Saturday, December 21, 2013
On the Attempted Coup in South Sudan
By Bakampa Brian Baryaguma
[Dip. Law (First Class)–LDC; Cert. Oil & Gas–Mak; LLB (Hons)–Mak; GC Candidate–GCA]
The world’s youngest nation, South Sudan, is embroiled in political instability, hardly two years after acquiring independence from its northern neighbour, Sudan. On Sunday, 15 December, 2013, in the night, fighting erupted in the capital Juba, among the armed forces, particularly the presidential guards and has since spread to other army units. President Salva Kiir said that this was a coup geared towards toppling his government and has accused his former Vice President, Mr Riek Machar, of being the chief architect behind the attack. Mr Machar is reportedly collaborating with Mrs Rebbeca Garang, widow of late John Garang and 10 former cabinet ministers. The alleged coup plotters denied responsibility for the attempted coup. Mr Machar has since evaded arrest by going underground; Mrs Garang is under house arrest, while the cabinet ministers are in prison. Official estimates suggest that the fighting has so far claimed between 500-700 lives, but eye witnesses say that the death toll is in thousands of people. As the situation stands now, the motivations behind this attempted coup are not yet clear and I doubt they ever will be. Whereas President Kiir says that it was a plot to overthrow him, his arch-rival Mr Machar, says that it is an insider job, deliberately executed by President Kiir to purge his political opponents from government and South Sudanese politics altogether. Whatever reasons there may be for it, the attempted coup is an unfortunate event – from whichever angle it may be looked at as explained below.
If at all President Kiir is right; that the attempted coup was meant to overthrow his government, then thank God that it wasn’t successful. A legitimately and democratically installed government should never be removed illegitimately and undemocratically. In the last 50+ years of independence, many African states have suffered the brunt of military coups. In a majority of cases, the coup leaders had raised serious governance issues like corruption and incompetence that justified their drastic actions. Unfortunately however, more often than not, the coup leaders themselves brought more brutal, incompetent and dictatorial regimes than the ones they removed. As it turned out, these leaders often lacked vision, leadership skills, were unpatriotic and so they were worse than their predecessors. Although I stand to be corrected, I know of only one African President who truly transformed his country, having come to power through a coup – Ghana’s Flight Lieutenant, Jerry Rawlings. The first time he led a coup was in 1982 and he immediately handed over power to a civilian government. He returned in around 1987, when he took over as president. Mr Rawlings transformed Ghana to a truly democratic path such that he in fact left voluntarily after being defeated in elections by an opposition candidate. Incredible; isn’t it? To this day, Ghanaians have regularly and consistently elected and changed presidents. So, most likely the coup in South Sudan may have ended up like many others in Africa in the past and that is why its failure should be celebrated. Coups shouldn’t be tolerated anymore.
But, it is to be noted that Mr Machar has accused President Kiir of blackmail by setting up a fictitious coup in order to use it as a pretext to purge political opponents from the country’s politics and government. This is possible because most African leaders have a very bad habit of levelling false accusations like rape, treason and terrorism against their political opponents, in order to undermine them politically. Remember that it is when Mr Machar declared his intention to stand against President Kiir for the presidency in 2015 that the two gentlemen’s political problems began. President Kiir immediately fired Mr Machar and his loyalist from cabinet. This was a very selfish highhandedness.
It is in light of the above contradictions, one of which is possible, that I say the attempted coup in South Sudan is unfortunate; one that ought to be regretted and condemned. Whichever version is true, the success of the coup would not have served anyone’s best interest, except, perhaps, those of the coup plotters themselves. Let me also call for restraint from the rival parties, advising them to pursue an amicable resolution of the dispute through dialogue. After about 20 years of war, the people of South Sudan need peace and stability in order to develop themselves and their country.