Contributor's Opinion

Dr. Riek Machar participation in South Sudan peace celebration this past Wednesday on October 31, 2018 in Juba, has ignited a complex debate among the movement supporters around the globe.


By Lul Gatkuoth Gatluak,

Former Vice President, Dr. Riek Machar Teny, Chairman and C-in-C of the SPLM/A-IO presents his speech in Juba, South Sudan(Photo: file)
Former Vice President, Dr. Riek Machar Teny, Chairman and C-in-C of the SPLM/A-IO presents his speech in Juba, South Sudan(Photo: file)

November 5, 2018 (Nyamilepedia) — This article is looking at the bitter debate following Salva Kiir invitation to Dr. Riek Machar to attend Revitalized ARCSS celebration in Juba when the two men met in Khartoum on Saturday September 22, 2018 after the conclusion of South Sudan peace celebration organized by Sudan government. Salva Kiir emulated the idea of peace celebration from Khartoum right away and extended an invitation to Dr. Riek Machar and the Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir to attend a peace celebration, which Juba government scheduled to take place on October 31, 2018. The invitation aimed at building trust and confidence ahead of the formation of the new upcoming transitional government. During their exchange, Dr. Riek didn’t indicate whether he will attend or not. Instead, he appealed to Salva Kiir to lift the State of emergency and release the political detainees. According to him, if Salva Kiir has taken an initiative to the above mentioned demands, the action would allow people to move freely across South Sudan, which might include his acceptance of attending the celebration.

On his part, Salva responded by denying and down play any present of political detainees as well as POWs in government detention facilities.  That answer caused eyebrows rolling given that, some sure prisoners are known to have been held in the government control territories including Juba.  After two leaders’ meeting was made available on social media for public consumption, the issue went viral among social media participants.

The reaction to it was vary from person to person. Some people perceived it as a normal gesture that could start trust building between the leaders. The rest including this writer perceive it as a ploy and condemn it as the waste of materials, given that, Salva Kiir has not shown any sign or gesture that could indicate trust building between him and Dr. Riek, especially when Riek asked him to release political detainees/ POWs, lift State of emergency, and lift ban on the activities of all opposition political parties. The invitation was pronounced as another risk taking. Though opponents were furious in their objection of seeing Dr. Riek participating in peace celebration in Juba, the rest who acquaintance with Riek past moves, knew that, he will not abstain or succumb from attending peace celebration. Since joining the movement in 1984, Dr. Riek has been known as a political risk taker, many of his political risks taking are chronologically listed below from early to current. Please bear with the author as he walk you through this long list of risk taking events.

Initially, in all his adult lifetime, Dr. Riek has been a risk taking politician. The risk activity he repeatedly had participating in, are started one year after the young charismatic PhD graduate had decided to join the SPLM/A movement in 1984. Precisely, in January 1985 following the confrontation between Gaatjaak Nuer and the SPLA, when SPLA soldiers who were canoeing in Baro-River demanded to confiscate civilian fishes, Dr. Riek, then Region 12 governor Thowath Pal Chai, and Cham Othow, were dispatched to meet with Gaatjaak elders at Nywon a small outpost town near Ngor and Teluth primarily dwelling by few Ethiopian Highlanders, Anyuak and Nuer respectively. According to eyewitnesses, Dr. Riek and the group were delegated to communicate the message of peace to Gaatjaak.

After the end of the meeting, the team longed for their return. While they were going back to Berhane Salaam another Ethiopian outpost town not very far from Bilpam the SPLM/A overall headquarter at the time, the dispatched officials found out Gaatjaak armed youth had stationed along the mouth of the Baro-River guarding the next anticipated attack. In fulfillment of their mission, the group engaged the youth in all shores to abstain from their guarding. They ordered them to go back to their villages, promising that, “no more fighting is going to take place” little do they know there will be one. When the team arrived Berhane Salaam from Nyon, they found Kerubino Kuanyin Bol preparing for the next day attack.

Riek, Thowath and Cham in addition to their aides, report back to Kerubino that, they met with civilians and agreed that fighting will not continue. After few exchange, Kerubino who already gave order and was furious for the loss SPLA soldiers had encountered into from pervious skirmishes, decided to pull up his pistol and pointed it at Riek angrily, saying, “Nyagaat—your ethnic tribesmen are killing my soldiers, I must kill you!” eyewitnesses state that Thowath Pal told Kerubino he could kill him if he killed Riek. In the next day early in the morning, a powerful Jamuz battalion stormed Thiang-Ciengtaar, covering Dorong-Wiu, Baziel Kirdak,  Kurthony and Teluth-diet respectively, using all kind of weapons including Sam-7 and RPG Rocket just to name only a few. Many innocent civilians were killed, property was destroyed and survivals were displaced.

Moreover, in the same year 1985, Dr. Riek reached Nuba Mountain after his forces defeat Sudan’s armed forces who were blocking the way and succeeded by mobilizing thousands of Nubians to join the liberation struggle. Then, in 1991, Dr. Riek and his colleague, questioned the direction of the SPLM/A, and publically denounced Dr. John Garang, saying it was wrong to fight for the liberation of the “New Sudan” rather than fighting for the objective of securing independence of South Sudan, that move brought him more antagonists who should cause harm to him once they find a window of inflicting pain through any mean necessary.

Then in March 1993 Dr. Riek and all Nasir group leadership, plan to organize a conference wanted to restructure their faction. Many veterans and former prisoners who were just released after years of detention by Garang were invited to participate in a movement restructuring meeting. One standout reason of choosing Kongor as location of the meeting site was the idea of showing the normalcy of the area and that the leadership is caring for the flight of Bor people who were affected by the Bor incidence which occurred on the period of November 14-16, 1991.  While the conference was in session on March 27, 1993, SPLA-mainstream planned a surprise attack, where high ranking individuals on the side of Nasir faction were murdered and fallen on the battle. Dr. Riek and others narrowly survived that well-coordinated surprise attack.

In 1995, Dr. Riek had decided to travel to Addis Ababa Ethiopia seeking to join alliances with the NDA after NDA form alliances with SPLM/A John Garang’s faction. After Riek’s quest for joining NDA was rejected and ordered out of the country by the Ethiopian government, Garang influenced Ethiopian authority to detain him. Fortunately, after Garang’s influence on his arrest, he passed many major towns in Ethiopia before he was briefly arrested in Gambella. That detention was spoiled by Ethiopian-Nuer who demanded his immediate release or else, violent would have to spark. Then, Gambella regional government predominately controlled by Anyuak at the time, decided to release him. After his release,  he cross the border and stationed in Pagak one of his headquarters before he made-up his mind to form alliances with the NIF regime, which later on resulted into the signing of the political charter with the government of Sudan on April 21, 1997.

When Kerubino decided to defect back to SPLM/A in January 1998, he planned to make a plot before his defection. Kerubino requested SPLA soldiers from John Garang’s mainstream movement to pretend as if they were defecting to the side of the government. Out of that request, the soldiers had defected in big numbers to join him in Mayanbun near Wau where he had stationed.

Tactically, Kerubino was planning for a disastrous event, he called Riek who was in Khartoum by then to join him in Mayanebun to address the SPLA defectors and educated them about the peace process. Riek decided to persuade former vice President Zubier Mohammad to go along with him. Intentionally, the idea of addressing the soldiers was not actually what Kerubino wanted, instead, Kerubino was wanted to assassinate Dr. Riek Machar and whoever come along with him, to create good image for himself in the eyes of the SPLM/A once the later had actually defected and rejoin John Garang.

When Riek, Zubier, and five more persons had arrived Mayanebun, Kerubino call John Garang in Nairobi reporting to him that Riek, Zubier, and five others were with him and wanted to kill them if necessary; Garang refuse the idea saying that, “a never ended war could occur between Nuer and Dinka if Riek Machar had been assassinated.”  Kerubino drops an assassination idea and only planned to attack Wau instead. Hence, on January 29, 1998, Kerubino had briefly attacked the town and most of the town was seize and held for two days before the government of Sudan launched a counter attack and took the town back.

When Khartoum Peace Agreement was violated and Riek had decided to rejoin his supporters in South Sudan, he was encountered with multiple issues of defections. Many armed groups in Bentiu and Upper-Nile were defecting either back to the SPLM/SPLA under John Garang or they aimed in forming their own groups rivaling to Riek’s SSDF. In Jikany area for instant, three separate movements were form; these were Thorejikany, Pinylick and Tutkernyang or Twokernyang, which were operating in Nasir and Chotbora areas respectively.

By the end of 1999, Mai Duany began to organize SSDF forces in South Sudan while Riek was in Khartoum. He met with all SSDF officers and announce the outcome of their meeting on BBC radio in Nairobi where he claims the leadership of the new organization that has to be called South Sudan Liberation Movement and Army (SSLM/A). The whole SSDF command structure begins to fall apart. Riek realized that, he was losing all his soldiers on the ground and decided to defect from the government in the year 2000 and accused Omar Hassan Al Bashir’s government for violating the peace they signed. Shortly thereafter, he reorganized the remainder of his royalist and renamed his movement Sudan People Democratic Front. Mai Duany narrowed his movement to Akobo recruiting only Lou-Nuer. Many more armed groups in Bentiu and Upper-Nile defected either back to the SPLM/SPLA under John Garang or they aimed in forming their own groups rivaling to Riek’s SSDF. In Jikany area for instant, three separate movements were form; these were Thorejikany, Pinylick and Tutkernyang or Twokernyang, which were operating in Nasir and Chotbora areas respectively. In 2001, he traveled to Gaatjaak areas wanted to have dialogue with above mentioned armed groups, in that process, his forces engaged in skirmishes with the defectors. Some of his ranking personal lost their lives and himself had narrowly escaped.

When SPLM/A remerged with SPDF on February 5-6,  2002 Garang invited Riek to meet with him in Newsite, Riek went with only one person James without bodyguards, everyone refuse to go despite mistrust with the other side folks. Then in 2003, he and late Garang organized conferences to reintegrate the arms and formed conferences to reconcile civil population, all those conferences took place in the SPLM/A control areas and non-took place in the area he controlled only when John Kong Nyuon joined him during his leadership conference in Pagak when he convey the message of reunification to them.

In 2004, Salva Kiir Mayardit had defected from John Garang out of spreading rumors that Garang had wanted to replace him with Nhial Deng Nhial. For few months, both Salva Kiir and John Garang were exchanging some accusation words. Such accusation words kept occurring repeatedly until when Riek Machar who has just rejoined the movement and the rest of the leadership had decided to stand up in persuading Salva Kiir who was refusing to meet with John Garang face to face to accept meeting with John Garang in order to discuss their differences and sort them out.

On November 27, 2006, forces commanded by Gabriel Tanginye pseudonym name or Gatwech Chan Deng in his really name, started fighting with SPLA army in Malakal capital of the Upper Nile State.  Tang rebelled in Fangak after losing commissioner bit to James Maluit Ruach. Instead of opted for other positions, including of attaining his army rank, he decided to defect to Khartoum and begin to organize forces to fight SPLA. After he finishes organizing his forces, he sneaked to Malakal. When SPLA soldiers learned that Tang has come to Malakal without notification. They reported his present to the United Nation peacekeepers in Malakal and UN peacekeepers tried to persuade Tang to leave the town but he refused. His refusal to leave the town resulted into a heavy fighting between his forces and South Sudan army.

In that war, too many innocent lives were lost; about 150 people, both soldiers and civilians were kill.

After 2006 clashes in Malakal, South Sudan president Salva Kiir Mayardit issued an arrest warrant for Tang and suspended him from entering Malakal again. President Kiir’s suspension message to ban Tang from entering Malakal again went through deaf ears. On February 23, 2009, General Gabriel Tang reentered Malakal again from Khartoum claiming he was visiting his family. When SPLA soldiers learn about his present, they plan to arrest him. While the situation is tending, Tang relocated himself to Sudan Army Forces headquarter in Malakal. The United Nations Mission in Sudan commanders persuade him again as they did in 2006 to leave the town. He refuses and fighting break out on February 24, 2009 early in the morning at 8: A.M; similar to 2006 incidence, more innocence lives were lost.

The fighting took whole day and ceases when Riek Machar who went to Khartoum to talk with CPA partners to resolve some of the outstanding issues in the implementation of the peace deal arrives Malakal. On his arrival, he went to SPLA army headquarter and proceed to SAF JIU headquarter where Tang was stationed. Riek persuaded him to leave the town so that there is a ceasefire. He left! The next day, some looting occurred that only stopped by the intervention of the United Nation Peace keeper forces.

Within 2006-7 he took another risk after he was tasked to negotiate a peace between Uganda and the Lord Resistance Army of Joseph Konyi. It was a challenge he had taken seriously given that fact that he wanted no more war in South Sudan.

On May 28, 2008, fighting resumed between SPLA forces with Sudan armed forces in Abyei. The same like Malakal scenario, no one volunteered from North and South Sudan to deescalate the fight. Dr. Riek decided to go to Abyei while the battle was escalated and managed to separate the rival forces to quit fighting.

In 2009, Dr. Riek took an initiative to argue the case of the Abyei in the International Arbitrary Court in Hague. He testified before the court with supportive evidences to prove that Abyei is indeed a South Sudan land. He won the case against Mesiria Arabs and the representatives of the Sudanese government who were claiming that Abyei is a North Sudan land.

On July 30, 2011, twenty-one (21) days after South Sudan celebrated her independence, Dr. Riek Machar, the Vice President of South Sudan government at that time, apologized to Dinka Bor after attending the sixth anniversary of John Garang memorial services organized by Bor community in Juba. Dr. Riek happened to be the only high-ranking official following the absent of his boss Salva Kiir Mayardit. The memorial participants who had witnessed Dr. Riek Machar apology stated, “Before Dr. Riek spoke at the occasion, most tribute speeches were concentrating on the memory of South Sudan’s fallen heroes and heroines in light of the historic achievement of South Sudan independence and what wait for the country’s future. Then, when Dr. Riek got up to speak, he spoke about the painful event of 1991.” He stated, “Whatever happened in 1991 in Bor, should not be associated to other people, namely people like Dr. Lam Akol who was his deputy, and Gordon Kong Chol who was also member of the SPLM Political High Command and the third man in the Nasir move.” Riek told the gathering that, “he should take squarely the responsibility of the events of 1991.” He then continued and said, “Those who had suffered in that incident, were people of the Greater Bor and the entire Jonglei and bore full responsibility for what had happened that day. After he expressed these words, several witnesses recounted, “He has broken down in tears and wept to the point where he nearly collapsed.” At the same token, it has been stipulated that his wife Angeline Teny had broken down as well and wept before the huge crowd joined them and burst out in tears as they were remembering their loved ones who had perished during the incident.

After the weeping, senior members of Bor, community exchanged the podium as they were expressing mix reactions in response to the apology. Among these senior members was the Caretaker Governor of the Central Bank of South Sudan, Elijah Malok, who expressed bitter feelings before he concluded that, he would personally forgive Dr. Riek Machar, but such a forgiveness would come later after he has referred the case to the larger Bor Community for deliberation on the next step. Then, Rebecca Nyandeng John Garang widow blamed Dr. Riek for setting South Sudan backward with his 1991 move.

She believes the move has delayed SPLM’s victory of capturing towns controlled by the government of Sudan at the time. However, Nyandeng expressed that her family had forgiven Dr. Riek ever since he rejoins the SPLM under her husband leadership. Beside Elijah Malok and Rebecca Nyandeng reaction statements, Deng Dau Malek, a MP for Twic East County, Garang’s home area, reacted by welcoming Dr. Riek’s apology and said, “It was a good gesture for reconciliation. People need to talk about bitter things that had happened during the struggle that is when we must reconcile among ourselves.”

On following Monday, Dinka Bor Community called an emergency meeting, also held at late Dr. Garang’s home, attended by representatives of the Bor community, intellectuals, citizens and politicians to agree on how to handle the issue. The outcome of their meeting was that, there was no consensus. Some people wanted Dr. Riek to further apologized to grassroots in Bor area, others wanted to forgive Dr. Riek without any political attachment and the rest were saying Dr. Riek apology will not mean anything if it comes from him alone without his fellow perpetrators. At the end of the meeting, a committee were formed to follow up on how genuine was Dr. Riek’s confession. This committee will sit down with Dr. Riek to find out whether he stood with his apology, and agree on how to proceed with the issue.

Beside Dinka reactions, other nationalities particularly Nuer people who Dr. Riek Machar originated from have reacted very strongly in different tones. Some think that the apology Dr. Riek owed was premature and it could be used against him in the future. Others who welcomed Dr. Riek reconciliatory tone had argued similar apology should have to be convey by one senior Dinka leader or Rebecca Nyandeng should apologize on behalf of her late husband John Garang’s misdeed particularly Gaatjaak Nuer massacre in 1980s. The massacre of Gaatjaak was one of the worse incident that should not just be forgotten without formal apology from then SPLM/A senior members who actually were the ones carrying out the massacre. Salva Kiir for instance was one of those commanders who had butchered Gaatjaak civilians. During that incident which took painful four years, a great number of Gaatjaak who were slain discriminately was bigger than the Dinka Bor number. An estimated four to five thousand people lost their lives. The rest including this author are suffering permanent wounds that the SPLA has inflicted, properties were taken, homes were destroyed and thousands of people were uprooted and fled their homesteads. It was an incidence that could not be just ignored without apologizing for it.

In 2012, Dr. Riek took another risk again when he went to Likuangole in Pibor County following Lou-Nuer youth who went to the area to revenged an attack previously launched against them by Murle. Although County administrators and security personnel warned Dr. Riek to avoid entering deep in the fighting location, he refused to back down and able to meet with the youth. Out of his persuasion, Lou-Nuer youth returned to their villages.

On December 15, 2013 when the fighting ignited in Juba, Dr. Riek was dislodged from his residence and slept in the outskirts of Juba at the area called Eden. In the morning, he traveled to through Terekeka toward Jonglei on foot. After he left, his guards were killed and his house was demolished.

On July 8, 2016 Salva called Riek to join him in Presidential palace. The reason was that, he wanted the war to start while Riek was in a known place. Then, the fighting broke out while they all were in the same building. His brave forces that was out numbered fought back until they rescued him. On July 10, 2016 Salva ordered his forces to attacked Dr. Riek residency by both air and ground with an intention to kill Dr. Riek or bring him alive, his 1370 army with limited number of ammunition protect him until when he was chased away to DRC.

All above incidences are the very good lessons that caused uproar on his invitation to attend peace celebration in Juba without present of his own security forces. The fact that all mentioned risks are fresh in many people’s mind, individuals were skeptical wanted Dr. Riek to avoid participating in celebration. Though some people including this writer were in opinion of objecting his appearance in peace celebration, many others who know Dr. Riek pervious risk takings, knew that he will not abstain and succumb from attending the function.

Finally, risk taking is one of the most important part of achieving goals we set to achieve in life and it is a known fact that politic is a risk taking career. Politicians always risk their lives and reputations for what they think is the right thing to do regardless of any circumstances. People such as soldiers, police officers, firefighters plus anybody who have a goal in life put their lives on the line for the sake of protecting others from evil people, places and things that could harm wellbeing of the society. According to Merriam Webster online Dictionary, “risk taking is an act of doing something that involve danger or risk in order to achieve a goal.” We have learned about some risk taking politicians who became the most inspiring leaders in the world. For example, we have learned of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. a man who stood up to a nation of injustice and gave his life for the freedom of many people not only Americans but people around the world. Many other leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, Kwame Nkrumah, Haile Selassie, Malcolm X, Patrice Emery Lumumba, Thomas Isadore Sankara, Joseph Lagu, Dr. John Garang De Mabior: just to name only a few, fought against the odds without backing down. Their legacy stands as an inspiration to others who are determined to make a positive imprint on society. And definitely, Dr. Riek Machar is one of these mentioned selfless leaders. He knows people are recognized in public life once they had taken risks on the social wellbeing. Profoundly, risk-taking is the hallmark of greatness not only in politic but other life demanding factors. To be successful in life, one has to accept taking risks no matter how dangerous is the situation.

Lul Gatkuoth Gatluak is a political commentator. He can be reached at lulgatluak09@gmail.com or simonlul2000@yahoo.com

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