The East African | Were the Intrigues, Rivalries in Juba Spontaneous or Simmering all Along?

Posted December 23, 2013 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in South Sudan ~ 3,519 views



In May 1983, a young and ambitious Sudanese Army colonel, Dr John Garang deMabior, was engaged in a military assignment in Bor town, Jongolei State of Sudan. A mutiny by elements of the 105 battalion of the Army was in full swing, and the young officer was under clear instructions from the military high command in Khartoum to crush it.

But there was a problem. Col Garang was not an uninterested party in the mutiny, but the chief instigator. Battalion 105 was composed primarily of soldiers from southern Sudan and many of them were disgruntled and dissatisfied with their superiors, who were primarily of Arab descent.

Many of the soldiers were unhappy with ill-treatment by superior officers who were beholden to the prevailing internal power dispensation in Sudan. The power structure had the Arab at the top.

Col Garang had recently graduated from a US military college and had a doctorate degree in agricultural economics from Iowa State University. He was a Dinka-Bor and one of the senior-most southerners in the military.

Civil war

He was also one of the few men who had been incorporated into the Sudanese military after the 1972 Addis Ababa Peace Agreement that ended Sudan’s first civil war of 1956-72, dubbed Anyanya. Instead of crushing the Bor mutiny, Col Garang switched sides and the first shots by Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA) were fired.

Among his followers was a young captain in the military intelligence, Salvatore Kiir Mayardit, who was also a former Anyanya fighter. Mr Kiir was to become the first President of the Republic of South Sudan on July 7, 2011. President Kiir is currently facing rebellion 30 years since the Bor mutiny.

The SPLA under Garang endured many triumphs, fear, despondency, and tribulations. The liberation army faced many defeats both inside and outside Southern Sudan. The Sudan peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM), the political wing, also suffered many body blows, survived bitter factional and ethnic rivalries and edged closer to the precipice of disaster.

Through all the challenges, the liberation army/movement (SPLA/SPLM) survived and weathered many storms.

Kind gods

The gods have been kind. But, it is almost apparent that the current personality-cum-ideological ethnic struggle in Juba, which began on December 14 could be the straw that broke the camel’s back – unless President Salva Kiir saves the situation.

In everything the people of South Sudan have gone through since Sudan became independent in 1956 — including the nearly half a century civil war and the bitter 1991 split in the liberation war — the current power struggle is the most threatening and embodies the biggest threat to the survival of Africa’s youngest state.

Can South Sudan’s gods smile on the people and the country once again? Will the wily, albeit reticent president overcome and outwit his rivals?

Will the centre hold? Rather, does President Kiir have the resources and staying power to crush the opposition, which he has described as a coup attempt by his former deputy, Dr Riek Machar Teny and his supporters?

More specifically, can South Sudan avoid an ethnic conflict?

Expulsions and exit

Can President Salva Kiir ride out the storm, and more critically, can the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army, of which he is the commander-in-chief, remain intact in the face of a sustained depletion, expulsions and exit of its key command elements?

Will the Republic of South Sudan survive?

The prognosis is bad: The future of South Sudan is on the weighing scale.

The critical and fundamental questions that come to mind are: Were all these issues and concerns unforeseen? Was President Kiir bidding his time? And what triggered this sudden turn of events?

Without a doubt, former Vice-President Dr Riek Machar ideally perceived himself as the natural leader of South Sudan. His demeanour, posture and elocution within and outside South Sudan and particularly in diplomatic circles was showed a man in charge, a man at ease in and with power, a man destined for the highest office in the land and a man not to be denied.

He had the stature, the feel, the resources and the means to stake his claim – the man with the academic and military attributes to achieve his life-time ambition: Power and all that it entails.

Dr Machar, a UK-trained mechanical engineer, was the face and toast of the diplomatic community in Juba. For all practical purposes, he was the man in charge, a loyal deputy who engineered at least the support of the Nuer for President Kiir.

Before Independence in 2011, he was the man in charge in Southern Sudan while Salva Kiir was in Khartoum as the First Vice-President under Omar al-Bashir under the 2005-2011 transitional period as per the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

Indeed, it was believed in many circles in South Sudan that Salva Kiir would challenge President Bashir for the presidency of Sudan while Dr Machar would be the president of Southern Sudan.

It did not pan out that way, President Kiir appointed him his deputy in South Sudan.

Heir apparent

Dr Machar’s position was that of successor to President Salva Kiir in the future – whether that was to be in 2015 or after, it was not clear. To many observers, Dr Machar was the natural, if not anointed heir, and the most deserving on all accounts. He is a Nuer, the second largest after the Dinka.

The Nuer comprise nearly 50 per cent of the military forces within the (SPLA). Politically, he was the 1st Deputy Chairman of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement. Academically, he is accomplished and economically, he is a man of means. Everything was in place and, for Dr Machar, it was a matter of time.

But, there was the matter of the 1991 split in which he and Dr Lam Akol challenged the supremacy of Dr Garang, leading to the creation of the SPLM (Nasir) and SPLM (Torit) factions. Salva Kiir was then chief of staff of Dr Garang’s forces and threw his lot with Garang.

In the ensuing split, Dr Machar became a popular figure in Khartoum until his defection and return to SPLM/A side in 2000, when the SPLA had fought the Bashir forces to a standstill in many parts of Southern Sudan. The four-year peace negotiations between SPLM/A and President Bashir in Kenya between 2000 and 2005 culminated in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

Dr Machar was at the periphery of the process while Salva Kiir was a key player, at least in the initial stages when he led the SPLM/A delegation to sign the critical Machakos Accord of July 2002 that guaranteed self-determination for the people of Southern Sudan and separation of religion and state.

For Salva Kiir, then the chief of staff and de facto deputy to John Garang, the Machakos Accord was a ticket to power in the SPLM/A, a position he fitted into by virtue of his long military sacrifice and support for the liberation of Southern Sudan.

Shared interest

His relationship with Dr Machar was a convergence of interests and historical accidents rather than shared military, political and ideological interests. From 2005 to the current rivalries, President Kiir and Dr Machar never spoke or read from the same script. They rarely shared an interest or vision and they both were suspicious of each other’s intentions and plans. It was a matter of time, before it all came to a head.

The jury is still out on how this will finally pan out or be settled, but one thing is certain: The socio-political, military and economic super-structure of South Sudan will never be the same.

Who will come victorious between the wily, reticent but sturdy military intelligence-cum-security operative and the suave, articulate academic and military leader is a matter of conjecture. But one prays that the gods of South Sudan will not shift their glance. For the stakes are too high.

John Gachie is a media and foreign policy analyst and a former foreign news editor with the Nation Media Group

About the Author

Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.


Be the first to comment!

Leave a Response