Home | Comment & Analysis    Friday 20 December 2013

Taking stock of South Sudanese crisis


By Steve Paterno

December 19, 2013 - Finally, relative calm has returned to South Sudan’s capital, Juba, after the city witnessed blaze of gunfires and blast of rockets, which lasted for several days, in which the government reports was an attempted coup d’etat, carried out by disgruntled politicians led by former Vice President Riek Machar and his supporters.

Now, some few details are beginning to emerge and the most debated questions are as to whether there was really an actual coup attempt as claimed by the government and what will likely the future holds for the nascent nation of South Sudan. To have a better understanding of this, the issues must be looked at on a context of development of events leading up right into the crisis and then project how the future will unfold.

The last several months and weeks, showed flary of political activities by the so called disgruntled group, led by Riek Machar, a group consisting of individuals who were fired from their government positions and some of whom were awaiting investigation for insubordination and corruption accusation. The group grew emboldened in their tones and becoming more harsher against the President, with their criticism. They vowed to continue with political activism until the president relent and cave in on their demands. The group warned they will take whatever action necessary to capitulate the President. Now it is open for wider interpretation as to whether "whatever action necessary" entails a forceful removal of the President.

On his part, the President seemed to have been oblivious about the activities of this group, relentlessly targeting him. The President simply ignored them, referring to them as a disgruntled group without real mandate or even public following. Matter of fact, in span of this period, the President was largely absent from the nation, managing to travel in four separate countries. This would have of course ideally provided the alleged coup plotters to take advantage of the vacuum and oust the President in his absence.

However, it still remains unclear whether at the time there was a real plot to oust the President militarily or if there was such a plan, it might have still yet in pipeline and premature for execution.

The grim and fateful event of December 15, and subsequently, nevertheless, sheds some light into this mystery. The day was a conclusion of the meeting of National Liberation Council, one of the highest organs of SPLM party. This disgruntled group from within the party reluctantly attended the meeting and even boycotted some of the sessions, when the group found out they were not given platform to present their grievances. The meeting preempted the political rally of this group, scheduled on the same date the National Liberation Council meeting commenced. The group actually preferred this meeting to be held after the Political Bureau meeting, where they thought they could have a potential chance to overrule President Salva Kiir, also the chairman of the party.

At any rate, tension that day was exacerbated due to unfolding political wrangling within SPLM party, which was already built beyond fervor point. The most plausible account of that night is that certain section of presidential guards unit, known as Tiger Batalion of a Nuer origin perceived to be loyal to Riek Machar were about to be disarmed and in process, they defied the orders, and ended up over taking the military headquarters by force. The firefights then spread across the city, even at some point reaching within the presidential palace compound. The government then in its effort, launched a counter attack, pushing the mutinied soldiers out of the town and starting detaining suspected ring leaders behind the military skirmishes. Subsequently, several of such mutiny sprung up in several locations, particularly in Jongolei, where a powerful general, one Peter Gadet rebelled in support of Riek Machar.

Going by this version of events, the pertinent questions and plausible answers are as follows: did the government tried to execute disarmament out of a tip of a potential coup or it was acting out of precautionary measures? Was the government trying to preemptively detain those members of the so called disgruntled group? Did Riek Machar and group have influence over the military so as to mobilize them against the President? Were the disgruntled group coordinating among themselves and if so, does such coordination extended to military units?

These and many unanswered questions will ascertain matter factly as to whether there was a real plot to oust the President through a coup d’etat. For example, we can never know for sure whether the government was acting out of a tip of a potential coup or in a precaution, when it decided to execute a disarmament against members of Nuers in presidential guards unit. The President of course has a swiping constitutional powers to detain some of those disgruntled politicians at will, without necessarily resorting into violence as he is accused for orchestrating the violence by his opponents. The fact that the President was able not only to fire the entire cabinet, but also the top military brass with ease underscore this point. Besides, some of these disgruntled individuals were already under criminal investigations, where they could easily be napped through legal means as oppose to violence. Reik Machar among his group wields significant influence among the military, based on tribal affiliation. The question remains though whether Riek Machar was coordinating with those in military to plot ouster of the President. This is also a challenge for the government to prove whether those suspected politicians detained were coordinating with the military. It is already true in public that the group were coordinating among themselves. Their political activism and media statements during this crisis is enough prove that they were in concert with one another. It is also possible that the government was keeping tab on their communication channels throughout the time they organized as a disgruntled members of the party.

Therefore, it is up to the government if it intends to legally prosecute these individuals that it proves beyond reasonable doubt by linking them to the actual breakout of the firefight. Whatever the government decision in handling these individuals, it is obvious, there are going to be mounting pressure from international community for their unconditional release. Unfortunately, though, for these people, beside Riek Machar who is basking on tribal popularity, the rest of these individuals are lone wolves, without constituencies or any significant public following. So, the government is at a liberty to deal with these individuals in whatever ways it deems necessary. The situation already created a recipe for a civil war, though dangerously aligned along ethnic loyalties, with a potential of Rwanda style genocide looming in a horizon. Eventually, Riek Machar and the group will ultimately negotiate their ways back into the fold, but the critical question and way ahead remains, what will happen before then. The President already expressed a willingness to sit down and peacefully negotiate with Riek Machar and the group even though Riek Machar is calling on an overthrow of the President by violent means. In all of this, of course, some innocent souls are lost in process, properties destroyed and the the livelihood forever disrupted.

Steve Paterno is the author of The Rev. Fr. Saturnino Lohure, A Romain Catholic Priest Turned Rebel. He can be reached at stevepaterno@yahoo.com

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  • 20 December 2013 08:19, by Mr Point

    Kiir became leader after the death of Garang to be a conciliator who would prevent split into tribalism.
    Over the past years he has broken the arrangements for peaceful reconciliation by dissolving SPLM structures, sacking the diverse cabinet, and unleashing death squads in Juba.
    He is not the person who can now bring reconciliation and save the nation.

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  • 20 December 2013 08:26, by Mr Point

    It’s becoming increasingly clear that Riek Machar, Pagan Amum etc were acting together to bring about change through democratic processes - that were being subverted by Kiir.
    Kiir totally misjudged the situation. There was no coup attempt but he allowed the death squads to carry out ethnic executions in Juba.
    Those who keep condemning Riek for Bor 1991 must now if they are truthful condemn Kiir

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  • 20 December 2013 11:37, by jur_likang_a_ likan’g

    This was uncalled for massacre of South Sudanese by South Sudanese for no genuine reasons. A call for implementation of democracy and convention of political bureau meeting before NLC’s should not have culminated into this animosity. No matter where the dead come from they belong to the motherland. Inernational enquiry should be made to establish the cause of this trouble.

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    • 20 December 2013 15:03, by Adodi Jotuwa

      The shocking part of their communication sign was when the first shot fired by an unidentified uniformed soldier in Nyakuron right after conclusion of the NLC meeting to alert group members wherever they may be, such as in the military HQs where the groups stared killing almost all the soldiers guarding armory, breaking into it and taking guns for their failed coup attempt.

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      • 20 December 2013 15:14, by Adodi Jotuwa

        Mr. Point, etc,
        Your coup addict, Dr. Defector Riek Machar Teny is simply daydreaming of running South Sudan. Why did he fail in 1991 in the bush and in Khartoum following inking of KPA in 1997? Killing innocent civilians is easy as it happened in 1991 in Bor and is again committed by notorious defector Peter Gadet. Assuming presidency isn’t an easy task.

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        • 20 December 2013 15:14, by Adodi Jotuwa

          To be the President of South Sudan or any country on this planet you need to be having a good track record of staying the course, from beginning up to the end of the day, not zig-zagging through tribal lines. We don’t want any of the two largest tribes in South Sudan (Dinka & Nuer) to be populationally reduced through senseless killings.

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          • 20 December 2013 15:15, by Adodi Jotuwa

            Dr. Defector Riek Machar Teny knows how he "always" fails in any political endeavor not only in the bush, Khartoum or in the present independent South Sudan. It is not PhD that brings you up to Presidency, it’s a track record that the whole of South Sudan, Africa and the world should be proud of and vote for. Ok?

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            • 20 December 2013 15:18, by Adodi Jotuwa

              Even Khartoum knows that Dr. Defector Riek Machar has no any track record both in Khartoum and in the SPLA/M. One day in Khartoum, a Jallaba approached me and said SPLM/A is really a good party because people like Dr. Defector Riek Machar should have not been given that position of Vice President, given his track record of frequently crossing redlines of either political party.

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              • 20 December 2013 15:19, by Adodi Jotuwa

                I said the fugitive is constantly looking for "Sulta" because you Khartoumers failed to give him and we tried our best to give him for the sake of unity. We all know that his track record is nasty. And we know that one day he will still use force and leave us should he wait indefinitely to assume presidency in South Sudan. He feels like his right to rule is denied by SPLM or Dinka.

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                • 20 December 2013 15:20, by Adodi Jotuwa

                  Now Dr. Defector Riek Machar Teny has done it again, hoping to assume presidency of South Sudan at any cost because he believes that some of his supporters will assist him to use violence and go on killing sprees in the ten States of South Sudan. He believes that he defines democracy better than any PhD holder in the country or in the African continent.

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                  • 20 December 2013 15:22, by Adodi Jotuwa

                    Dr. Defector Riek Machar defines democracy to his illiterate supporters that violence is the only option to transfer power from the largest tribe in South Sudan to the second largest one since "we have oil in our State and if impossible we can still end up in Khartoum because there is free food, accommodation, money and vehicles to be given for achieving our objective."

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                    • 20 December 2013 15:23, by Adodi Jotuwa

                      Staying the course while roaming the South Sudan’s bush is risky. However, the clock has turned; the political environment and the dynamics have dramatically changed. Will Khartoum turn its back on improving economic relations with South Sudan? How will Khartoum response to this unfolding event? Only time will tell. What I know is that Dr. Defector is gonna hit the bottom this time.

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                      • 20 December 2013 15:24, by Adodi Jotuwa

                        You know why? You cannot keep playing the political game in Khartoum and in South Sudan without facing the consequences. South Sudanese, the regional, African and international actors are tired of repeated killings for the sake of assuming power/presidency and would never allow such game to continue no matter how long it takes to bring Dr. Defector Riek Machar Teny to books.

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            • 20 December 2013 22:05, by Mr Point

              There is no evidence as yet that Dr Machar has committed any crime against the Republic of South Sudan.
              However there is reason to believe that the Massacre of Innocents in Juba this past week has been carried out with the support of the President, Kiir.
              Unless Kiir condemns these ethnic executions and takes action against those who perpetrated thees cruel actions he must be held accountable.

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  • 20 December 2013 20:58, by Mohammed Ali 2

    it is very difficult to deny that there was "something" planned!Perhaps something like "armed intifada" which Pagan and probably his likes from SPLA/N & the NDA "tagamu"were contemplating to do in Khartoum in the past.This could have similiraty with what General Sisi in Egypt.Political rally on the 14th followed by an armed movement to outser Kiir and then call it a revolution.....con

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    • 20 December 2013 21:50, by Mohammed Ali 2

      CON:Pagan,Arman,Edward Lino & the General Police inspector with Dr.Luka outside the country to get the needed interanational support & declare Kiir as dysfunctional president.They will get the support from Prandetghast & his group.Now Luka is calling for a national unity Government to reduce the influence of the president.The question remains would Garang’s sons/orphans accept Machar as president?

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  • 21 December 2013 09:34, by bolingo

    We all need a just and lasting peace which favours the interest of the people of s.sudan.
    What is happening now is a political difference in views which Kirr failed to adress as a leader of the party and the country.
    Kirr must STEP down and allow a civilian government to take over from him.

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  • 22 December 2013 01:02, by Gogrialboys

    "He did again." I know even before referendum that Riak Machar is going to destroy this country. Imagine during the time Ethiopia government collapse and we were trying to find where to get help in term of refuge, and equipment for war, and Riak took his tribe men to Khartoum and came back fighting on behalf of Khartoum. So this man has no heart for the South period.

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  • 22 December 2013 01:57, by Gogrialboys

    When will this wild beast do something good to South-Sudan?
    He stabbed us at the back during those dark days when Garang was about to capture Juba. He the Riak Machare recapture Nasir, Akobo, Mading bor plus other small areas that were under his control as A Zonal commander, and turn them to Jalaba. He ordered his troop to kill Dinka soldiers that were based in Upper Nile.

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