Why Riek Machar risks being isolated if deal window closes

Saturday October 26 2019

South Sudan Opposition Alliance, a coalition of rebel groups, welcome the arrival of ceasefire and transitional security arrangements personnel to oversee the peace deal to their village on October 17, 2019. PHOTO | DIMO SILVA AURELIO | AFP


South Sudan main opposition leader, Dr Riek Machar, risks isolation by the international community over his ultimatum on joining the transitional government.

The Sudanese Peoples’ Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) has demanded that the security arrangements which involve cantonment, screening, training and reunification of the armed groups, the number of states the country should have, and the entrenchment of the September 2018 agreement, must be met before he joins the transitional government scheduled to be formed by November 12.

“If security arrangements are not implemented, the country will definitely slide back into civil war. We want our country to have a national army that will defend the constitution and protect the people of South Sudan,” said Manawa Peter Gatkuoth, the deputy spokesman of SPLM-IO.

Outstanding issues

However, a UN Security Council delegation that met Dr Machar a week ago in Juba said the outstanding issues should not delay the formation of the unity government.

Dr Machar told the delegation that SPLM-IO will not be part of the transitional government unless the conditions are met and that the country risked sliding back to civil war should the international community force the decision without appropriate safeguards.


The Security Council’s position tallied curiously with that of the Juba administration after President Salva Kiir said he will form the government with or without Dr Machar.

James Morgan, the South Sudan permanent representative to the African Union, told The EastAfrican that the government and other signatories to the revitalised agreement will go ahead to form a unity government on the designated date.

“It is hoped that Dr Machar will also change his mind and join the rest, otherwise the international community stands ready to support the people of South Sudan so that we stop dragging our feet in forming a unity government on November 12,” said Mr Morgan.

Arbitrary detention

SPLM-IO has always maintained that Dr Machar is already isolated by the international community at the behest of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development mediation team and President Kiir.

“The SPLM-IO leadership has been isolated by the Igad mediation (team) and our chairman and Commander-in-Chief has been under arbitrary detention without charges being preferred since October 2016, first in Pretoria, and currently in Khartoum,” said Mabior Garang de Mabior, the SPLM-IO chairman of the National Committee for Information and Public Relations.

Mr Mabior said the revitalised agreement was negotiated and signed under these constraints, and that ruling elite in Juba has misled the world that the problem with South Sudan lies with Dr Machar and that if he is isolated, the country will enjoy peace.

Dr Machar, who was meant to return to Juba in May to join a power-sharing government as first vice-president after the signing of the peace deal in September last year, wants to the formation of a transitional government delayed by about two months to early next year.

He has been under house arrest in Khartoum after signing the September 2018 agreement. Before that Dr Machar was under house arrest in South Africa in 2016 after President Kiir persuaded regional leaders to isolate him.

He was briefly released in June 2018 to take part in the peace negotiations in Addis Ababa and Khartoum.

After the 2015 truce collapsed and fresh fighting broke out at the presidential palace in Juba in July 2016, Dr Machar fled to the DR Congo on foot.

The United Nations later organised for him to be airlifted for treatment in Khartoum, but later Igad partner states decided that he should not stay in any of the countries bordering South Sudan. He was then exiled to South Africa.

Prisoners of war

In the meantime, the US Senate has passed a bipartisan resolution on South Sudan that calls for immediate release of prisoners of war and political prisoners.

These include human-rights defenders, journalists, and members of political opposition groups who are often held for long periods—years, in some cases—without access to their lawyers or family. Among the detainees are businessman Kerbino Wol Agok and political activist Peter Biar Ajak.

“With the introduction of this resolution, we are expressing our continued support for the people of South Sudan. We encourage all parties within South Sudan to provide a secure environment to resolve outstanding political issues and make demonstrable progress toward creating a lasting peace,” said Senator Isakson.

A former Press Secretary of Dr Machar, James Gatdet Dak, who was released from prison after the signing of the peace agreement, said: “Without political will, commitment and trust among leaders in South Sudan, achieving peace and stability will painfully remain an illusion for a long time.”

“Lack of trust is also another element which compromises their willingness to commit to arrangements they themselves agreed upon. This also erodes citizens’ trust in the leaders in whatever they say to be doing. Political trust is supposed to instill confidence in leaders and citizens,” he said.

President Kiir had earlier indicated the existing mistrust between the two when he stated that he will form a government on November 12, without Dr Machar.

Dr Machar’s decision to stay away will negate whatever the two leaders recently agreed on, even though President Kiir and his coteries are largely blamed for lacking political will.

Cantonments sites

A face-to face-meeting in September between President Kiir and Dr Riek Machar had resolved that all 40 cantonments sites for the SPLM-IO forces were to should start operating immediately.

Secondly, all VIP protection force were to be put under cantonment where they were to undergo registration, screening, selection, and unification before training that will carried out at the same time.

Also, the Tiger Division, which acts as President Kiir elite security to be treated like any other armed forces and will be screened and registered, and the two leaders decided to create a special unite called Republican Guards, that will responsible for protecting opposition leaders, in which half of them will come from SPLM-IO. All these might not happen without finances.

—Additional reporting by Malak Garang