President Salva Kiir seen declining to shake Dr Riek Machar’s hand during the Khartoum peace talks, July 2018
The current political environment leaves no doubt that we are witnessing the consolidation of hegemony and the first steps towards ethnocracy in South Sudan. Kiir and cohorts appear to have adopted the attitude of “the winner takes all” believing that they have defeated Riek Machar; thus, it’s up to them to decide what happens and shape the present and the future of the country as they wish. The glee among the members of the Jieng Council of Elders (JCE) is unmistakable. They see that their scheme for absolute dominance of their ethnicity in South Sudan is on track. Their perceived major enemy, who is the main obstacle towards achieving their goals is out of the way permanently. It’s time to celebrate and change the rhetoric which would now focus on national dialogue and preparation for elections.
But they are missing one crucial “thing” which is detrimental to the existence of any country, particularly those emerging from brutal civil wars. Of course, in our case, the war hasn’t ended yet. Instead, a state of a lull in the conflict has temporarily prevailed. That “thing” is called Nation-building. It’s a process that requires among many things, respect and trust-building between the perceived winner and loser. The importance of the two virtues cannot be overemphasized. We must remember that the two sides plus others have to live together as citizens of one nation which cannot happen in the absence of respect and trust among them.
On 9th April 1855, General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate army to General Ulysses S. Grant at the village of Appomattox Court House signalling the end of the American civil war. “In a welcoming gesture and as a sign of Grant’s respect and anticipation of peacefully restoring Confederate states to the Union, Lee was permitted to keep his sword and horse.” According to military tradition, in the event of a surrender, the surrendering General will have to lay down his sword and handover his horse. It would had been the biggest humiliation for a great General like Robert E. Lee. But Grant knew that he could not do such a thing to a fellow countryman who had a significant weight in the defeated Confederate army.
In contrast to the above, we see humiliation after humiliation facing Riek Machar and the signatories to the R-ARCSS in whatever move they take. It even started before they came to Juba. Many of you would remember Machar’s extended hand that President Kiir refused to shake during the Khartoum peace talks (27th June – 5th August 2018). Now the situation seems to have gotten much worse. According to Madam Angelina Teny, the Minister of Defense (Machar’s wife), Riek is under house arrest and has to obtain permission to leave his premises. He’s prohibited from meeting his supporters in the United Nations Protection of Civilian (POC) sites in Juba.
He was denied travel to Khartoum presumably to prevent him from meeting his Chief of Staff, General Simon Gatwech Dual and the rest of his military commanders residing in Khartoum.
Pay no attention to what the SPLM IO and the signatories are propagating that they had gone to Juba for the sake of peace. It’s a familiar rhetoric entertained by failed and defeated leaders. What’s the logic behind someone fighting for six years for a noble cause, then without warning gives up and says he is now for peace without achieving any of his objectives? What about the hundreds of thousands of lives lost during the struggle? And who would account for the untold suffering of the people, and the devastation of the country? The fact of the matter is that the SPLM IO leader has surrendered completely.
But Riek Machar’s surrender is one thing, the entire SPLM IO is another. And here the short-sightedness of the regime is in full display. Continuing to subjugate Machar and his followers will not strengthen the regime’s grip on power. It’s bound to have a violent backlash against the government. It may even take an ethnic dimension opening a Pandora’s box to the detriment of the country. The regime may have placed Riek Machar under house arrest, but it cannot keep his community and supporters under lock and key.
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