South Sudanese President Salva Kiir is facing a series of defections from the army as other communities accuse him of favouring his Dinka community in promotions.
In just two weeks, three top SPLA commanders and a minister have resigned, accusing President Kiir of nepotism.
However, the government has dismissed the claims of tribalism as smokescreens.
“You cannot be in the army for 20 years and all of a sudden claim that it is tribalised,” South Sudan deputy ambassador to Kenya Jimmy Deng said, adding that those who have resigned know that they are being investigated and they are using ethnicity to divert attention and gain sympathy.
Gen Thomas Cirillo, the deputy general chief of staff for logistics, was the first to resign, claiming the military was dominated by Dinkas. He said the current conflict is “tribally engineered” and blamed the government for orchestrating the violations of the August 2015 peace agreement that resulted in the July fighting in Juba.
Col Khalid Ono Loki, who headed the military court in Juba, and Minister for Labour and Public Service Gabriel Duop Lam, have also resigned, accusing President Kiir of failing to implement the August 2015 peace deal.
Col Loki in particular described the justice system as “arbitrary, corrupt and discriminatory” against those who do not belong to the president’s Dinka ethnic group.
The latest to resign is Brig-Gen Kamila Otwari Aleardo, a former commander of the Logistics Support Brigade, who quit on February 21, saying that the country is suffering from “the cancer of tribalism.”
“President Kiir is leading the country into chaos, making it an incessant conflict zone due to mismanagement of public funds, promotions in the army without merit and defamation of the SPLA through malpractices such as use of army uniforms to commit robbery and rape,” said Gen Aleardo in his resignation letter.
The opposition say that the resignations are signs that President Kiir is failing to keep the country together in the face of fresh fighting that began in July last year, which has since spread to Western, Eastern and Central Equatoria.
Dr Cirinino Hiteng, a former assistant minister for foreign affairs who was sacked by President Kiir last year, says that the resignations simply illustrate how the system has become ethnicised.
“The economy is in tatters, insecurity has gone out of control, the Transitional Government of National Unity is not working while the fighting continues,” said Dr Hiteng.
Lam Jok, opposition representative in Kenya, said discrimination in the army has the potential of leading the country to disintegration.
Last year, President Kiir, while responding to claims that the SPLA is being infiltrated by the Dinka militia Mathiang Anyor, said that he cannot force other ethnic groups to join the army against their wishes and promised to work with only those who are willing.
This view is echoed by Mr Deng.
“Army recruitment does not mean certain ethnic groups should bring a certain number of people because it is voluntary and some people are not interested in joining the army,” said Mr Deng.
In February, President Kiir admitted that the security situation in the Equatoria region remained precarious due to the increase in road robberies and the activities of anti-peace elements around the Yei River State.
Since July when fresh fighting broke out in Juba, local militias in Central Equatoria sympathetic to the rebels have been attacking commercial and passenger vehicles on Juba-Nimule Highway, disrupting trade between South Sudan and neighbouring countries like Kenya and Uganda who supply consumer and industrial goods to Juba.
Criminals have also taken advantage of the lawlessness to continue attacking commercial vehicles along the Nimule Highway.
Most truck drivers from Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Kenya must now get military escort from either the SPLA or the Uganda army.