Salva Kiir and Riek Machar should be arrested and sent to exile to save South Sudan

Saturday March 7 2015

President Salva Kiir of South Sudan (right) with then vice-president Riek Machar during a rally in 2010. FILE PHOTO

President Salva Kiir of South Sudan (right) with then vice-president Riek Machar during a rally in 2010. FILE PHOTO |  NATION MEDIA GROUP

MURITHI MUTIGA
By MURITHI MUTIGA
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Fifty thousand killed. Close to a million displaced. All for what?

The war in South Sudan, which is well into its second year now, is a unique conflict because there is hardly a credible explanation for why the parties are fighting.

Many wars have some rational reason or at least an excuse for why the sides have chosen the path of armed conflict.

In South Sudan there is no grand reason. This is simply a conflict between two small men — Salva Kiir and Riek Machar.

They are both over six feet tall and have been around for decades. But the President and his former Vice-President have shown incredible short-sightedness and selfishness to lead the world’s youngest country, born amid so much hope, into a costly war.

These two men and their overblown egos simply could not agree how to share power.

In the event, they decided to turn to armed forces dominated by their own people, Kiir the Dinka and Machar the Nuer, in an attempt to hold or take power by whatever means.

The talks in Addis were always going to fail because, in attempting to impose the “Kenya solution” — power sharing between the main protagonists — the mediators failed to understand that the attitudes of the Kenyan and South Sudanese elite are very different.

The Kenyan power elite are the main stakeholders in the Kenyan economy. They can duel over power but ultimately do not want the country to burn because they will be the biggest losers.

And in Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki, Kenya was lucky to have two individuals who, in spite of the hard-line positions, were willing to back down and meet each other halfway.

LOOTED COFFERS

In South Sudan, the situation is completely different. After many long years of war, the parties that formed the government just decided to loot almost every single coin from the coffers without a care in the world for their impoverished country.

In May 2012, Salva Kiir, under pressure from donors, wrote a letter to 75 officials urging them to return $4 billion (Sh360 billion) they had stolen within just one year of independence.

And as research by the campaigning group Avaaz has shown, most of that wealth is invested in Kenya and Uganda, meaning the South Sudanese elite see little to lose by letting their country burn over a totally preventable conflict.

The casual approach to the peace talks was summed up by commentator Charles Onyango-Obbo who pointed out that the luxury hotels in which the talks were hosted regularly ran out of whisky and the delegates were claiming a daily per diem of $250 to attend talks aimed at bringing peace to their own country.

It is time for drastic solutions. Kiir and Machar will never work together and see no problem with burning their country if the prize is power for themselves.

They should be removed from the scene and, as a report reviewing the conflict has suggested, the nation ought to be placed under a transitional committee to stabilise it and set it on the path to being a functional state.

In colonial times, freedom fighters who the colonialists saw as trouble makers were routinely arrested and sent to faraway prisons on islands or remote corners of the country.

Jomo Kenyatta, the great Cyprian nationalist Makarios III and King Prempeh of the Ashanti kingdom are among those who endured this treatment.

In those days, of course, the colonialists were looting their domain and were the villains. In South Sudan, the new rulers of the independent nation are the villains and the looters.

They should be removed from the scene to allow their country to know peace. There are few stories that I have covered where the collective energy and euphoria of those in attendance was more electric than the Independence Day celebrations in Juba on July 9, 2011.

“We have experienced what it is to be a refugee,” Kiir told the crowd that day. “We hope that this has been our last war and that our people will never have to leave the country to flee from insecurity.”

He and Machar have crushed those hopes. They are villains who do not belong anywhere near power but in a lonely exile far away from a land which is full of promise but which is hostage to these two incompetent egotists.

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