22nd January 2022
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Meet the man who helped establish S. Sudan’s elite force

Author: Okot Emmanuel | Published: Saturday, January 18, 2020

Maj.-Gen. Stephen Buay addresses members of the elite forces - the SPLA Commando at military base | File photo

He speaks softly, his brows furrow deeper with soft smile, and a well-kept smooth hairless scalp. He maintains a smile-most of the time. He neither smokes nor drinks alcohol. A staunched catholic. That is just a piece of Major General Stephen Buay Rolnyang.

In the army circles, the former army commander is known of being a fearless officer. It is this bold trait that endeared the Commander-in-Chief, to entrust him to lead the 5th Infantry Division and other assignments in the SPLA-now SSPDF.

Buay’s associates and those who have worked with him in the army describe him as a humble man. They still refer to him as a good soldier.

On the day of his dismissal from the army, the Chief of Defense Forces, Gabriel Jok Riak, also described Buay as a dedicated soldier.

Maj.-Gen. Buay was dismissed from the army two months ago after he was charged with rebellion, offenses during operations, disobedience of lawful orders and violation of standing orders according to articles 61, 67 and 69 of the SPLA Act, 2009.

Early life and Education

Buay was born in November 1968 in Tuocloka, Mayom West County. He attended Ajakwach primary school in Bahr-el-Ghazal and Wangkei primary school where he earned his primary living certificate before joining Intermediate school in Khartoum Bhari, Nahdi El Umaal.

Later Buay joined St. Augustine Seminary before joining Cambridge International College in Juba where he earned a certificate of Human Resource Management.

In 2009, he joined Kyambogo University in Uganda for a Bachelor of Management Science and graduated in 2014.

Military Career

Stephen Buay Rolnyang joined the Anyanya Two in May 1982, and later joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Army under Dr. John Garang De Mabior.

In 1986, Buay was commissioned by the SPLA as 2nd Lieutenant, at a time he was serving as a radio operator in the communication and electronic warfare against Sudan Armed Forces.

In 1991, he was assigned to the General Intelligence Service officer, in which he served up to 1997 before he was shifted and assigned as SPLA third front acting chief of operations where he was deployed at the border between western Upper Nile and Bahr-el-Ghazal region.

In 2002, Buay was deployed as chief of logistics in the third front in the Bahr-el-Ghazal region, under the direct command of General Salva Kiir Mayardit who was then the SPLA Chief of General Staff.

Buay was later assigned as chief of administration at Western Upper Nile Command from 2002 to 2003 before he was deployed as commander of the SPLA mobile force in Kapoeta, Torit and Magwi areas of operation in 2006 and 2007.

In 2006, Stephen Buay spearheaded the formation of the elite SPLA special force that comprises of the Commando Brigade of four battalions of approximately 3,500 strong forces that graduated in New Cush – SPLA military training ground in the former Eastern Equatoria state.

In mid 2007, the force was deployed as an independent unit, on specialist tasks. By the end of 2008, Buay was assigned as commander of the SPLA military police and Commando unit now known as the Special Forces at the SSPDF general headquarters in Bilpam.

In 2013, Buay was assigned as the commander of the SPLA now SSPDF First Infantry Division in Renk, Northern Upper Nile State.

Buay was deployed as the commander of the 4th Infantry Division in Unity State-Bentiu in 2014 before he was assigned as Director-General of Procurement at the Ministry of Defense and Veterans’ Affairs.

In 2017, Mr. Buay was reinstated as the commander of the SSPDF 4th Infantry Division in Bentiu, former Unity State.

Buay was moved to lead the 5th Infantry Division in Wau and Lol States in 2018 which would be his last official assignment before his arrest that led to his demotion and subsequent dismissal from the SSPDF.

During his tenure as one of the longest-serving officers, he is mostly remembered for his role in safeguarding the oil fields during the SPLA – IO and the SSPDF war.

His close associates say his courage enabled him to safeguard the oil fields from the opposition.

In early 2016, the Small Arms Survey said that the Division stationed in Renk, under the command of Stephen Buay was widely regarded as one of the best fighting forces in the country.

Arrest, Detention and Dismissal

In May 2018, Buay took permission from his seniors to visit his home town in Mayom to see his family.

However, his trip was met with resistance from Gen. Mathew Puljang, commander of special forces stationed in Mayom. The hostility led to fierce fighting between forces commanded by Gen. Mathew Puljang and a group of soldiers allied to General Buay.

Buay was then captured by forces commanded by Gen. Puljang and flown on the 31st of May to Juba where he was accused of rebelling against the administration of President Kiir.

A special military court was constituted to prosecute him in January 2019 but his defense team rejected the judicial panel saying the court was wrongly constituted by the Chief of Defense Forces.

President Kiir who is the Commander in Chief of all the organized forces in a decree appointed a six-team judicial panel headed by Maj. Gen. Thiik Achiek Hol.

The other members are Maj. Gen. Atem Duot Atem, Maj. Gen. Peter Gatwech Gai, Maj. Gen. Akuei Ajou Akuei, Maj. Gen. Isaiah Paul Lotole, and Brig. Gen. Abubakar Mohamed Romadan. The judges were sworn-in and the hearing kicked off in April.

Buay has often argued that his charges were fabricated by military and community leaders who allegedly have personal problems with him dating back to the 1990s.

These, he said, included the incumbent Chief of Defense Forces, Gen. Gabriel Jok Riak, and military and political leaders from his community, notably Tut Gatluak, presidential advisor on security affairs.

In February Buay

During his testimony at the court-martial, Buay denied all the charges.

Early 2019, Buay was charged with treason, rebellion, and offenses during operations, disobedience of lawful orders and violation of standing orders according to articles 61, 67 and 69 of the SPLA Act, 2009. He pleaded not guilty to the charges.

This was protested by his lawyer Philip Anyang, who appealed to President Salva Kiir to finalize the case – citing a deteriorating health condition for his client.

However in in August 2019, a military court found him guilty as charged. He was stripped of ranks, dismissed from the army and sentenced to a year in jail.

Letter to the President

After his “disgraceful” dismissal, the former SSPDF General wrote an open letter to President Salva Kiir, saying he will remain a “humble and loyal citizen”.

Buay reiterated that he holds no grudges against anyone who may have implicated him during his ordeal and that he harbors no ill-feelings towards those he perceived to have had a hand in his dismissal.

The former army General said after he was released from military detention, he received many calls from people asking him not to rebel.

“I got different calls from many people that Stephen now you are dismissed, don’t go to the bush,” said the former SSPDF General.

“I will prove them wrong for those who think I will rebel, even for those who think I want to create another rebel group. I want to assure everybody that I am not going anywhere,” said Buay.

Civil Life

Mr. Buay has since been seen in public gatherings preaching peace and reconciliation.

Now, a civilian, Buay seems to be living a simple life after he was discharged from the army he had served with passion.

Recently, he posted a photo on his Facebook page that he was taking a ride on a rickshaw heading to the University of Juba to register for a Master class in Peace and Security Studies.

One of his friends, Mayen Piol Dau describes Buay as a freedom fighter.

“We haven’t known you today, but right in the bush. You’re a freedom fighter, humble, modest & an extraordinary leader. God will guide you to your desires, although the opportunists tried to defame you they will never succeed because history is never hidden,” said Piol.

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