Opposition leader Riek Machar leaves South Sudan for Kinshasa

Thursday August 18 2016

South Sudan's former vice president and opposition leader Riek Machar has not been seen in Juba since the July 11, 2016 clashes. AFP PHOTO | ZACHARIAS ABUBEKER

South Sudan's former vice president and opposition leader Riek Machar has left the country after a nearly month-long stay in the bushes in Western Equatoria where he had fled following fierce fighting with government troops.

Water and Irrigation Minister, Mabior Garang de Mabior told The EastAfrican that Dr Machar arrived in Kinshasa on Monday in transit to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where he will be waiting for countries in the region to intervene in the Juba crisis.

The whereabouts of Dr Machar had been a matter of speculation since he left Juba on July 11 when fighting broke out.

READ: Uneasy calm shattered as soldiers, civilians die in Juba shootout

All along, close aides of Dr Machar said that he had been in the bushes around Juba after media reports early last week indicated that he was in Tanzania, while others speculated that he is in Chad.

Following his departure from Juba, President Salva Kiir replaced him with Taban Deng Gai as the vice president, a move the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad), that has been mediating the crisis, said was “null and void.”


READ: Kiir now fires ministers allied to Machar

A peace agreement signed in August 2015 to end the civil war, which broke out in December 2013 after President Kiir accused Dr Machar of plotting a coup, has so far been broken severally.

On Tuesday, President Kiir inaugurated parliament with new SPLM-IO members that have been nominated afresh by Mr Gai, leaving out the ones that had earlier been nominated by Dr Machar.

Early elections

President Kiir has also called for early elections before the end of the life of the transitional government contrary to the agreement.

According to South Sudan Deputy Ambassador to Kenya, Jimmy Deng, and President Kiir is "willing to be challenged" and he is "giving a chance to those who have been angling for the seat to come forward and contest". Mr Deng, however, said that President Kiir has invited political parties to further discuss the prospects of early elections and reach a consensus. The elections were supposed to be held in 2015 but aborted because of the civil war.

However, Mr Mabior, a spokesman of Dr Machar’s party, said that holding elections in the current situation is out of question and accused President Kiir of trying to legitimise his position after consistently working to dismantle the peace agreement by sacking his main partner.

“We in SPLM-IO still believe that the peace agreement can be salvaged because it talks about how to tackle political, economic and security reforms. However, should Igad fail to get the implementation back on track, we will have no option but to continue fighting,” Mr Mabior said.

As security situation in South Sudan continues to deteriorate, Igad heads of state are scheduled to meet in Nairobi on August 22 to finalise the deployment of the 4,000-strong regional force with the first batch expected to be in Juba by September 19.

The UN Security Council on August 12 resolved to send the regional force to Juba and enhanced its mandate to include full combat with the purpose of protecting the civilians and acting as a buffer between the warring forces.

READ: Kiir calls for talks on new UN force, says sovereignty comes first

Shuttle diplomacy

Meanwhile, Juba has launched diplomatic campaign to convince the eastern African region to accept the recent changes in the transitional government despite the regional body Igad having declared them null and void.

Mr Gai was in Kenya on Tuesday to meet government officials in what Mr Deng said was part of shuttle diplomacy to convince the region to accept the recent changes in leadership.

“Mr Gai is working well with President Kiir to implement the agreement because the agreement provides for a replacement. Dr Machar can now come back as an ordinary citizen but only after he denounces violence,” Mr Deng said.

However, the new first vice president told a summit of the heads of state in Addis Ababa last week that he would step down once Dr Machar returns to Juba, otherwise he would continue with the implementation of the August 2015 peace agreement.