Apr 23rd 2013, by O.A.| JUBA
THE gaggles of armed soldiers loitering late at night at crossroads in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, are not there by accident or on routine deployment. Salva Kiir, the president, recently ordered them into the streets to forestall any possible disorder after he clipped the wings of his vice-president and biggest rival. Riek Machar (pictured above) will from now on be restricted to his constitutionally mandated functions, while his other portfolios have been withdrawn. Few think a coup attempt is likely but President Kiir is taking no chances.
Mr Machar is an ambitious man and widely seen as more efficient and charismatic than his boss. Recently it seemed that he had started campaigning to succeed him, in particular by using his role as head of a commission on post-civil war reconciliation. He also makes much of his work with a charity that happens to be run by his wife. Many people think this is meant to burnish his (and her) credentials ahead of the five-yearly convention of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the ruling party, expected in May or June.
At a recent meeting with the president, Mr Machar openly announced that he would bid for the party chairmanship. The winner will be the SPLM’s presidential candidate in elections in 2015. Given that South Sudan is a de facto one-party state, mostly by default rather than design, the election for the SPLM chairmanship in effect anoints the next head of state.
Rumours are swirling around Juba that Mr Machar could set up his own party now that he has been frozen out. But that may be a step too far for him. He has little hope of winning the presidency without having built up a more solid base. As an ethnic Nuer in a country and establishment dominated by the Dinka, he would struggle to get enough votes. Most Dinka distrust him, with dark accusations going back to the civil-war era.
Some also say he got on too well with the arch-enemy in Khartoum, capital of the rump state of Sudan to the north, especially during a period when he split from the main faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the guerrilla progenitor of the SPLM. A recent visit to Juba by Omar al-Bashir, the northern president, who is widely loathed in the south, may have rekindled distrust of Mr Machar in the hearts of some SPLM stalwarts. Never mind that Mr Bashir’s visit was widely deemed a success for the south, bringing the prospect of a durable peace between the two halves of the old Sudan closer than at any time in the past year.
South Sudan President Kiir moves to stop Arab-backed initiative to split new state
President Salva Kiir has continued to maneuver the delicate ethnic balance in his country to ensure that the democratization process avoids being overtaken by the personal ambitions of Vice President Riek Machar, which could result in a polarized polity along ethnic lines.
The process has not been helped by the tense situation over the management of national oil assets and the prospect of ongoing Sudanese pressure; not by the insinuation — supported by the U.S. White House — that Kiir was deviating from South Sudan’s democratic origins.
On April 22, President Kiir issued a Republican Order for the Formation of the National Reconciliation Committee for Healing, Peace, and Reconciliation Conference. Given the recent experience — that is, the politicization attempt by Vice President Machar — Kiir stressed the national, objective, and apolitical character of the new reconciliation council.
The presidential mandate stipulated that “The Committee shall be an independent body which shall not be subject to control and direction from anybody or any institution; the role of the government shall be facilitative and provide support, where necessary and when called upon.”
The new reconciliation council will be led by the country’s most prominent religious leaders rather than politicians. The council will include representatives from all parts of the country and segments of society. The chairman is His Grace Archbishop Dr Daniel Deng Bul, the leader of the Episcopal Church of Sudan. His Lordship Bishop Paride Taban, the South Sudanese Emeritus Bishop of the Roman Catholic Church and co-founder of the New Sudan Council of Churches, will serve as the deputy chairman.
Three prominent leaders of the Church have already been nominated to serve on the new reconciliation council: His Lordship Bishop Rudolf Deng Majak of Wau (president of the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference), His Lordship Bishop Enock Tombe (the leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Rejaf), and The Reverend Peter Lual Gai (the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan).
As well, Kiir invited and nominated a yet-to-be-named leader of the Muslim community to serve as a council member. In addition, the council will include 10 members: one from each of the 10 states of South Sudan. As well, the council will include a representative of the Women Organizations, a representative of the Youth Organizations, and a representative of the Civil Society Organizations.
The presidential mandate defines the “Terms of Reference” for the committee as follows:
(a) to develop objectives of National Peace and Reconciliation;
(b) to determine short term and medium term activities;
(c) to research modern and traditional conflict resolution;
(d) to liaise with the Government to provide security, financial support and mobility;
(e) to solicit funding from local and international bodies and to seek their expertise; and
(f) to form consultative body comprising of South Sudanese elders as advisory body.
The prominent role of religious leaders in the committee should be viewed in the context of the traditions of South Sudan. For several decades, church leaders served as guides and guardians of morality and values, as well as anchors of stability for a society devastated by war. They have been an integral part of Sudan’s diverse and multi-religious population. Indeed, church-affiliated charities were the primary source of food, medical services, education, etc. during the war years.
In early February, the Reverend Peter Lual Gai clarified the rôle of the Church in South Sudan. He explained that “the [original] idea of ‘separating the state from religion’ was based on the fear that Khartoum wanted to make Islam the religion of the state as well as make shariah law the basis for legislation in the whole country.”
However, presently, with South Sudan an independent state, the unique rôle of the church — essentially all of the Christian churches represented in South Sudan — as purveyor of vital social-economic services to the country’s diverse society should be recognized in pertinent constitutional provision. Rev. Peter Lual Gai stressed that while the church “acknowledges that ‘there is no state religion’ [in South Sudan], to ‘separate the state from religion’ is not the best policy.” The prominence of church leaders in the committee thus reflects the inherent character of society in South Sudan.
Meanwhile, Machar and his supporters have intensified their attempts to undermine the presidency in order to have Machar elected the head of SPLM and its candidate for the presidency in 2015. The April 15, presidential decree removing some of Machar’s executive powers and dissolving the original National Reconciliation Committee also removed whatever self-restraint and responsibility left the Machar camp. Machar and his camp — largely his Nuer parochial supporters — are now ready and willing to sacrifice nation building and reconciliation on the altar of short-term political interests and aspirations.
It is increasingly apparent that Machar has been preparing for a major confrontation with Kiir long before the mid-April 2013 decree. At the core of the Machar political machine is an organization called “Initiative for Change” established by Machar’s wife, Angelina Jany, in order to raise funds for his political campaigns.
In March, Mrs Jany and Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth (the former head of the Southern Sudan office in Washington who presently works in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) went to Dubai to raise funds from “Arab friends”. They raised $5 million. Significantly, some of these generous “Arab friends” are businessmen with close ties with the Bashir Government in Khartoum. They would not have contributed in order to reinforce a viable state in South Sudan, but rather in order to further the interests of Bashir’s Sudan. It is therefore noteworthy that they consider supporting Machar’s campaign to remove Kiir from the SPLM Chairmanship an undertaking which would serve Bashir’s interests.
By early April 2013, the Machar camp was abusing the national reconciliation process as an instrument for removing Kiir in the SPLM convention by stocking internal rifts and tribal-based tensions. The Machar camp has argued that leadership should be transferred from the Dinka to the Nuer because, in the words of a Machar key supporter, “it’s our turn to eat”.
SPLM political leaders are not oblivious. However, they trust the common desire of all South Sudanese, irrespective of their tribal roots, to consolidate and build their independent state. “The Nuer in the SPLM will not vote for Riek Machar,” these leaders opined. “We are working very hard to save our country from him [Machar] because his campaign for tribal war will not benefit anybody at all. … South Sudan cannot be a country if it is a turn of each tribe to eat.”
Special to WorldTribune.com