Dr Riek Machar; a Victim of his Own Success
By Tito Tut Pal,
Sept 6, 2016(Nyamilepedia) —— When Dr. Riek Machar Teny-Dhurgon urged the leadership of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) to discuss governance and human rights concerns in the liberated areas, that triggered a chain of events, that up to this day are still the dominant themes in South Sudan politics. Then a respected general and a successful war commander, also a member of the SPLM/A)’s Political-Military High Command Dr. Machar also reopen the debate for the need to fight for Self-Determination instead of an unrealistic liberation of the whole of Sudan.
That quietly but rapidly caused statics amongst Dr. Garang’s close allies. They feared Machar was a potential leadership contender who may seek to replace Garang. Dr. Garang was advised to carve Machar’s growing influence. However, Garang did not feel as much threatened by Machar whom, to certain extend, he admired, especially on his ideological stance on many issues facing the Movement. He ignored their fears but also did nothing to address Machar’s concerns.
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Dr. Garang was as much feared as he was respected within the Movement. Most of his critics either fled to exiled or are imprisoned. Many stayed lips tight or carefully chose their words around him. Dr Machar was an exception and ever since remained outspoken on what he stands for.
Unable to secure a debate on the issues he raised, Machar eventually broke away from Garang in 1991 calling for him to step aside. That episode of SPLM/A’s internal struggle between Garang’s SPLM/A Torit Faction and Machar’s SPLM/A Nasir Faction lasted for more than a decade until in 2002 when the two worked out their differences and merged their forces.
As the Commander- in- Chief of the Nasir Faction, Machar promised freedom of expression, civil governance, respect for human rights, self-determination and a consultative approach in running the Movement. True to his guiding principles, he lifted the pall of censorship within the Movement. At that point, senior members of his faction were able to breath.
As the title suggests, Machar started falling a victim of his own success. His senior commanders and political figures started to criticise him for having allowed ‘too much freedom’ in his faction and granted a higher than required role to civilian in local administrations. The generals wanted to be able to silent dissenting voices and have a lot their way, to which Machar strongly warned them against. His loyalist accused him of behaving like a “Western” national leader, a charge he probably takes as a compliment. The open opposition to his approach started to distract him from fulfilling his grand ideals of leading an inclusive movement as he was spending significant time settling internal disputes. The very people he just given voice to, some of whom eventually left, were the ones who started to let him down.
While SPLM/A Torit Faction loathed Machar for being vocal on many issues, they were quick to adopt his agenda for an improved and inclusive governance system. In 1994, they had their first Convention involving local communities including traditional leaders to discuss the Movement’s way forward and governance arrangements. By this time, many were in the process of switching sides but Dr. Garang learnt very quickly that he needs to change the strategy and change that quick or risks losing his close allies to Machar. In simple terms, Torit Faction adopted and gave their disgruntled officers and supporters Dr. Riek Machar’s much desired idea.
In 2002, the two SPLM/A Factions ironed out their differences and merged under Garang as the leader and Machar as the second deputy. He convinced Dr. Garang to place the issue of Self-Determination as the top agenda in the upcoming internationally backed negotiations with Khartoum. The mediators agreed and after two years of tough negotiations, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed with Machar’s Self-Determination agenda enshrined as the key pillar in that agreement. Six years later Southerners voted overwhelmingly to secede which led to the birth of South Sudan, the world’s newest nation.
Ironically, two years into an independent South Sudan, President Salva Kiir and his senior ministers reignited their vile attitude towards Machar. Kiir sacked him from the post of vice president while increasingly squeezing him out of the SPLM party. As in many episodes, Machar took it on the chin and move on while championing governance reforms from outside cabinet, winning him some strong party’s ruling elites including Rebecca Garang, the wife of late Dr. Garang.
President Kiir, unlike Dr. Garang felt his leadership was threatened and became increasingly intolerance to criticisms. That let to fighting breaking out between Machar’s bodyguards and Kiir presidential guards. Kiir accused Machar of planning to overthrow the government, a charge Dr. Machar denied; and also later dismissed by the courts. Luckily, under the cover of darkness, Machar managed to slip out of the capital, however his many colleagues did not and were subsequently detained. Being the bigger man that he is, his first demand was that his colleagues must be released immediately for they have committed no crime. At this point, it is worth noting that, many of the arrested colleagues were part and parcel of Kiir’s many conspiracies against Machar including his sacking. That however, did not sway him from fighting for their release. He demanded their quick release so they could take part in the scheduled peace talks. Few months later, the group that was later known as the Former Political Detainees (FPDs) were released into exile.
In a typical political backstabbing twist, the FPDs made their announcement to stand alone, claiming to have their own separate voice from that of many voiceless citizens represented by Machar. They subsequently refused to back him, opting to form another political block, a move intended to weaken Machar politically. While this revelation had no bearing on grassroots support for Machar at the time, many analysts believed had the FPDs joined him, it would have afforded Machar a lion share of political leverage during the negotiation and possibly win most of the concessions. Understandably many of Machar’s supporters were outraged by this betrayal, but Machar pressed on and managed to keep them on balance and continued negotiations to end the war.
Always on top of his game, Machar saw the peace negotiation as an opportunity to not only end the war but to also usher in governance reforms. Federalism featured prominently on the list gaining a decent momentum, a move that those in the government could not stand as it was such a great idea, one that was so good they just had to quickly reject. The mediators opted to defer the matter to be considered by a to-be reconstituted Transitional Legislative Assembly (TLA). With that and many other vital reforms, CPAII was signed.
After signing a compromised peace agreement, Machar had to sell this unfair deal to his side. Being the good negotiator that he is, he managed to convince his hardliners to accept a power sharing arrangement and give peace a chance to revive the hopes and dreams of the people of South Sudan. In its extremely compromised form, Machar’s SPLM-IO was allocated the position of the First Vice President, 10 national ministers, 2 deputy ministers, half a dozen national commissions, 50 new Members of Parliament and an armed force of its own for the duration of the transitional period.
What was to follow was obvious, a further revelation that Machar is the ideas bank of South Sudan. Six weeks after signing the Agreement on Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (ARCISS), President Salva Kiir miraculously decided that he actually likes federalism. He was so passionate about it that he wanted to implement it before the next parliament and surprisingly and swiftly declare that the country is now divided into to 28 states. The world paused, stunt and left lost for words. To many others, this was not only a shameful policy plagiarism; it was extremely dangerous. Policy advisors know that when copy pasting a policy idea, the results are often disastrous, for many reason, one of which is obviously that they lack analysis and have not been marinated in its own herbs and spices! Typical of rushed and plagiarise work, Kiir’s 28 states policy had all the capabilities to divide the country further. It gave right to land annexation, unmarked boundaries, displacement and creates ethnic enclaves. It’s deeply a program for political domination. Many voiced their fears immediately that the policy was a prerequisite for further ethnic violence, particularly against Machar’s constituent base. Despite strong objections, President Kiir pressed ahead with the 28 states and Machar was again left watching while the devil sprinted off with the bible. But Machar soldiered on and decided this was not going to be end of the Agreement.
In order to form the unity government, Machar and his cabinet were required to be in Juba, which saw him finally jetting off to Juba. After weeks of sabotage and humiliating events, for the sake of peace he coughed them off again and took up his post as First Vice President as agreed.
If sanity prevailed in Juba, one would at this point thought the drama is over and that CPAII will be implemented as signed and all would be set for elections in 30 months. In the meantime, return normalcy to the lives of thousands displaced citizens and get on with making civil arrangements to build the necessary infrastructures for a better future. Unfortunately, as we now know, another ill plan was being hatched on the dark side. Two months after taking oath of the office of First Vice President, Dr. Machar survived yet another assassination attempt by Salva Kiir loyalists, a dejavu of the 2013 attempt to kill him where his house was run down by tanks, bodyguards and children killed, and this time air bombardment. He had to flee for his life again.
While on the run for his life, General Taban Deng Gai, Machar’s right-hand man and a relative, switched sides and joined President Kiir’s who hurriedly appointed him the First Vice President. Taban declared he no longer wants Machar from SPLM-IO and TGoNU. While many would argue that a change of leadership is not a crime and agreeably so, the circumstances which led to Taban assuming leadership and decided to keep it are extremely abhorrent, exceptionally lacks comradeship and against all principles of revolutionary conducts. It was illegal and a complete betrayal that left nothing to be desired. Again, Machar found himself pushed out of his great ARCISS sometimes referred to as the CPAII.
After more than a month in the bush, Machar emerged and at the time of writing this piece has not yet made a public statement on his next move. However, one thing remains unchanged and that is Dr. Riek Machar still dominates and is enormously influential in South Sudan political establishment. Both his supporters and opponents knows that there can be no settlement without him. That means he will have to make a comeback, now more likely than not since the UN has approved his request for a deployment of a ‘Regional Protection Force’.
And so, with all these thrown at one man for over 30 years, he always manages to forgive and forget and continue to come up with the outstanding ideas, some of which gave birth to and built this nation we today called South Sudan. The question we all ought to ask is what is Dr. Riek Machar’s next big idea and will that, as in the past, be snatched and used against him to lessen his political influence?
Of all his hurdles, it has been his allies and close associates pulling the rug under his feet. Hopefully this time, Dr Riek Machar will guard his plans close to his chest but only time will tell.
The writer is the Chairperson of SPLM-IO Chapter Victoria, AUSTRALIA. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org