June 30, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) – South Sudan’s former vice-president and leader of the SPLM- in-opposition has defended his calls for a federal system of governance, stressing it will accommodate the country’s diversity.
- South Sudanese rebel leader Riek Machar gives a press conference in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on 12 May 2014 (Photo: AFP/Zacharias Abubeker)
In an exclusive interview with Tesfa-Alem Tekle, Sudan Tribune’s Ethiopian correspondent, Riek Machar said that South Sudanese have been calling a federal system since 1947, adding that the idea of self determination emanated from this demand.
"History shows that this has been the demand of the people of South Sudan and in actual fact they developed this demand to a point of calling for the right of self-determination," he said.
He further pointed to Switzerland’s federal system, to illustrate how much federalism can positively respond to the South Sudanese diversity.
“In Switzerland there are four nationalities that lived in harmony when they established federalism. So the same we are a diverse nation, there are nationalities, ethnic groups there are people of different cultures,” he said.
President Salva Kiir rejects Machar’s demand for federalism saying the country is not ready to implement it. The South Sudanese head of state further accused Machar of using this to draw the support of South Sudanese, particularly Equatorians.
In a lengthy interview with Sudan Tribune, Machar developed the concerns they have on the way and manner that IGAD mediators are handling the peace talks.
He criticised the method adopted by the mediation, saying they take decisions on behalf of the negotiating parties stressing that the two rivals should make the decisions.
“The driving force should not be the IGAD. IGAD should be the moderator. They bring us together since we are willing to come together under the auspices of IGAD, the parties should drive the process,” he explained.
He also downplayed the differences with the group of SPLM political detainees saying they share the SPLM platform and the agenda for political reforms in the country.
As part of the efforts to find a way out of the six month-old conflict, the rebel leader said he is planning to pay visits to the US, China and other western countries.
He vowed to continue the struggle to achieve democratic reforms in the new nation.
Below is the full text of the interview with the rebel leader in which he explained why he had to establish an armed movement and his future plans as pro- democratic reformist.
ST: You are recently making a regional tour including plans to pay visit to Sudan and Djibouti, what is the aim of your regional tour and what do you expect from the IGAD member states?
MACHAR: I want to explain what has happened on the 15th of December 2013. President Salva kiir has been moving in the region in IGAD countries and in the Great Lakes countries telling them that I have made a coup. I haven’t made a coup. Even when the 11 of my colleagues were in prison the charge against them that they have made a coup is false to me. There was no coup. Of course there was fighting in the presidential guards on the 15 [December]. Salva is responsible for them.
So I want to tell to the world and the region in particular IGAD that is mediating that I haven’t made a coup. I am innocent and being innocent. The false charge of making coup has damaged my reputation. South Sudan was born out of a democratic process exercise of self-determination by the people of South Sudan.
I have plans to visit Djibouti and Khartoum and I hope I will do that when the time comes. I also want to explain to the regional leaders the importance of peace being brought back to South Sudan. The mediators have a big role so that there is no delay in attaining peaceful settlement.
These are the main reasons of my tour to IGAD member states.
ST: Why haven’t you paid visit to the US, China or other western countries?
MACHAR: I do have plans. I was supposed to have met the Chinese envoy on the 26th of this month, but he has not come. Also, I have expressed my readiness to pay a visit to China because China is the major partner in oil in South Sudan.
The oil operations have partially stopped in western oil fields in Unity state and if the conflict continues the eastern oil fields will also stop. Therefore it is important that we share ideas together with China.
I understand China is supporting the peace process. I was told China has paid 3 million US dollars to support the peace process. What China is doing is good. So, it is important they [the Chinese] know how we think so we still have to pay a visit china.
ST: How about to the US and western nations?
MACHAR: With regards to US it is within my plan. First, I am sending a delegation to the US, my deputy [Gen Alfred Ladu Gore]. He is processing his documents and he will lead a delegation to the US. Hopefully when he comes back I will also pay a visit to US, not only to the US, but also to other European countries.
CONCERNS OVER IGAD PEACE PROCESS
ST: I spoke to many South Sudanese living here in Ethiopia. They have reservations on the IGAD-led peace process. Are you happy with the way IGAD is handling the peace process?
MACHAR: We have concerns starting from day one. First we appreciate that IGAD took up the challenge to mediate and bring about peace to South Sudan. But we have concerns.
ST: What are your concerns?
MACHAR: We have concerns that they [IGAD] make decisions that affect South Sudan with the presence of two countries that are fighting us. The government of South Sudan sits in the summit when they are making decisions about peace and president Museveni sits in the summit when they are talking about South Sudan.
I have raised these concerns and because of the decisions they make in our absence now we have complications. You remember the idea of having an IGAD protection deterrent force. We resisted that. We gave alternative suggestions. We said we would like an IGAD protection force but integrated to the current UNMISS forces so that they don’t have a different command so that the mission is one.
Currently in South Sudan there are nearly nine different forces. The Uganda has two forces, one fighting us and the other fighting the LRA with different commands. The Sudanese rebels [inside South Sudan] have four factions with different commands, the South Sudan army, the SPLA with government forces, our forces and UNMISS forces.
If we were to allow for another separate force with a different command, we would have ten, the country would be devastated. So, we say it is best that we reach an agreement that the two forces of Uganda and the four forces of Sudanese rebels withdraw from South Sudan and the IGAD forces are integrated to the UN forces. We remain with three forces, government forces, ours and UNMISS forces. That way we will know what goes wrong in the country.
ST: Do you probably suggest the peace process is moved to the African Union (AU) or the UN?
MACHAR: We have concerns with the mediation. First of all the IGAD is making decisions on behalf of the warring parties and I think this is wrong. The warring parties should make the decisions. The driving force should not be the IGAD. IGAD should be the moderator. They bring us together since we are willing to come together under the auspices of IGAD, the parties should drive the process.
They shouldn’t impose issues which any of the party does not appreciate. For example we initiated the stakeholders to be participant. We want them participant in consultative manner. We don’t want them to be negotiating with us because we have no problem with them but we appreciate that we consult them.
We hear their views on what we are discussing. They contribute that but the negotiations must be directly between us. This I hope will be the way forward since the two parties want direct negotiations between themselves with IGAD facilitating instead of IGAD imposing issues themselves. But this concern doesn’t mean the mediation be moved to UN or AU. I think we can debate with the mediators and they can understand. I understand the view of the Ethiopian Prime Minister who is the chair of IGAD and his view is similar to us.
ST: Your negotiating team has worked hard to the release of the former detainees. What is your point of view on the position of the formerly detained political leaders who refused to join your negotiating team in the peace talks? Do you feel betrayed?
MACHAR: The 11 former detainees are our comrades. We share one platform, the SPLM platform. We share also the agenda of reform with them.
When the incident of the 15 [December] occurred they were arrested. I wasn’t arrested. I managed to escape not because I was involved in any matter but I was suspicious why such an incident should happen.
There must be an underline reason for it and I felt the president wanted to assassinate all his competitors. In this they were arrested. I escaped and took me time to figure out what to do finally with those who were with me, and we established a resistance. We didn’t consult them on the resistance.
We had discussions with them [former detainees] they don’t want to be involved in an armed struggle. So, that is left to them. Armed struggle is important for change even if you want to get the minimum to make Juba negotiate. This is important.
We are calling on them to join us. I can’t say they have betrayed us because that will be left to them what they want to do and above all you can’t force somebody to join an armed struggle.
TRANSITIONAL GOVERNMENT OR NATIONAL AGREEMENT
ST: Recently you and the president have signed a new agreement that calls to end fighting and to form a unity government within 60 days. Do you think you will be able to form transitional government in less than two months now?
MACHAR: The most important thing to do is to reach an agreement; an agreement which will be a base for governance and a base for law-making in the country.
Now if we got such an agreement, it has to be implemented by a transitional government of national unity. So you can’t form such a government before you reach a political agreement, addressing the root cause of the problem, restructuring the state, a program for national reconciliation and healing and for accountability.
If these things aren’t addressed and you form a government, that government will fail in a same day. So my position is that reaching an agreement first and then forming a government as a product of the agreement. Let me not be pessimistic I will leave that to the negotiators.
ST: Recently I spoke to Maj. General John Wiyual Chol Tang. He is the chairman of South Sudan Republican Party (SSRP) and South Sudan Revolutionary Force (SSRF). He alleged to have met you at the bushes in Nasir where the two of you agreed to join your forces to fight government forces. Will you admit making that arrangement?
MACHAR: We welcome anybody who has forces to join us in the fight. I don’t know such an agreement but we welcome any body to join us in the fight because we need people and we can’t refuse anybody.
Our acting chief negotiator [Gabriel Changson Chang] is from a different party. He is not SPLM but from the very start he was affected and he was from an affected party and we welcomed his request. He is also a member of our leadership council [chairman for national committee for finance and resource mobilisation]. So we recognise diversity even within our own party.
INTERIM GOVERNMENT WITHOUT YOU?
ST: Will you accept an interim government that excludes you or Salva Kiir or both of you?
MACHAR: I am interested in getting an agreement that addresses the root causes, restructuring of the state so that the problem doesn’t reoccur and brings about national reconciliation and accountability in the country. What comes up as a government as product of it to me is imitating. It would be premature to say x should be there and x shouldn’t.
ST: Recently, South Sudan vice-president, James Wani lgga said members of the SPLM in opposition should be excluded from getting seat in the interim government. What is your reaction on that remark?
MACHAR: I think he is oblivious about the fact that an agreement is between the two parties. If you exclude one of the parties that make an agreement from which a transitional government will come, I think he isn’t being realistic.
If he wants to form now their own government they can reshuffle their own government 10 times as they wish and we won’t be participating in it but if it is a government which is a product of a peace agreement which we hope to sign, I think it will be unrealistic to say one party be excluded from it which would mean there is no agreement.
ST: Your group is in support of federal system of governance which government is against. Do you think the South Sudanese people are ready to accept this new system of governance?
MACHAR: It has been a demand of people of South Sudan since 1947. All governments have failed to implement federalism system of government in South Sudan since 1947. History shows that this has been the demand of the people of South Sudan and in actual fact they developed this demand to a point of calling for the right of self-determination.
ST: Do you think federalism will help solve problems in South Sudan?
MACHAR: Sure. Take the history of Switzerland. It has the experience of 700 years in federalism. They started even when they didn’t know the word federalism but it is that system of governance they established.
In Switzerland there are four nationalities that live in harmony when they establish federalism. So the same we are a diverse nation, there are nationalities, ethnic groups there are people of different cultures. So what will bring us together is a system of governance that accommodates our diversity and that is the federal system of governance.
ST: Many political analysts labeled the political crises in South Sudan as power struggle between the two SPLM factions particularly between you and Salva Kiir. What is your reaction on these comments?
MACHAR: It is not. You can’t say it is a power struggle. Initially we were the same party, SPLM. I raised issues that I felt even when I was in government that needed to be corrected: One, corruption which was rampant. Two, tribalism, which was being instituted. Three, insecurity, which was happening. Four, lack of development. Five, the poor relations we had with foreign countries in a very short time and six, the SPLM grassroots which needed serious transformation of the SPLM into a political party.
Six issues I raised while I was in the party. The president however didn’t feel alright about it and he decided to introduce violence into this conflict. We wanted reform so it is not personal struggle between me and president Kiir. But superficially people are saying it is a personal struggle but it isn’t.
When he removed me I accepted although I was his running mate in one ticket but for sake of peace and stability I accepted his decree because I said come in 2015 elections, I will contest.
ST: Is it true that SPLM in opposition has used child soldiers in the recent fighting?
MACHAR: The forces that call themselves SPLM/A are regular forces. There are no child soldiers. But the volunteer fighters are child soldiers. The volunteer fighters are civilians and the culture in the area is that once you are initiated to manhood even if you are 15 years old you are a man and you can go to battle.
This is the problem. We have been telling the volunteer fighters that it is against the law. It is against child right convention and against the law in South Sudan that people under 18 years are taken to combat. But we are struggling with the deep rooted culture. We however don’t recruit child soldiers.
ST: Do you have any particular message you want to convey?
MACHAR: Well, my message is to the readers of Sudan Tribune. I want to tell them again we didn’t make a coup in South Sudan. We are not coup makers. There was only a plot hitched by President Salva Kiir to get rid of his comrades in the SPLM/A, and therefore he made that statement and propagated it. If he would have caught me then we would all be dead and the story would have stuck that we made a coup. We didn’t make a coup. We are democrats.