By Rev. Ezekiel Kutjok
July 11, 2014 - “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he [she] is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the Ministry of Reconciliation; that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf; be reconciled to God”. (2Cor 5:17 – 20 NIV)
The heart of this paper is the need for reconciliation between the top leaders of SPLM, with special reference to the current President Salva Kiir Mayardit, and his former Vice President, Dr. Riek Machar Tenny-Dhurghon, who is now the leader of the rebel group that is fighting the Government of South Sudan. Dr. Riek was part of the SPLM political party until December 2013. That was when the conflict which became a national civil war began. The reconciliation between them is essential for ending SPLM’s war. The restoration of the broken relationships between them is critical; simply because the war that broke out in Juba on December 15, 2013 was in truth SPLM’s war. And the President and his former Vice President are the top leaders of each side of the conflict. If we want the war to end, the top leaders of SPLM in the cities and in the bush must be involved in the process of stopping the war and finding a peaceful solution. They must be reconciled.
The war which is currently taking place in South Sudan is meaningless… ulterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless! (Ecc.1:1-2). It will not benefit the people of South Sudan or even the supporters of either leader. The war has already brought destruction, death, and displacement to the people. These people, who are now suffering, are the people of both leaders, Kiir and Machar. They elected them at the rate of 97% in the election in 2011. Now their destruction, death and displacement must be both frustrating and heart bleeding for President Salva Kiir. What can he do to stop the war which is killing his innocent people? Since he is the elected President and now is in control of major parts of the country and his party, he can do more for his people. The first thing he can do is to bring peace, unity, and development to the people of South Sudan who made him President. He needs to gather his courage and have direct reconciliatory talks with his former Vice President, Dr. Riek Machar who is now in the bush. In my view President Kiir needs to seek reconciliation between him and Dr. Machar. Their reconciliation will end the war and save their people, the electorate. What is the nature of this reconciliation? This will be the subject of our discussion. Its definition will be as follows.
Before proceeding further with the discussion, it is useful to define the meaning of reconciliation. This is merely a matter of clarification because both men, Kiir and Machar, know the meaning of reconciliation from their Christian faith and their African traditional backgrounds. Particularly, there is reconciliation process in Nuer and Dinka traditional way of life. However this may be different from Christian faith. See it from the following statements!
The term reconciliation about which we are discussing is a Biblical term. Its meaning is rooted in the Bible, and especially in the writings of St. Paul. In his letters, there are 12 books/letters with references to reconciliation. Generally reconciliation means restoration of broken relationships between two or more people who previously had good and friendly relations. When the broken relations are restored, these people become friends. They eat together, they share ideas and life goes on peacefully between them. The enmity which existed between them will disappear. Their wives, relatives near and far, and children become friends again. This aspect of reconciliation is slightly different from the Biblical point of view in which it was God who initiated the reconciliation. On the other hand, reconciliation does not walk by itself or in isolation. It is always accompanied by repentance, forgiveness, peace, prayer and unity. Let us turn to what the Bible says about restoration of broken relationship.
From the Biblical perspective, restoration of broken relationships between God and Adam, and Eve were restored by God himself through Jesus Christ. A story about how mankind disobeyed God is found in Genesis 3:1-24. However, it was God against whom humankind sinned that required action to reconcile mankind to God because man/woman didn’t have power to return to God. So, God initiated the steps to reconcile humankind to himself. The action of God is stated clearly by Apostle Paul when he said, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he [she] is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” [2Corth5:17-19] As we see, the reconciliation between humankind and God is initiated by God, the most powerful one. Seen from the action of God through Christ, reconciliation restores broken relationships between God and humankind. God, the most powerful, carried out restoration of relationships, between himself and mankind.
Hence, reconciliation between the elected President and his former vice President will restore harmonious relationships which existed between them before the tension developed. The creation of harmonious relations between the two top leaders will end the SPLM’s war.
On December 15, 2013 in Juba at 10:00 pm on Sunday night, it was reported that 500 soldiers were killed and quickly buried. However, the war did not stop in Juba. With the speed of lightning, war swept through Greater Upper Nile. It destroyed everything in its path. Military victory, sanctions, nor peacekeeping forces from UN or IGAD can end this war. The suggestion of the current Vice President of the ROSS that rebels put down their arms and return home is not credible but political rhetoric. The rebels will not put down their arms.The only way of ending the war is through reconciliation between President Salva Kiir and his former Vice President Dr. Riek Machar. Their reconciliation will end the war and stop the killings of innocent people.
Knowing that their reconciliation will end the war, I see no reason how President Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar can reject reconciliation between themselves and their supporters. They themselves are the product of reconciliation between them and late Dr. John Garang, the founder of SPLA\M. That reconciliation took place in Rumbek in 2004. It resulted in the appointment of four Generals: Gen. Kiir was appointed to the position of Vice Chair Person of SPLA\M, Gen. James Wani Igga, Gen. Dr. Riek Machar, and Gen. Dr. Lam Akol Ajawin became governors of the three states namely: Equatoria, Upper Nile and Bhar-al-ghazal. If they had not been reconciled with Dr. John Garang, the CPA would have not been successfully negotiated. That they are the product of reconciliation is the most important thing they should remember in their lives.
However , as Christians, Kiir and Machar have knowledge about what God expects in dealing with the problems of the oppressed and suffering people. God always intervenes on behalf of the suffering. Two examples illustrate God’s concerns about the suffering of our oppressed people. This first example comes from the book of Exodus. This example deals with the question of people of Israel when they were in Egypt and oppressed by the Egyptians. For this reason God said, ’’I have indeed seen misery of my people. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So, I have come down to rescue them.“ (Exodus 3:7-8, NIV). In the same way, God can rescue people of South Sudan from the suffering inflicted on them by their leaders.
The second relevant example of God’s concern about the oppressed and suffering people comes from the book of Prophet Ezekiel. Shepherds were oppressing the people and God said, "I am against the shepherds and I will hold them accountable for my flock people. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths and it will no longer be food for them...I will judge between one sheep and another. I will place over them one shepherd, my Servant David, and he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my Servant David will be prince leader among them. I the Lord have spoken." (Ezekiel:34:10,22,24).
Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs 1:7) God can remove the waring leaders of South Sudan and replace them with honest, elected leaders, who will respect human rights and Biblical values such as justice, equality, freedom, honesty and accountability.
This is how God, our creator deals with the problems of the oppressed people. He intervenes in their affairs to end their suffering. He removes the oppressors and establishes peace, order and stability. He will do so in the Republic of South Sudan so that the the people can return to their homes and live peaceful lives.
In the light of God’s possible intervention to save the people of South Sudan, Kiir and Machar must reconcile as soon as possible. Yet, their reconciliation will not be an easy job. It is going to take hard work by South Sudan Council of Churches, the IGAD, and the international community to persuade Kiir and Machar to think seriously about peaceful solutions of the conflict. Reconciliation rather than a military victory is the only way. There will be no military victory for either side.
During the campaign, both visited people in their villages. Both men talked to the people about what they would do for the people if they were elected. Kiir and Machar were happy when they were campaigning together. This is the position they need to return to when they are reconciled.
They should as St. Paul says, "be likeminded, having the same love being in one spirit and purpose [and] doing nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." (Phil 2:2-4 NIV)
Now we turn to the feeling of President Salva Kiir about the suffering of the very people who elected him. He must begin thinking about the way to bring peace and unity to South Sudan.
I am sure he has sleepless nights, thinking about the war and the suffering of the people. If he has concern about the suffering of his people who made him the first President of South Sudan, he must gather his strength to stop the war which is destroying the country and bring peace and unity to the nation..
We have concentrated on reconciliation of the SPLM’s top leadership. But who between the two is going to take the first step for making reconciliation? Who is going to be the initiator of reconciliation? It must be our democratically elected President Kiir. He needs to walk to Dr. Machar’s camp, carrying in his hands the Bible and carrots, and not "carrots and sticks" and to declare to him that we must be reconciled. No more war and no more killings and destruction. This is in line with Biblical thinking about reconciliation. Remember, the first step for reconciliation with humankind was taken by God - the more powerful one.
In the same way President Salva Kiir Mayardit, as our elected President, must take the lead in restoration of relationship between SPLM’s groups. It is his responsibility to be concerned about the suffering of his people. On the other hand Dr. Riek Machar, now the leader of “SPLA\M -in-opposition” is in the bush. He cannot return to the national capital until there is reconciliation. Thus, the responsibility lies with President Kiir.
In the year 1863, Abraham Lincoln, then the President of the United States, defined democracy as ’’the rule of the people, by the people, for the people’’. Using that definition of democracy everything is people! So, it is the people by their free and fair voting, without rigging, who must then change the government.
Continued use of force to try to clear rebels from the bush of Greater Upper Nile will take years. It will prove very expensive. Yet it will not work. Although ROSS has oil money, this oil money without peace will be wasted on war. Why waste the people’s resource on killing them? The effective and peaceful thing to do, without the use of guns, is reconciliation between President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Dr. Riek Machar.
Preparation for this direct reconciliation must be carried out by South Sudan Council of Churches, IGAD, and friends of ROSS. People are suffering and the rains are here. So let the preparation for helping Kiir and Machar to reconcile be done as quickly as possible.
But what happens if they refuse to accept reconciliation between themselves and their supporters? President Kiir and Dr. Machar must recognize that they are not representing their own interests, but they represent the interests of the people who elected them. If people know that Kiir and Riek are their representatives and that they refuse ro reconcile, then people will withdraw their support from them.
At this point, after reconciliation of President Kiir with his former Vice President Dr. Machar, there must be absolute cessation of hostilities in South Sudan. What then will be the role of President Kiir Mayardit and Dr. Machar in the peaceful republic of South Sudan?
The Role of President Salva Kiir Mayardit and Dr. Riek Machar-Teny Dhurghon in peaceful South Sudan.
Will they return to be President and Vice President respectively? That question will be for the people of South Sudan to decide. However, for me, as a citizen of South Sudan they must spend their time doing work which they have already done with success...campaigning. They will move about in the country together mobilizing the people of the ROSS for reconciliation, peace, and unity. In that way, they will effectively contribute in promoting the concept of “one nation, one people”.
They must remember that in promoting reconciliation, peace, and unity, they become ambassadors of Christ for the people of South Sudan. This is in line with Biblical statement which says, ”therefore, if anyone is in Christ he [she] is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ… and committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors.” [2Corth5:17-19 NIV]
In their roles as ambassadors for Christ, they will visit people in their own states and counties, telling them to reconcile and live in peace and be united. In this important work of national reconciliation, they will be accompanied and supported by South Sudan Council of Churches. This work of reconciliation must become a consuming passion and take up most of their time. In that way they will become respected fathers of South Sudan rather than leaders of conflict.
What about the work of the presidency? South Sudan’s people can identify someone to carry on the work of the nation. He/she will be president and will lead the nation to the time of next election. I think the interim president should come from the tribes of Equatoria region, rather than from Bhar Al Ghazal or Upper Nile regions. Why?
Because the people of Equatoria generally are peaceably inclined. This is the first point.
The second point is that the majority of them are literate and understand democracy.
Thirdly, a significant number of them are Christians, especially those from Central and Western Equatoria. Thus they understand and practice Christian values such as equality, justice, honesty, freedom and accountability. These are Biblical values, translated into democratic ideals.
Fourthly, they are not involved in the current SPLM’s war. So they are neutral and the interim president must be a neutral person. This president will, of course, be elected.
This interim president will face the difficult task of unifying the nation after the SPLM’s war comes to the end but he/she will be assisted by President Kiir and Dr. Machar’s efforts in the cities, towns, villages and bush.
In conclusion, President Kiir and Dr. Machar have the ability and must stop the killing, bring peace and development to the people of the Republic of South Sudan. Their personal reconciliation is key.
The author is the former Secretary General of Sudan Council of Churches and past Moderator of Dolieb Hill Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church of Sudan. Displaced person from Malakal living in Uganda as a refugee.