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On meeting Riek Machar, pretender to S. Sudan top seatPublish Date: Jan 02, 2014
On meeting Riek Machar, pretender to S. Sudan top seat
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Former South Sudan vice president Riek Machar. PHOTO/AFP

By Kalungi Kabuye

In my journalist career, I have met many public and international personalities, from politicians to economists to Nobel Prize winners, to musicians to very beautiful and popular women.

Some I was very glad to meet, like American civil rights activist Jessie Jackson and Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka. Some did not impress me much, like Bill Clinton.

But I am not sure what to say about now Sudanese rebel leader Riek Marchar. Several years ago I was assigned to cover an urgent ceremony in Entebbe. I was not told what was happening, but we quickly got into an office vehicle and off we went.

On reaching Entebbe we were directed to the Old Airport and told to wait. Soon after a line of several dozen men were led into a yard, and told to squat. It turned out they were Sudanese soldiers, captured during battles with the UPDF.

It was quite amazing because both the Ugandan and the Sudanese governments had denied fighting on both sides of the war in south Sudan. But here they were, facing the press.

Apparently a deal had been brokered and the soldiers were due to be returned to Sudan. Soon a Sudanese plane landed and several officials disembarked. We were escorted into a room where the papers were to be signed.

The Sudanese side was led by a man I was to learn was Riek Marchar, then a Vice-President of Arab Sudan. He was dressed in a black suit and seemed cool, in spite of the afternoon heat. On the Ugandan side was an obviously hang-over General Kazini, who seemed to dose off at times.

I remember thinking how the Sudanese seemed to be in total control of the situation, but then realized they were here to return their captured soldiers, so Uganda had won whatever battle it was they were captured in, and so we were one-up on them.

Before that I had just finished reading a book, Emma’s War, a story about a British white woman who had ‘fallen under the spell’ of Marchar, and as a result gave up everything she had to be with him, and eventually lost her life.

I was curious about what kind of man could have done that. He was not impressive to look at, and something about him was almost repulsive. But it was his eyes I noticed most - they had completely no expression in them. They looked dead, like two pieces of glass balls embedded in his broad, dark face.

I remember wondering what he was doing on the Sudanese government’s side, and if he did not feel like a traitor against his fellow South Sudanese people. In 1997 he unilaterally signed a peace deal with Khartoum, which appointed him ‘leader’ of the South

He has since been described as a ‘pretender to power’, and a ’divisive figure within the SPLA’. South Sudanese government officials have described him as ‘very ambitious’.

“He is very ambitious to take the top office in the land, and nothing else matters,” said an official.

That, then, is the man I met in Entebbe one hot afternoon.

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