The “Riek Machar Factor” in the December 2013 Crisis and Civil War in South Sudan (Part 5)

Posted: September 8, 2018 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in December 2013 Crisis, Editorials, Junub Sudan, Opinion Articles, Opinion Writers, PaanLuel Wël

The Riek Machar Factor in the fundamental root causes of the December 2013 Crisis and the present civil war in the Republic of South Sudan (Part 5)

By PaanLuel Wël, Juba, South Sudan

The Flag of the Republic of South Sudan

The Flag of the Republic of South Sudan

  1. Introduction

Saturday, September 8, 2018 (PW) — This article will examine the pivotal role of the “Riek Machar Factor” in the fundamental root causes of the December 2013 Crisis and the prevailing civil war in the Republic of South Sudan. In Kenya, to assert that powerful forces within the political, economic and security establishments of the Kikuyu nation have practically succeeded to frustrate and thwart Raila Odinga from assuming the presidency of Kenya is to state the obvious. Similarly, in South Sudan, to argue that two powerful constituencies, comprising of the historical leadership of the SPLM/SPLA and the Dinka nation, have conspired to oppose and prevent Riek Machar’s presidency in the Republic of South Sudan, would be an understatement.

This is the contextual meaning of the Riek Machar factor in the South Sudanese national conflict. Therefore, the fundamental root cause of the December 2013 Crisis, and the current civil war, is two-fold. First and foremost, the spirited attempt by those powerful constituencies to impede and obstruct Riek Machar from assuming the chairmanship of the SPLM, and thus the presidency of the republic, triggered the December 2013 Crisis and the present civil war. Secondly, the strong conviction by Riek Machar to fight and defeat those powerful forces bitterly opposed to his resolve to become the second president of South Sudan, ignited the December 2013 Crisis and the devastating civil war in the country.

Alternatively, the confluence of the two factors – the strong determination by the historical leadership of the SPLM/SPLA and powerful forces within the Dinka nation to oppose and block Riek Machar from assuming the presidency of South Sudan, couple with the firm decision by Riek Machar to fight and defeat those two powerful constituencies – might have hastened and sparked the December 2013 Crisis, which later mutated into the ongoing distressing civil war in the Republic of South Sudan.

Therefore, this article will argue that the strong resistance to, and the fervent support for, Riek Machar’s presidency constitutes and defines the current national conflict, and its appreciation holds the key to a negotiated resolution of the 5-year old civil war in South Sudan.

  1. Powerful forces oppose to Riek Machar’s presidency

More than any other historical event, the 1991 Nasir coup has profoundly shaped, and continues to inform, the political psyche of the present generation of South Sudanese people. It is for this particular reason that powerful forces within the Dinka nation and the historical leadership of the SPLM/SPLA are fundamentally opposed to Riek Machar’s presidency in South Sudan. First and foremost, the 1991 Nasir coup and the subsequent Bor Massacre, Dinka nationalism and a somehow misguided sense of entitlement for the legacy of the liberation struggle under the SPLM/SPLA explained why powerful forces within the political, economic and security establishments of the Dinka nation are intrinsically hostile to the idea of Riek Machar’s presidency in South Sudan.

Secondly, the poisoned legacy of the 1991 Nasir coup also informed and explained why myriads politico-military factions of the historical leadership of the SPLM/SPLA are vehemently opposed to the presidency of Riek Machar in South Sudan. To the historical leadership of the SPLM/A, Riek Machar represents and symbolizes the negation of the legacy and history of the liberation struggle under the leadership of Dr. John Garang, CDR Salva Kiir, CDR Wani Igga and CDR Pagan Amum. This instinctive resentment, a byproduct of the poisoned legacy of the 1991 Nasir coup and resultant collaboration with Khartoum regime, the heinous Bor Massacre and the failure by the SPLM/SPLA to capture Juba, has made Riek Machar a pariah among the historical leadership of the SPLM/SPLA.

This enmity towards Riek Machar has been manifested within the political and military camps of President Salva Kiir and Dr. James Wani Igga in Juba, among the political and diplomatic faction of the SPLM-FDs under Comrade Pagan Amum and Madam Rebecca Nyandeng in exile, and recently within the political and military circles of Gen. Thomas Chirilo Swaka in the bushes of the Equatoria region and Gen. Paul Malong Awan in exile. These four political camps, who are presently embroiled in their own bitter power struggle over the leadership of the ruling SPLM party and the country, constitute, represent, and symbolize the historical leadership of the SPLM/SPLA – the post 1991 armed revolutionary movement under the leadership of CDR John Garang, CDR Salva Kiir, CDR James Wani Igga and CDR Pagan Amum that brought the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and ushered in the independence of South Sudan in July 2011.

Besides the legacy of the liberation struggle, the common denominator among these four warring clans is their inherent hostility towards Riek Machar’s presidency in South Sudan. This enmity is borne out of the poisoned legacy of the 1991 Nasir coup, partly because of Riek Machar’s politico-military collaboration with Khartoum regime and partly because of the humiliating defeat SPLM/SPLA suffered at the hands of Khartoum regime in the aftermath of the 1991 Nasir coup. The government in Juba under President Kiir, the SPLM-FDs under Comrade Pagan Amum, the National Salvation Front (NAS) under Gen. Thomas Chirilo and the South Sudan United Front/Army (SSUF/A) under Gen. Paul Malong Awan have not forgiven Riek Machar for the military setbacks suffered by the SPLM/SPLA because of the 1991 Nasir coup. In the words of Dr. John Garang, history will never forgiven them for stabbing the Movement in the back at a point of total victory, when SPLM/SPLA was poised to storm and capture Juba from Khartoum regime.

In his article, “The Root Cause of the December 2013 Crisis in South Sudan: The Riek Machar Factor,” Comrade Mabioor Garang de Mabioor alluded to this pervasive enmity when he concluded: “The conclusion to this [argument] is that enmity towards Dr. Riek Machar may be the root cause for the failure to find a resolution to the current civil war in the Republic of South Sudan. The anxiety of those with power that Dr. Riek Machar may emerge victorious out of a democratic process, led to the introduction of war through ethnic cleansing by President Salva Kiir, targeting the Nuer community, despite the fact that the crisis was with SPLM leaders from all regions of South Sudan. The opposition was divided, weakened, and has been unable to put up an effective resistance against the regime because of this enmity. Some leaders coded this enmity with language like: ‘our constituencies would not understand joining a Movement led by Dr. Riek Machar’.”

Indeed, the fear of and opposition to the presidency of Riek Machar in South Sudan elucidate many of the political rhetoric and military undertakings from the government. President Kiir did everything within his powers – including taking the nation into a deadly civil war – to frustrate and preclude Riek Machar from assuming the chairmanship of the ruling SPLM party and thus the presidency of the country and guardianship of the legacy of the liberation struggle. The main reason was because “Whoever controls the SPLM brand controls the politics and the country as well as the resources.” Therefore, the contest over the chairmanship of the ruling party was chiefly “about who represents the Garang legacy and who represents the true spirit of the SPLM.” Addressing the national convention of the SPLM National Liberation Council (NLC) on 14 December 2013, just a day before the December 15th mutiny, President Kiir railed against those who had carried out the 1991 Nasir coup, boasted that he had never been a traitor, and threatened that he would never allow the 1991 incident to repeat itself under his watchful eyes.

Speaking to the 2015 AU Commission of Inquiry (AUCISS) into atrocities and human rights abuses committed in the South Sudanese conflict, Madam Rebecca Nyandeng, the wife of the South Sudanese founding father, Dr. John Garang, told the AU Commission that she would never support Riek Machar to become the president of South Sudan. “…Rebecca (Garang) said we agree with Machar that Salva must go but I will never allow Riek to be President – never a fellow who did that.” President Kiir told the AU Commission that “Riek killed a lot of Dinka [in 1991] and we will not give him the opportunity to do so again.” And this aversion to Riek Machar from both President Kiir and Madam Rebecca Garang was framed and presented in the context of the poisoned legacy of the 1991 Nasir coup. None of them was, and still is, prepared to support Riek Machar’s presidency under any circumstance and this is because of what happened in 1991: the distractive and destructive military coup, the shameless collaboration with Khartoum, the military setbacks symbolized by the failure to capture Juba, and the infamous Bor Massacre.

And while the SPLM-FDs might have, at first, seemed to have cozy up to Riek Machar between July and December 2013, it was purely a tactical political move in their intra-SPLM war with President Kiir. Riek Machar was nothing more than a political and military tool to threaten and fight President Kiir. There was never an intention on the part of the SPLM-FDs to put Riek Machar in the presidency. The SPLM-FDs used Riek Machar during the intra-SPLM political agitations leading up to December 6th press conference at Dr. John Garang Mausoleum in Juba. However, they abandoned him as soon as they were released from political detention following the December 15th mutiny in Juba in which they were accused of being co-conspirators in a military coup d’état with Riek Machar. Only Hon. Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, who has never been part of the historical leadership of the SPLM/SPLA, who resorted to joining Riek Machar group after exiting Juba.

In the aforementioned article, Comrade Mabioor Garang de Mabioor lamented thus: “The SPLM Leaders decided at this point, for some incomprehensible reasons, to denounce the war in the country and they incorporated themselves into a distinct, neutral group as they were released from detention and handed over to the custody and care of the Government of the Republic of Kenya. They became the SPLM Former Detainees (FDs) and claimed to be a non-violent movement and that they disagreed with the method of armed struggle applied by the SPLM/SPLA (IO) as a matter of principle. The relationship between the FDs and the SPLM/SPLA (IO) has been antagonistic since, and at times the FDs have even had more in common with the regime in Juba than with the other groups in the opposition, the major example of this has been the inability to work with Dr. Riek Machar.”

When President Kiir later succeeded to mint rebels out of Gen. Paul Malong and Gen. Thomas Chirilo, the two leaders – in line with their antipathy towards the presidency of Riek Machar – eschewed the SPLM-IO and instead established their separate politico-military groups with the intention to fight and replace President Kiir, their former boss and comrade in Juba. There is absolutely no love lost between the government of President Kiir in Juba, on one hand, and the SPLM-FDs under Comrade Pagan Amum, the National Salvation Front (NAS) under Gen. Thomas Chirilo and the South Sudan United Front/Army (SSUF/A) under Gen. Paul Malong Awan, on the other hand. Yet, their shared detest of Riek Machar is so strong that opposition members of the historical leadership of the SPLM/SPLA could not countenance joining hands, uniting forces, with Riek Machar to dislodge President Kiir from power.

Why is it so dreadful for the SPLM-FDs, Gen. Thomas Chirilo and Gen. Paul Malong to work with Riek Machar? Because “our constituencies would not understand joining a Movement led by Dr. Riek Machar.” This seemingly innate inability from the historical leadership of the SPLM/SPLA to work with Riek Machar is informed by their abhorrence of his presidency in South Sudan. The ghost of the 1991 Nasir coup entails that Riek Machar has become a pariah, a put off, to the historical leadership of the SPLM/SPLA, leading to his perpetual reliance on the Nuer nationalism. This explains the utter failure by the SPLM-IO to channel South Sudanese national anger and indignation into an effective tool to get rid of Kiir.

In spite of the abundance of petrodollars from the oil and arable land with which South Sudan is blessed, the government of President Kiir has continually failed to provide basic economic infrastructures and social amenities, and more importantly the political stability prerequisite for economic development and social prosperity. Yet, the SPLM-IO under Riek Machar has not succeeded to capitalize on these glaring failures of the government to galvanize and harness the national outrage to remove President Kiir from power. Instead, the SPLM-IO has been perpetually relying on Nuer nationalism to fight and sustain the war, plus cheap propaganda such as the elevation of non-entities like the Jieng Council Elders (JCE), which has no traction within the Dinka nation.

  1. Conclusion: Who will blink first?

In conclusion, it is therefore very important to draw the attention of the people of South Sudan, IGAD, AU and the international community to the pivotal role played by the Riek Machar factor in the fundamental root causes of the December 2013 crisis and the present civil war in South Sudan. It is theoretically possible for the ruling SPLM party to be transformed and democratized, for the constitutional stipulation in relation to the presidential terms limit to be worked out and clarified, and for the proverbial general elections to be conducted as stipulated in the revitalized ARCSS.

However, there will always be the lingering question of whether the historical leadership, the core members, of the SPLM/SPLA under President Kiir, under Comrade Pagan Amum and Madam Rebecca Nyandeng, under Gen. Paul Malong Awan, and under Gen. Thomas Chirilo would ever allow, let alone support, Riek Machar’s presidency in South Sudan. This is what Comrade Mabioor Garang aptly referred to as the Riek Machar factor in the root causes of the December 2013 crisis and the ongoing civil war in south Sudan.

In other words, to what extent did the conviction to prevent Riek Machar’s presidency contributed to the December 2013 Crisis and the current civil war in South Sudan? Paraphrase differently – comparatively – to what extent did the decision by powerful forces within the Kikuyu nation to prevent Raila Odinga’s presidency contributed to the 2007 post-election violence in Kenya? At what price and cost are the powerful forces within the Dinka nation and the historical leadership of the SPLM/SPLA prepared to go to oppose and stop Riek Machar from becoming the second president of South Sudan? At what price and cost is Riek Machar prepared to go in his determination to defeat the two powerful forces arrayed against his quest for the presidency of South Sudan?

Who will blink first? How many more miles and redlines are the powerful constituencies within the Dinka nation and historical leadership of the SPLM/SPLA prepared to transverse in their mission to preclude the presidency of Riek Machar in South Sudan? How many more miles and redlines are Riek Machar prepared to transverse in his conviction to fight and defeat his sworn enemies, and quest to establish what Comrade Mabioor Garang referred to as the “second republic” of South Sudan?

In a future democratic election, the political, economic and security establishments within the Dinka nation and the historical leadership of the SPLM/SPLA might gang up again, just as they did in this extant civil war, to frustrate, obstruct and prevent Riek Machar from becoming the second president of the Republic of South Sudan. And this strong determination to thwart and block Riek Machar’s presidency has little relation to whether or not President Kiir remains in power, for it will continue to be the case with or without President Kiir in power.

This is to say that any political, economic and military support to President Kiir is simply a function of the extent to which those oppose to, and afraid of, Riek Machar can go to resist and prevent him from assuming the presidency of the Republic of South Sudan.

The opinion expressed here is solely the view of the writer. The veracity of any claim made is the responsibility of the author, not PaanLuel Wël Media (PW) website. If you want to submit an opinion article, commentary or news analysis, please email it to paanluel2011@gmail.com. PaanLuel Wël Media (PW) website do reserve the right to edit or reject material before publication. Please include your full name, a short biography, email address, city and the country you are writing from.

PaanLuel Wël, the managing editor of PaanLuel Wël Media (PW) website, graduated with a double major in Economics and Philosophy from The George Washington University, Washington D.C, USA, and currently works as a Project Coordinator for one of the international NGOs in South Sudan. He is the author of Pioocku Thuongjang: The Elementary Modern Standard Dinka (May, 2011), The A.B.C.D.: An Introductory Book into the English Alphabet (July, 2011) and  Who Killed Dr. John Garang (July, 2015). He is also the Editor of The Genius of Dr. John Garang, vol. 1-3 (November, 2013), including Dr. John Garang’s Speeches on the War of Liberation (November, 2015) and Speeches on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (November, 2015), Salva Kiir Mayaardit: The Joshua of South Sudan (with Simon Yel Yel, February, 2011), as well as The Customary Laws of the Greater Bor Dinka Community: Legal and Basic Rules for Self-Administration (July, 2017).

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