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South Sudan’s Spokesman Makuei: “The rebels have to think reasonably”

Fatma Gazali
South Sudan’s Government Spokesman Michael Makuei spoke to The Niles about the deep-seated rift between the President and his former Vice President -- and threw his support behind Uganda’s military involvement.
14.02.2014  |  Addis ababa
مايكل ماكوي، وزير الإعلام في جنوب السودان، 26 ديسمبر.
مايكل ماكوي، وزير الإعلام في جنوب السودان، 26 ديسمبر.

The Niles: So the ink has dried on the cessation of hostilities agreement -- but do you really believe that this will hold?

Makuei: We in the government believe in our regular forces -- the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army). We are afraid of the other party because those fighting with it, are the so-called ‘White Army’, which is comprised of untrained citizens who do not follow orders. I expect they will breach the agreement because their command is unable to control them.

The Niles: You too are accused of using a five thousand-militia of the Dinka tribe, which fought in Juba. Government militias can commit violations too.

Makuei: We are a government -- we cannot form a militia. As for the forces that were in Juba, they are the product of training centres opened for Southerners during the Heglig crisis when we established training centres all over the south.

The Niles: Why did Salva Kiir dismiss Machar from his post as Vice President?

Makuei: Machar was too ambitious and hurried. He started criticising the government’s policies and the president in public though he was Vice President. They could have discussed their issues inside the party or the government, but Machar preferred public meetings. And Salva Kiir talked to him about this and asked him to keep dialogue within institutions, but Machar insisted and Salva Kiir dismissed him.

The Niles: What caused the deep rift between the two leaders after independence?

Makuei: During the five transitional years, Machar was the real ruler of the south because Salva Kiir used to spend most of his time in the North since he was the first Vice President. Salva Kiir therefore vested him with wide authorities and Machar could do anything without consulting Salva Kiir. When he went back to Juba Salva Kiir took back some of the powers he had conferred on Machar.

The Niles: Critics call the SPLM undemocratic, saying it has imported the worst forms of suppression from Sudan. How do you view this?

Makuei: The SPLM is democratic. Some say we have 120,000 political prisoners even though we do not have any political detention centre.

The Niles: But Pagan Amum and others are still detained.

Makuei: Those are criminals rather than political prisoners. They staged a military coup.

The Niles: But there are many doubts that it was actually a coup.

Makuei: The coup is a fact and Machar, Taban and Frit fled because it was thwarted. We managed to arrest the others.

The Niles: But, during a coup, wouldn’t Machar and his group head for the General Command and the government’s radio station?

Makuei: On December 16, Machar announced he would seize control of Juba. What is control? Is it not to seize power?

The Niles: Many observers, including the international community, are not convinced that what happened was a coup. They say you only wanted to get rid of your opponents.

Makuei: The international community dealt with us in this way for hidden intentions.

The Niles: Did the international community reject Salva Kiir as a president?

Makuei: Yes. But they discovered that the people of the South wanted Salve Kiir. The international community does not appoint a presidents, does it? We know Machar more than the international community knows him. Machar is deceiving the international community and we know how he created relationships with it.

The Niles: The world now sees the war as a tribal conflict.

Makuei: That is true. A tribal conflict, however, has been Machar’s policy since 1991 when he used the same White Army in the name of Mundi and of the Nuer dominance. He killed people and caused the 1991 disaster, using tribalism to mobilise the Nuer and gain their support.

The Niles: What is the problem between Pagan Amum and Salva Kiir?

Makuei: The problem is that Amum wants to run for the president, so does Machar and Rebecca.

The Niles: Is that not their right?

Makuei: The SPLM Constitution states that only the SPLM chairman may run for the president. Hence, they should have waited until the General Conference is held in order to form a lobby to choose another chairman who then could run for the president of South Sudan.

The Niles: How do you see South Sudan’s future?

Makuei: The rebels should first abandon their ambitions by thinking reasonably.

The Niles: They might say the same to you.

Makuei: If you cannot accomplish them by democracy, do not accomplish them by violence. We are not against any democratic ambitions. And as I said, they had their chance in the General Conference and if Machar had played his cards well, he could become the president. They should have waited for the right moment and listened to the people -- the real judges are the voters.

The Niles: Salva Kiir is accused of getting rid of them because they announced their wish to come to power democratically.

Makuei: No. Salva did not want to get rid of them. They were too hasty. Blocking roads is not good. Those who stormed the presidential headquarters were Machar’s guards. It was they who started the beating.

The Niles: Why have you allowed the Ugandan army to intervene?

Makuei: It is not a violation of sovereignty. We as a state have the right to sign political, military and economic agreements with any state. Even when we were fighting in Sudan, were there no foreign forces? Please, let us be realistic.

The Niles: Why has the central bank’s reserves of foreign currency in Juba been transferred to Kampala?

Makuei: Why would we transfer it? It is because we are afraid of them or of them controlling us? This is nonsense.