By Independent Team
President’s military intervention could spark regional conflict
Seven days after fighting erupted in the South Sudan capital Juba, Ugandan army troops landed at the airport and evacuated stranded civilians. The UPDF swift move which also involved securing major infrastructure installations in South Sudan was praised by the region’s leaders.
But the sacked former vice president of south Sudan, Dr Riek Machar, condemned the UPDF intervention and alleged it was to military defend his nemesis, President Salva Kiir.
He said UPDF jets were fighting alongside Kiir’s forces in the then-contested city of Bor; a charge denied by Uganda. Amid the fray, Kenya and Sudan, which have stronger interest in Juba, appeared reluctant to be drawn into sending in troops.
The entry of UPDF into the Juba conflict was also immediately condemned by the South Sudan Human Rights society for Advocacy (SSHURSA).
“Considering President Museveni as one of the key central figures in IGAD-Peace led mediation and reconciliation over South Sudan’s recent crisis, is a terrible miscalculation by the regional body, the IGAD and unforgivable betrayal of the people of South Sudan by the international Community,” the human rights NGO said in a statement on December 30; the same day that President Yoweri Museveni flew into Juba to meet President Salva Kiir.
The NGO added: “President Museveni is known by many South Sudanese citizens as partial, one sided self-proclaimed mediator and great mouth in meddling in South Sudan’s internal politics and security matters.
For the last one year, he had been accused by sections of citizens in South Sudan and Uganda Parliament as a man who encourages crises in the South Sudan’s ruling SPLM party internal affairs as he has been allged of misadvising South Sudanese President Salva Kiir to listen to no one but believing in military might of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces to back up the latter’s own military guards against any internal political critics.”
The UPDF intervention in Juba and other events around fighting that erupted on December 13, 2013 in South Sudan between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and his erstwhile deputy, Riek Machar, have led observers and some of the main players to point at similar events that happened in November 2004.
At the time, the late Gen. Dr. John Garang was the leader of the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM) which Salva Kiir heads today. Salva Kiir was Garang’s deputy and the most powerful commander of the SPLA.
Reports had emerged in newspapers that a split between Garang and Kiir was on the verge of tearing the SPLM apart and that Garang had ordered Salva Kiir to be arrested.
One could say the situation then was similar to a recent situation in July 2013 when Salva Kiir sacked his powerful deputy, Riek Machar, who is the de facto leader of the Nuer; the second most powerful tribal grouping in South Sudan. In the same July swoop, Kiir fired all 28 cabinet ministers and their deputies.
Since many of them were powerful former commanders in the pre-independence wars, Salva Kiir must have anticipated that such action could cause serious ripples and appears to have been prepared for the worst. He was disappointed.
Instead of challenging his sacking and appealing to his tribes mates to challenge Kiir and his Dinka tribes mates, Machar appealed for calm.
Machar told journalists on July 27, 2013: “I want to call on the citizens to remain calm.
“This is a constitutional mandate of the president to remove and form a government. This is within the powers of the president. There should be no violence.
“The army should not be involved in politics in any way. They should respect the constitution”.
The situation escalated on December 16, 2013, when President Salva Kiir appeared on national TV in army fatigues to announce that 10 top SPLA leaders, some of them former cabinet ministers had been arrested for attempting a coup against him. He said Machar was on the run and was being hunted.
Apparently, that was the explanation for the three days of gunfire that had rocked the capital Juba from December 13.
But one of South Sudan’s leading moral voices, Rebecca Garang; widow of the late Garang, has said the coup was something made up by President Kiir as a pretext for launching a clampdown on opposition to his rule.
“I don’t know how a civilian or a politician can make a coup! A coup is made by army officers and those people who were arrested (10 former cabinet ministers and pagan Amum, former SPLM Secretary-General) are just politicians, not army officers,” she says in an audio recording reportedly leaked during the period she was in defacto house arrest.
She added: “We were only calling for democracy but they want to continue with dictatorship. I don’t believe anything he says.”
According to her, Kiir sacked Machar and the SPLM Secretary General Pagan Amum because they were making demands for restructuring and democratising the party.
Rebecca Garang and Machar had both announced they would challenge Kiir for the leadership of the party at the next party national convention. Kiir refused to call it.
These recent events in Juba have led observers to compare them to what happened in Rumbek in 2004.
Reports indicate that back then, when Salva Kiir heard that Garang was allegedly plotting to arrest him, he appealed to President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda to offer him military support against Garang. Museveni reportedly refused to send troops to assist Salva Kiir.
At the time Ugandan armed forces were operating in SPLA controlled territory in the so-called Operation iron-fist against the rebels of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.
It should be recalled that this was the period nearing the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the north Sudan government and the Southern Sudanese led by Gen. Garang. The international community was very anxious that nothing scuttles the peace agreement and then-U.S. president George Bush personally appealed to Garang.
“John, don’t let us down. We want peace before the end of the year,” Bush reportedly appealed to Garang in a telephone conversation just before a UN Security Council Meeting.
At the time, Riek Machar had just rejoined the SPLM as senior commander after splitting from it in 1991 and forming the SPLM/A-Nasir group. After the split, Machar had in 1997 signed a deal with the Khartoum regime and become head of the government-backed South Sudan Defence Force (SSDF) and was effectively at war with Garang. Machar abandoned the SSDF in 2000 to form the Sudan Peoples Democratic Front. He returned to the SPLM/A in 2002 but a lot of time had been wasted.
Therefore, in 2004, the international community did not want another split within the SPLA. That is when Garang convened the now famous Rumbek meeting of November 29 to December 1, 2004.
It was a joint meeting of the SPLM/A leadership Council, General Military Command Council, heads of Commissions, SPLM Secretariats, SPLM County Secretaries, civil society and community leaders.
In that meeting, Salva Kiir accused Garang of monopolising power, stifling party structures, and promoting members of his ethnic group (although Salva Kiir and Garang are all Dinka, they belong to different sub-groups of the largest ethnic group in South Sudan). He also accused Garang of fomenting corruption in the party.
“At the moment some members of the Movement have formed private companies, bought houses and have huge bank accounts in foreign countries. I wonder what kind of system we are going to establish in South Sudan considering ourselves indulged in this respect,” Kiir said.
He added: “If we are National Leaders, which I don’t believe we are because we have no cohesion within our leadership structure, let us be sincere with ourselves. After meetings are concluded, we run to foreign countries.
There is no code of conduct to guide the Movement’s structures. When the Chairman leaves for abroad, no directives are left and no one is left to act on his behalf. I don’t know with whom the Movement is left with; or does he carry it in his own brief case?”
Then he placed his demands: “I would also want Comrade Chairman to give me full powers of the Chief of the General Staff (COGS) to enable me expedite the regrouping and reorganisation of the SPLA, and if Comrade Chairman sees that I am not able to do that job, then he can appoint another person to do it.”
In that meeting, Garang sat quietly and listened as the two men; Salva Kiir and Riek Machar criticized him. And even after he was asked to respond, he demurred and instead encouraged others present to raise further criticism. Many more SPLM commanders spoke openly against Garang.
When he finally responded, he repeated several times that he had no intention of arresting Salva Kiir.
Garang told the meeting: “Commander Salva Kiir and I have been together in the movement for 22 years, and have been close friends, and we will continue that way. 22 years of friendship can’t be thrown away by rumours; Commander Salva will be with me now until the end of the interim period and beyond.”
That is how Salva Kiir retained his positions in SPLM/A and finally succeeded Garang in 2005.
But today, he is being accused of the very crimes he accused Garang of. His reaction to any opposition has proved to be less democratic and accommodative and more brutal.
Mabior Garang, the son of the late SPLM leader, Dr John Garang accuses Salva Kiir of causing the current crisis.
He says Salva Kiir has refused to fund a Constitution Review Commission formed 2011 and frustrated efforts to streamline the young nation’s operation.
“By 2014 we are supposed to have a permanent constitution. For this a constitutional review commission was formed and mandated to consult the people of South Sudan on a wide range of issues including how they want to be governed. But the Commission was poorly funded and its mandate expired in 2012 without achieving much,” he said in an interview with The New Vision.
“To me this was an indicator that there will be no national elections and a sign that this government is moving towards a dictatorship,” he said.
He said Salva Kiir has frustrated efforts to transition the SPLM from a liberation movement to a political party.
“President Salva Kiir, frustrated efforts to review the current constitution, rules of procedure and how the national convention would be held. For instance, in the convention, one of points of contention is the system of voting for the Chairman by show of hands rather than through secret ballot.
“The group of 13 progressive party leaders led by Dr. Machar rejected this among other provisions, because people could be intimidated by security during the voting process. So the document was not passed because after the passing of this document SPLM would then be registered as a political party. So SPLM today has not yet been registered as a political party.”
He says Salva Kiir fears to call the party National Convention because he could be unseated by another leader Dr. Riek Machar.
“He knows he will be defeated. If he Chairman Salva Kiir claims that Dr. Riek Machar is the prophet of doom then why not go ahead with the elections?”
Mabior Garang says Dr. Machar had no reason to attempt a coup because he knows he has more support in the SPLM.
Mabior said: “Salva Kiir wanted to foment tribal violence by sacking the vice president. Any lay person in South Sudan would have known that if you sack this person you would foment tribal violence.
“So Salva Kiir has now achieved through this alleged coup what he wanted to achieve through the sacking of the vice president because this draws attention away from the problems, he can now declare martial law and suspend civil liberties.”
Since the fighting broke out on December 15, more than 1,000 people are believed to have been killed and 120,000 others force to flee. At a meeting on December 27, 2013 in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, the assembly of heads of state of member-states of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), ordered Salva Kiir and Machar to meet face-to-face by December 31. It did not happen.
That rendered IGAD’s other work at the summit, including its condemnation of “all unconstitutional actions to challenge the constitutional order, democracy and the rule of law and in particularly condemns changing the democratic government of the Republic of South Sudan through use of force” largely redundant. What they needed to do possibly is to nudge Salva Kiir to provide more democratic leadership for the world’s youngest nation.