What is the genesis of the conflict pitting South Sudan President Salva Kiir against Riek Machar?
The media and some interested groups will describe it as a struggle between two communities, Dinka and Nuer tribes. That is not true.
Riek and some other groups were removed during the Cabinet reshuffle in July 2013. And within four months, we were in the process of re-organising the party because the SPLM constitution, manifesto and all the documents were about the whole Sudan. We wanted to adjust the SPLM constitution, manifesto and values through the new dispensation, the shifting of the paradigm to be South Sudan, and not the Sudan anymore.
All the posts applied to the Sudan. So the independent South Sudan requires the adjustment of all these documents so that we register as a political party of South Sudan and not of the Sudan.
The manner in which we discussed the documents was that we had members of the liberation council elected from all over South Sudan. We were in a meeting. We discussed article by article. We voted. The majority views were the ones that prevailed.
Riek was there on the first day. On the second day, he withdrew. He didn’t want the clause that would give the chairman of the SPLM power to appoint a certain percentage of the members. Machar didn’t want that. He described that as a dictatorship. But it is the same principle that brought Machar in 2008.
Machar withdrew from the meeting. It was on that same night that he launched his bloody attempted coup. Many people were caught unawares. So, on December 15, 2013, that unfortunate event happened and many people died.
Ms Rebecca Nyandeng, the widow of John Garang, told the Standard newspaper in December 2013 in Nairobi that they pulled out of the meeting because they were not being allowed to speak…
She’s lying. I am sorry that a lady we had respected because of the legacy of her late husband, Dr John Garang, turned out to be just that.
I was in the meeting. I am the SPLM secretary for Information, Culture and Communication.
I assure you that everyone who put up his or her hand had an opportunity to say something.
What would have been the basis of organising such a conference and then singling out who should speak? There would be no basis. Those people talked, even Riek talked.
There was a suggestion about the appointment of some members; the president was to be given the powers to appoint five per cent…
During the 2008 convention and later during the elections, most of these people who are now in this group were not elected in their areas. It was actually the chairman who used the same powers to appoint them into the government. Which election did the wife of Dr Garang pass?
There is a school of thought that says because Kiir allowed the Chinese to manage the oil resources the Americans are angry and therefore they are supporting Machar. Is that true?
Yes, the Americans are angry. But those are double standards. During the signing of the CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement], we had said we would not abide by the contracts the Chinese had signed with the Sudan. They – Americans – said “you must abide by those contracts”. We were being identified as people who were against the CPA. On that basis, we signed.
What should be done to restore and maintain peace?
First of all, let it be understood that the current government was democratically elected.
If you want to mediate, understand that basic fact.
Our constitution says the only time we can change the leadership is when we go for elections and the people of South Sudan elect a new leader. We will abide by the choice of the people of South Sudan.
The second thing is that if this is a legitimate government, then the lessons that have worked in other places supporting a legitimate regime should be the work of IGAD, of AU and any country that loves democracy.
If you won’t do that, then you are subversive, full stop. That is the solution; support the legitimate government that has been elected democratically so that democracy is restored all over the country.
IGAD in May suggested a transitional government for South Sudan to resolve the conflict. What is your take on that?
I think that is a daydream. Salva Kiir was elected. Some people who are toying with this idea are saying there was a formula that worked in Kenya in 2008. That formula is redundant for South Sudan. In Kenya, there were elections being contested. Everyone claimed that he [Raila Odinga] had won the elections. In our case, Kiir was elected. His term will end in 2015.
Why destabilise an existing situation? It is a bad suggestion. The workable solution is that the legitimate, democratically-elected government must be supported, full stop.
Is the government of South Sudan actively soliciting a regional intervention force?
Yes, we have asked IGAD. But they have a problem. If they don’t look out, they might be a proxy force for another group. When they proposed a force, UNMIS [the United Nations Mission in Sudan] wanted to fund the force. They would be derailed and become irrelevant as far as South Sudan is concerned.
Uganda is already in South Sudan. What should a regional intervention force do to avoid being perceived as partisan?
It has to be instructed like the force fighting in Somalia. In South Sudan, such a force should be running after the rebels.
The conflict in South Sudan is happening just when the country’s application to join the East African Community is still on the table. Is your country ready to join the EAC? Why should it be admitted?
South Sudan does not understand why people should be reserved about embracing South Sudan as a member of any organisation in the world. We don’t have a history of terrorism. We are freedom fighters. Much as we are a young country and might not be conversant with world trade activities, the policies that have to do with international norms of behaviour; we have our culture, a pan-Africanist culture that embraces Africans.
We know some of the African leaders want to stab us in the back.
Who are those leaders and why would they want to stab you in the back?
If anyone is not recognising the government of Salva Kiir as a legitimate government, that person is stabbing South Sudan in the back.
Usually, the interests are not visible. But some are economic. Some of the leaders are insecure at home and, therefore, they would like to create a buffer zone for whatever policies they have.
Uganda’s Chief of Defence Forces General Katumba Wamala said South Sudan agreed to meet the costs of fuel for Uganda’s Forces in South Sudan. Who is picking the tab?
We are not giving anything. [However,] we facilitate them to move to areas where they can protect Ugandans.
What do you mean when you say ‘facilitate them’?
Well, you cannot allow an army of a different nation to operate in your country. Is that not facilitation? They are operating in our country to hunt where the subversive LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army] soldiers are.
Are you certain there is no money, no fuel that South Sudan is giving to Uganda?
No money, no fuel, yeah.
So why would some people make such claims?
Khartoum, under the so-called ‘lobbying’, has elements in every part of Africa. And they paid certain groups to toy with ideas about what is happening. Here, they would like to stir up the emotions of Ugandans so that Ugandans rise up against their own system.
Are Ugandan traders safe in South Sudan given our involvement?
Your traders, as far as the part of the government is concerned, are safe because the government protects the business community in the country. Those who have unfortunately fallen in the areas where the rebels are active and have an upper hand, they become victims. They [rebels] have massacred them [Ugandan traders] in the town of Bor and also in Bentiu. [Bentiu is a key oil extraction town in South Sudan.] That is unfortunate.
The people in the government-controlled areas are being protected. They are still doing business. The most advanced business people are the foreigners especially those from East Africa. If the government had not been protecting them, they would not be continuing to take fuel to South Sudan. They – foreign traders – are the people who have the licences to move with goods across the borders. Ugandan traders bring most of the goods we are using in South Sudan.