8 August 2017

South Sudan: Machar Political Future in Doubt As He's Isolated

Photo: Jason Patinkin
Civilians fleeing Kajo Keji county, toward the southern border with Uganda

Regional leaders continue to shun South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar, who is believed to be under house arrest in South Africa. He fled South Sudan after fresh fighting broke out in Juba in July.

Mike Mabior, spokesperson for Rebecca Nyadeng, the widow of Dr John Garang, says it is unlikely for Dr Machar to come back to active politics in South Sudan.

Mr Mabior suggests that President Salva Kiir should also consider quitting to allow the South Sudanese to chart a new course.

James Morgan, South Sudan's ambassador to Ethiopia, who is also the permanent representative to the African Union, describes Dr Machar as a warmonger and says his absence will assure South Sudan of peace.

Dr Machar has been in South Africa since last December. The former first vice president is unlikely to return to active politics, given his current situation where he has been excluded from new initiatives to bring peace to South Sudan.

Reports say he is unable to communicate with the world, including his wife, without supervision.

But his Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement-In Opposition (SPLM-IO) -- the biggest armed group outside the government -- and experts on South Sudan say that the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (Igad) cannot ignore him if it is interested in lasting peace.

Beng Komboor, SPLM-IO media and public relations director in Nairobi, says: "The issue is neither about his role in the peace process nor his political future, but whether the political and armed groups that are not party to the August 2015 Peace Agreement are capable of ending the civil war."

The Igad Council of Ministers recently launched the High Level Revitalisation Forum to be implemented in September. It involves revising the August 2015 peace agreement to come up with realistic timelines for implementation.

The forum will be all-inclusive, but the Igad ministers' meeting in Juba ruled out the physical presence of Dr Machar.

"Dr Machar has not been invited to the forum but can send his views on the process. He can be represented but for the time being, we are not inviting Riek Machar to be physically present," said Mr Gebeyehu, the Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs, who chairs the council.

But Prof Jacob Chol, a lecturer in International and Comparative Politics at the University of Juba, criticised Igad for the "double standards."

"When they are in Juba, they try to please the Juba administration, saying Dr Machar should not be part of peace process. However, when outside South Sudan they say that the peace agreement has collapsed and Dr Machar should be part and parcel of the revitalisation," said Prof Chol.

Dr Lam Akol, the former Agriculture Minister, who is now leading the National Democratic Movement armed group, told The EastAfrican that the Igad's decision to isolate Dr Machar will be difficult to implement under the current circumstances.

After fighting broke out in Juba in July 2016, President Kiir launched a shuttle diplomatic campaign across the region to isolate Dr Machar, and the man who replaced him, Taban Deng Gai, dispatched to all regional capitals to persuade the leaders that the implementation of the August peace agreement was only possible without Machar.

Later, the Minster for Information, Michael Makuei Lueth, who is also government spokesperson, advised Dr Machar to stay out of politics and wait for the elections scheduled to be held after 30 months of the transitional government of national unity.

In November, regional leaders positively responded to Kiir's appeal.

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