Already castigated as another flop in tyranny prone Africa, the impenitent would-be-tyrant who is leading a corrupt and militarized autocracy, President of South Sudan Salva Kiir Mayardit is no longer sporting his trademark 10-gallon black cowboy hat he imports from the US state of Texas, some 7,000 miles away.
He first saw the hat in July 2006 when then President of the US, the peremptory George W Bush offered him one as gift at the White House during his first visit there. According to reports, Kirr wears the hat ever since in honor of President Bush who played an instrumental role in the 2005 comprehensive peace agreement, a measure that gave birth to the world’s youngest nation in 2011.
However, while fashion Guru President Salva Kiir wears his black Stetson and pretending to be a Texan, his deputy, the renegade Riek Machar wears standard Western suits particularly those made in Britain. He dearly loves the former colonial super power. Some say he is still trying to come to terms with the horrific death of his late British wife Emma McCune who died in a Nairobi car crash. She was heavily pregnant.
“I call it oil curse. There was no harmony and patriotism in the upper echelons of our governing class. Both these power drunk gentle men have lost their brain function. Ethnic rivalries and the bitter power struggle aside, Kiir was awarding all contracts in the oil and construction industry to Americans while the now fugitive Riek Machar wanted British companies to get some of the lucrative deals just like the Americans and the Chinese. The two imposters, one Texan and the other Briton, Machar and Kiir were at each other’s throat over this issue which resulted in Machar eventually losing his job as deputy President of South Sudan in July 2013.” A top academic based in the tense Capital Juba told the Horn Times by phone.
Asking not to be named for security reasons, the academic added that inflammatory rhetoric and targeted violence are pushing the impoverished landlocked nation of more than 10-million people into renewed civil war.
Currently, foreign aid workers are leaving Juba and the capital of the restive Jongole state Bor, in large numbers amid escalating violence. On Saturday December 21, three US Service men were wounded when small arms fire hit three military aircrafts in Bor and a UN helicopter was downed in the same area where Dinka loyalists of President Kiir are battling the Nuer supporters of Rick Macher.
Moreover, the fortified US embassy in Juba, guarded by more than fifty marines announced the withdrawal of all ‘non-essential’ staff and more than 98 Germans were airlifted to neighboring Uganda.
The clashes began last week Sunday when military bases in the capital were attacked by what the government of South Sudan called soldiers allied to forme
Riek Machar SPLM rebel leader
The next morning, on Monday December 16, 2013, President Salva Kirr appeared on national TV swapping his cowboy hat and suit for full military uniform, returning the nation’s collective memory to the days of the 22-year devastating civil war that left the country in ruins.
Although Kiir claimed victory in the televised address, the war that pitted well organized and battle hardened gangs from Nuer tribe against the Dinkas, spiraled out of control in just few days and it is now spreading like wildfires east towards the border with Ethiopia; where three Indian UN peacekeepers perished last week while attempting to protect civilians.
Furthermore, despite the massive manhunt launched by security forces to capture Rick Machar, his whereabouts are still unknown, but he insists that he is in South Sudan.
“Mr. Kiir is using the false accusation of coup as pretext for a purge.” The firebrand Machar told the Sudan tribune from his hideout believed to be somewhere in violence torn Jongole state. “I have no connection with or knowledge of any coup attempt. Salva Kirr is trying to use the alleged coup attempt as reason in order to get rid of us to control the government. We don’t want him as the president of South Sudan anymore.” Machar added.
Peace efforts to save the nation from the looming disaster were further complicated by the sheer brutality of security forces loyal to President Kirr. They have been attacking ordinary Nuers and carried out series of arrests rounding up unknown numbers of former and current military or government leaders in the capital Juba; notably former lead negotiator in talks with Sudan over oil sharing, Mr. Pagan Amum.
On Friday December 20, 2013, a jittery Salva Kirr who is clearly in choppy waters indicated his willingness to talk to any rebel group and his foreign minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin had given African mediators the go-ahead to meet with Kiir’s rivals without directly mentioning the name of his archrival Riek Machar. Can they afford to ignore the man the Nuers cheer like a long lost hero and largely seen as the next president of South Sudan?
Current nervous AU chair, Ethiopian PM Hailemariam Desalegn who is deeply worried about the sordid mess in South Sudan has been spluttering about urgent negotiated settlement before Ethiopian militant opposition groups exploit the situation and grab a foothold in a region rich with natural resources and awash with weapons.
“President Salva Kiir has been a key ally of the late Meles Zenawi and a trusted comrade to the ruling minority junta of Ethiopia. Before and after the independence of South Sudan, Kiir never allowed Ethiopian oppositions to enter his banana republic and those who entered seeking protection were captured and handed over to the TPLF regime.
“The pragmatic Riek Matchar who spent more than 30 years in Ethiopian jungles during the liberation struggle, however, won’t be just a yes man to the genocidal Tigre junta. Their ill-considered and misguided support for Kiir has been hurting the Nuers. Some top Matchar men even openly said that they feel their country is the colony of Tigray republic under Kiir’s inept leadership hence they feel the war for total independence has just started. Well, personally am not surprised that the Nuers have chosen the path of war as the best route towards peace and democracy.” A political analyst who recently visited Juba told the Horn Times from Addis Ababa.
Is Riek Matchar the face of change in a region blighted by terrible misrule and tyranny? Is he the man who can bring lasting peace to a region dogged by the lexicon of bloodied past? Only time will tell.