Contributor's Dak Buoth Opinion

Opinion: Taban Deng was Innocent Inheritor of Riek Machar Position

By Dak Buoth,

Gen. Taban Deng Gai, former Chief negotiator of SPLM/SPLA-IO, after conspiring with President Salva Kiir to dislodge and replace his former chairman, Riek Machar Teny(Photo: file)
Gen. Taban Deng Gai, former Chief negotiator of SPLM/SPLA-IO, after conspiring with President Salva Kiir to dislodge and replace his former chairman, Riek Machar Teny(Photo: file)

20th October, 2016(Nyamilepedia) —— It is always said a king who betrays his comrades does not deserve to be crowned, Ever since the renewed conflict occurred at State house in Juba on 8th July 2016, there has been nonstop conversation between the fanatic followers of embattled SPLM-IO factions’ dubbed SPLM-IO Crown hotel and SPLM-IO in Bush. The latter is headed by Taban Deng (successor) and the former led by Riek Machar (Predecessor).

You would recall that Taban and Riek returned to Juba from wilderness on 21ST December 2015 and 26th April 2016 respectively. Before and after they jetted back to Juba on the aforementioned dates, the duo and their supporters were under one political camp, the mother SPLM-IO whose cardinal objectives include inter alia: to dethrone President Salva Kiir and uproot his tatter regime altogether either via military or political means available at their disposal.

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At that time, they were very determined to bring an immediate change of guards both in the entire SPLM party and in the national government so as to instill hope and restore public confidence in the governance system across the country. However, with the ongoing infighting and shenanigans, it seems the dream to unseat Salva Kiir is farfetched; as matter of fact, it is just a matter of time before Salva Kiir and company declares the battle against democracy a walkover unless the progressive forces in the trenches devised new collective strategies.

Riek and Taban parted ways soon after the formation of the so-called transitional government of national Unity. Taban felt he was politically relegated when Riek appointed him as Mining minister. Vast majority of SPLM-IO insiders said Taban was earlier promised to hold petroleum portfolio in the TGONU, as such when this abrupt alternation emerged, Taban then assumed that he was short changed and politically betrayed considering his sterling performance as Chief peace negotiator for the SPLM-IO.

In response, Taban did not hide his disappointment on the same; he rendered his resignation and suspended his participation from Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) Chaired by Festus Mogae.
In my view, Taban was not mistaken to react in such way; in fact I would say he thought it well. Good enough Taban stressed his woes in a very civilized and professional manner. The way he carried himself indicated that he was not so desperate and that he was not short of options. After appending his resignation as chief negotiator and as member of JMEC; he never went public to share how bad he was mistreated, he kept his cool awaiting answers to no avail. By then, if Dr Riek Machar owed his movement a duty of care, he would have devised a decisive mechanism to prevent Taban from alighting on the SPLM-IO boat, and the mechanism he could do was not to give back Petroleum portfolio as alleged but rather to have a frank dialogue with Taban as equal partners of the SPLM-IO.

An Africa proverb opines that if you want to go fast go alone, and if you want to go far go together. Taban was a point man in the party, and thus Riek can’t dare letting him go the same way he kicked other Lieutenants in their faces Considering the sensitivity of this matter, Riek would have treated it as matter of urgency. He would have engaged Taban with a view to know why he was unhappy and to explain the rationale of his action; he would have done that if he knew he acted in good faith.
In spite of Taban’s seniority in party, it was not a must for him to be given the Petroleum potfolio as I alluded to above, but it was normal for him to express his displeasure if he did not get what he expected. But it was compulsory for Riek to initiate honest dialogue with Taban in this case.

An old adage says when we stop talking, we start fighting; and this is exactly what is ailing SPLM-IO today. They should learn to heed the grievances of his senior colleagues whenever they’re offended.
People should know and appreciate that Taban Deng is not politically naïve. Politics is defined as ‘who get what, where and when’’ and this definition is derived from a legal maxim which says ‘equal work for equal pay. Our records show that Taban was the first incumbent Governor in South Sudan who endorsed Riek’s candidature back in 2013. He reiterated his support for Machar even at the SPLM political bureau.

He never minced his words at that times, he made several declarations both in and outside the country that Dr. Machar would contest the presidency come 2015 and nothing short of that. By so doing, he then sacrificed his gubernatorial post; he was never cowed even after he was relieved of his duty as Governor of Unity state.
I fondly remember, the last time i met Governor Taban Deng was four years ago, in April 2013 when he came with Salva Kiir to attend President Uhuru Kenyatta’s inauguration. I met him with the likes of Gatkuoth Kulang, Gatkor Gattuor, Gajaak Koang, Mario Lueth, Gatmai Kel, Duoth Guet and Ambassador Majok Guandong at Serena Hotel., Nairobi.

In the first place I was unaware that Taban was in town, but one of his personal aides called me via phone that the Governor was around, he requested that I should meet him to hear my version. I didn’t wish to see him alone, so i called Mario Lueth who was then the Chair of the defunct Unity State Students Union to accompany me. When we reached the Hotel, I found the rest of the guys sitting with him. Minutes after our arrival, I tried to engage him about the happenings back at home. In response, he complained that the high influx of Refugees from Nuba Mountain has led to insecurity in Unity State.

We gave him noble suggestion to mitigate that phenomenon. In addition, he then told us frankly that President Salva Kiir has failed the country terribly and that he was going to be substituted with Riek by hook or crook.

From there onward, Taban never treaded backward in the quest to have Riek take over the presidency from Salva Kiir. As matter of fact, Taban’s unwavering support for Machar in 2013 made Salva Kiir become so fidgeted and timid, to an extent that Kiir resorted to violence and intimidation to maintain the status quo. Salva Kiir knew it well, that it would be difficult to wrestle Machar with Taban on his side. It must also be recalled when Taban declared his support, Riek too began to gain momentum more than ever before, he found all options were working in his favor including seizing power by force. It is only recently that things turn in favor of Kiir because Riek himself has frustrated everybody in the struggle, and people have to start afresh.

Eventually when Salva Kiir unleashed violence on the civilians and opposition forces on 15th December 2013, Taban was remained steadfast to face him head-on. A day after the violence unfolded, Taban decided to go into the trenches with Riek where they were rescued by Gen. Peter Gadet in Jonglie State. In the subsequent year, Taban was chosen as Chief Negotiator representing SPLM-IO in Addis Ababa peace talk; almost everybody got convinced and satisfied that Taban negotiated the peace agreement so spectacularly. He had exhibited all his intellect, influences and resources to the best of his abilities. Without being economical with truth, we can rank Taban Deng as the ‘best’ ahead of his counterpart Nhial Deng insofar the Peace Agreement is concerned.
Finally on December 2015, when SPLM-IO entrusted Taban Deng to lead the SPLM-IO advance team To Juba, he accepted without reservations and precondition. He took that risk to lead his cadres to Juba despite numerous eminent threats to his life.

To prove this info right, one can revisit the statement released a fortnight ago by Gen. Bapiiny Munytuil who defected from Salva Kiir camp in Nairobi. In his statement, Gen. Banpiny disclosed the government plan to assassinate Taban upon his arrival in Juba. In fact we can say that it is by grace of his gods that he is alive today. So far neither Salva Kiir nor Nguen Munytiul has rejected the alleged assassination claims against Taban. Up to date, nobody knows whether the assassination plan still on course.

In highlighting these undisputable facts, I’m not ignorant of the principle that there is no permanent friend in politics. Let a Friend abandon you on his own volition, but it should not be habit for Dr. Machar to unfriend his closest comrades who stood with him during his hours of need. With all due respect, i think Riek owe Taban and rest utmost apology. I don’t remember a time when Riek supported someone in his or her political cause in South Sudan, and it is not too late for him to correct that grievous error. In light of this, if I’m just being ignorant on this point, let anyone out there who is privy to his political works inform us, so that we don’t appear bias in our political discourse.

Devoid of any prejudice, I have seen there is a lack of political will on the side of SPLM-IO chairman that is why senior SPLM-IO lieutenants have been defecting on daily and monthly basis. The unfortunate thing I have noticed from SPLM-IO followers and loyalties is that they seem to rejoice when one of their comrades leaves in a humiliating manner. I think Dr. Riek failed twice in handling this latest case of his erstwhile colleague Mr. Taban. At first, he failed to accord him the Petroleum docket. Secondly he didn’t bother to explain to Taban why he appointed him to Mining ministry instead of petroleum as early promised. In our logical conclusion, when Riek did not do the obvious, Taban viewed his action as an act of avenge and retaliation to what happened during the 2010 election in Unity state. As such, if there some people who still hold grudges against him, what do you think he would do? Of course he can go for anything available to compensate his political contribution, and that was what he did. It is fair game. Now with him being the successor of Machar as the First vice President, I believe he often sleep as a child without to worry about, and the question as to when whether Machar will return is immaterial.

In war-like situation, whenever you develop internal problem, your competitors would take advantage of it. In fact they will fuel and complicate the issue further with a view to make you become weaker. In the past, the British called it divide and rule strategy.

When political differences between Riek and Taban widen and went up to public domain, their sworn rivals in the name of SPLM-IG began to celebrate in advance, the same way they utilized the massive defection of SPLM-IO armed Generals in 2015. The political war between Riek and Taban prompted the subsequent war at state house on 8th July 2016.

Indisputably, i think those who have been following the SPLM-IO politics would agree that there were elements of betrayal between Riek and Taban. Supporters of both SPLM-IO factions often argue either way that it was Taban who betrayed his boss; and the rest including this writer believe Riek took Taban for a ride, and that is political crime. As you often witnessed in some quarters, political betrayal can emanate either from the boss or his juniors in the political party and or government.

To add insult to injuries, immediately the renewed violence started at Presidential palace on 8th July 2016, allegations soon spread within SPLM-IO insiders accusing Taban of conspiracy without an iota of evident. It was true that Taban was not involved or linked to the State house violence. I’m sure when Riek went to state house on invitation from Kiir on that fateful night, he did not invite Taban nor did he inform him of what transpired at the meeting at J-I. It is for this reason that Taban came out of TV condemning the renewed violence and dispelling any rumors linking him to the fighting.

The accusation that Taban had a hand in the J-I Dogs fight was disapproved by the legislators who defected from Government yesterday on 19th October. In their joint statement, they only blame Kiir for the renewed violence and for abrogating the peace agreement. Chances are that if Taban did not came public on that fateful evening to make his position clear, perhaps he would be dead today. You all saw the brutality Dhieu Mathok was subjected to owing to his proximity with Riek before.

Subsequently, when Riek was finally dislodged at his residence in Jebel Kujur, He labeled Taban as a mole in the SPLM-IO party terming him as a conspirator against him. As result, Riek dismissed him summarily both from the SPLM –IO party and as Mining Minister alleging that Taban had long defected to SPLM-IG.

As we come to close, the question that begs million answers is: if one was in the shoe of Taban at the time, what would he do in the wake of these developments. You can now verify from aforesaid fact, the notion alleging that he had hand in the J-I massacre does not hold any water. It should be recalled that when Taban left for juba in December 2015, he had no single body guard who could fight alongside Salva Kiir’s forces. I believe even today he is still vulnerable and helpless. Who knows, if he refused to take up the First Vice President position, maybe he could be killed, but why could he decline to take up the first vice president post when in fact he was dismissed from SPLM-IO and declared as enemy within. He had no other available option other than acting the way he deemed benefiting to him and his allies. Last, I think Taban was forced out of the SPLM-IO therefore his subsequent political activities in Juba are justifiable.

The Writer can be reached for comments via eligodakb@yahoo.com

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