South Sudan leader ousts vice president seen caving to Khartoum

Special to

GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs staff in Juba

President Salva Kiir Mayardit of South Sudan on July 23, 2013, issued a presidential decree removing Vice President Riek Machar Teny and dissolving the whole government of South Sudan.

President Kiir dismissed all 29 ministers and deputy ministers, and did not immediately appoint a new vice president or national ministers and deputy ministers.

S. Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit.  /Getty
S. Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit. /Getty

The decree directed the under secretaries of the various ministries to run South Sudan’s ministries until further notice. The decree also stipulated that the new government would have only 18 national ministers and deputy ministers in order to streamline government work. A senior official at the presidency predicted that government ministers would be replaced in a “very short time, as soon as possible”.

Officially, Kiir’s decree did not explain the reason for the major shakeup.

Senior Government officials, including some fired by the decree, called the undertaking a “reshuffle” which had long been expected given the mounting problems in government work.

Nhial Bol, the editor of the independent Citizen TV, concurred. He said that the president must have acted in order to end governmental paralysis. “Things have not been moving in the government because of this internal fighting over who is going to control the SPLM,” Nhial Bol said.

In embarking on the profound reshuffle of government, Kiir put the national interest ahead of internal politics and the early posturing for the 2015 presidential elections.

South Sudan is facing numerous challenges as a result of the attempt at economic stifling by Sudan. The economic development of South Sudan has been arrested by the Sudanese blocking of oil exports, depriving South Sudan of its primary source of revenue.

Moreover, Sudan has been sponsoring — primarily through the supply of weapons, ammunition and funds — the sustenance and escalation of insurgencies and tribal violence throughout South Sudan to the detriment of internal development.

Allegations of endemic corruption throughout the entire government — which already led Kiir to undertake drastic measures such as suspending two senior ministers — considerably restricted the availability of foreign aid.

The ability of the Kiir government to tackle these daunting challenges had been complicated by their exploitation by Vice President Machar. In recent months, Machar aggravated national crises and problems in order to further his own personal political ambitions: namely, to present himself as a presidential candidate and would-be national savior. Thus, in early 2013, Machar used his role as chairman of the National Reconciliation Committee to increase his power by stoking internal rifts and tribal-based tensions.

Under Machar, the integrity of the reconciliation process — so crucial for South Sudan’s tormented and fragmented population — was being sacrificed on the altar of his personal political ambitions. The Machar camp argued that national leadership should be transferred from the Dinka to the Nuer because, in the words of a Machar key supporter, “it’s our turn to eat”.

Hence, on April 15, 2013, Kiir issued a decree which removed some of the executive powers delegated to Vice President Machar. The Presidential decreed “the withdrawal of all duly delegated powers assigned to the Vice President” and restricting him to “discharg[ing] only his powers as stipulated” under the draft Constitution.

Machar remained the Vice President, member of the cabinet and the national security council, albeit with significantly less power and authority. As well, Kiir issued a decree dissolving the National Reconciliation Committee which was to have been chaired by Machar.

Earlier this month, after Sudan’s President Omar al Bashir once again arbitrarily shut down the oil pipelines, Kiir dispatched Machar to Khartoum to lead the negotiations on the resumption of South Sudan’s vital oil exports via the Sudanese pipeline.

Instead of hard bargaining and marshaling international law and agreements to push Khartoum to the corner, Machar was conciliatory and compromising. He permitted negotiations to slide to uncharted territories and expressed eagerness to compromise at all cost.

Significantly, Machar exceeded his mandate and discussed reaching understandings about the long term relations between the two countries under terms favorable to Khartoum. In a subsequent meeting with a Sudanese opposition leader, Machar hinted at some regret about the breakup of Sudan. “If we did not survive as one country, we should now survive as two neighboring sisterly countries,” Machar said.

Little wonder that official Khartoum hailed Machar’s visit and senior Sudanese officials told Arab diplomats they were ready for dialogue with Juba if the government was run by Machar.

Ultimately, even Machar’s unilateral and unwarranted concessions were not enough, because Khartoum exploited what it perceived to be Juba’s weakness and indecision to announce the complete shutdown of oil. Although detrimental to the future of South Sudan, Machar seems to be convinced that such a crisis would serve his own political ascent.

Machar’s allies and confidants in London and Juba seem convinced that Machar’s ascent to power is so important as to warrant intentional harming of the vital national interests of South Sudan. Simply put, the national interests should be sacrificed on the altar of expediting Machar’s own rise to power. Machar’s allies and confidants have said that “a renewed oil cutoff could bring South Sudan to its knees, triggering a wider governmental collapse” on which Machar “can capitalize to force [Kiir] out and then rise to power”.

This observation of Machar’s plans by his own allies and confidants sheds a significant light on Machar’s own conduct of the negotiations in Khartoum.

Now, Kiir will have a new and invigorated government which potentially should be able to finally tackle the key challenges facing South Sudan: building alternate oil export venues, and both shortterm and longterm regional infrastructure; enhancing security and suppressing violence both internally and along the borders with Sudan and the Central African Republic; and launching overdue major social and economic development to put the country on a long term ascent track.

Juba would, according to sources within the presidency, thus be able to demonstrate activism: that is, to be able to initiate and launch major programs rather than be beholden to foreign aid. Kiir has argued that it was impossible to initiate anything to this point because of the endemic lack of funds and government crises. Kiir hopes that with a new government in office and limited income from the short term export push coming in, it should be possible to begin moving rapidly to develop the country.

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