• Al Jazeera interviews president Salva Kiir and first vice president Riek Machar just before escalation of fighting in Juba
• Both commit to work together, but tensions apparent
• Kiir says peace agreement “not made to be implemented”
• Kiir implies Machar delayed his return to delay the international community intervening so “the government will fall”
• “I’m just like a child being ordered by everybody” – Kiir
The fifth anniversary of South Sudan’s independence from Sudan on Saturday coincided with renewed fighting in Juba between forces loyal to the president and vice-president. This led to fears and claims of a renewal of the civil war that started in late 2013 and has left tens of thousands dead, created over 850 000 refugees and asylum-seekers, and crippled the fledgling economy.
Just before the renewal of violence, Talk To Al Jazeera interviewed both president Salva Kiir and first vice president Riek Machar. Both said they were working together, with Kiir even calling them “friends,” and both expressed remorse over the civil war, but areas of tension remained apparent.
Kiir criticised last August’s peace deal that paved the way for Machar’s much publicised return to the capital in April this year.
“The problem, that we are not moving smoothly on the implementation of the agreement, are the issues with the way the agreement was designed,” Kiir told Al Jazeera’s Peter Dobbie. “And when I signed this agreement in August last year, I said this in front of the president of Uganda. I told him that this agreement was not made to be implemented.”
“So you signed up to an agreement that you believe was essentially wrong?”
“It was wrong. It was wrong because even the – to sign it was the problem. They said that if there is a wrong sentence in English, don’t correct it. Don’t put a comma or a full stop.”
When Dobbie reported the president’s statements to Machar in a separate interview later that day, the first vice president said, “Well, he hasn’t told me that. Because we have been discussing the implementation of it. So I expect that he will respect this bargain in the agreement.”
Kiir also implied that Machar’s delayed return – in April 2016, when the peace agreement had been signed in August 2015 – was an attempt to delay funding from the international community so that “the government will fall.”
When Dobbie asked Kiir how he planned to deal with the hundreds of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers, the president admitted, “Our problem is money. We have no money.”
Dobbie replied that the donors say, “We will not give you money until you get genuine security and stability. That’s the starting point.”
Kiir questioned the logic of this. “When you deal with a hungry person, don’t expect that hungry person to be listening to whatever you are saying. No matter the nice words that you will tell him or tell her, they will be thinking of their stomachs.”
He added, “The international community have been shifting their goal posts from the beginning. They said they cannot help the government, unless you sign the agreement. We signed the agreement in August last year. They said, again that we will not assist your government until you form the transitional government of national unity. And that has been our problem. Dr. Riik Machar refused to come to South Sudan. He stayed outside. He might have been assuming that if he doesn’t come, there will be no support to the government from the international community, and the government will fall. Because the saying was that, there is no money.”
Kiir also expressed his frustration with being at the mercy of international community. “I’m just like a child being ordered by everybody.”
Interview with Vice President Riek Machar
Outside of Juba, in a heavily-fortified compound, that is the home to the first vice president Riek Machar, Al Jazeera’s Peter Dobbie ask the question about Machar’s role in the reconciliation process.
Al Jazeera: April 26 this year, what made you come back home?
First Vice President Riek Machar: Because I came to implement the agreement, which I signed on the 17th of August 2015. So I came to implement that.
Al Jazeera: When you talk about that agreement, Salva Kiir, the president, has just told us that the agreement is flawed, it will not work. And he said at that time, it will not work.
First Vice President Riek Machar: Well, he hasn’t told me that. Because we have been discussing the implementation of it. So I expect that he will respect this bargain in the agreement.
Peter Dobbie: What does that mean, who you say, you expect him to respect what’s written into the agreement, what are you expecting him to do?
First Vice President Riek Machar : Implement it by spirit and the letter of the agreement.
The agreement is a roadmap, first for reform, and for establishing the new system of governance in the country, which will lead us to a democratic elections. This is the aspiration of the people of Sudan. After independence, they want a democratic election to take place.
Al Jazeera: Does this involve truth and reconciliation? And if it is, how do you achieve it?
First Vice President Riek Machar: Chapter seven will be implemented by establishing three insitutions. One: Truth, reconciliation, and healing commission. Which is very important to the people, and to everybody.
The other is compensation and reparation for the losses that happened during the war. Third is justice and accountability, by establishing hybrid court, which will include South Sudanese and the rest. Peace without justice and accountability is not possible in this country. We cannot condone impunity.
Al Jazeera: When you have a meeting with Salva Kiir, how much real power do you feel you have at your disposal?
First Vice President Riek Machar: My functions, my responsibilities are stipulated in the agreement. And within this stipulated functions and responsibilities, we discuss.
There are issues where we would need consensus. And if we don’t have consensus, we take it to the council of ministers. And if we fail, we resort to those who mediated the agreement.