SPLM reunification talks collapse over Machar exclusion

Monday July 17 2017

Riek Machar and Salva Kiir

Former first vice president of South Sudan and SPLM-IO leader Riek Machar (left), and President Salva Kiir. AFP PHOTO | ALBERT GONZALEZ FARRAN 

By JULIUS BARIGABA
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Mediation talks that were scheduled for July 14 in Kampala to reunite the three factions of the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM) collapsed after former vice president Dr Riek Machar was not invited to the meeting.

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni faced mounting pressure from diplomats from Western countries to invite the former South Sudan opposition leader.

Some delegations had already arrived in the Ugandan capital for the talks when it became clear that Dr Machar would not appear. President Museveni apparently declined to invite him “because he is a traitor,” sources said.

The factions are SPLM In Government (SPLM-IG), SPLM In Opposition (SPLM-IO), and Former Detainees (FD).

The sources further revealed that Dr Machar, the SPLM-IO leader, would not have been able to attend anyway as he is under house arrest in South Africa: He did not to send any representative to the talks.

The attendees were mostly former detainees including Maj Gen Madut Biar and Lt Gen Oyay Ajak, who live in Kampala.

However, Kampala denied that the talks had collapsed but were instead “postponed to July 20” because the president’s schedule would not allow him to chair the discussions.

“The president is not under pressure from any diplomats,” Uganda’s International Affairs Minister Henry Okello Oryem told The EastAfrican.

“The truth is, the president mentioned in the Cabinet meeting [on July 12] that he wants an empty diary, in order to give sufficient time to discuss the issues in detail,” Mr Oryem added.

Protest against talks

Sources confirmed that delegations from Juba had arrived and others had been expected in Kampala on Friday, but Don Wanyama, the senior presidential press secretary to President Museveni, said, “The talks are not on the president’s schedule for today [Friday].”

Mr Oryem said that when President Museveni indicated that his diary would not allow him to chair the talks, he contacted the South Sudan ambassador to Uganda Samuel Luate Lominsuk to alert Juba that there had been a change of plans, and that the delegations should postpone their travel to Kampala.

It is not clear whether Mr Luate prevailed on the South Sudan delegations not to travel for the talks, as our efforts to reach embassy officials on Friday were futile.  

South Sudan President Salva Kiir’s government had protested against the talks because Juba did not want Dr Machar in attendance.  

Move rejected

Diplomats say President Museveni rejected their move to invite Dr Machar, but the SPLM-IO leader had also cast doubt on the outcome of the Kampala talks, saying reunification of SPLM cannot end the war.   

“First end the war, that will bring lasting peace,” Dr Machar reportedly said.

A civil war has been going on in South Sudan since December 2013. Thousands of civilians are fleeing to neighbouring Ethiopia as government troops advance on a rebel stronghold in the Upper Nile region, a senior United Nations official said, expressing grave concern about what is already the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis.

The economy has been in a downward spiral as prices of essential items escalate.

The South Sudanese pound (SSP) has collapsed from 18.5 to the dollar in December 2015, to around 140 now in black market transactions in Juba.

Inflation has reached record levels, increasing by 730 per cent in the 12 months up to August 2016, according to recent World Bank figures.

Friday’s talks were scheduled as a follow up to the May 27 deal that the warring parties signed after a meeting at State House Entebbe, chaired by President Museveni, with SPLM acting secretary general Jena Nunu Kumba, SPLM-IO foreign secretary Ezekiel Lol Gatkhouth and head of former detainees Pagan Amum Okietch in attendance.

President Yoweri Museveni (centre) with leaders representing warring South Sudan sides on May 26, 2017 in Entebbe, Uganda. PHOTO | UPPS

President Yoweri Museveni (centre) with leaders representing warring South Sudan sides on May 26, 2017 in Entebbe, Uganda. PHOTO | UPPS

Others who attended the meeting were South Sudan ambassador Samuel Luate Lominsuk and Betty Bigombe, the senior director for Fragility, Conflict and Violence at the World Bank. 

The parties agreed then to establish a working committee that would develop a work plan on the implementation of the 2015 Arusha Accord and end the war in the country. The South Sudan National Dialogue had started on May 22, with the swearing-in of the steering committee. 

It would appear that Kampala is still studying the change of heart among some Western powers that now appear to have softened towards Riek Machar, a position that runs counter to their previous stance. 

Igad decision

During the Obama administration, Washington had wanted the former South Sudan vice president “cleaned out” so that President Kiir could name Dr Machar’s replacement from within the SPLM-IO to keep the agreed structure of the transitional government of national unity in shape.

According to Mr Oryem, Kampala is acting on a decision of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development Heads of State Summit, and the strong advice of former US secretary of state John Kerry who said that Dr Machar “should be kept out of the way.” 

“Riek is in South Africa not because of Museveni’s wishes but because it’s an Igad summit decision that he doesn’t return until such a time when there is a clear roadmap for elections, when he can be invited to take part in the elections,” said Mr Oryem.  

As to whether the continued exclusion of Dr Machar from the talks hampers the reuniting of warring parties in South Sudan, Kampala says the SPLM-IO leader should stay away.  

“The talks are an urgent issue, but President Museveni doesn’t want anything to interfere with the talks. That’s the reason for postponement. It’s the position of Igad that Riek should stay away, and allow Salva Kiir to manage the roadmap,” said Mr Oryem.