DR. RIEK MACHAR’S VISIT: A NEGATIVE VALUE ADDED TO THE ALREADY TENSILE POLITICAL COMPLEXITY
The arrival in Juba on Monday 9 September, 2019 of Dr. Riek Machar at the head of 69-man delegation, and his meeting with President Salva Kiir did nothing either to break the ice, as observers of the situation expected, or add any value to the work of his Advance Team. If anything, the visit spurred bad memories of the July 2016 fighting in J1, it raised the political temperament to complicate their chemistry of the two men, and indeed clogged the gears of the R-ARCISS implementation machinery.
Travelling with such a huge delegation with his security guarantor, Mohammed Daglo (Hemiti), who was in Juba on an entirely different mission, Dr. Riek Machar spent three days and returned to Khartoum on Thursday. He had an agenda-less meeting with President Salva Kiir on Wednesday. To observant spectator, the face to face meeting was more of a public relations stint than anything serious warranted by the gravity of the political situation in South Sudan. This is gleaned from the casual and informal the two leaders constituted a committee to follow up on the issues they failed to address. It is not clear whether that unnamed committee would play the role of National Pre-Transitional Commissions.
The visit is typical of Dr. Riek Machar, who always like to play it alone bi-laterally with President Salva. He did it in 2016 short-circuiting the other political leaders to ARCISS namely Deng Alor Kuol of the SPLM Political Leaders Former Detainees, and Dr. Lam Akol leader of the National Alliance. This short-circuiting ended up in the J1 fighting. The revitalized agreement on the resolution of the conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCISS) brought together the governing coalition in the Republic of South Sudan (GRSS), the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) and a conglomeration of political and armed opposition groups under the rubrics of South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA) as well as the SPLM FDs, to stop the war.
The eight-months pre-transitional period stipulated in the R-ARCISS expired without change in the political and military situation. The SPLM/A-IO on insistence of Dr. Riek Machar requested a six-months extension until 12 November. It is about eight-weeks to the formation of the revitalized transitional government of national unity (R-TGoNU) and the institutional order has not yet been perfected. The sticking points have been the cantonment of troops, proposed joint training of the eighty-three thousand strong national army, the question of the states and the national security law. These are cardinal issues that required not just the two leaders to thrash, but required all the signatories to the R-ARCISS. Not only that, it also required, in addition, a shift in the political thinking away from what characterized South Sudan before the eruption of conflict in December 2013, which viewed everything in terms of personalized power and self-aggrandisement at the expense of provision of social and economic development.
If Dr. Riek Machar cared about peace in South Sudan, he should have accepted to come with the President immediately after the Papal foot-kissing in April 2019. He developed cold feet on account of his personal security. Now, he garnered courage to accompany Hemiti to Juba with a huge delegation, some of them dead woods, oblivious of its implication in an austere economic environment in South Sudan – what Charles Dickens would call hard times.
The only viable manner Dr. Riek Machar could serve and save the people of South Sudan, was to temporarily abdicate the leadership of the SPLM/A-IO and hand over authority to his deputy Hon. Henry Odwar. This will ease the already tensile political environment in South Sudan. I can vouch that Ngundeng’s prophesy-inspired Riek Machar power ambitions have stalled. His visit to Juba has not created a new situation more than what his Advance Team has achieved so far. I believe another SPLM/A-IO leader other than Dr. Riek might engage President Salva Kiir in a manner that can ensure peace and stability.