August 11, 2014(Nyamilepedia) — After less than 3 years of independent from the North, war broke out in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, between presidential guards factions, loyal to president Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Dr. Riek Machar Teny.
According Salva Kiir, who addressed the nation in full military attire on December 16, 2013, the government had just foiled a coup. The president went on to narrate the 1991 incident, in which the SPLM party split based on demand to pursue Self-determination instead of Unity alone. Kiir assured the nation of why such a split and subsequent destructions and massacres should never repeat themselves under his watch.
Kiir promised justice to be restored and described Dr. Riek Machar as a “prophet of doom”. He blamed the incident on his main rival, who was on a run. 34 families members and body guards of Dr. Machar were reportedly killed on December 17 and Machar’s house was demolished by tanks.
Today, tens of thousands of people have died, 1.5 million people displaced, nearly half of the population face food shortage and yet the country may face one of the worst famine in history.
According to the SPLM elites, both in the army and politic, the instability was highly anticipated. At the beginning of the year, the president reformed the army, firing over 171 army generals, a move that was seen to target Dr. Riek Machar.
By July the president dissolved the government, fired Dr. Riek, the vice president, and deployed the Ugandan troops in the country. Simultaneously, the president fired and ordered corruption investigation on Pagan Amum, the SPLM Secretary General, who has called on Salva Kiir on several occasions to approve SPLM’s National Convention, the NLC, in which Machar, Amum, Mama Rebecca Nyandeng and Salva Kiir were expected to contest for the chairmanship.
After Machar and sacked politicians overtook the parliament and the ruling party, Salva Kiir dissolved the structure of SPLM, except his office, the chairman. This was sharply criticized and opposed by the SPLM leaders and supporters.
Kiir, however, went ahead to threaten to dissolve the parliament, although he hardly attend its sessions, and also threatened to dissolve the newly hand-picked cabinet. By Novermber, the president collapsed of exhaustion and rushed to South African hospital.
In September, president Kiir started training 15,000 militias, recruited from his home town by the current Chief of staff, Paul Malong Awan. The training and deployment of foreign troops in the country was disapproved by the then army Chief of Staff, James Hoth Mai.
In response the president accused the army of corruption and disloyalty. Corruption accusation had earlier on gotten a deputy chief of staff, Mabuto Mamour, into jail for nearly two years. Besides, the president had fired Hoth Mai’s 6 deputies a few months earlier and replaced 4 out of six with generals from his home region. Hoth was eventually removed and replaced with Paul Malong Awan in April this year.
However, some government supporters believe that Dr. Riek Machar should have submitted himself for arrest or fled the country after the war broke out among the presidential guards.
According to politicians who sympathize with Dr. Riek, the former vice president had nothing to do with the fighting among the presidential guards, however, the former detainees, rescued by efforts of Dr. Riek and others, claim that Riek should have joined them in jail or leave the country, despite the massacres of civilians and the silencing of reforms.
Critics, however, believes that without Dr. Riek, the politicians could have been “hang by the neck until they die”, as the minister of Information, Michael Makuei Lueth, broadcasted in Juba.
Recent interviews with Dr. Riek Machar, filed by the Africa Report, detail how Dr. Riek escaped arrest in Juba and why he decided to resist.
Begin the report ….
How did you manage to get out of Juba last December? One version has you leaving on a boat up the White Nile. There is the claim that a foreign embassy helped.
Riek Machar: I walked. I walked through forests and crossed at Kuda to Mangala. I then walked to Bor. There is no foreign embassy that helped.
Take us through the events of the next few days after you left Juba.
I arrived in Bor on 24 December. I got a message from the foreign minister of Ethiopia, Tedros [Adhanom], asking me to form a peace delegation.
By 24 December, you had already said you were leading this armed movement against Salva Kiir.
Yes, by that time we felt there was nothing else we could do except resist the onslaught of the government.
But how did that actually happen? Did Peter Gadet [the general who mutinied] spring into action to take the town of Bor, and then you had a phone conversation with him later? Were you in contact with him before he took up arms?
I found Bor already captured by forces loyal to Peter Gadet. I think they had their own spontaneous reaction, like it happened in Magri and it happened before that in Mangala and then Bor. Also there was fighting in Bentiu and Malakal, so this spontaneous revolt had to be managed.
But you had a choice at this point. You could have left the country quietly. Why make that choice at that point?
Well, the massacres that happened in Juba played a big role in my decision, like it also played a big role in the decision made by the troops in Mangala, Magri and elsewhere in South Sudan. It seemed the government was killing its people and targeting them ethnically. In such a situation, one will have to make a choice, so I made the choice to resist, along with those who had made that choice before me.
Various towns have gone back and forth between rebel and government control – Bor, Malakal, Bentiu. Recently your side hasn’t been doing as well. How damaging is it strategically to have lost control of these towns and Nasir, your headquarters?
Well, losing a town or losing a battle in a long struggle is not conclusive. We could lose a town today, we could regain it the next time. That’s always the case in guerrilla warfare. We are a very young resistance movement. If we assess and compare with what we had done in 1983 [the start of the SPLM’s rebellion against the Sudanese government], we have done so well. We control a great chunk of land, so I cannot complain. The government has all the resources. We are only starting from scratch. In actual fact, we only began to formally organise ourselves last April.
You make the case for federalism as the solution to South Sudan’s problems. The counter-argument against the federal system is that in such an ethnically divided country, a federal system could take away from a sense of national unity rather than add to it.
You don’t force national unity. You foster it, you nurse it. We are not the only nationality that is composed of several tribes and ethnic groups. I am advocating that we revert to the 22 districts used during British rule. Those districts were actually heterogenous.
There must be a political calculation, too. Equatorians in general seem in favour of federalism.
Federalism since 1947 has been the call for people of South Sudan. It’s not only Equatoria, it’s the whole of South Sudan. I’m happy that the majority of Equatoria is calling for a federal system. They are joining Upper Nile and parts of Bahr el Ghazal.
Your forces are responsible for massacres in Bentiu and Malakal, as the government forces are elsewhere. Why did this happen?
I tell you, we formally organised last April. But we are also investigating the incidents which happened, the issue of Bentiu, which was highlighted. Now it has boiled down to a squad of ten people. So we are locating them one by one.
Ten people were responsible for the hundreds of deaths the UN talked about?
In actual fact, not all the ten did commit that. It also boils down to one person who had a machine gun.
One person is responsible for killing as many people as that?
Well, unless the report is wrong. The people who did the investigation, I trust, they did it well. We are moving in to take action. I have already given instructions to Peter Gadet, who is the commander in the area, to locate the ten and in particular that guy who had a machine gun.
Is this report going to be made public?
Surely, yes. We will provide it to the African Union commission of inquiry.
With more than a million people displaced and the thousands of people who have lost their lives, at what point do you think: ‘This isn’t worth it. This is too damaging for the people of South Sudan’?
Well, frankly, I didn’t start the war. I don’t want it fought. I don’t want anybody to die, but the people are forced to fight this war – even the elements of the White Army joining us in the fight. These are civilians. Why would civilians volunteer to fight against the government? This is because there is something wrong, there is disgust at what is happening in Juba. So we want to end this war in the shortest possible time.