By FRED OLUOCH, Interview with Dr. Riek Machar of SPLM/A-IO in Addis Ababa (DAILY NATION), Saturday, March 14, SSN;
QUESTION: Why is it so difficult for you and President Salva Kiir to agree on a peaceful settlement after 14 months of talks?
MACHAR: It is not about the two of us but the issues that have been affecting the country since Independence. For instance, we have basically raised the issues of reforms and restructuring in government to meet our diversity.
To that end, we are advocating federalism. We have also suggested arrangements that would assure the people of South Sudan of their security. But the government is opposed to these proposals.
QUESTION: Igad has postponed the South Sudan talks indefinitely. What is your take?
MACHAR: I understand that they are recommending a new mechanism to include other regions of Africa. We welcome it because some of the Igad countries have direct interests in South Sudan. For example, Uganda interfered physically in South Sudan, deploying troops to fight us. So it is best to include other regional blocs because they may look at things differently, which could bring peace.
QUESTION: President Kiir has categorically stated that he is not ready to work with you as the First Vice-President.
MACHAR: I did not ask to be his vice president, nor do I wish to be one. Our position is that Salva Kiir’s government committed genocide in Juba. What happened in Juba after December 15, 2013, was ethnic cleansing and we don’t want this to be repeated. So Kiir should just resign and give way to another person.
QUESTION: You have also been accused by human-rights organisations of having massacred civilians, especially in Bentiu?
MACHAR: This was on April 15, 2014. The government was being supported by four groups of Sudanese rebels, one of them being JEM (Justice and Equality Movement). When we dislodged them from Bentiu, a lot of them died but also a lot of them ran to the mosque. There was a battle in the mosque and a good number of people died.
However, we also investigated through our own machinery and it is not true that all of those who died in the mosque were civilians. The majority of them were armed soldiers, even though some civilians died.
QUESTION: Then, are you in favour of the Obasanjo commission report that lists those who committed atrocities?
MACHAR: We have requested the AU to make this report public because it is important for the whole world to know what happened. If there are issues where anybody would be asked to account, then it should be a transparent process. I am disappointed that the AU Peace and Security Council did not discuss this report during the January Summit.
QUESTION: The leaked version of that report calls for the exclusion of both you and President Kiir from the transitional government. Why are they trying to balance the blame?
MACHAR: I am the victim here. Why would I not be allowed to participate in the transitional government while I was forced into the current situation? The person who planned the genocide should shoulder the responsibility.
QUESTION: The president says you had planned a coup but when it failed you turned it into an insurgency.
MACHAR: I planned no coup. He arrested and tried some of my colleagues who participated in the December 6, 2013 press conference calling for reforms within the SPLM. But they were acquitted by the court and the charges that they planned a coup, including me in absentia, were dropped. In fact, he stage-managed a coup against himself.
QUESTION: At that press conference, you called for internal party reforms because SPLM had lost its vision. Could you explain that?
MACHAR: It is true the party has lost its original vision and that is why we believe in the reform of SPLM to go back to its original vision and that is why we signed the Arusha Accord of January 21, which addressed the causes of the conflict within the SPLM.
In the vision, we wanted to create a united South Sudan as a democratic and prosperous country. But what Salva Kiir is running is a disunited country riddled with insecurity, corruption and exclusivity.
QUESTION: Do you have the moral standing to talk about corruption, when you were the vice-president when corruption took root?
Well, you can be a vice-president and yet things can be done without your knowledge. Look at the Dura Saga in which the government paid nearly $1 million for cereals that were never delivered.
At one time, the president issued a “List of Shame” naming 75 personalities involved in corruption but when parliament challenged him to take these people to court, he threatened to dissolve it.
QUESTION: You are portrayed by the government as a serial rebel, having done it in 1991 and now in 2013.
MACHAR: [Laughs loudly]. 1991 was a split in the movement over differences in ideas on what to fight for. I called for the right of self-determination, while others like Dr John Garang wanted a reformed, united Sudan.
In the end, my idea of self-determination became the overriding objective of the struggle. You can now see we are independent and it is I who have won the ideological debate.
In 2013, I was forced into the current situation and that is why we are demanding the restructuring of the state by applying the new system of governance, which is federalism, to address our diversity.
This is not rebellion.
QUESTION: Still, some people accuse you of betraying Dr John Garang in 1991.
MACHAR: Dr Garang and I were contemporaries. My objective was self-determination, which has now been realised. How then did I betray the struggle if Dr Garang later signed the CPA that contained the provisions of self-determination?
QUESTION: But you entered into a deal with President Omar al-Bashir, whom the Southerners were fighting. Was that not betrayal?
MACHAR: On the contrary, my move was to further the concept of self-determination. For the first time, Khartoum put self-determination in the Constitution in 1998 as a result of our Khartoum Peace Agreement.
I had the courage to negotiate with Khartoum and force them to accept self-determination.
But when they could not implement it in four years, I went back to the bush and re-joined Dr Garang. In the end, the CPA benefited from the Khartoum agreement which ensured that self-determination will be exercised by the people of South Sudan.
QUESTION: The same CPA had provided a six-year interim period for Khartoum to make unity attractive. Suppose they did, what would have happened to your vision?
MACHAR: Had the people of South Sudan chosen unity, my vision would have died. But my vision did not die because those who wanted unity with Khartoum were given six years to advocate for it. But it failed when we went to a referendum with two options of secession and unity, and the secessionists won. I am therefore exonerated!
QUESTION: Some of your critics describe you as a man with undying ambition and that you will stop at nothing to get the presidency.
Well, my main ambition is to build a state that can be a proud member of the community of nations. I led the drive for self-determination, creating a federal, democratic and yet united state at the national level. If this is what you call undying ambition, so let be it because according to me, I have a vision to create such a state.
QUESTION: Critics say that you should not complain because during the interim period when President Kiir was the first vice-president of the larger Sudan, you were actually the man in charge of the Southern sections and could have made changes.
MACHAR: That is the biggest lie I have been hearing. Initially, I thought it was just propaganda from his sycophants, but when I heard it from the president himself in the last Igad session, I confronted him and told him not to rewrite history.
He was in the South most of the time and in fact it was I who was shuttling between Khartoum and Juba as the one charged with the implementation of the CPA. I used to spend three or four days in Khartoum but I always made sure that I attended the Council of Ministers meetings on Friday. In short, he was never in Khartoum, after he left in 2006. He is now selling this view because he does not want to accept the responsibility of what has gone wrong in South Sudan.
QUESTION: President Kiir said that Khartoum is supplying you with weapons and offering moral support.
MACHAR: Where is his proof? I get my arms from him. On the contrary, he is the one who buys arms and ammunition from Khartoum and we capture them on the ground whenever we overrun their stations.
QUESTION: Are you saying you don’t have external weapons suppliers?
MACHAR: I wish I did. If I get, I will definitely go for it but it is very difficult to get arms from abroad and therefore we have to look internally. As you know, it is a war situation and everybody needs arms.
QUESTION: What, according to you, is ailing South Sudan?
MACHAR: It is simply an issue of bad governance. The institutions of governance and accountability are weak. We all tried to strengthen these institutions but it all boils down to leadership. If the ruling party SPLM is working at cross-purposes with government, then things will definitely go wrong.
QUESTION: Should you be given a chance to rule the country, what would you do differently?
MACHAR: First of all, South Sudan will be a federal, democratic state with multi-party democracy. We will fight corruption and strengthen institutions of governance, at national, state and county level.
We will introduce new blood into governance at every level; the party will be rejuvenated. So we will be a forward-looking state capable of competing with our neigbours and also taking advantage of the talents and experiences available among our neighbours to build the country in the shortest possible time. END