Chadi Michael Contributor's Opinion

Dr. Riek Machar was forced to become a rebel

By Chadi Michael 


July 28th, 2019(Nyamilepedia) — Machar, a prominent South Sudanese politician, a UK educated and former SPLA sector commander in Western Upper Nile who also led his movement, SSIM/A. He signed the Khartoum Peace Agreement in 1997 with the Sudanese government to make southern independence his overall liberation end goal. When that didn’t yield to fruitful results, he and John Garang reunited their forces to pursue the bigger objective, the independence of South Sudan. For the last twenty-eight years, Machar has become one of the most talked-about politicians in East Africa. His quest for the true meaning of freedom and democracy brings him enemies both within Sudan and beyond. Some are too close while others echo disdain from far corners of the universe. His first run-in with troubles started in 1991 when he and Lam Akol, another Sudanese political heavyweight opposed John Garang. They challenged vague liberation doctrine, the new Sudan vision which promised secularism, freedom, and democracy after disposing of the Islamic regime in Sudan. 

A potrait of Dr. Riek Machar Teny drawn by an Ethiopia artist was recently presented to him during his last visit to Addis Ababa, July 2019(Photo credit: Unknown artist/supplied)
A potrait of Dr. Riek Machar Teny drawn by an Ethiopia artist was recently presented to him during his last visit to Addis Ababa, July 2019(Photo credit: Unknown artist/supplied)

Machar’s 1991 split from SPLM placed him at the center of Sudanese political storm. It also gave him an edge as one of the future leaders of Sudan after signing a landmark agreement with former President Al-Bashir. The Khartoum Peace Agreement was to allow southerners a path to freedom and independence through a referendum, a right to vote in a-no for unity or a-yes for secession. That monumental agreement gave rise to its successor, the Naivasha Accord signed between SPLA and Khartoum government in 2005 which helped establish southern independent. Even as Machar and Mabior renewed comradeship to work toward a new beginning, they didn’t reconcile differences among their constituents. Also, returning everyone to SPLM wasn’t a great idea as competitions among members of different political sects reached a boiling point. Such competitions exacerbate corruption, and corruption nurses discrimination and discrimination takes everyone back to their tribal delineated zones. This revived past enmity, hostilities, and vendettas.

Grudges between Machar and rivals in the SPLM resurfaced after declaring his intention to run for the chairmanship of SPLM, challenging the incumbent Salva Kiir. That was the last straw because that position has the Dinka’s names all over it. It’s a prohibited territory for non-Dinka, the governed to make any attempt to unseat a Dinka president. It didn’t take long for Machar’s enemies to equate such ambition with rebellion. It gave them an excuse to take everyone back to war in an attempt to kill him or revenge their 1991 losses. Also, to delay peaceful elections which would deprive Dinka of the SPLM’s chairmanship as well as the presidency. It was an escape from all those and to keep everyone busy fighting while Dinka oligarchs squander public resources, lands and turn an independent country into smaller “Bantustans.” Machar’s dismissal from the vice presidency, followed by smear tactics to label him as power-hungry who would do anything to reach the top job put him where the ruling Jieng want him, a rebel. As if those humiliations were not enough, Kiir declared him a threat to state security on December 15, 2013, during SPLM’s conference in Juba. As night fell, full-scale military assaults on him and his tribesmen were carried out. 

Machar’s Political Ambitions

There was nothing wrong with him opposing Kiir’s “dictatorial tendencies” or declaring interests in challenging him in the upcoming conventions. As civilized people look at it, Machar was exercising his constitutional prerogatives and rights but the Dinkanists immediately accused him of attempting a military coup just to shut him down and rally state resources against him. It was also their way of shunning him from history by depicting him as a troublemaker, a rebellious character and a betrayer of the public will. To deny his self-determination fight and remove his name from the historical record as one of the founding leaders of South Sudan. Kiir’s Mathiang Anyoor hunted him down in Juba like a wild prey. His whereabouts were not known for a week which caused panic and worse fear among his supporters. He spoke on a satellite phone somewhere in Jonglei a few days later, thanks to late Gen. Gatdet and Nuer heroes who fought their way out the Equatorian heartland to rescue him. He was safe in the hands of Gen. Gatdet who uplifted Nuer’s spirit by capturing Bor and adjacent townships. The man who renewed Naath’s pride and efforts to fight Salva Kiir and his tribe. 

Leading up to the formation of SPLM-IO, Machar brought his brother-in-law, Taban Deng and made him the Opposition’s chief peace negotiator in Addis Ababa after Pagan Amum became ungrateful to the rebels for saving his life and offering him a job while pending release from the “Blue House.” Taban as governor of Unity state did far more harms to the Nuer’s unity in that state and caused a substantial number of Nuer to join forces with the enemy of their demise. Machar and his supporters stated their intent to remove Salva Kiir from the presidency, an important call shared by many non-Dinka now lost in translation and Machar suddenly becomes the most hated politician in East Africa despite having not committed any grievous violations or instigated the current war. Machar preemptively opted for the release of the infamous G-10 unexpectedly out of pressure and fear of “not being politically recognized if he seized the power by force.” He made critical errors in judgment and miscalculated the will of Jieng to keep him out the presidency which is presently prompting the silent majority in the movement to ask for his exit from the leadership. 

He is charged as follows: He failed to heed the call for Salva Kiir to resign before any peace initiative could be convened. This was the original position of the opposition and those who took arms to defend themselves from the ensuing enemy’s forces. The former, a killer who has the blood of innocence in his hands and should never be dignified by remaining the president. Machar doesn’t grasp the urgency of such a call. He underestimates the will of his followers who poised to turn South Sudan into an inferno. With misplaced priorities, he was tricked into going to Juba to be eliminated once he touched down at the airport. 

Second, Machar did not stick to the liberation and defense of captured towns in greater Upper Nile. He literally put too much faith in the negotiations pursued in Addis Ababa or he is just tired at this moment in history, given his age, health, and reputation to embark on another armed struggle. Some speculate his close advisors including the most intimate ones steer him away from any military engagement yet his opponents can’t seem to cease their fire. These facts among others explain why he has lost the ability to instill discipline among his men. He leaves each general to run their frontline affairs with little or no adherence to the military etiquette or code of conduct. Such a failure makes the fighting men more relaxed and desert their units which led to mass defections that momentarily paralyzed the morale of armed volunteers. 

Third, Machar’s heavy reliance on negotiation almost cost him his life. He trusted Taban too much, the guy who unilaterally conceded some of the opposition’s agenda items with little knowledge of the fighting men and IO’s leadership. Sources in Addis Ababa reported that Taban and entourage partied it up with the likes of Makuei Lueth, exchanging favors and committing acts of treason against the rebellion before going to Juba became the deadliest mission ever for both the IO and IG’s in a single battle. 

All that was due to his negligence, self-important and inability to pay attention to others’ viewpoints. Taban traded Machar’s life for the position of vice president with the condition that he must deliver the package to the Killzone. Speaking to many generals in Pagak, they swore that Machar was constantly briefed about Taban’s behavior which compromised and jeopardized the entire rebellion’s cause but paid very little care to intelligent officers. Lastly, Machar is charged with nepotism. He has appointed his wife to head the rebellion intelligent department without consulting the political bureau and other high-ranking members of the SPLM-IO. He has also put his relatives into the position of power as advisors in charge of critical military affairs. This is not only nepotic but corruptive leadership like the one we are fighting to overthrow. All these and more indicate Machar’s lack of proper enforcement of military etiquette and commitment toward the rebellion.

Finally, some of his biggest weaknesses are lack of communication and morale-boosting among the fighting men. Machar does not communicate consistently with servicemen and movement’s loyalists around the world, especially organizations and individuals which educate the world about the tragedy of December 15, 2013, and the danger of keeping Salva Kiir as president. Machar is not energizing civilian base which bears the brunt of the suffering nor is he installing a sense of purpose, an ideological survival or empower their minds and hearts to not yield to financial temptations and stay float to the cause. These failures haunt him and stir up confusion among the SPLA-IO’s members worldwide. They divide members of the SPLA-IO into two groups based on the ideological evaluation of Machar’s performance, burden and lack of discipline which contribute to the exit of many members. 

First, the Ngundengists, believers of Prophet Ngundeng and his prophecies. This group consists of political moderates and liberal-minded who entertain ideological fantasies, spiritual myths and a belief in “blind chance” that Kiir might probably drop dead at some point for Machar to assume the leadership of the country unchallenged. Second, conservatives and hawkish of the far-right of the political spectrum make up the second and third group of the main opposition. Some of them believe in the war as the only solution or at least where real peace can be realized. They’re the avengers, those who want to command hell to descend upon South Sudan. There are  Kiir’s equals among them who would prolong this war and destroy physical assets that sustain the regime. 

The Ngundeng’s Crowd 

This group is made up of traditionalists and liberals of the Nuer community. They strongly believe in the prophecies foretold by Prophet Ngundeng on the happening of the war and Dr. Machar’s role as an instrument in which such a war would turn him into people’s savior. A leader who would overcome injustice and mistreatments of himself and people of South Sudan by a coalition of thugs and killers who have united their ranks to rob South  Sudan of its natural resources and deny its citizens the right to live free and prosper. Such a mythical leader was to bring real freedom to his people by navigating them out of a treacherous journey. The group comforts itself by relying on prophecies, believing that it’s only a matter of time before they become a reality. It places faith in superstitions, myths, and wishful thinking.

If anyone constructively challenged Machar, some members of this group raise hell in defending and justifying such immense failures as something foretold in the prophecies while he, Machar only plays a minimal part on its occurrence. This kind of reasoning defies logic and philosophical understanding of human nature. Any serious dialogue with a member of this group produces nothing concrete but brawl which leads to conflict if the environment permits. Some of the group’s members believe war is just an avoidable tragedy cast upon South Sudan long ago by Prophet Ngundeng and Salva Kiir is one of the prophesized historical curses. They seem to know every detail of the war which they link to His Holiness Prophet Ngundeng’s prophecies. 

Reliance on these spiritual myths gives people some sense of false beliefs,  justification of ignorant, and inaccurately interpret the prophecies considering the time they were prophesied and passed down orally from one generation to the next. Prophecies themselves overlap with the ones used to predict a previous war between the South and Khartoum. So in this regard, the historical accuracy of the prophecies and personalities they describe are murky. Interpreters of the prophecies resort to guesswork as no written records to refer to during any intense disagreement or confusion. Third, prophecies are nothing but myths. They were passed down through songs, poems and Nuer traditional folktales. They were not vividly written on a stone-tablet like the Ten Commandments God supposedly handed to Moses to guide the children of Israel out of Egypt and beyond. 

All of these contradict and debunk the group’s claims because stories and prophecies cannot accurately pinpoint events described in time. As a result, the group faces critical scrutiny over its reliance on Prophet Ngundeng’s oral prophecies. Others blame them for not utilizing human capacity and action to defeat the regime. It faces a growing call to either confront the challenge head-on or surrender the leadership of the movement by replacing Machar with a more aggressive, practical and a firm believer in human will in changing the course of history. Someone more radical, energetic and conservative to see that Salva Kiir relinquish presidency voluntarily or by means of brute force. This would displace Dinka constituents and cause more suffering in the country. Someone who acts and does not care about the plight of people like Salva Kiir. Someone who doesn’t care about the ICC, self-centered elites and bureaucrats who are profiting on the expense of the dying poor. Someone who will take the war and destruction to Kiir’s country so that everyone experiences destruction across the board. Such a leader can be found among the hawks. 

The War Hawkish 

This group consists of far-right and those who can safely be referred to as the “extremists” in a sense that some of them lack a clear-cut political unity, rely on brute force, yet overlook their opponent’s methods of fighting and complex sets of hurdles placed in their way. The group adamantly follows the original cause, to remove Salva Kiir from power by all means. To make him pay for his crime, slaughtering of Nuer civilians in Juba. The group feels betrayed when SPLM-IO’s platform shifts from military to a negotiating settlement that leaves Salva Kiir the head of state. It disappoints when the movement lost major towns and strongholds of Nassir and Pagak. Hawkish maintain fierce stand against Kiir and are less likely to compromise some of the critical platforms. They believe in forcing Salva Kiir into resignation. Second, they are hoping to curve lawlessness and restore true independence by fulfilling the wishes of South Sudanese on their government. Third, hawkish reject Kiir’s thirty-two state and the annexation of non-Dinka lands. Finally, they vow to take the war to the Dinka heartland by exposing them to the brutality of war, to make them suffer similar fates Nuer and others are experiencing in the hands of their brothers in Kiir’s predatory state. 

Hawkish don’t believe Dr. Machar is cut out to fulfill their wishlist but run out of a potential figure to replace him. They see enormous weakness in Machar, soft heart and moral decline in taking a tough stand against the Jieng administration. They see IO’s leadership walks back on its original platform by turning into an elite organization that simply negotiates its way to Juba with very little political capacity, hard on justice for tenths of thousands innocent massacred without a fault of their own and reverting to the original ten states. The hawkish are displeased with deep silence of the IO’s leadership, lack of physical activity, a decline of morale among fighting men and dissipation of rebels’ commitment to bringing Kiir and his tribesmen to justice. 

Now, Machar must face an ultimate reality check from the majority. He’s not getting away softly on the issues. His imprisonment by IGAD and Salva Kiir makes everything the rest of IO wants to pursue installed because he is not alleviating the suffering of displaced persons and refugees, nor is he willing to relinquish his role as the leader of the opposition to take up legal action against IGAD on why he is being confined to the parameters of Khartoum. He must not tiptoe his way out of these issues because his internal critics are not planning to leave the IO this time nor would his small defense team simply bully them into defection. IO was formed not to further Machar’s political ambition or boost his leverage at the peace negotiations, but to acquire justice for the innocent killed in Juba and to make sure Salva Kiir and his allies pay for the crimes they have committed against South Sudanese state and its people. 

The Ultimate test

It just happened that Machar is now more than ever confronted head-on by people who know what they are saying and walking the walk and talking the talk. People who have no intention of running away from the main opposition to join the Nuer enemies in Juba. People who are intellectually sound-minded, mentally stable and physically capable to fight Kiir out of presidency if it comes to that. Machar’s small circle of loyalists cannot negotiate his way out of this reality by interjecting clannism, diverting attention away from personal failure to uphold the intentions and objectives of original mutinies by creating confusions while he sits and sleeps it off in Khartoum. 

The voices of reason are growing louder for the SPLM-IO to stick to practical solutions, attainable objectives and shared suffering to be applied universally to those who caused this war. With recently signed agreement dwindling away and the hope of returning to normalcy is becoming just a desert mirage, something needs to be done differently. Machar isn’t going to be left to change the course of rebellion by himself or with the “triangle” Taban, Angelina and himself” as Dr. Nyaba corroborated this long-held suspicion that SPLM-IO was run by the trinity from the start which is why it has deviated from its point of inception. With Taban ventured to the dark side, his wife and the circle of yes-men cannot remain silent while lack of progress and near-defeat are imminent. He must come out and face the true test of leadership. He can solve this challenge by resigning to allow Nuer and the SPLM-IO to enchant a warpath, giving Kiir and followers what they have asked for, more destruction that does not preclude the Dinka land. 

Doing so, Machar would make IGAD and others who gamble on his detention look stupid because they will have no cause for him to be kept under watchful eyes. He could relieve himself of stress and constant bickering while attending to his bucket list in peace. He can advise newly inaugurated SPLM-IO leadership on the sidelines as Brown Bol of NIRA observes. If the call for real peace is answered and the country is back together as everyone is tired of war and killings, he must return to contest the national leadership in a peaceful environment. No one would dare to stop him. But if he continues to ignore the call of radicals, he will risk the split in ideas and military in the SPLM-IO imminently where eastern and central Nuer frontlines would form their own rebellions to fight the regime as in the 1990s. 

If this happens, it would stain Machar’s credibility among the Nuer and risk being labeled as power-hungry, too ambitious and a clannish as many already prematurely concluded. He will also lose public confidence, especially in the central and eastern Nuer where he still holds substantial support. Because western Nuer is in big military and political limbo, thanks to him for maintaining an incompetent military leader therein for five years without retaining the confidence of fighting men nor gaining any ground against the enemy. No one knows when that frontline will get back on its feet and reclaim its military might which is often seen as the spirit of the Nuer warrior by encouraging Nuer to gain momentum and confidence against the encroaching enemy. If Machar could not step down or step up, this will spell the end of his political career as he knows it. 


Machar at this time must walk delicately not from external opponents alone, but within the SPLM-IO, those who grow tired of his inactivity, inability to formulate practical and achievable platform while remaining bog down with his far-left political ideals. His inner circle, people who rush to defend his name is mentioned by the internal critics of SPLM-IO not those of Nuerwew who work against the interest of the Nuer nation. The defenders make up the minority of Machar’s supporters at this time in history, especially those who can’t question his political incapacity and allowing himself to be relegated to a laughing stock while doing little to mitigate it. They are only a handful who identify as far-left and moderates which amounts to no more than ten percent of the Nuer population. 

Their defense of Machar’s political silence, lack of morale-boosting, tight-lips and surrendering the decision-making to his wife and relatives who possess the unfair advantage and access to him would not come to bail him out. The conservative majority is now speaking with a unified voice, demanding the restoration of Nuer glory and relevant in the theater of war. The neoconservatives in the SPLM- IO are too exhausted in waiting for Machar to fulfill his promise to the movement’s cradle of power. They’re not buying into ideological fantasies and utopian values which have no place in such a doggy-doggy world. The majority is forcing Machar to act “Nuerly” by taking an aggressive stand against Kiir or exit the leadership of IO in peace. 

The author, Chadi Michael, can be reached through his email at chadimichael@yahoo.ca

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