SOUTH Sudan’s Vice President Riek Machar has been ousted as head of his party and its armed forces, say rival leaders who accuse the rebel-turned-politician of no longer representing their interests.
Machar, a pivotal figure in South Sudan’s bloody road to independence and subsequent civil war, was deposed following a three-day gathering of senior SPLM/A-IO leaders in the country’s far north, the party’s military wing said.
Its chief of staff, First Lieutenant General Simon Gatwech Dual, was declared interim leader of the opposition movement that governs the troubled country in a shaky alliance with former enemies.
It is unclear what the putsch means for Machar, currently South Sudan’s First Vice President, or his fragile 2018 power-sharing agreement with his old rival President Salva Kiir.
The military wing said Machar had ‘completely failed’ to show leadership and greatly weakened the party’s position in the post-war coalition government formed between the warring sides in early 2020.
Machar had engaged in a years-long ‘policy of divide and rule’ and favoured nepotism over unity or advancing their cause, according to a statement signed by the SPLM/A-IO military leadership and dated August 3.
‘As a result, the meeting saw there was no option rather than to come up with the decision and finally prompted to declare the denouncement of Dr Riek Machar Teny Dhurgon from the chairmanship of the SPLM/A-IO,’ the statement said.
But the move sparked a furious response from Machar loyalists belonging to the rival political wing of the party, who convened an emergency meeting to discuss the matter and said they still regarded him as the leader of the SPLM/A-IO.
‘We strongly condemned and denounced… General Simon Gatwech Dual and his disgusting group,’ they said in a statement released by Machar’s military spokesman Col. Lam Paul Gabriel.
‘We reaffirmed our full support and loyalty to SPLM/A-IO under Supreme Chairman and Commander in Chief Dr. Riek Machar Teny-Dhurgon,’ the statement added.
Machar, a wily leader who survived years of bush warfare, close attempts on his life and stretches in exile, served as vice president alongside Kiir in the first government post independence from Sudan in 2011.
But the pair fell out and Machar was sacked two years later. Troops loyal to each man turned their guns on each other, and South Sudan descended into five years of horrific bloodshed.
In 2018 – after a string of failed peace accords and violated ceasefires – a fresh truce paused the fighting that left nearly 400,000 South Sudanese dead.
Under that arrangement, Machar entered another unity government as deputy to Kiir in February 2020.
But distrust lingered and cracks soon appeared, as key provisions of the peace accords went unfulfilled.
As the process drifted, Machar faced growing opposition within his own ranks, with top cadres complaining they had lost out under the power-sharing arrangement struck with the ruling party.
The political disunity comes as South Sudan faces economic disaster and its worst hunger crisis since independence, with tens of thousands of people enduring famine-like conditions in the world’s youngest nation.
Already, there are calls for a peaceful public uprising to topple the current regime and end the chronic political and economic crisis.
At least two prominent activists were arrested Monday after they signed a declaration by a coalition of civil society groups saying they have ‘had enough’ after a decade of troubled independence and called for the resignation of Kiir and Machar.
The arrests came the same day that hundreds of lawmakers were sworn in to a newly created parliament, a key part of the 2018 peace deal that had been delayed for almost a year.