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When you have to crisscross the Rubicon

By Baker Batte Lule


I was in Juba when President Salva Kiir sacked his entire cabinet including his longtime serving Vice President now turned rebel leader Dr. Riek Machar. People abandoned the streets in anticipation of chaos and outbreak of war because many thought that Riek Machar was untouchable and that his wings had grown far over and above those of his boss. The next few days, tensions were visibly very high; no one knew what was coming. As usual that development made good news for the news writers and political pundits. However that dust settled without major incidents. I was also part of a swam of reporters both  local and international,  who attended the electrifying December 6th 2013 press conference by top SPLM honchos whose venue was changed three times but finally took place at the SPLM house in Juba. A lot was said which I don’t want to go back to. I was also at the sidelines of the NLC meeting that took place on the 14th December at Nyakuron cultural center. Although I never entered the deliberation center; at least I was able to interact with some members who had attended the meeting. Members spit venom at each other and indeed the environment was very hostile although it never crossed my mind at any single moment that it could explode so soon into what is happening now. Being a journalist, I never run away from where trouble is brewing, even if not for reporting purposes. I normally want to have first hand information. Therefore with that background, have no doubt in my mind whatsoever that what happened in Juba has political roots, never mind that it was hijacked by trigger happy soldiers. I have talked and listened to many political protagonists and their take on the issues at hand.  While addressing the media on Monday 16th December 2013, President Salva Kiir Maryadir said that what happened in Juba was a coup attempt by Machar and group to takeover power by force. A few days after the 15th, Kiir told BBC that he can never share power with people who have rebelled. He said that people should not be rewarded for criminality. But one thing I have come to like about Kiir is; he is not very rigid. When you show him the other side and convince him why that side is the right one, he has no problem in conceding for the good of the country. Hence a few days after that BBC interview, he agreed to send his negotiating team to Addis Ababa to find a peaceful settlement to the armed conflict. This brings me to the main reason for this article; the choice of the mediators, IGAD. This organization brings together eight countries and we shall briefly look at each of them and how they have handled internal problems and dissent in their respective countries. The current chairman of IGAD the Prime minister of Ethiopia is presiding over the most repressive regime in Africa. Haille Mariam Desalegn replaced longtime dictator Meles Zenawi who ruled that country with an iron fist. One time in 2011 I visited a refugee settlement in Nakivare in Western Uganda and many of the refugees in that settlement were Ethiopian citizens. When I asked them why they were very many, they told me that they were running away from the dictatorship of Zenawi. The man never tolerated dissent; he killed and imprisoned many of his real and perceived opponents.  The media in Ethiopia is gagged and recently I hope you remember bloggers who were imprisoned for simply writing their opinions. When Desalgn came to power he never relaxed the repressive policies of Zenawi. In fact, he just tightened them. This partly explains actually why even in a country like South Sudan there are so many Ethiopian nationals. Many of them run away from tyranny. Therefore a country like Ethiopia cannot begin lecturing anyone on the need to protect human rights. Go to Uganda and their President Yoweri Museveni who has ruled that country for now 28 grueling years and still counting.  Museveni came to power in Uganda through a five year guerilla war that he launched against the legitimate government of Milton Obote who had won elections in 1980. Never forget that Museveni participated in those elections and won only one seat in parliament. The people of Uganda rejected him and his UPM party flatly.  He turned around to launch a rebellion claiming that the vote was rigged never mind that it was DP whose votes were purportedly rigged. In 1985 Museveni signed the Nairobi agreement committing himself to the peaceful resolution of the conflict that had claimed the lives of more than 400,000 innocent Ugandans with the government of Tito Okello Lutwa who had a few months ago deposed the government of Milton Obote through a military coup. This Nairobi agreement was never respected as Museveni sought for peace in order to prepare for war. Indeed a few months later he deposed Lutwa in 1986. Since then he has been in power. Museveni throughout the 28 rule has dealt with opposition with an iron fist. Those who follow Uganda politics probably you know the hell the likes of Dr. Kizza Besigye the three time presidential candidate have gone through. As we talk now Besigye and his likes have got over 100 cases hanging around their necks in different courts of law. Ranging from rape which court dismissed as a fabrication, to terrorism, to treason to unlawful assembly name it. In 2012 Besigye was nearly killed by police operatives who are hell bent on maintaining the statusquo. The crime that Besigye and the likes have committed is wanting to challenge Mr. Museveni. As  I write this, the current debate and political undertakings in Uganda is that Museveni is dealing with his longtime ally Amama Mbabazi who he sacked as his Prime Minister and also engineered his sacking as the ruling party Secretary general.  The crime Mbabazi is charged with is allegedly having presidential ambitions. Millions of Ugandan shillings have been poured into activities of fielding Mr. Museveni as the sole candidate in the 2016 general elections, hence if he wins them, like he normally does although fraudulently he will be making 35 years in power. Therefore what good example can be learnt from Mr. Museveni apart from how to maintain the grip on power and how to ruthlessly deal with the opposition.  Go to Sudan which for the last 20 plus years has been under one man Hassan Omar Bashir. With Sudan and Bashir one needs not to elaborate more on how cruel and unjustly it deals with the opposition because the very existence of South Sudan is a testimony to tyranny that characterizes Sudan. This also disqualifies them from arbitrating in any conflict that looks at creating social, economic and political justice.  Djibouti like Uganda and Sudan is also ruled by a tyrant in the names of   Ismael Omar Guelleh. Since he came to power in 1999, he does not tolerate dissent. A simple Google such about him will reveal a series of human rights violations and indeed many internet sites categories him as a dictator. Somalia although they have changed government since the Transitional Federal government was formed in 2006, there is nothing much to be talked about of their current leaders. Somalia with the help of Americans with their opportunistic allies has carried out a sustained onslaught on the Al Shabab who controls the biggest part of Somalia. If they think that negotiations are the best way to end conflict why are they not talking with the Shabab? Why are they bombing them day and night if the best way to get peace is through peace settlements?  The less I talk about Eritrea the better. It is common knowledge that, that tiny country is called the North Korea of Africa basing on how her citizens are treated with disgrace. Isias Ofeweki the president, who is not very active in IGAD initiatives is one of the world’s leading autocrats. Surely what can he teach South Sudan apart from anarchy which he knows in abundance? The English say that you can’t give what you don’t have. The only one eyed among the blind is Kenya which has changed government peacefully at least three times and it was also able to deal with the 2007 political jamboree that characterized that country when Mwai Kibaki rigged out Raila Odinga. I never supported Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta, but now slowly by slowly he is beginning to prove to doubters that he is determined to take Kenya to greater heights. Indeed the suggestions especially from the government of South Sudan to have talks relocated to Nairobi had some aorta of sense because Nairobi can claim to be exemplary. Although Tanzania is not a member of IGAD, The initiative to take talks to Tanzania was also well grounded because they also have something to show. Forget the fact that the Chama Cha Mapinduzi party is also sometimes a bully to other opposition parties; at least the element of democracy and the free will of the people in Tanzania has room to flourish which is not the case with almost all IGAD members. If IGAD fails to broker peace like it has failed in the last 11 months, I for one won’t be surprised. What indeed will surprise me is if they manage to pull this feat over. I think it is time to crisscross the Rubicon. 


The Writer is a journalist

bakerbatte @gmail.com

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