29 May 2020

 

Dimma: The Mother Of Jesh Amer /Red Army – Parts One & Two

Dimma: "...there was no single battalion of Eight-year-olds trained, equipped, and sent to fight. Never!"..Kakuma:"Many people lost their lives in Kakuma because of tribal conflicts that could have been avoided had the people lived together to promote both unity and diversity."

By Willy Mayom Maker*

Part One
Dimma was founded in 1986. It was one of the leading training centers of the SPLA. Situated in one of the most mountainous regions in Ethiopia, Dimma was the ideal location where the top-secret weapon of the SPLA was hidden: Jesh Amer. Dimma specialized in the training young fighters.

The Jesh Amer from every division of the SPLA (Koryom, Muormuor, Kazuk, Zalzal, Intifatha, Infijar, etc.) were in Dimma. Those who were trained in Bilpam and Bongo, and they were too young to fight, were sent to Dimma to mature both physically and mentally before they were sent back to Sudan to fight. Dimma, therefore, was the Mother of the majority combat Jesh Amer.

Dimma was divided into five sections. The first section was a residential area called Hela, where women and children lived.

The second section was Multipurpose youth Center (MPYC), where Jesh Amer (boys & girls) were trained.

The third section was the Katiba Nuur Center, where elderly persons, called Katiba Ajathiin, were trained.

The fourth section was the Marketh Center, where the Black Armies were trained.

The fifth section was Korchum, later named Pakook, located at the border, where Gerger Battalion was trained. Later on, Korchum became the training center for Ugandan rebels, called Aringa, who were fighting the government of Museveni.

What distinguished Dimma from other camps, such as Itang or Pinyudo, was that training was compulsory in Dimma. Apart from women and children, everyone had to go through guerrilla warfare training; otherwise, you would not receive services such as education or even food ration.

If you were too young, no problem! You joined Jesh Amer (the Red army).

Middle aged? You joined Jesh Aswuot (the Black Army).

Too old? No problem, too. You joined Katiba Ajathiin (the Elderly Battalion).

The three prominent leaders who commanded Dimma were CDR Marko Maciec (1986 –1988), CDR James Hoth Mai (1988 –1989); and Dr. Atem Nathaniel Riak (1989 –1992).

Every year, Jesh Amers, who were stronger physically, were selected and sent back to Sudan to fight; meanwhile, the weaker ones remained in Dimma to mature.

The selection was thorough and fair. If you were not physically strong to carry heavy fighting equipment, you stayed in Dimma. I emphasize this point because I read books and articles of people who claimed that they were sent to fight when they were only eight years. Come on! The SPLA was not that brutal. Unless if you had escaped on your own and returned to Sudan; otherwise, there was no single battalion of Eight-year-olds trained, equipped, and sent to fight. Never!

Every Jesh Amer in Dimma cried during the selection because they wanted to return to Sudan to fight, but the youngest were not allowed. My friends and I had tried every trick to no avail. During the selection, we would put on layers of clothes and stuffed pieces of cardboard in our shoes just to look bigger and taller. But our baby faces always betrayed us, and we were rejected.

It came to the point where we had to strip naked; having thick hairs in your groins meant that you had reached puberty, so you could qualify to fight if you appeared stronger physically. But if you had no hair anywhere apart from your head, then you were stuck in Dimma.

Nothing was upsetting than seeing your comrades returning to Sudan to fight while you remained in Dimma. The selected were delighted, and we, the rejected, wailed.
Those who were sent back to Sudan to fight were the luckiest. I thought.

There in front-line, they would be promoted. Also, they would capture towns and cities and get clothes and even money in the places. Some of them would be lucky to meet their parents, unlike us who had not seen our parents for years. Even those who were killed in action were lucky because they rested in peace as martyrs.

Meanwhile, we were quarantined in the middle of the mountain, without even radios, television or telephones. We ate arec-gon, the food so disgusting that even vulture "rejected" it. Last but not least, we were being eaten alive by tuktuk-jiggers, insects entered your body to feed and breed. So I thought we, who remained in Dimma year after year, were the unluckiest ones.

That was my twisted, indoctrinated mind thinking capacity. Now I believe that we who remained in Dimma to study were the luckiest ones.

The exact number of Jesh Amer in Dimma could not be determined because thousands were discharged annually, and thousands of recruits also arrived from Sudan. Maybe one of the commanders, especially Dr. Atem, who commanded last, would know the exact number.

But in 1991, after President Mengistu was dislodged and we came to Pakook at the border, there were a total of 11 taskforces of Jesh Amer. Five task forces were Medium (age 15 and above), three taskforces of Marek-rek (ages between 15 and 12). And finally, there were four taskforces of Dikdik (below 12 years old).

Both Medium and Marek-rek forces were armed to protect refugees. It was the time when the SPLA was weakened, not on by losing its leading supporter, President Mengistu, but also by internal divisions of 1991 when Dr. Riek and Dr. Lam, etc. broke away.

Bashir had taken advantage of the situation. He supported the Ethiopian rebels to dislodge the SPLA from the border. The SPLA Ethiopian rebels armed and equipped Anyuak militiamen to deal with the SPLA. Ismail Konyi's forces, supported by Bashir, were lurking in the area.


All Jesh Aswuot had left with their families, leaving Jesh el Amer to defend themselves, as well as the refugees. Some of the Jesh Amers were sent to Pachalla, under the command of CDR Gordon Maper Manyiel, to protect refugees there.

In 1992, the UN finally arrived in Pakook, delivering food to the refugees who were stranded there. Because of the looming threats, the UN helped move the refugees from Pakook and Pachalla to Narus at the Kenyan border.

At the same time, the UN pressured the SPLA to abandoned child-soldier practices. So, the youngest members of Jesh Amer fighters were disarmed and sent to Narus with the refugees.

Out of then11 taskforces, only two taskforces of Jesh of Dimma came to Narus in 1992. (The author was among them.) Commanded by CDR Gordon Maper Manyiel, under direct orders from Dr. Garang, we were to remain in Narus until further orders.

After a couple of months in Narus, forceful mobilization (kasha) occurred. Khartoum troops were advancing to Kapoeta, and CDR Dominic Dim, former minister of defense who died in a plane crash, needed fighters urgently. They were looking for soldiers who were hiding among the refugees. The kasha soldiers surrounded the entire camp at night, and they went from house to house, collecting all men.

At around midnight, the kasha soldiers came to our location and started waking us up and ordering us to go to the parade ground. Even though we were disarmed, Gordon Maper and his deputy, Abraham Gatsef, with their three bodyguards, were armed. Cdr Maper heard the commotions, and he came dressed in military fatigues and planked by his Bodyguards.

"Who is your senior officer?" Maper inquired. "I'm," a captain said, "but I’m executing orders from Commander Dominic Dim…"

"Captain," Comrade Maper cut him off. "Go back and tell Comrade Dim that Maper said if you want soldiers, you have to come to me first, instead of bypassing me and trying to steal my soldier."

That was it! We were left alone. In the morning, Comrade Maper marched us to where Commander Dim was. Comrade Maper stood us at attention and gave the reported to Commander Dim.

"I heard you disobeyed my orders and threatened the kasha soldiers last night, Comrade Maper," Comrade Dim said. "I did not disobey your orders, Comrade Dim," Maper said. All I said was that these are organized forces, and I'm their commander. You have to come to me first, instead of bypassing me. Besides, they were disarmed recently under the orders of the C in C, who ordered me to bring them here until further orders. If you want to take them, here they are."

"You are right, Comrade Maper," CRD Dim said. I did not know all of that. If that is the case, then, you take back your soldiers to the camp until further orders." We were let go.

One week or so later, Comrade Maper blew a whistle late in the afternoon, needing us urgently. You know kopsa whistle, the rapid whistle-blowing, which tells soldiers to get your behinds there vigorously for something was imminently occurring.

Maper appeared calm, but the look on his face said a lot. It was the same look I saw on his face a couple of months back in Kor-Anyuak, Ethiopia. The Ethiopian rebels were about to capture Tulla, an outpost of Rhad, and Commander Bol Madut ordered Comrade Maper to take a reinforcement to Tulla.

That time, Maper had sent his bodyguards and his family to Pakook. So he ordered my brother Makis Makomot and me as his bodyguards. What transpired on that tour of duty is a long story, but what I'm trying to explain here is that the look of war that I saw in Maper's face in Khor-Anyuak was the same look I saw in the parade in Narus.

"Attention!" he said. "As soldiers, pack up quickly and wait for further orders. Make sure you have plenty of water." He ordered and went to meet with the leadership of the camp
He did not tell what was happening. But it didn't take long before we heard that Khartoum troops had captured Kapoeta.

All the refugees were heading to Kenya. Our two taskforces stayed put, not knowing whether we would follow the refugees or lead to Kapoeta. We waited in agony for hours, but Comrade Maper did not show up. We watch all the refugees evacuating. At sunset, Comrade Maper finally arrived. We were to follow the refugee.

The two taskforces of Jesh Amer of Dimma – the lastborns – finally crossed the Kenyan border to Kakuma in 1992.


*Part Two below talks about how the two Taskforces lived in Kakuma.

Part Two
Dimma, the Mother of Jesh Amer/Red Army
The two task-forces of the Jesh Amer–the Lastborns of Mother Dimma–finally came to Kakuma in 1992. They thought Kakuma would be like Dimma, where they were both soldiers and students. But things were different in Kakuma.

We were told not to use military drills; not even to call each other "comrade" like we used to do in Dimma, Ethiopia. Instead of Jesh Amer, we were now called "Minors." Our commanders turned into teachers. So instead of Comrade Maper, he was Ustaz (teacher) Maper. Taskforces became groups; companies and squads were villages and sub-groups, respectively. Company or squad leaders became Head-boys.

Kuot Mathuch, who later became a renowned goalkeeper in Kakuma, was the Head-boy of Group One. And Laat Mabor was the Head-boy of Group Two. The author was the Head-boy of Village Seven in Group Two. [Note: the reason why I keep putting my name in the story is not that I'm bragging; rather, I'm just demonstrating it to you, the readers, how well-informed (or not informed) I'm in the story I'm narrating.]

Shortly after arriving in Kakuma, South Sudanese leaders met to discuss the living arrangement in the camp. There were over 20, 000 South Sudanese in Kakuma. Some elders suggested that people should be mixed (Dinka, Equatoria, Nuer, etc., all mixed up) to promote diversity. But other elders insisted that each tribe or sub-tribe should live separately. When the elders voted, the group who wanted separation won the vote.

Subsequently, South Sudanese were segregated based on the tribal lanes. Equatoria, Dinka, and Nuer lived in separate groups and zones. Each of the groups was further divided into sections and subsections. Within the Dinka, Bhar el Ghazal and Jonglei lived separately. Jonglei was further sectioned into Nyarweng, Twii, Palek, and so on. Bhar el Ghazal was also chopped up into Agar (Group 18), Malual (Group 6) Twic (Group 31), and so on.

However, the division increased tribal conflicts, which are still haunting Kakuma to this day. Instead of promoting unity among the people, our elders, with outdated tribal mindsets, decided to separate their communities. Many people lost their lives in Kakuma because of tribal conflicts that could have been avoided had the people lived together to promote both unity and diversity.

Nevertheless, the Minors groups were not divided into tribal lines. They remained the way they were in Pinyudo or Dimma, Ethiopia. In Groups One & Two, for example, you found almost every tribe (Acholi, Dinka, Nuer, Morro, Lotuko, Didinka, Shilluk, Bari, Murle, Lofon (Lokoro), you name it. We were the most diverse groups in the entire camp.

The tribal mindset was eradicated a long time ago during the training in Ethiopia, replaced by comradeship. Remember, we were trained when the SPLA strongly believed in communism (Ish-stirakia), and we had to chant: "Tahrir," "Horiya," Ish-stirakia (liberation, freedom, and communism). The doctrine of the SPLA was deep down in our system. and we were obsessed with military doctrine.

In Kakuma, we were given caretakers to look after us. But the young men who were used to taking orders from officers found it harder to take orders from mere caretakers. (You know the typical style of the SPLA: soldiers don't take orders from civilians.) In addition to the obsession with the military, we were also reaching puberty, and our brand-new testicles were driving us insane.

Each group had its primary school. Group One, for example, had Jebel Mara Primary School and Group Two with Bar Naam Primary School. Ustaz Alith Apeech was the head-teacher of Jebel Mara Primary School. Ustaz Alith was said to be a renowned wrestler back in Jonglei when he was young, and he was known for his toughness. He did not entertain nonsense in school. But at first, he had tough times in Jebel Mara Primary School.

One day, Ustaz Alith saw a young fellow, Ngok Wol (currently in the USA) standing outside the classroom. Ustaz Alith snuck up behind Ngok with a cane and hit him repeatedly. Ngok left quietly, went to fetch a fighting stick, snuck up behind Ustaz Alith, and struck him on the head.

When our trouble increased, the leaders of the camp suggested that our two groups should be integrated into other groups. That way, they believed we would not cause trouble. But we refused the integration and threatened to create havoc and return to Sudan. So, we were left us alone.

No one messed with us and got away with it. Even thieves, who used to rob people under the hill between Ethiopian and South Sudanese residential areas, knew who we were. If a thief stole from one of our members, we would hunt down every thief (and we knew all of them) and beat the crap out of them one by one.
The UN did not get away with it when they messed with us. One time, food distribution was incredibly delayed past its due date. The distribution cycle was every 15th day, but it was delayed for nearly one month. The entire camp was hungry.

We asked our caretakers, but they did not know why the food was not distributed. We went to the logistic person, Kur Anyuat, he did not know either. Finally, we went to South Sudanese Chairman CDR Deng Dau, who also said he did not know why the food was not distributed.

We asked Deng Dau to take us to the UN representative (camp manager) to make our complaint. But Deng Dau said meeting the camp manager was not possible and that we have to be patient.

But we were already out of patient options. Have you noticed the steps we took from the caretakers to the logistic person to the Chairman, and finally wanting to meet the camp manager? If you were an SPLA soldier, you knew these steps very well. Having followed all the necessary protocols to no avail, we took the matter into our own hands. We had to meet the Un representative by all means.

The following morning after we met the Chairman, we set up a roadblock on the main road, just behind Jebel Mara Primary School. Armed with sticks and stones, we stopped a big UN truck, took the key from the driver, and let the shaking driver walk back to the compound and inform the UN that we were hungry.

A young fellow, nicknamed Apollo Eleven (I forgot his real name; he is now somewhere in Juba or Torit), knew how to drive. Apollo 11 drove the trucks and hid it in Group 2. This truck was collateral, the means for negotiation. You negotiate well when you are in a strong position. "We weren't dumb soldiers," as CDR Bol Madut used to say.
After we had secured the trucks, the nearly 700 angry young men raced to the UN compound, singing SPLA revolutionary songs. When we came to the compound, a police platoon, mixed with security guards, was standing at the main gate. The officers threw a few canes of pepper sprays, but the stones from 700 boys were overwhelming. They jumped off the gate and ran away.

The UN staff locked themselves in their offices. The refugees who were in the compounds had taken covers wherever they could. The Jesh Amer had gone rogue!

It took us less than ten minutes to secure the entire compound. First, we sealed off the whole compound, making sure no one entered or exited. All offices and food stores were sealed off too, each store or office was given several members to guard it so that no one could steal or destroy anything. Our intention was not to rob food or damage property or hurt anyone; we just wanted to make a point or two. Most importantly, we wanted to talk to the camp manager, named Buku, an elusive fellow from West Africa, Liberia.

The refugees who were stuck in the compound were let out one by one. Even South Sudanese who were inside the compound, but they were not members of our Pakook/Dimma Groups, were told to leave the compound.

Now it was us running the compound with the UN staff members who had barricaded themselves in their offices. I looked inside one of the offices through a glass window, and I saw the Camp Manager hiding under his desk, sweating like hell in the 60 degrees Kakuma midday heat. On the other corner were two Kawajat couples (a man and a woman), also hiding under one desk. "Kus-umkum!" I said to myself. "Next time, you won't mess with Jesh Amer Mathordit again!"

The message reached Chairman Deng Dau that the children of Pakook had captured the UN compound. Forty-five minutes later, Deng Dau arrived. The gatekeepers, Jesh Amer, of course, opened the gate to let him in. Chairman Dau just shook his head in disbelieve. "So, you are the gatekeeper?" he said as he shook his head.

Chairman Dau asked us to select our five leaders to go with him to meet the UN staff. Kuot Mathuch (now in Juba), Nyuol Bol (now in US), Panchol Maluk (RIP). I don't remember the other two guys.

The camp manager finally unlocked his office when he saw Deng Dau entering with five angry-looking young fellows. We stood right at the door for the safety of our comrades in the meeting.
It turned out the Camp Manager did not even know that the food was not distributed. Some of the crooked UN staff intentionally overlapped the distribution cycles so that they could sell the surpluses. The Camp Manager apologized for the inconvenience.

After the meeting, trucks were loaded with foods and given to us. We were also given several lorries to take us back to our groups. We rode on the vehicles back to our groups, singing the SPLA revolutionary songs. The truck which we hijacked was returned to the compound. The event took place in 1994.

*Note: Some facts were borrowed from Comrade William Arona, who had participated in the event.
The author, Willy Mayom, lives in Canada. He can be reached electronically at willymayom@yahoo.ca

 

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