Gerard-prunier: Why Riak Machar should be released from arbitrary detention


August 30, 2017,

In the next few days IGAD and the African Union are preparing to hold their conference on the “revitalization” of the South Sudan Peace Process . Whether such a damaged framework can be repaired is dubious but let’s be generous and vote that the ragged torn up unrespected document can still be readable . Miracles can happen after all . But not when you tip the scales against their occurring . And that is the case when the “international community” (or at least that part represented by the two African organizations) decides to stake the cards against its own sought after outcome . Any kind of peace process , short of total crushing military victory 1945 style ,  is supposed to allow enemies to talk to each other . And the more representative and most opposed the better. The Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs said so himself when he declared recently that the mediation should “prioritize the organizations with presence inside the country over those based abroad”. Excellent choice . But then what about SPLM/IO , the largest , best organized and strongest of armed opposition movements ? Could the mediation actually think of trying to have the Taban Deng Gaï small group of government collaborators take the seat of SPLM/IO ? It seems possible and would indeed be ridiculous . We would end up with an internationally-backed version of Salva Kiir’s “National Dialogue” where the President’s right hand cheerfully shakes his left hand . And yet this seems to be a distinct possibility when the same Ethiopian Foreign Minister said that Riak could be met by the High Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF) “in another location” . Riak seems to be more and more looking not like a political figure but like an Ebola patient. And the same Ethiopian Minister adds the warning that the Nuer leader would “compromise his political future if he refused to cooperate with IGAD . What political future ? It is hard to fathom in such a toxic environment . And “cooperate” with what purpose and for what expected results ? Let us be realistic : can an effective peace process be the result of a “revitalization” from which one of the strongest actors is excluded ? Can the mute talk to the deaf ? Does the international community really expects such a lopsided process to arrive at a believable result ? The question is not whether Mr Machar is “good” or “bad”. He exists and , whether IGAD and teh AU likes him he has started the war with a large tribally-based army (Nuer) but when the conflict widened his support broadened from his tribe to a mosaic of diverse ethnic groups where Equatorians were increasingly represented . Was it because his leadership was momentous , popular and unifying everybody ? Not even . Many of those who joined the fight in the name of SPLM/IO knew him by name only and had no tribal links with him . But he was the only nationally (and internationnally) known leader who could carry the banner of change and reform in this suffering land . Whether bystanders approved or disapproved of him is irrelevant . He is part of the problem and therefore he has to be part of the solution . Keeping him in seclusion invalidates the “revitalization process” even before the door of the oven is opened .

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