INTERVIEW | SOUTH SUDAN CONFLICT
South Sudan has since last July been in a state of lawlessness after the failure of the peace deal that President Salva Kiir and his vice Riek Machar signed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in August 2015.
Forces loyal to Kiir, a Dinka, clashed with those loyal to Machar, a Nuer, leading to the death of over 300 people, including Ugandans.
On February 11, 2017, Kiir was dealt a heavy blow when Lt. Gen. Thomas Cirillo Swaka, the deputy chief of general staff for logistics, resigned from the Sudan’s People Liberation Army (SPLA) over alleged abuses by security forces against civilians.
Swaka, a Bari by tribe from Juba who has also since fled South Sudan, is the highest-ranking officer to resign since Machar fled South Sudan. He also accused Kiir of promoting ethnic favouritism in the military and deviating from the principles for which they launched the struggle to liberate South Sudan under the tutelage of the late Dr. John Garang.
Chris Kiwawulo caught up with Gen. Swaka in his hideout and interviewed him on a number of issues on the conflict in the world’s newest nation and below are the excerpts;
Why did you quit the SPLA government led by Kiir?
Thank you very much for the opportunity. I quit the Kiir regime because he tribalised the country and divided our people. The tribal clique who are now ruling our country looted all our resources and resources of people who vulnerable to poverty, diseases and so forth. There is no good system of governance and no development in the country. They have left people to kill themselves; villages are fighting against each other. So, in fact, Kiir’s government has destroyed our country and our people.
You say Kiir has turned SPLA into a partisan and tribal army, why didn’t you simply advise him against that so he could change instead of resigning?
We have been advising Kiir as one of the comrades and our leaders during the start of SPLA. We have been advising him after the peace agreement was signed, but he rubbished us. Kiir started establishing tribal groups in the army. We were talking to him for the security of our people. But I think Kiir and his tribal group have plans to control the country. Throughout this time, we have been talking to him, and the defence council used to sit and discuss the issue of forming a national army. But Kiir and his group were not interested in sharing the command of the national army. My decision to quit the government and form the National Salvation Front (NSF) was a result of Kiir failing to listen to anybody. He refused all our advice to form a national army. The glory of SPLA is no longer there. It is now a bigger militia.
You launched a new rebel group, NSF, don’t you think this is going to cause more chaos in South Sudan?
In fact, there is already chaos in South Sudan. The whole world knows this. There is a lot of killing by the tribal army, a lot of destruction of people’s property, a lot of looting, a lot of raping of women. Our people are left to fight tribe against tribe, clan against clan. There is no South Sudan as we talk. Kiir has caused all the chaos. The NSF, which we formed, is fighting to rescue the people of South Sudan and restore the unity of our people. NSF was formed by very concerned men and women who are very nationalistic and committed themselves to rescue our people.
Kiir and Machar signed a peace deal in August 2015 in what was seen as a stepping stone towards peace recovery in South Sudan, but it never worked; what do you think went wrong?
The peace deal did not work because Kiir and his regime refused to implement the peace agreement. I remember four days or so after the signing of the agreement, Kiir called for the military command to his palace for a meeting and he told us point blank that he was not going to accept the peace agreement if we imposed it on him, and therefore, he was not going to implement it. He told commanders to get vehicles and bring more forces to Juba. From that day, I knew there was not going to be a peace agreement in the country and people were going to fight again. That resulted into the fighting of July 2016, where Kiir wanted to kill Machar. But Machar is very innocent. He came to South Sudan to implement the peace agreement. Kiir and his group are the ones who refused to implement it, and that resulted into the killing of many people in our country.
So, have you joined Machar?
I did not join Machar. We think that South Sudan now needs a new vehicle to liberate its people. We think South Sudan needs a new boat to take them across. We respect Machar and his group in opposition for their dissent against Kiir, but we think South Sudan needs a new vehicle.
Many are looking at you as a general who is liked by South Sudanese and the international community, are you willing to take up leadership in case you are called upon?
Of course it depends on our people. We are not fighting for leadership for your information. We are not fighting for political positions. We are fighting to liberate our people and create that democratic atmosphere and environment that can allow our people to choose their leaders and type of governance they want. We don’t want to impose ourselves on them.
You say Kiir should be overthrown for destroying South Sudan, has he veered off the doctrines for which SPLA fought under the tutelage of the late Dr. John Garang, and which are they?
Yes, Kiir has abandoned the very ideals and principles of our struggle as SPLA led by the late Garang. They have abandoned everything. In many of our documents, SPLA was talking about freedom for our people, protection of our liberty, development of our country and unity of our people. Kiir did not uphold these ideals of our struggle. Even his own tribemates are fighting against one another; village against village, clan against clan.
Kiir accuses anti-government forces allied to Machar of violating the Addis pact, is this true?
Of course I am not part of Machar’s group, so, I don’t know whether they are partly the ones violating the peace agreement. But mostly, it is the government that is attacking the people and Machar. It is Kiir’s militia that is attacking Machar’s positions.
Do you see the hand of Khartoum or any other external forces in this conflict?
No, there is no hand of anybody (external) bringing conflict in South Sudan. It is Kiir and his group who are destroying our country and killing people.
What are the major issues you think are responsible for instability in South Sudan?
Of course number one is the bad governance in the country, tribalism, corruption, nepotism, and looting of the resources. At the same time, government is spoiling our relations with our neighbours and the international community. There is no development in the country, our people are left in poverty, no health services, no any service in the country.
You talk about Kiir’s government spoiling relations with neighbours; like which one?
Even Uganda. It is Kiir’s militia stealing from shops of our brothers and sisters from Uganda with whom we were living together in peace in South Sudan. If you remember the incident of July last year, all the shops of Ugandan business people were looted by Kiir’s army. Many of them were killed and even women from Uganda were raped by Kiir’s forces. So, Kiir has damaged our image and our relationship with our sister country Uganda. Of course, if you remember well, Mzee President (Yoweri) Museveni is this icon who supported our people. He stood by our people until we became an independent country. So, Kiir cannot use his army to abuse our brothers and sisters from Uganda. We have this history, which we want to further, but Kiir is destroying it. NSF intends to restore the relationship between our people (South Sudan) and Uganda. We respect President Museveni for that (standing by South Sudan).
How do you think the question of South Sudan can be resolved for peace to prevail?
I think we need all our political and Civil Society Groups in the country to sit down in a very clear environment out of South Sudan in a neutral, peaceful and secure place so that every group talks their mind so that we agree on principles of how we can bring peace and justice to our country. The talks initiated by the government are a joke. Imagine a wolf telling goats to come to a house for a meeting! How can a hyena allow goats to go to a house for a meeting and they come out safely? We need a genuine peace dialogue for our people in a neutral place so that we agree on the principles of how to bring back peace to our country.
Do you think players like Kampala have helped South Sudan in any way?
The people of Uganda, as our brothers and sisters, we think they have a role. You know it is your brother who can come to your help. We have hope that the people of Uganda and its government can come to our help and defend the people of South Sudan, who are now suffering and dying, not the government (of Kiir) that is really destroying our people.
So, how do you think Uganda should help?
Of course there are many ways, but this is left to the Ugandan leadership to decide. But Uganda together with the international community should stand by our people who are suffering, especially refugees.