By Deng Machol
Juba – South Sudan’s First Vice President and former rebel Taban Deng Gai on Monday formally dissolved his party into the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) of President Salva Kiir.
In a statement dated May 7, Taban Deng Gai indicated that the dissolution of his group is in line with the SPLM reunification as stipulated in the 2015 Arusha Agreement.
Gen. Deng split from Machar following heavy fighting in the capital Juba in 2016 and, siding with Mr Kiir, took his former boss’s job and is seeking to strengthen his position in the government.
Both Deng in Juba and Machar, under house arrest in South Africa, continued to call their respective factions SPLM-IO (In Opposition) despite now being on opposing sides in the four-year-old conflict.
Deng has been First Vice President since August 2016 and ostensibly represents SPLM-IO in the transitional government.
“I would therefore like to announce on behalf of the SPLM-IO structures and the entire membership of the party the dissolution of the SPLM-IO organs, including Chapters and declare them to be united with the SPLM; the historic liberation party in the Republic of South Sudan,” Mr Gai said in a statement on Monday in Juba capital.
“All SPLM-IO members and cadres are directed to strictly observe this reunification process as stated in the Arusha Agreement of January 21, 2015,” he added, referring to mediation efforts initially began by Tanzania’s ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM).
Mr. Deng move came followed the 4th SPLM – National Liberation Councils meeting held in Juba on May 4, calling for reunification of all factions of SPLM to pursue peace in one voices, which members adopted. But a meeting was suspended to allow all members to participate, including Dr. Machar’s groups and former detainees groups. The next round of meeting is due to resume after 45 days, mid of June.
But rebels and politicians allied to former vice president Riek Machar immediately dismissed the move as betrayal and inconsequential with their political desired.
The world’s youngest nation, which achieved independence from Sudan in 2011, descended into civil war in late 2013 when Mr Kiir accused Dr Machar of plotting a coup.
Since 2013, millions have been uprooted, triggering a regional refugee crisis with millions more being been pushed to the brink of starvation; while tens of thousands have been killed.
While originally siding with Dr Machar, his fellow Nuer tribesman, Mr Deng switched sides ostensibly to help bring peace, but fighting has continued since and talks have several failed.
“The new rejuvenated SPLM will be fighting tribalism. We reconcile the communities, we stop child abduction and cattle rustling. We will continue with the disarmament of the civilians so that people are secure,” Deng said.
Coming together with SPLM means soldiers allied to both sides could respect the cessation of hostilities deal and provide a better environment to hold peace talks.
But observers fear that this could also sow divisions within the SPLM-IO, under Deng in Juba as some are unhappy with a move and even Dr. Machar’s groups, under house arrest in Pretoria.
Dr Machar fled Juba just three months after taking up the position of First Vice President, following violence at the Presidential Palace, replaced by Taban Deng who went on to gain recognition in the eastern Africa region and international community.
Dr Machar’s side claims reforms in the security sector that could improve governance, accountability, economic reforms and discourage armed confrontations should be prioritised.
However, observers said it would be interesting to see how this move affects scheduled peace negotiations next week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.