Warring parties have failed to find solutions to a political crisis that started in 2013. Fred Oluoch spoke with John Garang’s widow Rebecca Nyandeng on the challenges facing South Sudan.
In 2013, you wanted to be the chairperson of SPLM and by extension the presidency. What was your objective?
At that time, I wanted to inject democracy into SPLM. Two, I was the only woman then who could aspire to the post of the chairperson and I wanted to set an example for women.
If President Salva Kiir had allowed us to contest and he won, we would have accepted and shaken his hand.
I was satisfied with the leadership my husband and I had provided to the people of South Sudan, but after his death I realised that there was a major problem with the way our party was being run, so I offered to set things right.
What if you were called upon today to offer that leadership?
That has not come and I guess it will not come because what the people of South Sudan want now is peace, and not who is leading them.
This is the last agenda after all of us sit down and decide who is the most suitable to lead and unite them. Even if you have ambitions, you cannot succeed with the current mess.
Again, we have to evaluate the root cause of the problem — which is lack of leadership with the capacity to address the basic needs of the people.
So we need to bring somebody with that capacity to deal with these issues and unite the people. If we focus only on the top leadership, then it is like a house with only the roof minus pillars — which will not stand.
Do you think South Sudanese are receptive to women?
They are because the movement has taught the people that women can lead. Many women fought in the bush for 21 years and commanded a lot of respect.
But as women we still need to make more people understand that in leadership, you go for the person who can set things right, not the gender.
Having participated in Phase II of the revitalisation talks in Addis Ababa, do you hope for peace any time soon?
We did not achieve much because the government refused to sign the Declaration of Principles that will guide future negotiations. But I cannot say that it is the end of everything, because as a politician you have to give hope to your people. The challenge was that delegates came to the negotiation hall with a fixed mind set on percentages and positions in government.
It was like negotiating with enemies and not people who belong to the same country. This bitterness, rigid positions and suspicion must change if we are to make progress in the future.
The opposition were resolute that President Kiir be excluded from the transitional government because he has abrogated the 2015 peace agreement. Do you agree with that?
Yes, I was part of the groups that asked if Dr Machar is isolated and yet he is a major player, why is President Kiir there and yet he cannot bring peace?
We maintained that if the incumbent must be in the transitional government, then Dr Machar must be brought back, because you cannot say that one key signatory to the 2015 agreement is in and the other is out.
So we asked President Kiir to step down honourably and the two of them will be respected because they are our liberators and we don’t want to humiliate them. We want them to retire honourably and give room to new players because they have shown they cannot work together.
Do you think the Igad mediators and partner states are genuinely trying to bring peace to South Sudan?
The majority of Igad states want peace but there are individual countries, which I cannot name, that are pursuing their interests. The biggest challenge is that Igad and the African Union cannot face President Kiir and tell him to step down.
They are using the carrot and not the stick. Igad should make the stick visible by calling out those who violate the agreement and the consequences that follow.
It happened in Liberia, Ivory Coast, Gambia, South Africa, Sierra Leone and recently Zimbabwe. Why not use the stick for South Sudan? If we and Igad fail, then the African Union and the UN will come in.