As peace process continues in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, President SALVA KIIR spoke with East African newspaper, The East African at State House in Juba.
As the president of South Sudan, why do you think your country is facing an internal war only three years after Independence?
The conflict came as a result of personal ambitions of individuals who wanted to take power by illegal means because they were afraid that they would not be elected if they went to the people. They opted for a military coup; when they failed; they transformed themselves into a guerrilla insurgency.
Your close associates have categorically said that Dr Riek Machar can never be your number two. Are you ready to work with Dr Machar without reservation or retribution?
Well, my personal position and that of my party is that Dr Machar should not be the First Vice President. He can come in as number three like what was agreed on in Addis Ababa last August. He wanted the position of prime minster and I accepted despite the fact that we don’t have it in the Constitution. But when the proposed government structure was put forward by the mediators, they put president, vice president, prime minister, two deputies and then the council of ministers. Dr Machar rejected it because he wanted to be an executive prime minister who will exercise all the powers in the country and the president becomes ceremonial. He was told ‘no, because this was an elected executive president. If you want to be an executive prime minister or president, then you wait for elections and keep out of this government.’
He wanted to share executive powers with the president and yet these powers were given by the people.
The Arusha Accord of January 21, talked about reforms within SPLM as a way forward. Do you think the fighting could have been avoided if SPLM had initiated internal reforms earlier as had been demanded by Dr Machar’s group?
Talks of internal reforms are not new because we have been talking about reforms in the SPLM even when we were fighting Khartoum. But the problem is that many of the people who are now spearheading the rebellion were not part of the movement and were co-operating with Khartoum. So they know less about SPLM than those of us who stayed.
Do you believe that this final session of the Addis Ababa peace talks will bring a lasting peace?
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development [Igad] can only bring the conflict to an end if it can differentiate between coup plotters and normal conflict. The problem is that Igad is treating the coup plotters as innocent people who simply protested against the government, yet there was nothing wrong with the government. We did not differ on our objectives or any issue. We were discussing internal issues within the ruling Sudan’s People Liberation Movement (SPLM). So the group which was not contented with whatever was happening in government, because they found themselves out of the government, resorted to violence. But the mediators in Addis Ababa are not taking these issues into account.
Are you saying the issues of the coup and rebellion should be highlighted and not mixed up with the need to stop the fighting and people’s suffering?
The situation in South Sudan is different, for instance, from what happened in Kenya in 2007/2008 where violence was caused by the results of the elections. That is why the region came in to talk about power-sharing between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga. This was definitely a conflict over the results of the elections but in our case, it was a coup. Where in the world is somebody who planned a coup brought in to share power that he wanted to take wholly for himself?
You have often complained about Igad mediators unnecessarily postponing talks even when the two parties are making progress. Do you believe Igad can successfully mediate a lasting peace?
If they don’t change the current tactics which they are using, then they will not bring peace. Whenever there is a recess and the parties go back to their principals for consultations, they always have the agenda which was on the table. But when the parties resume discussions with full briefing from their principals, the mediators often shelve the agenda that was on the table and bring new issues which the two protagonist parties did not consult about. Such an approach cannot bring peace.
Do you believe the Arusha Accord that seeks to reunite the three factions of SPLM can be used as a stepping stone for a final peace settlement?
I believe that it laid the foundation people can work from, if all of us are sincere about the wellbeing of South Sudan. But that is not what Dr Machar wants. He wants by all means to be the president and if he cannot get it on the negotiating table, then he has the military option to defeat the government and take over government It has been said that you also strongly believe in a military option. Well, I don’t believe in a military option because I have been fighting for many years and I know the difficulties of war. When we were fighting the Sudan government, Dr Machar was in Khartoum after rebelling against Dr John Garang in 1991 — just like he did in 2013. Slaughtering innocent civilians and later on enjoying the support of Khartoum and he was fighting us as the militia of Sudan. But all the same, he was hoping that Khartoum would defeat us, which did not happen. So he decided to surrender fully, signed an agreement with Khartoum and became number four in the hierarchy of the National Congress Party. So he does not understand the dynamics of the war.
South Sudan has applied to be a member of the East African Community. But some in your government are wary that this could stifle the growth of the manufacturing sector. What is your position?
I believe that joining the EAC has benefits. We are not producing anything besides the oil, but we believe that we can contribute to the EAC because we have abundant fertile land yet we have no capacity to engage in commercial agriculture for export. People in other EAC countries have the technology and the capacity to do that. I believe agriculture will uplift the livelihood of our people, so the people who have fears will later on understand that joining EAC is in their best interest.