How Dr. Riek Machar Set Himself Up for Failure

"But that—faulting President Kiir for the current conflict in the country—does not in any way absolve Dr. Riek Machar of any blame, be it political and/or military one."

By PaanLuel Wël, Kampala, Uganda

Part one of this article has contended that President Kiir's actions and/or inactions are more or less to blame for the calamitous eventuality that befell our nation on December 15th, 2013. His addiction to decreeing in and out of cabinet, members of the SPLM politburo—the every ones charged with electing the SPLM party leader—is the main cause of the current political crisis within the SPLM party and the main contributing factor to the events that culminated in the outbreak of military uprising on December 15th. Politically speaking, it was foolhardy on the part of the President to mess around with the very souls entrusted with determining his political fate in as far as his re-election to the party chairmanship was concerned. President Kiir, if he were wise enough to avoid being paid back in his own coin, should have been appointing cabinet members from outside the SPLM-PB.

Likewise, President Kiir's compulsion to granting blanket amnesty to any militia and rebel leader, many of whom made a business of out it, not just incentivized violent rebellions in the country but also led to the domination of the SPLA by members of the Nuer ethnic group. President Kiir's hasty appointment of Paulino Matip in 2006 as deputy commander in chief of the SPLA, for example, led to the domination of the Presidential Guards by soldiers from Nuer ethnic community (majority of the rebel forces brought by Matip were incorporated into the Presidential Republican Guards since Matip was made Deputy C-in-C of the South Sudan Armed Forces—the SPLA). These renegade soldiers, who later remained as part of the elite Presidential Guards after the death of Paulino Matip in 2012, were the ones who fought their colleagues on December 15th, 2013.

But that—faulting President Kiir for the current conflict in the country—does not in any way absolve Dr. Riek Machar of any blame, be it political and/or military one. Whereas President Kiir could be synonymous with failure, corruption, political mediocrity and military mismanagement of the motherland, Dr. Riek Machar, on the other hand, is an avatar of violence, destruction, butchering and above all—as sensationally put by President Kiir—a prophet of doom. In his wake, death and destruction follow, war and genocide gnaw the nation in the face. If, therefore, under gunpoint, one were to choose between utter failure and complete doom, which is President Kiir and Dr. Riek respectively, it is most likely that one would scream out in absolute disgust: "give me liberty or give me death".

Who is Dr. Riek Machar Teny?

Dr. Riek Machar Teny, the 26th child of the 31 children of a sub-chief of the village of Leer, was born in 1952/3 in Unity state, South Sudan. Born to Nyadak, the third wife of his father's five wives, the boy was given the name Riek, which can either mean "shrine" or "trouble". Intriguingly, to this day, these two contradictory meanings to his name are playing themselves out concurrently (first in the SPLM/A during the war and now) in the Republic of South Sudan. While his sworn critics saw him as an embodiment of "trouble"—which is one meaning of his name, his reverential admirers and fanatical disciples saw him as the "shrine" for the restoration of democracy and rule of law, peace and unity, and social prosperity in South Sudan—which is another meaning of his name. The battle between the two conflicting meanings to his name is yet to be settled: will Dr. Riek end up as the "shrine" upon which South Sudan would be delivered from its encumbering predicaments as prophesied by Prophet Ngundeng Bong or will he end up as the fundamental problem of South Sudan—the prophet of doom—as foretold by Wende Mayaardit?

Dr. Riek hails from the Dok Nuer community who inhabit Leer County in Unity State. While most Nuer were virulently hostile to outsiders, the Dok Nuer among whom he comes from, curiously, had long tradition of collaborating with them. It makes one shudder how much of that tradition was inherited by Dr. Riek and to what extent the Dok Nuer's idiosyncratic "tradition of working with" foreigners did influence him in his alliance with Khartoum in the post Nasir coup era. Was it all in the gene, one can't help asking the question. Dr. Riek's grandfather, Teny-Dhurghon, was reportedly possessed by the spirit that enabled him to "speak the language of prophecy". That is (as a prophet in his own right but of lesser ranking, for equality is an alien idea in both heaven and hell) how Teny-Dhurghon was said to have gone to Wech-Deang to meet Ngundeng Bong, the famed Lou Nuer prophet. It was during that meeting, according to one version—one that is championed by Dr. Riek—that Ngundeng was said to have prophesied that a progeny of Teny would be a great leader in the future; and according to another version—one that is shunned by Dr. Riek but gleefully cited by his detractors—Ngundeng was said to have cursed Teny for lying to him about the number and quality of bulls he had brought to Ngundeng as gifts. Ngundeng was said to have accused Riek's grandfather of lying—hiding the "best" bulls in the surrounding villages while bringing the "bad" ones to him. In raw anger, Ngundeng cursed and termed him Dhurghon, which means a liar. So Teny-Dhurghon, according to this version, means Teny-the-liar.

Dr. Riek owed everything to her strong mother, Nyadak, whose cousin was among the first Nuers to graduate from Khartoum University, and could, as the Nuer puts it, "speak the language of paper". This cousin of Nyadak later became one of the top Anyanya One military officers but was tragically lost to alcohol, after the Addis Ababa Accord. It was after this cousin that Nyadak modeled her son after. At age eleven, Riek, after passing entrance exams, was shipped to Atar Intermediary School in the heart of Shilluk Kingdom. When Riek was unable to get money for school fees and clothing, his indomitable mother saw it fit to travel to Khartoum so as to brew beer to pay for everything Riek needed. Riek never failed her, for he succeeded to, in the footstep of her mother's famed cousin, graduate from Khartoum University with Mechanical Engineering Degree, after which he, like John Garang he had briefly met and admired in a coffee shop in Khartoum, secured a scholarship in 1979 to study in the "white man land". As Riek boarded the "sky canoe" taking him to England, with him as a wife was the 18-year-old daughter of his former teacher, Thomas Kuma. Her name is Jany Thomas Kuma—better known today as Angelina Teny. Riek did his PhD in Strategic Planning at Bradford Polytechnic in the UK, graduating in 1984. A "political animal" as he loves to describe himself, Dr. Riek was heavily involved in politics at the university. Riek, together with the late Benjamin Bol Akook, John Luk Jok, Marial Benjamin, Chol Daau Diing, among others, had formed a stillborn political party—the Sudan Revolutionary Congress (SRC). But when Riek and his comrades were taken by Tiny Rowland to meet Gadhafi to solicit financial and military supports, they were rejected on the ground that there was no difference between the SPLM/A (then being bankrolled by Libya) and the new Movement since both were fighting for a United Sudan.

Soon after completing his PhD in 1984, Riek left straight to the Bush to join—not the Anyanya II, but—the SPLM/A. He was attracted to John Garang's modern vision, was educated and could not fathom being under Akuot and Gai Tut and, above all, wanted to rise above tribal loyalty. It must be recalled that Dr. Riek was among the earliest intellectuals to back Dr. John Garang against Akuot Atem and Gai Tut. That is why Dr. Garang made him his personal adjutant and favored him over others in promotion to the exclusive SPLM/A-PMHC. It was the appointment of Dr. Riek and Dr. Lam Akol, over Kerubino's objection, which occasioned bad blood between Dr. John Garang and Kerubino Kuanyin. It was in his role as the C-in-C's adjutant that Dr. Riek—against the advice of James Wani Igga, the son of the area and thus knew the area better—led the ill-fated rescue of Tingling where thousands of SPLA soldiers under Arok Thon Arok died of thirsty. The plane directed by Riek dropped the water into an enemy-controlled territory. In 1985, John Garang released Dr. Riek from his duty as an adjutant, and sent him to Gambela to take command of a Battalion heading to Western Upper Nile. As an SPLA zonal commander, Riek distinguished himself in the battlefield to the extent that Dr. John Garang was said to have pronounced: "if only I have five officers like Riek, this war would have been over long ago." This was especially after Dr. Riek spearheaded the recruitment of thousands of young Nuer men into the SPLA, after he had organized the marching of Nuer's Jesh-amer into Ethiopia, and particularly after he captured Mayom in Unity state, wounding Omer el-Bashir—then the garrison commander from the government side—in the process. Unlike Dr. Lam Akol who was almost captured by the enemy, Dr. Riek became so vital to the SPLM/A that the chairman made him the head of an SPLM/A sector in Western Upper Nile.

But as they say, "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupt absolutely." The more power and prestige Dr. Riek got, the more insatiable and arrogant he became. One of the vivid and telling portrayals of Dr. Riek is bestowed by Deborah Scroggins, the author of Emma's War: "I have noticed that when people talk about Riek Machar, even people who hate him, even those who wish him dead, an indulgent smile often flits across their faces, almost like a reflex. Riek is so amiable, so seemingly good-natured, that it is hard not to warm [up] to him; only later does one sense the bottomless ego behind the little-boy pout…the idolized son of a strong woman, is an inveterate flirt. Riek is a man who lives for admiration, a man who never wants to be alone, a man who hates to say no. He feels your pain even as he plots your end. He was, as he says, born `a political animal'". But to be fair to the progeny of Teny-Dhurghon, one must add that in addition to his being a velvety seducer and an attention-seeker, Dr. Riek is also charming, academically talented and determined. His failings aside, he has South Sudan at heart, for otherwise, it would be hard to explain why he left England, immediately after obtaining his PhD, and joined his comrades in the bush. But it is certain that the powers that Dr. Riek assumed—and especially after the detention of Kerubino, Arok, Oduho and Majier that gave Dr. Riek and Dr. Lam opportunities that they would have otherwise never assumed—had much to do with the next political and military adventure that Dr. Riek Machar (a man highly pampered by Dr. John Garang for he was, with Dr. Lam, promoted over and above many able and distinguished SPLM/A officers who had been to the bush before him) embarked on. Dr. Riek Machar Teny, on 28 August 1991, led a military coup against Dr. John Garang de Mabioor, his boss.

How Dr. Machar Bungled the 1991 Nasir Declaration

What happened in Nasir in 1991 was more of a political declaration that took on military and political misadventures than an outright military coup, for, as Dr. John Garang retorted, it really "makes no sense to announce a coup in Nasir against someone sitting in Torit." Garang had interchangeably termed it as a theatrical or theoretical coup! Theoretical or not, the events—political agitations and general disenchantment—that preceded the 1991 Nasir coup jarringly mirrored those that heralded the December 15th military uprising in Juba. By 1991 four of the seven founders of the SPLM/A—Kerubino Kwanyin, Arok Thon, Joseph Oduho and Martin Majier, along with the so-called SPLM/A progressive officers such as Alfred Lado, Chol Deng Alaak, Telar Ring Deng, Amon Wantok, Maker Benjamin, Ater Benjamin, Atem Gauldit, Dhol Achuil, Malath Joseph, etc.—had been arrested by the leadership. Intellectuals led by the likes of Prof. Barry Wanji and Dr. Adwok Nyaba were agitating for political change and democratization within SPLM/A. It was under such political atmosphere that Dr. Lam Akol—on the advise of the chief priest, Dr. Adwok Nyaba—recruited Dr. Riek Machar to surrogate a rebellion for "democracy, human rights and the rule of law and southern secession" against Dr. John Garang.

In "Why Garang Must Go Now", a rebel manifesto that had laid out the reasons for the necessity and the earnestness to depose Dr. John Garang, the "Gang of two Doctors", as Garang had dubbed them, had promised democratization within the Movement, observance of human rights and the rule of law, adopted Southern secession over the New Sudan Vision and call for the release of the then detained political prisoners (can you see any resemblance of that 1991 call to the one made in 2013 by Dr. Riek Machar?) But when the declaration was finally made and military confrontations ensued between the two factions, what started out as a grand, altruistic quest for the democratization of the Movement and a call for southern secession from Khartoum, tragically, resulted in the Bor Massacre and a shameless collaboration with Khartoum—the entity that was supposed to be the enemy. Dr. Machar's inept leadership, his dubiousness towards Dr. Lam Akol and William Nyuon, his inability to transcend his tribal base support among the Nuer Nation and his utter failure to cultivate and sustain regional and international support, led to the eventual disintegration of the Nasir Faction and his "humble return" to the mother SPLM/A in 2002—a movement that he had unsuccessfully spent good 8 years of his life, striving to destroy. It is recorded by history that a man with a PhD in Strategic Planning was miserably unable neither to plan a fruitful coup nor to successfully manage a faction on his own. And he was—still is—accusing others of failure and mismanagement!

When the Coup was finally announced on the BBC, it turned out that much of the accusations leveled against John Garang and the mother SPLM/A were tailored for the ears of the aids community and the western audience—as if the script was, and could possibly had been, dictated by Emma McCunne. To the Western World, the Socialist Communist block was an oppressive regime that prided itself on committing human rights abuses and the suppression of democratic voices. Thus the Nasir group portrayed the SPLM/A as a socialistic group that was congenitally opposed to freedom of expression and was fond of committing human rights abuses, citing the imprisonment of senior SPLM/A officers as the case in point and recruitment of child soldiers—of which Dr. Riek did a great part of among the Nuer—as another one. Yet, the Nasir group had a hand in each and every classic case of indictments leveled against the mother SPLM/A, hence making them co-committers and -oppressors, each according to their contributions. In fact, the Nasir coup makers "camouflaged their intention with the popular slogans of democracy, human rights and separation for Southern Sudan, all of which were the parameters of the emerging international political order." The triumph of the West, led by the USA, and marked by the fall of the Berlin Wall, had ushered in an epoch of democratic transformation and the secessions of Eastern European countries from the then disintegrating USSR. This was the ready-made bandwagon the Nasir group hopped onto, packaging it in Southern Sudanese language.

While it was irrefutable that there were serious cases of authoritarianism within the mother SPLM/A under Dr. John Garang, the "gangs of Two Doctors" were, however, latecomers to the call for democratic transformation within the Movement. The honor goes to Prof./Captain Barry Wanji, the first person to ignite that fight. Not only were the "gangs of Two Doctors" opportunistic, they were not even genuine in their vehement condemnation of human rights abuses within the Movement. Take Dr. Lam Akol, for instance, the man who engineered the whole fiasco. As the SPLM/A top negotiator and spokesperson in 1989, he had told Khartoum delegation in Nairobi (Lam had accused them of human rights abuses after which they questioned Lam about the detained senior members of the Movement) that: "yes, we have imprisoned some and killed others, and we will killed many more because we are a liberation movement who cannot take any risk". But then in August 1991, barely two years later, the same Dr. Lam had the temerity to declare that "a number of members of the movement are under detention for many years for no reason other than differing with John Garang." Secondly, the Nasir group market the call for Southern Secession as the hallmark of their rebellion and yet in 1987, Dr. Lam Akol had written in the Khartoum Journal `Heritage' an article entitled `Why the SPLM/A Must Fight for Unity' in which he had passionately maintained that the "unity of the Sudan was indeed cardinal theme in all peace agreements with the Khartoum political forces and all SPLM policy papers for peace negotiation".

To be fair to Dr. Lam, he was not comfortable with proclaiming "separation" as the cardinal goal of the Nasir coup from the get-go. While he was for separation like most Southerners, he saw the danger entailed in prematurely pursuing it at that moment of their rebellion. It was Dr. Riek, to the chagrin of Dr. Lam and contrary to their internal deliberations, who let the cat out of the bag on the BBC on his first interview. That put Dr. Lam in the school of Southerners who, while publicly espousing the New Sudan Vision, whispered that "ke tharku angicku" that is, we know what we are fighting for. To them, the New Sudan Vision was a good political cover for separation. It enabled Southerners to get allies both from within and outside the country, and it assuaged criticisms, and blunted support to Khartoum, from the AU, the UN and the Arab world. As John Garang underscored it, Nubas "were our Arabs" during the Anyanya one war but "were out allies" during the SPLM/A war because of the New Sudan Vision.

With the Nasir coup, just like the 2013 military uprising, came peacemakers, scrambling to reconcile the warring factions. But it failed miserably, till 8 years later, when the two factions, all by themselves without the international community, made peace. What was the reason for the failure of the Nairobi Peace Talk between the mother SPLM/A and the Nasir Faction? The simple reason is that some of the top mediators such as Bishop Paride Taban were derisive anti-SPLM/A. In return, John Garang dismissed them as "peace vultures" and the talk collapsed. The second reason is more fundamental. An analogy may help. In the New Sudan Vision, Dr. John Garang identified the fundamental problem of the Sudan as the Problem of the North, that is, too much oppressive and exclusive powers in Khartoum. The solution, according to Garang, was the political restructuring and equitable distribution of that power in order to bring about the New Sudan Vision. Similarly during the Nasir coup, the Nasir faction claimed to have diagnosed the problem within the SPLM/A as Garang's problem, that is, too much concentration of power within one man in the name of John Garang. Thus, according to them, the solution was the political and military restructuring and equitable sharing of that concentrated power into the hands of many political and military leaders in order to bring about accountability and respect of the law within the Movement. As failure to restructuring power in Khartoum precluded successful materialization of the SPLM/A's New Sudan Vision, so was it with solving the problem within the Movement under John Garang. Of course, there was the intransigence of Dr. Riek: he refused to be number two after John Garang, insisting on holding free and fair election to determine the new leadership of the Movement as a precondition for the unification of the two factions. As recounted by Dr. Adwok Nyaba and Dr. Lam Akol, Dr. Machar was reported to have declared that the two factions would only unite "over his dead body" if he were not made the leader of the unified movement or if there was no rotation of power—co-chairmanship—or if there was no new election to determine the new restructured leadership of the unified SPLM/A. As peace talk commence on February 7, 2014 between Dr. Riek's South Sudan Resistance Movement/Army (SSRM/A) and the government of South Sudan, the same kind of intransigence might be on display again and it might hamper the peace talk.

With the failure of the Nairobi Peace Talk, internecine factional war was resuscitated. Yet, Riek and Lam had launched an ill-planned and poorly coordinated military coup against John Garang. When it failed to topple him, Riek turned around and said theirs was a "creeping coup." But the so-called "creeping coup" failed to move an inch towards removing John Garang from the helm of the SPLM/A leadership. Under the weight of its own contradictions—marked by the atrocities of the Bor Massacre, the treacherous collaboration with Khartoum regime, Riek's failure to secure military supplies or win allies in the international community or within south Sudan besides those of the Nuer nationality—the "creeping coup" soon turned out to be a "crumbling coup" prompting Dr. Riek to first humbly settle on what he called a "parallel existence" of the movements. After the failure of both creeping coup and the stillbirth of the parallel movement, Dr. Riek resorted to seek refuge in Nuer nationalism, and then turned to "peace from within" prompting John Garang to tell him: "instead of fake peace from within, you should declare war from within": Finally in 1996, Dr. Riek, instead of rejoining the mother SPLM/A, surrendered himself to Khartoum with the face-saving, but largely empty, Khartoum Political Charter of 1996, later crowned with the 1997 Khartoum Peace Agreement (KPA). With the Nasir Coup, capped with the Khartoum Peace Agreement, the National Islamic Front (NIF)—later rechristened as the National Congress Party (NCP)—achieved the long elusive dream of securing and benefiting from the Southern oil that all previous Khartoum-based regimes have tried to achieve to no avail.

Nonetheless, the forfeiture was not just about the Southern oil as much as it was about the fate of Southerners' right to self-determination—the jewel of the Khartoum Accord. With Khartoum Peace Agreement, however, Dr. Machar and the NIF regime fully committed themselves to defend and protect the territorial integrity of the Sudan, making its borders inviolable, thus, precluding the call for self-determination as then advanced by the Nasir group. Therefore, if one were to fathom the discomforting fact that the Khartoum Peace Agreement was nothing more than Khartoum's tactical response to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) resolution from Asmara that spelt out how members under the NDA umbrella were committed to bring down the NCP government and the resurgent SPLM/A new military victories in Southern Blue Nile, then its feasibility was but a non-starter. It was actually a "Frankfurt Accord II" that sealed the fate of the Nasir Faction. But the much-publicized KPA, largely impotence as it was, became Dr. Machar's waterloo. It was as if there was a conspiracy from the NIF—as if he had been set up for a mortifying failure. The 1998 KPA-mandated gubernatorial election in Southern Sudan set him on a collision course with Kerubino Kuanyin Bol (over who should be the President of the Coordinating Council between the two to reign over the South) and with Paulino Matip Nhial (over whose ally should be the governor of Unity state between Taban Deng Gai nominated by Dr. Machar and Paul Lili proposed by Paulino Matip).

When Taban Deng Gai was declared the winner of the 1998 gubernatorial election, the political tension between Paulino Matip's South Sudan Unity Movement/Army (SSUM/A) and Dr. Riek's UDSF escalated into a bloody fight. Taban Deng fled to khartoum after five members of his cabinet were killed and Riek forces evicted from Bentiu area. When Dr. Riek dithered in the face of Matip's military belligerence, one that was backed by Khartoum who trusted Matip more than Riek, 19 commanders of his SSDF forces—led by Peter Bol Kong, Tito Biel, Tho Biel and James Gatduel Gatluak who led SPLA 4th division that stormed and captured Panthou in 2012—defected from Riek and declared war on Khartoum on the side of the SPLM/A. Shortly thereafter, Peter Gadet Yak, then the army commander of Paulino Matip's forces and his deputy, rebelled and captured Matip's headquarters at Mankien, near Bentiu. It was in the ensuing battle at Mankien that Kerubino Kuanyin Bol was killed. With no army to command and with Khartoum Peace Accord in tatters, Dr. Riek Machar, in December 1999—just two years after signing the KPA—left Khartoum for Germany and then for Nairobi, Kenya. On 31 January 2000, Dr. Riek authored a letter in which he declared his resignation from the NIF government and his defection from Khartoum, accusing Bashir of dishonoring the Khartoum Peace Accord. In a bid to salvage his army, Dr. Riek left Nairobi for Nuerland in 2000 but he was met with hostile reception from the ground. Luckily, Dr. Rieks new white wife, Becky Hagman who had divorced an American pastor to marry him, "flew to Nairobi, chartered a plane, and swooped into [Southern] Sudan to pluck Riek away to safety" before he was lynched. Dr. Riek remained in Nairobi, largely useless, till he "humbly returned" to the mother SPLM/A in January 2002.

The most damning legacy of Dr. Machar's political and military misadventures, was not just about the atrocities of the Bor massacre, nor the senseless factional warfare that poisoned relationship among South Sudanese tribes; it was, above all, his slavish collaboration with Khartoum that almost led to total obliteration of the People's Revolutionary Movement by the resurgent, fanatical Khartoum. It was a devastating setback! The SPLM/A had almost won the war before the 1991 Nasir coup, forcing senior Sudanese military leaders to draft a memo calling on Khartoum to either provide them with resources to wage the war and avoid defeat by the rebel or accept to conduct and make peace with the rebels based on past peace resolutions. In fact, shortly before the Nasir coup, the Khartoum regime was secretly exploring ways to withdraw demoralized government troops from Juba. The SPLM/A had captured almost the entire South, with only the major towns of Juba, Wau and Malakal remaining besieged. In the aftermath of the coup, the SPLM/A lost every town except Buma (heroically defended by Paul Malong Awan) and Nimule that was saved by, among others, CDR—James Koang Chol, who recently rebelled, for the first time since he went to the bush in 1983, against SPLM/A in Bentiu. In spite of the coup and its destructive setbacks, the SPLM/A, under the determined leadership of Dr. John Garang, Salva Kiir Mayaardit and James Wani Igga, survived the disintegration of the SPLM/A's PMHC, the demise of the Mengistu's Dergue regime, the treacherous coup of the Nasir Group and the resurgent, fanatic NIF government to take back the momentum and to force the government to the negotiating table—the product of which was the CPA and South Sudan's independence on 9 July 2011.

The 1991 Lam-engineered, Riek-led and Kong-backed Nasir Coup was a great setback to the noble cause of South Sudanese liberationary struggle. Not only did it not live up to its high ideals of the rule of law, democratization and positive change, it just sadly descended into an abyss that made an angel of Garang-led SPLM/A faction. Dr. Riek, the leader, bears the blame for the political fiascos, military setbacks and humanitarian crisis that characterized the aftermath of the Nasir Coup. Dr. Riek's questionable leadership, marked by acute indecisiveness, proved a fatal handicap to the rebel faction. His unqualified miscarriage to win any regional and international support, and particularly his failure to procure any military help from any where in the world, prompted Dr. John Garang to famously quipped that "it is only a white lady (Emma) that Riek succeeded to get from abroad." Ultimately, it was his dramatic flop to secure any military supplies for his faction that, out of desperation, first, led to his notorious collaboration with Khartoum, and secondly, to the disintegration of the Nasir group and, finally, to their eventual disappearance into the dustbin of history.

Nevertheless, there is a legacy of that political and military misadventure that is very relevant, if not identical, to the current conflict in the country. In addition to the unfortunate Bor Massacre of 1991, Dr. Riek's failure to offer decisive leadership to the Nasir camp, couple with his doomed collaboration with Khartoum against the cherished aspiration of South Sudanese people to free themselves from Khartoum's oppression proved him, beyond any reasonable doubt, that he is not the man that South Sudanese can entrust with their destiny. Dr. Machar was tested—had a faction to steer to victory against Khartoum, had a historic chance to enshrine the rule of law and democratization within his faction of the SPLM/A Movement—but he failed miserably. He ended up killing the Bor and Ngok Dinkas and triggered a deadly civil war among the Nuer people (the Lou-Jikany disputes). The rule of law was never observed but rather violated on scale unseen in the old SPLM/A. The noble call for secession was suffocated by his treacherous collaboration with the enemy. As James Wani Igga wrote in his book, the Nasir Faction ended up killing and jailing more political prisoners within three months of their existent than those killed or detained by the SPLM/A since it was founded.

How Dr. Machar Bungled the December 15th Mutiny 

In 1991, the Nasir Faction tricked their own imagination and deceived themselves that they could be the agent of democratic transformation within the SPLM/A. However, the harsh reality of having and exercising power, juxtaposing with the various political and military factors to be grappled with and the high expectations to be fulfilled, exposed them as mere phonies and fabricators. 22 years later, Dr. Riek is proclaiming the fundamental problem of South Sudan to be the sole making of one man—President Salva Kiir—and his prescription to the malady is an immediate and unconditional departure of President Kiir from J-1 to his village of Akon in Warrap state. Is Dr. Riek, like the Nasir Faction he was then leading, tricking his own imagination and deceiving the white army that he could be the agent of democratic transformation in the Republic of South Sudan?

If the past—the debacle of the 1991 Nasir Coup—offers no solace to Dr. Machar's political ambition to lead the Republic of South Sudan, so does the present—the aftermath of the 2013 military uprising. Just as "growing disenchantment and international criticism created fertile ground for opportunists masquerading as democrats" in 1991 in the persons of Dr. Lam Akol and Dr. Riek Machar, so did it re-incarnated Dr. Riek Machar in 2013. Truly, President Salva Kiir Mayaardit, in the Nyayo of Dr. John Garang—his predecessor, has not been the best democratic leader South Sudan has been blessed with. His blanket amnesty to every Deng, Lado and Gatkuoth of South Sudanese militias, worsened by his obsession with decreeing in and out of government members of the SPLM-PB, had, by 2013, substantially weakened his hold on the levers of power within the SPLM ruling party. His injudicious political panicking, exemplified by his flagrant decision to restrict the media freedom of his political opponents, and most tragically, his incendiary decision to recruit what, in all aspects of the word but name, appear to be a private militia—Gelbeny—created the unnecessary suspicions, poisonous rumormongering and heightened paranoid that sparked the catastrophic December 15th violence.

It might not have been the case that President Kiir wanted to unleash a military confrontation against his political opponents. Apparently, it might have been more of an inept leadership—born out of sheer panicking—than that of a planned military purge of his political adversaries. Indubitably, he subsequently tried to take advantage of it by claiming—presenting—it as a foiled military coup and by going after his political opponents, all of whom must have had no prior knowledge of, let alone participating in, the alleged attempted coup. President Kiir, by all intents, wanted to kill two—if not all—birds with one stone (those presidential contenders such as Dr. Riek, Pagan Amum, Nyandeng Garang who had overtly challenged his leadership plus those disgruntled ex-cabinet members whose daggers were drawn against his re-election for the party leadership). But if history will hold President Kiir responsible for unwittingly triggering the political, military and humanitarian crisis of December 15th, it won't be kind enough on Dr. Riek. Like President Kiir, Dr. Riek—who may or may not have been privy to the military buildups leading up to the gunfight, and must have been running away from the killing field in Juba for his dear life—later tried to make political and military capital out of the crisis by presenting himself as the nominal leader of the rebellion.

If he were such a wise leader that his followers have always projected unto the world, he should have learnt his lesson by not, under whatsoever circumstances, associating himself with the notorious Lou Nuer White Army that had irrevocably tarnished his name in 1991 when that same group committed the Bor Massacre. He would not have associated himself with James Koang Chuol and Peter Gadet Yak—the notorious turncoat militia leader who had once attacked and razed down the entire headquarters of Dr. Riek Machar in Leer. In short, he should not have pretended to make Jesus Christ for the Nuer out of himself by playacting to lead a redemptive assault on Juba to avenge the innocent Nuer civilians lynched to death in Juba. The White Army would have still done the work, with or without his presumptive leadership. He should have chosen the high moral ground of preaching peace, restraint and justice for the dead and the aggrieved parties. He should have taken refuge—political asylum—in a neighboring country, say Kenya or Ethiopia, among others but not Uganda, wherein he would have assumed the title of the "Lamb of Peace and Wonderful Counselor". As a man whose ambition is to lead the whole country—not just the Nuer Nation—that position of a "Lamb of Peace and Wonderful Counselor" would have blunted and allayed President Kiir's characterization of him as the South Sudanese "Prophet of Doom" and Gordon Buay's portrayal of him as the Nuer "Vicar of Ngundeng".

Instead, a man who aspire to be the president of the Republic of South Sudan, who fancy himself to have been prophesized by Ngundeng to be a future leader of South Sudan, succumb to poor judgment and embraced Nuer Nationalism, as he had calamitously done in the past, instead of South Sudan nationalism. In his twisted logic, one that was much caricatured by Dr. Adwok Nyaba in one his seminal book, Dr. Riek saw himself being carried into power on the shoulders of the Nuer White Army. He fancy himself that "a motley crew of poorly armed, poorly trained and poorly resourced" white army, exclusively drawn from one community—a community that make up merely about 10-15% of South Sudan total population—would overthrow a national government comprising 63 tribes out of the 64 tribes of South Sudan. More so, like in 1991, Dr. Riek never planned, let alone secured, a reliable source of resupply in terms of ammunitions and guns; he had courted virtually no regional ally, not even his former masters in Khartoum. Even among the Nuer top military generals such as, among others, Gony Biliu—the head of the SPLA Sector in Upper Nile region, and Bol Kong—who led Dr. Machar's ill-fated Blockbuster military campaign into the SPLA-controlled Equatoria Region in the 1990s in anticipation for William Nyuon defection to the Nasir Faction, he never strove to acquire their support.

The same thing could be said about the politicians and intellectuals from the Nuer community, many of whom, though partly victimized and partly outraged by the wanton killing of their relatives and tribe mates in Juba, came out to condemn Dr. Riek for siding with, if not misinforming and misleading, the White Army. The three governors of Greater Upper Nile—John Koang Nyuon of Jonglei state, Simon Kun Puoch of Upper Nile state and Dr. Joseph Nguen Monytuil of Unity state—all of whom are Nuer, never joined Dr. Riek and the White Army, although their close relatives and subjects were among the dead in Juba. James Hoth Mai, South Sudan Chief of General Staffs, and Magok Rundial, the Speaker of South Sudan National Assembly, both of whom hail from the Nuer nation and whose some of their relatives were killed in Juba, did not back Dr. Riek and the White Army. While much has been theatrically broadcasted about the tribal nature of the conflict, little has been said or written about the fact that much of the government troops fighting in both Bentiu and Malakal are mainly SPLA soldiers from the Nuer ethnic group fighting against the rebels. This is a testimony to the fact that, although the armed youth supporting Dr. Riek Machar are entirely Nuer, not all Nuers are with him, just as not all Dinka politicians are backing President Salva Kiir.

Conclusion: A Second Chance or a Second Disaster

In 1991, Dr. Riek masterminded a coup against John Garang's alleged "autocratic style of rule." But he failed to live up to his own standards and ideology. Consequently, the Nasir faction mutated into different rebel groups, and finally disintegrated into numerous, utterly disorganized and military ill-equipped, sparring outfits—SPLM/A-Nasir of Dr. Riek, Dr. Lam and Gordon Koang; SPLM/A-United of Dr. Lam, Arok Thon and Peter Sule; SPLM/A-Bahr el Ghazal Group of Kerubino Kuanyin and Atem Gualdit; SPLM/A-Bor Group of Arok Thon and Martin Majier's supporters such as Majur Nhial Makol and Dengtiel Ayuen Kuur; SPLM/A-Unity Group of William Nyuon and Galerio Modi; SPLM/A-Independent Group of Kawac Makwei; Southern Sudan Independent Movement/Army (SSIM/A) of Dr. Riek Machar and John Luk; Equatorian Defence Force (EDF) of Dr. Theopilous Ochand; Southern Sudan Freedom Fighters Front (SSFFF) of Dr. Richard K. Mulla; Southern Sudan Patriotic Liberation Front (SSPLF) of Alfred Lado and Prof. Barry Wanji; United Democratic Southern Front/South Sudan Defence Forces (UDSF/SSDF) of Dr. Riek Machar and Taban Deng Gai; Sudan People's Democratic Front/Sudan People's Defence Forces (SPDF) of Dr. Riek Machar. (It is interesting to note that the final party that brought back Dr. Riek to the SPLM/A was "Sudan People…." but not "South Sudan People…"; did he abandon secession by the time he returned to the SPLM/A?).

Sincerely speaking, Dr. Riek has wretchedly failed to manage all the parties he had ever formed. Ironically, Dr. Riek, the man who had historically failed to manage his faction of the Movement, but who continuously aspire to lead the Republic of South Sudan, has a PhD in Strategic Planning. One only wonders if his PhD dissertation, like that of Dr. John Garang, is publicly available for perusal. Arguably, given the copious political and military disasters of the 1991 Nasir Coup and the fiasco of the 2013 military uprising, Strategic Planning is definitely the least qualification for Dr. Riek. One would have pitied him had he studied Chemical Engineering like Dr. Lam Akol—an academic genius but a poor real-world leader. Little wonders then why Dr. John Garang shone so brightly among his peers—they gave him a free ride.

PaanLuel Wël ( is the Managing Editor of PaanLuel Wël: South Sudanese Bloggers. He can be reached through his Facebook p


Posted in: Opinions
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09/02/2014, 8:29 AM
 - Posted by Akol Maduok Madut Akol
Riek Machar must not be forgiven again by the people of South Sudan for putting the country on fire. He should face International criminal court sentence whether he wants or not.
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