On August 7, 2021, violence erupted within Riek Machar’s political organization, leaving at least 30 soldiers killed in action in a battle that lasted less than 45 minutes.
The fighting erupted at around 6:30am Saturday morning, between rival forces within the military wing of Vice President Riek Machar’s party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM-10).
The clashes came just days after Mr Machar’s rivals said they had deposed him as leader of the party and its military forces and appointed First Lt. Gen. Simon Gatwech Dual as interim leader.
The latest clashes, threatening the country’s fragile peace process, occurred in Magenis in the Upper Nile region, between forces loyal to Machar and those backing First Lieutenant General Simon Gatwech Dual.
Each side claimed they killed more than two dozen fighters from the rival faction, but there was no independent verification of either side’s claims.
A spokesman for Machar’s SPLM/A-IO party, Lam Paul Gabriel, said the party’s forces responded “in self-defence” and killed two major generals and over 27 soldiers. He said those fighting on SPLM/A-IO side lost three soldiers during the attack.
The other side denied having suffered heavy losses and having launched an offensive. A spokesperson for Gatwech Dual said 28 soldiers were killed on the enemy side and four on their side.
On Monday, concerned about the violent confrontations, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) called for an extraordinary meeting to discuss the escalating situation.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) called on Monday for an emergency meeting of its foreign ministers, saying the current political situation in the young nation required urgent attention.
The clashes come a decade after the landlocked nation gained independence from neighboring Sudan — a moment that many hoped would end decades of bloody conflict.
The flare-up of violence inflamed long-simmering divisions and raised concerns about the future of the tenuous peace agreement signed three years ago by rival ethnic factions led by the country’s president and vice president.
Three generals reportedly met and agreed to remove Machar from leadership accusing him of “abandoning their cause.”
The group of military generals who declared Machar had been ousted as head included former chief of staff General Simon Gatwech Dual, General Johnson Olony of Sector One Command and General Thomas Mabor Dhoal of Sector Three Command.
Machar was stripped of party posts after a three-day meeting of senior leaders of his SPLM/A-IO movement who accused him of undermining reforms and giving family members strategic posts, said a statement from the party’s military wing.
Machar’s wife Angelina Teny serves as defence minister.
But Machar’s office, in a statement issued on Thursday last week, said the three generals who met at Mangenis do not constitute the military command leadership of the SPLA-IO.
The tension between Gen. Simon Gatwech Dual and his boss, Dr. Machar started at the beginning of the formation of the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGoNU).
According to Gen. Gatwech, the vice president shouldn’t have accepted the formation of the R-TGoNU before the security arrangements were implemented, a call that was reportedly supported by many supporters of SPLM/A-IO.
Machar played a major role in pushing his partner, President Salva Kiir, to a peace deal in 2018 and in the subsequent formation of a unity government following years of civil war.
In September 2018, the warring factions in South Sudan’s civil war signed a revitalized peace agreement to end the country’s civil war. The peace accord stipulates that there shall be a transitional government formed after eight months of the pre-transitional period.
South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 but descended into fighting two years later when forces loyal to Kiir and Machar clashed in the capital.
That sparked the massacre of hundreds of civilians in Juba from Machar’s Nuer ethnic group and a spiral of brutal ethnic violence and revenge killings.
The civil war killed 400,000 people and triggered Africa’s biggest refugee crisis since the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
With the army still divided and some militia groups refusing to sign the peace deal, the latest split in Machar’s movement could undermine stability, said James Okuk, a senior researcher at the Juba-based Center for Strategic and Policy Studies.
“The agreement has been very slow and part of the reason is the obstruction of these generals on the ground,” he said.
Is Machar the problem?
Riek Machar, who was the master-mind of the Nuer uprising against the ruling Dinka that culminated into the death of hundreds of thousands of Sudanese, is also accused by his colleagues of unilateral decision-making and mal-administration.
Since 2015, several key figures have abandoned Machar’s political camp and re-joined Salva Kiir’s government. A group that comprised about 27 senior members of the SPLM/A-IO movement (13 military generals and 14 high profiles political figures) defected from SPLM/A-IO movement and re-joined Salva Kiir.
After the signing of the Peace Agreement in 2018, there was a similar mass defection from SPLM/A-IO movement.
Many of the defectors cite lack of respect and commitment to the revolutionary methods, nepotism and communication breakdown between SPLM/A-IO’s military and political rank and file.
Machar is also accused of being invisible to his supporters.
In addition, only a handful of individuals within SPLM-IO who are working together with Kiir’s government have benefited from the 2018 peace agreement.
It is only those that were in company of the SPLM-IO Chairman and were appointed to the R-TGoNU in Juba that are benefitting from the dividends of the peace agreement whilst the bulk of the movement’s members continue to suffer in the bushes.
Further, there is a group that joined Machar in 2013 to avoid the indiscriminate killing by the Dinka in Juba. However, since the end of these killings this group of Sudanese has re-located back to Juba and joined hands with Salva Kiir.
Consequently, some leaders have started questioning Machar’s leadership style that has resulted into the mass defections.
However, Dr. Riek Machar Teny-Dhurgon accuses his peace partners of bribing his heavyweight military generals to overthrow him to nullify the formation of the unified force.
Machar, who is being hunted down left and right by his own former officials, is currently being guarded by the same peace partners in Juba but he regrets that the same friends are doing a lot of dirty work behind his back.
Addressing the political bureau on Wednesday, Aug 4th, the First Vice President accused their peace partners of bribing their military generals to oust him to sabotage the Revitalized Agreement of the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan.
According to Machar, the “peace spoilers” bribed his Chief of Staff to derail the formation of a unified command.
However, it appears to be late for Machar to voice such concerns. After all, he had been warned by his colleagues.
The SPLM-IO Chairperson of National Committee of Information and Communication (NCSS), Cpt. Mabior Garang De Mabior, who himself has been accused of defection to the Juba government says when the leadership of the SPLM-IO went to Juba for peace implementation, his political party declined to go with them because they knew that peace would not materialize under Salva Kiir leadership.
“The NCSS continues to push for peace for the suffering peoples of South Sudan. Our objective has never been to be in a political party,” he said.
Mabior Garang joined the SPLM/A-IO in 2014 under the leadership of Dr. Machar. He has served in various positions ranging from the spokesman to ministry of water resources and irrigation, and recently to deputy minister for interior.
Juba is quiet about the conflict between Dr. Riek and his former Chief of Staff, Gen. Gatwech.
And the bigger question is; why is it so difficult for the Nuer community to reconcile amongst themselves but would sacrifice too much in order to reconcile with other South Sudanese communities?