The clashes took place between the Lou Nuer and their rivals, the Murle.

The fighting follows long-running disputes over cattle raids.  Read more…