From Kampala’s New Vision Online. By: Samuel Ouga and Raymond Baguma, First published DEC/23/2013, SSN;
Question: In your view, where did the events in South Sudan start from?
Answer: We have to go back further than December 6th. The problems in South Sudan started way back in 2011; after South Sudan independence. A constitutional Review Commission was formed in South Sudan. After the signing of the CPA there was an interim constitution. The interim constitution was for the interim period from 2005 to 2011.
In 2011 we now had a transitional constitution. By 2014 we are supposed to have a permanent constitution.
For this a constitutional review commission was formed and mandated to consult the people of South Sudan on a wide range of issues including how they want to be governed. But the Commission was poorly funded and its mandate expired in 2012 without achieving much.
It’s time was extended but still poorly funded, therefore making it impossible to fulfil its objectives. To me this was an indicator that there will be no national elections and a sign that this government is moving towards a dictatorship.
After independence there was a lot of euphoria that many people of South Sudan failed to see the subtle moves towards stifling democracy.
The SPLM was in a period of transition from a liberation movement into a new reality of operating as a political party. SPLM was reviewing its Bush war guiding documents whose geo-political context had changed. Back in the bush way days the SPLM articulated in its documents a context of a united Sudan. But South Sudan gain independence and the context changed.
With this were also problems as the Chairman of the party; President Salva Kiir frustrated efforts to review the current constitution, rules of procedure and how the national convention would be held. For instance, in the convention, one of points of contention is the system of voting for the Chairman by show of hands rather than through secret ballot.
The group of 13 progressive party leaders led by Dr. Machar rejected this among other provisions, because people could be intimidated by security during the voting process. So the document was not passed because after the passing of this document SPLM would then be registered as a political party. So SPLM today has not yet been registered as a political party.
The parties act; an important instrument that will regulate party activities, was passed by parliament and forwarded to the president for signing. But up to now it has not been signed into law.
These are indications that the president is becoming more authoritarian and that there will be no elections. Because you can’t just wake up one morning and say let’s have elections.
There are due processes that have to be followed. For those who are more educated and understand political science, they knew a long time ago that things were not going well, but sometimes you have to give people time to see what the realities are.
This group that has now been accused of mounting the coup has over time also raised concern over among other things the unconstitutional sacking of governors deemed critical to the current government and imposing hand-picked governors on the people of South Sudan because he wants all governors to be on his side so that they can doctor the results of the national convention.
According to our constitution when a governor’s seat falls vacant there should be elections within 60 days. But instead, Chairman Salva Kiir unconstitutionally imposed hand-picked Governors on the people of South Sudan.
When he sees a governor not doing his bidding, he removes that governor by first accusing him of something. Like he did to the Governors of Lake state, Western Upper Nile state…who were falsely accused and sacked. Like when he sacked the whole cabinet. He accused the top leaders of having stolen money yet he had no evidence.
Why would you do that? It’s like defamation. Why didn’t he charge them in courts of law? He was just doing this to ruin their political image in the eyes of the people.
When in reality the office of the president has borrowed US$4.2 billion. Members of parliament are not aware of details of this loan because they were not informed about it. Nobody knows where it was borrowed from or what the money was used for.
There is nothing to show for it and yet the people of South Sudan are left to finance this loan. Since the oil started flowing government employees have not been paid. It’s a situation where somebody has to say something. Like the Americans say, you can’t keep pissing on people and then you tell them its raining.
This group of 13, on the December 6th, called for a press conference. Before that we all know that he sacked the entire cabinet. He sacked the Vice president. Actually the national convention was supposed to happen before that.
It was so close to the national conference where if you didn’t want Dr. Machar to be your deputy, because you chose him in 2005 and again you chose him in 2011 as your running mate, didn’t you know about the atrocities of 1991 for which he accuses Dr. Machar of?
When were reconciled as a movement in 2002 we had left that behind us in 2002 and we had started a process of reconciliation. Until 2005 we came together with Dr. Machar as a movement. When the CPA was signed we came with Dr. Machar as a member of the SPLM. So why would he bring up the 1991 massacre now?
President Kiir now keeps referring to Dr. Riek Machar as the prophet of doom and keeps mentioning the 1991 massacre. The 1991 incident is being used to politicise things on tribal and to remove attention away from his mismanagement.
The Group of 13 are not saying that they are the benevolent ones, what they are saying; for instance during the press conference The Governor of Lake state who was sacked by Kiir said; “we have all failed including us seated here together with you in government. It is only our children who are going to study in good schools in East Africa. When we fall sick we are air lifted out of the country. It’s our children who are eating ice cream. The children of the local people are not eating ice cream. Let us all seat down and have a dialogue and see how to resolve the leadership crisis and see how we can move forward.”
So they were calling for a peaceful reconciliation, because after sacking the entire cabinet there was mounting tension.
President Kiir, after meeting Khartoum allied militias who were fighting South Sudanese people, he came back and sacked top Generals of the SPLM who had fought in the bush and instead integrated the people from Khartoum into the army. This created a lot of tension.
The group of 13 said, let us resolve these issues from within the party, instead of us forming another party through dialogue. But President Salva Kiir saw all this as a threat. Because he is aware that what happened to Thabo Mbeki in South Africa, could also happen to him in a national conference.
Because if he is unseated as the chairman of SPLM, that another person like Dr. Riek Machar or any other person would become the new leader of the party before the elections. He knows he will be defeated. If he Chairman Salva Kiir claims that Dr. Riek Machar is the prophet of doom then why not go ahead with the elections?
Because it’s up to the people of South Sudan to decide. He should have faith on the people of South Sudan. If he knows he is popular then why can’t he let the convention go ahead? If you want to stay in power you don’t throw away your party.
He is trying to compare himself to other African leaders who have stayed in power for long. Saying the “So and so has stayed in power for long so why not me.” But those people have not thrown away their parties. Those African leaders who stay in power for long use their parties. It’s the delegates in their parties who vote them to come back.
It was not unconstitutional but the sacking of the cabinet was bad politics. The national conference was so close. If he didn’t want the vice president he would have gone to the national conference. By doing this, you foment tribal divisions.
After the sacking of the vice president you would expect an outbreak of tribal conflict. But the vice president pleaded with his people not to orchestrate violence.
It would not have been a smart move to mount a coup since he has support from most of the delegates and Dr. Machar, had the president cornered diplomatically. Salva Kiir wanted to foment tribal violence by sacking the vice president. Any lay person in South Sudan would have known that if you sack this person you would foment tribal violence.
So Salva Kiir has now achieved through this alleged coup what he wanted to achieve through the sacking of the vice president because this draws attention away from the problems, he can now declare martial law and suspend civil liberties. He has now achieved what he wanted.
What really happened in Juba, the 13 political prisoners on the December 6th, declared that they would hold another press conference to tell the people of South Sudan about what is really happening.
Tell them how the President was running a one man show, micro managing the government and not allowing other people to do their work. After hearing this, President Kiir scheduled a national liberation council meeting on the same day.
The group of 13 then said since we want a peaceful means of solving these issues let’s then go and have dialogue within the same meeting. But when they went there they were informed that the only issue on the agenda was the passing the basic document and nothing else.
When it came to discussing other business they kept insulting them. The same thing happened on the second day. Realising that the meeting was not constructive the group of 13 decided not to show up for the meeting on the 3rd day.
Coincidentally there was an argument between members of the republican guard. A small argument between the presidential guards escalated into a gun fight that spread to other units. Apparently there was a rumour that an arrest warrant had been issued for the arrest of Dr. Riek Machar.
On Monday the president appeared on TV in full military uniform saying he had foiled a coup attempt. That he was in full control. There should have been more investigations. Because you can’t go and arrest politicians when there is a military coup. You first arrest the military commanders and find out from them.
But the way they rushed to arrest the politicians and threw them in Jail raises questions. Up to now they have not been taken to court or allowed to access their lawyers. Our constitution states that suspects should be brought to court within 48 hours. They have not been charged.
They have not been given legal counsel. They are being detained illegally. One gets the feeling that everything was pre-planned because it happened so quickly. This is irresponsible leadership. The president of the republic started using genocidal language like calling people cockroaches.
Sometimes he speaks like it’s okay for some people to attack others. He can’t continue referring to people like “Those people of 91.” All the people of South Sudan know what he means. I will not tell you, but the people of South Sudan know what he means. There is a recording where he sanctioned violence. This is on record.
Recently during a memorial service of 80 people who were killed as result of cattle rustling by another tribe, while comforting the mourners, President Kiir told them in the mother tongue (Dinka), that “You people have allowed this to happen and yet you are the ones holding the spears.”
If you translate this, what he was actually telling them was that “the minister of defence is from your area. How do you let yourselves to be attacked?”
It’s like he has allowed the people of that area to use national resources to go against other people of South Sudan. He also mentioned that when such people use to attack “our villages my people came to me and asked what should we do? I told them organize yourselves. And they organised themselves and attacked those people. And up to now they have never come back to our village.”
That is bad politics. That is inciting violence. So it’s the president who is the chairman of SPLA who has been inciting violence. He speaks one thing and does another.
Another important point is that the group of 13 has been writing to the office of the president asking for them to meet through the office of party Secretary General.
The reason that made them call the press conference on December 6th was because they have it on record, of them sending letters to the chairman for dialogue several times but the chairman kept ignoring them and kept falsely accusing them. These people had reached out to the chairman for dialogue.
When the president kept on accusing them falsely and they would keep quiet the president took it as a weakness. There was silence and the people didn’t know what was happening. He was the only one talking saying these people were thieves. But when does the buck start with you Mr. President? When do you take the blame?
You have been reshuffling your cabinet since 2005 and blaming everybody else. Can you take responsibility and say “People we have failed. What can we do?” These sacked people who fought for South Sudan have been humiliated. They have never been given any kind of military decoration. Nothing.
You could say that south Sudan is a young nation. Many African countries like Uganda, Kenya, and South Africa have offered us training opportunities for capacity building, but government selects and sends the oldest people who are going to retire in two years.
They are so old that they get bored in class and only go to enjoy the per diem. For a development of a country you develop the human resource and the human resource develops the country.
So they are wasting state resources. They are there because it is favoritism and a way of rewarding people for loyalty. They don’t get sent there in order to build a human resource.
South Sudan is two years old; but there was an interim period of five years when the guns fell silent and there was a time for nation building. On top of that, we did not just fall from the sky. We were in a liberation movement that had liberated territory bigger than the Republic of South Sudan today. We had a history of administration in the liberated territory that we could have transformed into the new political reality.
But what the President did when he took power was to first throw away the party. And that is a story for another meeting because that goes back to 2004. I am sure you are aware of the Rumbek meeting in 2004.
Question: You mean when Dr. John Garang apologized…
Answer: Yes, they had a meeting in Rumbek and they were reconciled. There was tension between Salva Kiir and Dr. John (Garang). When Dr. John died, they had just reconciled. In Kenya when Kenyatta died, President Moi said ‘Nyayo.’ But what happened in South Sudan is that Salva Kiir did not do ‘Nyayo.’
So, if we go back to 2005, this is where the SPLM got derailed. So we have to go back to 2005 and put the train back on the tracks. Otherwise the train cannot move.
Question: From what the Rumbek meeting and the reconciliation, do you think President Salva should have followed that path as well of reconciliation?
Answer: Definitely. Not only that; but even after the reconciliation with Riek Machar, there was a committee that was enacted to conduct something called the ‘South-South Dialogue.’ This is something like South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. During the reconciliation with Riek Machar in 2002, the South Sudanese had their own way to come together and resolve their conflicts.
There were no outside forces or interests that came in. South Sudanese have the capacity, and they have proven it in the past, to come together and solve their differences. In 2005, we got derailed and the process of south-south dialogue did not continue.
This is what was supposed to be. But it did not happen. Why it did not happen, I don’t know. This tension has been there since before the independence of South Sudan. But people have been exercising responsible leadership. Nobody wanted to be on the bad side of history.
People were waiting for independence; and after we can solve whichever differences we have.
Question: To what extent has ethnicity contributed to the existing tensions?
Answer: There is that dimension and it’s very real because people are killing each other. But I will say that it is in the interest of somebody who is fomenting it. If you look at the 13 political prisoners, they are from different region of South Sudan.
The tribal dimension comes in when somebody is trying to use it as a way of escalating the violence. It’s almost like hate speech coming from the President’s mouth. The year 1991 is a sad chapter in the history of South Sudan. But the President is talking about the 1991 tragedy in the context of the ‘prophet of doom.’
Yet the President should be talking of the 1991 tragedy in the context of reconciliation and truth.
It was the President’s bodyguards in Juba who went house to house executing people because of their tribe. Yes, it has a tribal dimension but in the context of it being used by the regime in order to create chaos and declare martial law and suspend civil liberties.
Question: Do you think it would have been different if Dr. John Garang was still alive?
Answer: There are no ‘what-ifs’ in history. But of course it would be different. There would still be a lot of challenges but the difference is that he was a person who was committed to his leadership and took it seriously. He would not have slept. I watched him as a leader during the war days.
He was always constantly educating himself. This is what leadership demands. You have to always be ahead of the people. This is what our President lacks. He does not take his job as a leader seriously. Otherwise, he would have constantly tried to find ways of solving the challenges.
Question: And the current role being played by Dr. Garang’s widow, your mother Rebecca?
Answer: It is up to her, but I think she would rather be a business person. She has been in that leadership position for 20 years with my father leading the movement. She knows the stress and hardships of leadership. If the people of South Sudan were managing, you would not hear from her. Through the private sector, you can do more for the people.
Two years ago, she started farming, cultivating sorghum. In the first harvest, she made at 300-400 percent more in a year than what she makes in government. She can be a leader in the private sector. But it is because the vision of the movement has been hijacked by people pretending to be using the vision on one hand while doing another thing.
They are using the family of Dr. John Garang to say that Salva is doing the right thing. With this, you get a crisis of conscience at some point and have to say something. When you see something you have contributed to being deliberately destroyed in your name, you have to say something.
So, she has been forced back into politics because at least, not because of her desire for political power.
Question: There were reports that she had been arrested. Is she safe?
Answer: She is at home. They have not harmed her. But if you go out, vigilantes can do anything. I don’t think there is any kind of presidential order for her arrest. They have respected her because within that group there are people who are trying to advise the president that this is not the way.
The senseless were saying that she should be arrested. But I think sense prevailed and they said they would not arrest her. I think if she tries to leave the country they will arrest her. So, she decided to stay home until the situation subsides.
Question: How about you? Are you not threatened?
Answer: I am in danger. Not to say from direct orders of the president. When a leader makes reckless statements, I am in danger from vigilante groups. I could be mugged. I am in danger yes; but God is good.
Question: How do you think what is taking place in South Sudan will end? Will it be an all-out war or reconciliation?
Answer: It depends on the seriousness of the parties involved. Of course our priority is to have a peaceful resolution. We hope for the best. When we reconciled in 2002 with Machar, there were no outside forces involved.
I am confident the people of South Sudan will do it again and reconcile but it depends on the seriousness of the groups.
Question: Machar has been quoted as saying that the only negotiation they can have is to negotiate President Kiir’s departure. Do you think this will bring peace or escalate tension?
Answer: Well that’s what he said. We are all human beings. This is what negotiations are about. Now we are going to enter into negotiations under IGAD. We shall see.
Question: Do you think President Kiir still has legitimacy given what has taken place?
Answer: He would not have legitimacy but for the sake of reconciliation and national unity, I think there are many components. In the case of Kenya, many people died but they found a way to resolve it. If mishandled now, it can lead to more violence.
There are people who said they would never allow Riek Machar to lead South Sudan. But if you say we are democratic, and then say that you can never allow him, you are denying people their civil rights and liberties. The people of South Sudan are not stupid.
Question: Do you have any political ambitions?
Answer: Sometimes you have to be what you have to be during certain situations. Under normal circumstances, I would rather be in the private sector. You go where your soul needs you most. If my country needs me I will not hesitate to answer that call.
Answer: Do you think from this crisis, South Sudan will emerge stronger?
Answer: Yes, people have been exposed and they will be stronger. Whether it’s a case where we will reconcile, we will become stronger. Where the party splits, we will still be strong because the enemy within would have come out. Still the party will be strong.
Question: Is your mother Rebecca Garang supporting Riek Machar?
Answer: Mama Rebecca is not supporting Riek Marchar. Both of them declared their interest to contest for the chair of the party during the national convention. They became allies and what they are pushing for is for the national convention to take place.
And if the national convention takes place, they will compete against each other. And one of them will emerge victorious and the rest will shake hands. This is the spirit of democracy we want to bring to SPLM. So they have become allies. But they are trying to present it as if Mama Rebecca is putting her weight behind Riek Machar.
She is not putting her weight behind Riek Machar. They are allies. Their interests convinced each other and politics is about interests. The crisis began because people were denied their rights. That they should not contest against Salva during the primaries because of some issues of 1991.
If Mama Rebecca had jumped on the tribal bandwagon, then ethnic violence that occurred would have been much worse. The fact that Mama Rebecca and Riek Machar are allies, gives people hope that there is national unity.
There is a group that is supporting the President. They call themselves Dinka elders. And their objective is not to allow the Nuers to take over power. In a way the alliance is what is making the situation not to break into genocide.
New Vision Online.