South Sudanese armed and non-armed opposition groups seems to be misrepresenting responsibilities regarding Riek Machar’s confinement in South Africa when at least eight of them wrote – on Friday – a petition to the Chairman of the IGAD and the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn, appealing for the “immediate” release of the SPLM-IO Chairman Riek Machar Teny who have been detained in South Africa since 2016. To the surprise of many, myself included, the groups, represented by their respective leaders, didn’t mention who have been detaining Machar for the last one and half year in South Africa which represents a rare admission that no one knows among them who orchestrated Machar’s forceful confinement.
Although some media houses suggested that Machar has been under regional community’s detention, regional players and leaders never stood publicly to claim responsibility for the detention which has since kept away the opposition leader from running the affairs of his SPLM-IO. And in this regards, there is need to know “Who detains Machar in South Africa”
First, when Machar fled Juba in July 2016, the UN in Congo or MONUSCO, reportedly under Congolese government request, evacuated him to Kisangani town in northern part of the DRC. The UN, later said that Machar was evacuated by the world body based on “humanitarian” grounds and that the world body’s mission in South Sudan had no involvement in the extradition process. In the meantime, UN peacekeepers were providing Machar with emergency medical treatment. The UN later said Machar has been transferred to one of the neighbouring countries for treatment without naming which country the rebel leader is undergoing medical care. By the time, Machar has been in Khartoum for almost a week.
Secondly, Machar said he would be heading to South Africa to see his personal doctor for further medical checkups after saying that he had fully recovered and that he was going to South Africa as he used to see his doctor regularly there. After being in South Africa for about a month, Machar decided to return to South Sudan, and more possibly, his base, Pagak. However, Machar has turned away reportedly both at Khartoum and Bole international Airports after a possible directive by the Troika, who have been sponsoring South Sudan’s peace talks, to the authorities of both countries to deny him a passage back to his base or elsewhere in South Sudan. The United States in particular requested Sudan, which was desperate to do away with economic sanctions imposed by the US, (seeking as well itself removed from the list of ‘State Sponsor of Terrorism’) and Ethiopia which might be also seeking United States’ support on its Grant Renaissance Ethiopian Dam to deny the rebel leader residence as well. The US did the same to other regional countries.
Thirdly, United States envoy for South Sudan Donald Booth said he and his country “do not believe it would be wise for Machar to return to his previous position in Juba”, barely a month after John Kerry, then Secretary of State, said the replacement of Riek Machar by Taban Deng as First Vice President was “legal”. All these stances voiced by the United States officials were inconsistent with comments uttered by South Sudan government officials some of whom said Machar should “abstain from politics” shortly after Machar’s appearance in Khartoum.
In all these regards, it is not South Africa which is detaining Machar upon regional or Hailemariam’s request, but in fact, South Africa is doing it at the higher request and responsibility of the Troika and the United States, in particular, orchestrating the confinement. This is something very clear and the region which is struggling to economically survive for itself can’t pay for Machar’s confinement and only it is the United States doing it and funding the arrest at its own expense.
So, the opposition groups should have written to the United States and its allies from the Troika instead of Hailemariam Desalegn to release Machar because even if Hailemariam agree, he will not have the power to help.
Tor Madira Machier is a South Sudanese columnist living in Cairo, Egypt. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or tormachier.blogspot.com