By John Gachie, TheEastAfrican, Saturday, Feb/13/2016, SSN;
IN SUMMARY: What political vehicle of mobilisation will the two men have for what will undoubtedly be the most hotly contested political showdown between them in 2018?
It’s just a numbers game and power-play, who’s fooling who?
Political and military posturing and covert plans to outwit each other characterise the relationship between the two principals in the South Sudan conflict — President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Dr Riek Machar — in spite of their public and diplomatic declarations of peace and reconciliation.
These positions taken by the two comrades-turned-rivals betray deep-seated antagonism going back to their military days, competing ethnic leanings and regional and international geostrategic imperatives.
In short, the two principals are as different as day and night: They can co-exist, but cannot cohabit; they can share the same environment but cannot share the same space — for there is no space big enough for both them.
They repel each other despite the strong magnetic pull exacted by their friends, allies and enemies to bring them together.
That is the crux of the matter in the current South Sudan tragedy.
Dr Machar is a genial, highly educated and highly ambitious political and military man, a shrewd operative with the gift of the gab. He is articulate, suave and very mercurial in planning, with one consuming ambition: To lead at the top.
He believes that he is a child of destiny. That he will not be denied what the gods have so ordained.
President Kiir is a sombre, somewhat dull, if not inscrutable introvert not given to wearing his emotions on his sleeve. But he is nonetheless a brave military man with a wicked sense of humour that belies a sharp and nimble mind. He honed his skills through decades spent in the bush waging war against a far superior enemy, with a larger-than-life leader, the late John Garang.
President Kiir does not suffer fools gladly. He is stoic, calculating, highly informed and vicious when the occasion so demands. He is certainly no pushover.
The man does not give away his thoughts easily, rarely shows his hand, never thumps his chest and always has an ace up his sleeve.
Now, as we await the consummation of the Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan, will the two rivals deliver comprehensive and sustainable peace, or will theirs be a short marriage akin to the one in Angola between Jonas Savimbi and Eduardo dos Santos in the 1990s? Never mind that President Kiir reappointed Dr Machar as his First vice president last week, as part of the peace deal. Prior to the conflict, he was vice president.
South Sudan and Angola have an uncanny similarity. The bush war never fully addressed the personality, ideological and ethnic chasm; neither party initially enjoyed military and geographical dominance; and each principal enjoyed regional and international patronage and support, albeit not publicly.
In the case of South Sudan, Sudan, Ethiopia, the Troika (US, Britain and Norway) and other Western countries are more sympathetic to Dr Machar, while Uganda supports President Kiir. Kenya is torn between the two, with the business community more amenable to President Kiir. The African Union is almost held hostage by both while Russia and China openly favour President Kiir on account of oil.
Egypt, India and Malaysia are inclined towards the president due to commercial, energy and mineral wealth interests.
For Sudan, the Juba conflict is a classic “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation, although the defeat or capitulation of Dr Machar would not augur well for President Omar al-Bashir’s relationship with Juba, and more importantly in the on-going conflict in Darfur and eastern Sudan.
For Ethiopia, it is another classic dilemma, because it has large ethnic groups related to and involved in the conflict in South Sudan on its southwestern border with South Sudan.
In the Angolan scenario, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Botswana and Namibia provided the same geopolitical impetus, including large cross-border ethnic groups; thereupon the Cold War dynamics came into play, while diamonds and oil played a role as well.
Though they are over 5,000 kilometres apart, Angola’s Eduado dos Santos and Salva Kiir are similar, likewise Dos Santos’s nemesis, the late Dr Jonas Savimbi and South Sudan’s Dr Machar.
The question now is, will President Kiir see the red line in terms of consolidation, retention and hoarding of executive powers?
For Dr Machar, what are his immediate gains? What are his guarantees that his hold on the movement and in particular the motley military groups that comprise his force will remain loyal to him?
More fundamentally, what guarantees does he get that his political support group will not be dismantled once he joins the government?
What guarantees does he get for his personal safety and what executive powers will he exercise to keep his team in line?
What political vehicle of mobilisation will the two men have for what will undoubtedly be the most hotly contested political showdown between them in 2018?
The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), to which they all pledge loyalty, has split into three in all but name.
One would just hope that the two principals in the South Sudan crisis are not tempted to engage in brinkmanship. END