June 11, 2014 (SSNA) — Dr Riek Machar, the leader of SPLM-in-Opposition narrowly escaped death on 15th December 2013 at the hands of President Kiir’s private militia popularly known as Dootku Beny (Koch Beny). Since then Riek in my assessment, give or take, seems to have become more understanding of the flaws of Juba politics. Unlike the Riek of pre December 2013, the new Riek appears to live up to his word. Riek has offered the people of South Sudan democracy and federalism in opposition to Dinkocracy and the phoney decentralisation in Juba. So far his offer appears to hold.
It is highly possible that Riek’s unpleasant experience in the hands of President Salvatore Kiir has jolted him and turned him into a pragmatist. Riek now seems to display a mature understanding and care towards others. We do not have to go far to look for evidence. Riek on fleeing Juba on 15th December 2013 to save his life and set up resistance with others against the tyrannical regime of President Kiir, he prioritised and rightly so, the safety and lives of his colleagues who remained in Juba.
In the first talks under the mediators (IGAD) in January 2014, Riek honourably made the release of his colleagues (dubbed SPLM G11) detained in Juba a condition in the talks. Riek faithfully stuck to this condition which saved the SPLM G11 from the gallows of President Kiir. Shamelessly, the SPLM G11 once freed and out, shunned RieK without acknowledging the great effort he exerted to save them. This in itself is a topic for another day.
No one in this ungrateful group of SPLM G11 should ever dream of leading the country as they seem to fantasise with the idea now. Their reputation is tainted. Their behaviour unsurprisingly symbolise the rot in Juba of which they have always been a part and parcel of.
The traits of good leadership Riek appears to have exhibited t so far have unarguably shown that he is fast developing his capacity in this area. This is something he was deficient in pre December 2013. The President himself up to now is devoid of such traits.
However one of Riek’s main reasons for demanding the release of his colleagues was to enable them gain their personal freedom and also to join him in the talks in Addis Ababa. Certainly as his negotiators but since the SPLM G11 distanced themselves from him, Riek happily accepted for them to join the talks as an independent group with a varied opinion. This again shows that Riek may be taking his newly adopted democratic values seriously this time. A credit to him. Unlike Riek, President Kiir on the other hand is entrenching his dictatorship. He is muzzling the media in the country and violently preventing legitimate delegates from attending the Addis Ababa talks.
The agreement of 9th May 2014 signed between President Kiir and Riek obliges participation of all stakeholders to find solutions for the chaos in the country. In line with the agreement, IGAD extended invitations to opposition political parties and civil society organisations. Most unfortunately, in direct violation of the agreement, the security operatives of President Kiir prevented the UDF team from boarding the flight to attend the talks in Addis Ababa. Why is Kiir’s government violating the agreement? Why specifically is Kiir’s government singling out the only vocal opposition party in the country? Is it because the leader of this party is not a Jieng? Or, is it because the leader of this particular party was in detention for two years on unfounded charges?
If the leader of UDF and his colleagues are being denied the right to free movement because he was in detention, what about the SPLM G11? Why did President Kiir not violate the right of free movement of the SPLM G11? Why has he singled out Justice Peter Sule’s party and his group? Would it be wrong to assume that Justice Peter Sule’s right of free movement is being violated because he is an Equatorian?
The oppressive treatment meted on Justice Peter Sule is a clear evidence to the world that President Kiir and his government are not only in violation of Justice Sule’s right of free movement but they are also in serious breach of the 9th May 2014 agreement which President Kiir signed.
What President Kiir has not worked out is that this refusal to let Justice Sule fly to Addis Ababa as invited by IGAD proves the regime’s undemocratic and violent nature. This obviously is going further to tarnish the image of the regime to its sympathisers and the international community beyond repair. If President Kiir wants to regain credibilty, the government needs to publicly apologise and immediately facilitate Justice Sule’s travel to Ethiopia for the talks. Anything less than this is not going to help them, especially after Michael Makuei, the regime’s voice has been caught red handed in peddling lies on the issue.
Now Riek has an opportunity to polish himself up as one of the few democratic leaders of South Sudan in waiting. If Riek can seize the opportunity and repeat what he did with the SPLM G7 and SPLM G4 to protect the rights of United Democratic Front (UDF) team to Addis Ababa, such action will in my view cement his democratic credentials. Riek has on numerous occasions stated that he wants all the stakeholders to take part in the talks. The opportunity has now arisen for him to demonstrate his seriousness over the issue.
It is worth noting that Riek endorsed the agreement and to a large extent he has honoured it, save in situations of self defence. Riek should now as the leader who is calling for democracy come out forcefully to defend the principles of democracy being violated by President Kiir in relation to the agreement. Riek needs to ask for the participation of UDF party team as invited to the talks in Addis Ababa. This is to first show conclusively to the world that he is honouring the agreement and would not collude with the tyrannical regime of President Kiir in excluding any stakeholder(s) from the talks. Secondly, to bolster his image as a statesman who wants to see a genuine solution emerge from the talks whereby nobody is excluded through abuse of state power. Thirdly, to win more support from the doubting South Sudanese and members of the international community. Fourthly, because the talks in Addis Ababa is the beginning of the healing process itself through dialogue which should be promoted for the greater good of South Sudan. Fifthly, because he needs to be seen to show leadership in protecting the liberties and rights of the stakeholders and through it the same to the entire people of South Sudan
If Riek does the above, no doubt he will score a huge victory against the oppressive regime in Juba. This will raise his stature as argued by Margaret Akulia in her article titled, ‘To Dr. Machar: Adopt Nuer egalitarianism as your manifesto & watch your popularity skyrocket!’ http://www.southsudannation.com/to-dr-machar-adopt-nuer-egalitarianism-as-your-manifesto-watch-your-popularity-skyrocket/
In fighting to create a democratic South Sudan, Riek’s actions in defence of democratic principles greatly matters. Noam Chomsky, the renowned American philosopher illustrates the importance of action elsewhere by arguing, “that a new society arises out of the actions that are taken to form it, and the institution and the ideology it develops are not independent of those action; in fact they are heavily coloured by them, they are shaped by them in many way. And one can expect that actions that are cynical and vicious, whatever their intent, will inevitably condition and deface the quality of the ends that are achieved.” There it is, words without action means nothing, absolutely nothing. It is the action that concretises the words and ideology.
President Kiir’s government is his own worst enemy. Instead of honouring the agreement of 9th May 2014, crudely it tries to shut up voices of the stakeholders through oppression. The stakeholders now as in the case of Riek have a chance to confront the Juba regime and force it to behave. All the stakeholders now in Addis Ababa need to complain about the violent exclusion of their colleagues from these important talks. They need to show clearly that the government in Juba is in violation of 9th May 2014 agreement. This is the golden opportunity for them to rediscover themselves and find their voices as the leader of the Youth Union has done. Please see, ‘National Youth Union Leader: Intimidation Tactics by Kiir regime will not break the resilience of the people of South Sudan’ http://www.southsudannewsagency.com/opinion/press-releases/national-youth-union-leader
Right from the beginning of this crisis, IGAD failed to demonstrate impartiality and leadership in mediating the conflict. Uganda, a member country of IGAD took sides in the conflict. It threw its weight behind the regime in Juba. President Yoweri Museveni took liberties to make damaging statements in support of President Kiir murderous regime in the name of IGAD. For example, Museveni referred to the meeting of the heads of states of IGAD countries in Nairobi as his source of authority. Museveni’s open unconditional support (militarily, politically and morally) for Kiir’s discredited murderous regime undermined the role of IGAD as an impartial mediator. What was expected from the chairman of IGAD at the time was a clear statement to distance itself from Museveni’s unethical adventures to shore up a criminal regime conducting ethnic cleansing against a section of its society.
That is one aspect of IGAD’s failure. This was then followed by its poor strategy to revive the SPLM in order for it to lord it over the people of South Sudan. Here IGAD unknowingly sided with the very organisation responsible for all sorts of human right abuses in South Sudan. This clearly showed that IGAD was and is still not well versed about South Sudan political realities. Again here, its own conduct exposed its shortcomings in handling the peace talks.
With all the above, there is still hope for IGAD to salvage its reputation. It should now take its duty seriously and confront the regime in Juba about the oppressive nature of its dealing with the stakeholders. For the sake of its credibility, IGAD should ensure that all the stakeholders invited to the talks are allowed free and unhindered passage to Addis Ababa.
As with regards to the international community, the time for more stinging sanctions against the regime has come. Juba should not be let off here for its brazen oppression of the stakeholders and violation of the agreement. There must be penalties for this uncouth behaviour.
In ending this piece, the humiliation of the UDF team (as reported in the media) at Juba airport is wrong. It symbolises the rampant misuse of power by the regime. This should not be accepted because it undermines the agreement of 9th May 2014. It also denies the forum in Addis Ababa the invaluable contribution from all the stakeholders. For this particular reason, believers in democracy need to fight to protect the democratic rights of those abused.
IGAD and the international community need to put their foot down firmly and hold Juba to account for their breach of the agreement. If they let Juba get away with this abuse, then they must be prepared for further obstructive behaviour from President Kiir which ultimately could destroy the peace talks leaving South Sudanese with no option but an ugly armed resistance and further loss of life.[Truth hurts but it is also liberating]
The author lives in the Republic of South Sudan. He can be reached at [email protected].