The situation in Western Equatoria remains fluid and muddy, with diverse reports of what has happened over the past year regarding rebellion and the emergence of armed groups, particularly the Revolutionary Movement for National Salvation (REMNASA) – led by Major Losuba Lodoru Wango, who reportedly worked with the South Sudan Ministry of Defense before his defection – and the “Nyarango Boys” of the Mundri area – led by Wesley Welebe Samson, who is also a former government legislator. The two groups are apparently not linked; neither are they seemingly linked with SPLM/A-in-Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) rebels, although REMNASA leans in that direction while the Nyarango Boys have declared their loyalty to the government of South Sudan. The situation in Western Equatoria is still unfolding along with the broader political situation in South Sudan, but below is a summary of what has happened so far this year in Western Equatoria with regard to these two groups.
The Revolutionary Movement for National Salvation: REMNASA in Western Equatoria
If not for the tragic situation entailing conflict and loss of human life, the quixotic statements issued by REMNASA about the group’s activities would be almost comical. Part of the difficulty in assessing the situation is the day-and-night difference between what REMNASA reports and what government authorities report about the same incident. At least with the SPLA-IO and other rebel groups, most of the reports sound fairly similar – within reason, though the instigating party or the casualties may be exaggerated. REMNASA’s activities, on the other hand, conflict so starkly with official reports as to make their claims appear almost delirious.
REMNASA declared rebellion against the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) on January 27, 2015 in the Maridi area of Western Equatoria. The first attack for which they claimed responsibility came over two months later, when on April 8 they reported taking control of the road between Maridi and Mambe and ambushing an SPLA convoy. Government authorities quickly confirmed an attack on the road, but said that commercial vehicles were robbed by some bandits and set on fire at night, with no one harmed. Apparently there may not have even been soldiers around.
The 9th of June saw conflicting reports of what happened. REMNASA again claimed to have destroyed an SPLA convoy, this one en route to Maridi to terrorize the civilian population. REMNASA reported that “our revolutionary forces stationed in nearby area had been ifnrormed of the situation in Maridi and were heading to rescue the civilians from the SPLA,” which were en route to Maridi “to reinforce their fellow thugs.”
A June 17th press release issued by REMNASA reported that Salva Kiir and Clement Wani had issued orders for the assassination of Losuba Ludoru Wango. The government, according to the press release, would either attempt to assassinate the leaders, or would dispatch forces to try to annihilate REMNASA’s base in the areas of Yei and Maridi. “However, if they opt for military means,” the statement reads, “it will be our pleasure because our brilliant forces are ever willingly to give them [a] warm revolutionary reception at any time in our bases…”
On June 18, REMNASA reported that it had raided Maridi, rescuing the civilians and government officials of the town from an impending attack by SPLA and allied Dinka militias. REMNASA’s spokesperson, Col. John Sunday Martin, claimed that the Dinka militia intended to assassinate the Maridi County commissioner and “massacre the population of Maridi town.”
Although the Government of South Sudan downplayed these claims, they still issued warnings about a rebellion in Western Equatoria. However, they have been contradicted by the Western Equatoria State government, where Charles Barnaba Kisanga, Minister of Information and State Government spokesperson, said on July 1 that the SPLA is cracking down on a local population while claiming to hunt a rebellion that in reality is “non-existent.” During the same week, 36 youth were allegedly arrested by SPLA commandos, sparking protests from Western Equatoria Governor Joseph Bakasoro, who called the arrests “illegal” because the SPLA had not informed or worked with the state government.
The Nyarango Boys
The Nyarango Boys are patently not a “rebel” group in the sense in which REMNASA claims to be or in which SPLM/A-IO manifestly is. From the public emergence of the group in May 2015, Wesley Welebe (or Waluba) rejected claims that any activities these local youth carried out were in any way linked to either REMNASA or the SPLM/A-IO. The Nyarango Boys claim to be a local militia attempting to protect farmers in the Mundri area from pastoralists who have been invading the area and destroying farms. However, the political line is not exactly directly aligned with the government, since they are calling on the Government of South Sudan to consider establishing a Midwest state, echoing calls for a certain type of decentralization akin to that which David Yau Yau’s Cobra Faction fought for and achieved with the Greater Pibor Administrative Area (GPAA), formerly Pibor County in Jonglei State (it remains to be seen how viable this administrative unit will be, as clashes between Murle and Dinka have continued along the Bor County border, Jie leaders have yet to buy into the administration, and problems have emerged in Anyuak areas of Pochalla since the division of Pochalla into two separate counties).
The Nyarango Boys have not received much media attention since May, perhaps partly because Salva Kiir issued an order for pastoralists to move their herds back to their home areas (Salva Kiir’s own herd of 3,000 cattle is reported to have returned to Warrap from Central Equatoria. Yes, 3,000 cattle belong to the president of South Sudan, while many of his citizens are starving, underfed in crowded IDP camps, or have lost their cattle to raiding by the military. At a reported price of at least $350 per head in Juba in 2011, those cows are worth over a million USD, let alone Kiir’s other assets.)
Disaffection with SPLA in Equatoria
Both of these movements may have some popular support, given the disaffection of many civilians in the area with the SPLA, which has harassed the local population for years, though perhaps not to the extent declared by the REMNASA leadership. It has been a while since I visited the area, but when I was staying in Mundri in 2009, SPLA soldiers hacked to pieces the benches in the local secondary school, burned them as firewood, and set up arbitrary roadblocks around town, apparently with the main purpose of aggravating the civilian population. At the time, people were wearing SPLM shirts saying that the political party was taking SPLM “to every hut and heart.” But the poor level of military professionalism is just one more of the many issues that continue to distance the federal government from the population in Western Equatoria and contribute to the emergence of militias and rebel groups, however small-scale and imaginative these may be.