Interview with Koang Tut Jing

By Nanne op 't Ende
August 19, 2006

Koang joined the SPLM/A in 1985, at the age of seven or eight years. He stayed with the Movement untill 1994, when he left for Kakuma camp in Kenya. He lived there until he left it for his current home in New Zealand. Koang mixed up with Nuba people when he was in Equatoria. It was then that he came to know them, and the sacrifices they made with the Southerners.

child soldier (Nuba)

My name is Koang Tut Jing. Like many southerners, I am not certain of the date I was born, because it is not recorded. But it could be around 1977, '78 or '79. I was born in a village called Pultuak, in the Jonglei state, near the city of Akobo. The inhabitants of the Akobo area are Nuer and Anyuak. I am a Nuer myself.

I joint the SPLM/A as a little boy, in 1985. You can say I deserted when I went, because noone could allow me to go. I didn't know what the war was all about but I knew that there was a big gap between the life I lived in the town of Akobo, and how the Arabs were living. My village was where the SPLA soldiers were stationed; there was some sort of attraction, and the daily interaction made me want to be one of them. The awareness of the low life I was in and the desire to be part of SPLA, encouraged me to take my decision. And then all male members of my family joint the SPLA, it is like a family habit!

Before going to the training centre in Bonga, Ethiopia, all the recruits had to wait at Itang camp for a certain time. I arrived at Itang around October to November of 1985. At the recruits camp, there were Dinka boys and one Shilluk boy. By joining them I became the youngest one of all. I was lucky: all the boys were very kind and did not allow me to do anything, apart from helping them by fetching water from a nearby river. I didn't cook and I wasn't allowed to do things that I wasn't able to do. That was through the guardianship of a lieutenant called Anyieth, from Dinka Bor. He was in charge of the Red Army recruits - the name for the child soldiers.

On going to Bonga, the recruits had to be organized first before departing. So during the organization, the organizers became concerned about how I would cope with the training at Bonga, where people die of various sorts of infections and the harshness of the training itself. They concluded that I should be prevented from going, so they ordered me to get up from the group and told me their concern.

To go to Bonga you had to have a card; if you went without that card you would be selected as a cook, and you wouldn't attend training until the next batch. The organizers isolated me from those who were being given cards, but I sneaked in and mixed up with the last two platoons to be issued with cards. Luckily, I was issued with one and went to Bonga with pride. However, even if I had gone to Bonga without that card, I couldn't have been made to cook, because of my age.

At Bonga, on our arrival, it was like we were in enemy territory. Some of us thought we missed it and wound up at an enemy garrison. Everything you did, had to be done in group, be it going to the toilet, taking a shower, eating etc! You couldn't enjoy sleep running around from 3:00am to 6:00am. But I can't call it harsh, because that was how a military training camp was supposed to be. As a matter of fact, the army was trained on how they should endure hardship; what was happening at Bonga wasn't exceptional. Indeed, I finished the training in great shape, without the slightest infection, despite being one of the smallest boys in the whole battalion.

I proved the doubters of my ability wrong. Not only that I used to be selected to represent our battalion if there was a competition between battalions: our group won the first brigade competition on platoon tactics, in which I was participant! I coped with it, because I loved doing it and because I was resilient!

I had a first glimpse of the Nuba people in the person of late Yousif Kuwa [Mekki]. He used to give us political lessons, together with James Wani Iga. I don't recall much of what he said, nor of what my political commissar at the training centre told me. I just hated how we were made to sit down for a long time, listening to words that I didn't understand! However, all revolved around freedom for the marginalized people in the Sudan, and that we were fighting for our right! In fact I was aware of the two objectives of SPLA/M: justice and equality, but it wasn't a big deal by then…

I graduated in 1987, as a Red Army member of the same Zal-Zal devision. Our battalion was split into two: the older guys were sent to Pibor as a defense force for that town. By then Pibor was just captured from the Sudan Armed Forces. The second division, of which I was one, remained at Bonga to look after the centre before the next recruits arrived.

One battalion from Zal-Zal was sent to the Nuba Mountains; under command of Yousif Kuwa with his two alternate commanders, namely late Elijah Hon Top and Magar Aciek, to mobilize and shore up support from there for the movement. The battalion, called Volcano, was made up of Nuer, Dinka and Shilluk only. At that time there were not many people from the Nuba Mountains. Only after Volcano had mobilized them, they joint the movement in great numbers. Not all of them went back to the Nuba Mountains: some were sent to Equatoria as some southerners were sent the Nuba Mountains.

The movement leadership thought of sending us to Kurmuk, but they changed their position, because we all were in fact so young and weren't fit to fight yet. So they ordered our disarmament and sent us to Dimmo. In September 1987 we went by foot from Funyudo to Rad, and then to Dimmo, where all the Red Army recruits were supposed to be, before being called upon for service. However, around December of the same year I left Dimmo for Funyudo, where I spent one year.

In the Funyudo camps I saw some more Nuba recruits, but I was living with my relatives at home and went to school by then. I speak Arabic and that is how we communicated. By then I had no clue about politics, so we didn't talk at all about what united us, but there wasn't much difference between us and them! And there also wasn't such a thing called rivalry, because the SPLA forces were mixed up; you can't find a battalion dominated by a single tribe, unless that battalion was purposely formed for a special reason. I marched on to Itang in 1989. As someone from Zal-Zal one, Red Army, I was senior enough over those I led, because many of them came to the SPLA when I was already a soldier.

Every year, the SPLA leadership called upon the Red Army from Ethiopia for deployment in Kapoeta and its outposts. So I went to Kapoeta as a defense force against the Arab militia sent by regime in Khartoum to recapture the town from the SPLA. Kapoeta was the former Red Army headquarters. I led a taskforce of 305 persons, consisting of Nuba, those of Blue Nile, and Southerners, as master Sergeant Major. Master Sergeant Major is a rank between Sergeant major and second lieutenant. I served as an administrator along with the taskforce commander, in an outpost called Production Camp. We cultivated sorghum, groundnuts and other crops in Production Camp, but that wasn't a mission we were supposed to do.

The Nuba were not different from other boys; we all shared the same objective that made them come from the Nuba Mountains to Kapoeta. Some of the Nuba boys might have wanted to go home but they couldn't, because it wasn't easy to do so without permission; we had rules and regulations that bound us. On top of that, there was no safe passage to the Nuba Mountains: everywhere was hostility.

Myself I didn't think of going home because I went to Kapoeta willingly. It was at the beginning of 1990s. By then I wasn't needed by the movement, but I went out of desire. It was a duty of all Red Army to defend Kapoeta, while the older SPLA soldier were busy fighting the Sudan Aramed forces around Juba. We were disarmed in 1991 because we were still too young to fight, and we were sent to Moli Tokro in the Pagery area (Central Equatoria State), a place where the disarmed and un-recruited minors were studying.

The taskforce was split into three companies. I became a leader of a company till we reached Moli Tokro. At Moli Tokro, the four taskforces from Kapoeta and some we met at Magwi were mixed up and organized again into full taskforces or groups. But my company, which was made up of southern Sudanese and people from Blue Nile, was still together. We became company number three in taskforce three, now with Nuba boys mixed with others in Forth Company. That group or taskforce consisted of four companies. So I became a leader of group number three, until I left for Kenya in 1994!

In Moli Tokro, the pioneers were boys from the Nuba. Those boys were never recruited into the SPLA rank and file, but they were kept as school boys before 1993, when things were not that harsh. Our disarmed taskforces from Kapoeta were sent there to join them. We spent one and half year there.

Again the children couldn't be taken home. The Movement wanted them to learn and be the future of the nation. Also by then the SPLA wasn't in good shape; things were not great, and the children couldn't reach their homes safely. Not just Moli Tokri had minors in it; there were Bronglei and Poalataka Face (Friends of African Children Educational) Foundation Schools, all ran by SPLA through the NPA assistance.

When the war got worse, we were moved from there to a place called Lorus (later called Natinga), close to New Cush and New Site. We spent two months there and were then sent to Lotuke for refreshment training, to prepare us for combat. Before we went against the enemy in Kapoeta in 1994, we had to fight the forces of Riek [Machar] between Upper Nile and Equatoria; that was in middle and late 1993. In fact, there were Nuba among us and in other forces of SPLM/A as well.

If the Nuba in the South knew what was happening in the Nuba Mountains because of the split in SPLA? We were young boys who had no clue of what going on, other than knowing the negative effect of split in the SPLA. I don't think those boys knew anything!

Later in Kenya I understood there were some Nuba officers with Riek too. There was an alternate commander, along with another commander who was my brigade commander when I was at Bonga. Together they were leading Riek's commando forces in the areas around Bhar el Jebel State (currently known as Central Equatoria State); particularly the eastern part around Kits, toward Pagery. I don't recall his name because I was just told and the time is long to remember.

So we went to Kapoeta in 1994. The town had first been captured in 1988 by elements from Zal-Zal one, Red Army; Muor-Mour and Kazuk. Then it was recaptured by the enemy in 1992, after the SPLA split. At that time I was at Moli. The SPLA tried to capture Kapoeta again in 1994, we didn't make it.

Actually, the war in Kapoeta was launched after I left for Kenya. I left with permission and in aim that I would continue studying in Kakuma. I stayed in Kakuma for six years. I finished off my primary school and secondary school while I was there! Finally I came to New Zealand through the United Nation Resettlement Program.

I learnt politically in 1994 onward and that is where I would be able to defend SPLA/M and explain its visions to others who want to know them!

I want the SPLM/A leadership to stick to its vision and objectives. In this way it will continue fighting a good war, in favor of marginalized communities across the Sudan. In such a way we are honoring our principles and moral duties we have for other marginalized people. I want the leadership to protect the right of people who heed their call while in the wilderness. I want them to protect individuals from Nuba who offered themselves to suffer in the bush for the freedom of all, and not to leave them suffer in the hands of opportunistic Nuba who didn't fire a single bullet.

Interviewed by email on August 19, 2006



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