Listening to a fellow, who is obviously a Dinka, talking recently in a taxi on my way to Kampala, I had the feeling that he was a propagandist for the President of South Sudan, Gen. Salva Kiir. He was telling his listener that the on-going peace negotiations were going to succeed in the formation of a government of national unity by November, mainly because, he said, that Kiir’s arch-enemy, former Vice President Riek Machar, no longer had a rebel fighting force.
There in lies the hopeful deception. In the agreement more than a year ago, the arrangement was that a provisional government would be led by Kiir, with Machar as the First Vice President; then the other groupings would also nominate second and third vice presidents, to represent them. That marked the angst that took place six years ago when Machar escaped by the skin of his teeth.
In that encounter, fighting broke out between the forces body-guarding Machar within the presidential compound in Juba. The fighting between the Kiir and Machar forces in Juba produced havoc. More than 500 soldiers of both Kiir and Machar, died in the ensuing fighting; and the latter escaping on foot through the forests to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Machar ended up in exile in South Africa. This time round, he is operating from troubled Khartoum in Sudan from where he travelled for the meeting in Juba with Kiir.
The United Nations mediator, Ahmed Tiegub Lisa, says that the chances of a government of national unity are bright. But even as he said this, cracks appeared in the negotiations. One of the points of agreement was that Kiir should integrate all the rebel forces into the national Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). But he has balked at the suggestion claiming that the government does not have funds to integrate the various rebel forces into one army.
Even as he shied away from one SPLA, some rebel forces, notably in the north and west of the country said they would not accept to be integrated into the SPLA. This being the case, how can there be a government of national unity?
And to say that Machar no longer has an army is wishful-thinking. Why would he want integration of forces if there are none on his side? Also, other rebel generals like, Thomas Cirillo and Paul Malong have not come forth to renounce rebellion to the cause of unity. And they have refused to join the Kiir-Machar proposed alliance.
Earlier assessment by this columnist was that: “The stakes are very high. Southern Sudan is oil rich; and political oligarchies are being formed to satisfy tribal acquisitions and sentiments. That apart, there are interests being fronted by the neighbouring regional states that also span personal gains through investments in the country. Most of these interests are disguised as those concerning the trade with South Sudan, but a number of these have been revealed as siphoning off the wealth of the country in dubious deals and massive money-laundering that leaves the indigenous people poor.”
That has left the country with a burgeoning exodus of refugees streaming into the neighbouring states. Uganda, being the nearest to access of the regional states, has up to two million South Sudanese refugees. As a host, the United Nations has categorized Uganda as the most hospitable country in the world to accommodate refugees, who also come from as far as Ethiopia.
The conflict between Kiir and Machar has also left an estimated four million internally-displaced people who find it difficult to eke out a living. They cannot settle to do agriculture because of insecurity even when South Sudan would be an agriculturally rich country. All this is because of political bickering between the tribes, especially now between Kiir’s Dinka and Machar’s Lou-Nuer.
Both contesting leaders are protégés of the founder of SPLM/A, Dr. John Garang, who was killed in a helicopter crash. After his death the SPLM got divided between Kiir and Machar, both trying to replace Garang in a democratic process of elections, which went sour.
Accordingly, “Into the nomination for the person to be elected as the one contesting for the chairmanship of SPLM, there developed serious personal rivalry between the two. Needless to say, the one who would have won the SPLM chairmanship would undoubtedly have won the presidency of the country, the other opposition parties being mere sideshows.
“That ended in a fracas when Kiir outmaneuvered Machar who was generally viewed as the more charismatic figure within the SPLM. It ended in Machar forming of the breakaway SPLM/IO – Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/ In Opposition.” That is where the position is up to now; hopefully up to November, but without much united anticipation.