Mother of the nation turned fierce South Sudan government critic

Rebecca Nyadeng was once touted among personalities who could form the interim administration in Juba.

Rebecca Nyandeng, the widow of South Sudan leader Dr John Garang. She was once touted among personalities who could form the interim administration in Juba to heal the country and defuse the bitter rivalry between President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar. FILE PHOTO | NATION 

IN SUMMARY

  • Rebecca Nyadeng, the 61-year-old widow of John Garang de Mabior, says her political relations with President Kiir were over “because we have differed over his style of running the country and the way he has fragmented SPLM into so many groupings.”

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Rebecca Nyadeng, the 61-year-old widow of John Garang de Mabior, is seen as a sober voice in the South Sudan conflict.

Indeed, her name was once touted among personalities who could form the interim administration in Juba to heal the country and defuse the bitter rivalry between President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar.

Would she take up such a role?

“When the time comes, I want to be part of the decision, but currently I am comfortable being an advisor to the negotiating parties. I have a son who is 41 and it is time for his generation to lead,” said Ms Nyandeng, referring to Mabior Garang de Mabior, one of Dr Machar’s allies.

At the recent Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) revitalisation talks that closed on February 16 without any deal, Ms Nyandeng was invited by the mediators to play a “motherly role,” as she is respected by all the groups.

Ms Nyandeng is allied to the Former Detainees (FDs), which is the third largest group led by former Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) secretary-general Pagan Amum. She, however, maintains that she is the “mother of all” and cannot afford to take sides.

Deep divisions

But opinion is divided whether she represents a unifying figure like her late husband in a country deeply divided on ethnic lines since the civil war began in December 2013.

Peter Aduak Nyaba, a former minister for education, told The EastAfrican that Ms Nyandeng cannot act as a unifying factor because she has been in government and shares in the ills that have occurred since independence in 2011.

“A mother of the nation is a title given to somebody who should be available for consultations and advice whenever the country faces challenges. Since she was once in government, it is very difficult for her to advise former colleagues,” said Dr Nyaba.

A member of the civil society representing the youth, John Pen, who was at the Addis Ababa talks, believes that  “Mama Rebecca” has the capacity to unite the country, but key Cabinet ministers led by Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth, do not trust her because they believe she is among pro-FD, who are commonly known as the “Garang Boys.”

Ms Nyandeng — a former minister for roads and transportation and a presidential advisor on gender and human rights — was among former ministers who called a press conference in Juba on December 6, 2013, demanding democracy and change of structures within SPLM.

Others included Dr Machar, who went on to lead the rebellion, Mr Amum, the current Foreign Minister Deng Alor, Costi Manibe and Dr Cirino Hiteng.

While Dr Machar went to the bush and others were detained, Ms Nyandeng was exiled to Nairobi. Analysts say President Kiir was afraid that detaining her could weaken his position.

Ms Nyandeng was sacked as the presidential adviser in August 2014, when she was accused of “working for the downfall of the government.”

She says her political relations with President Kiir were over “because we have differed over his style of running the country and the way he has fragmented SPLM into so many groupings.”

Today, she lives in Nairobi’s upmarket Lavington suburb and no longer travels to South Sudan because she believes that she will not be allowed to speak freely.

“I can go to South Sudan. The president will not do anything to me, but I will not be comfortable just staying there and not being allowed to speak about the wrong things going on,” she said.

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