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South Sudan News Makers: Riek Machar Teny

He is the leader of the opposition Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) commonly known as IO in South Sudan.

Riek Machar Teny Dhurgon is South Sudan’s First Deputy Vice President in the Transitional Government of National Unity  formed in February 2020.

He is the leader of the opposition Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) commonly known as IO in South Sudan.

The IO is a splinter group from the country’s founding political and rebel movement: Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army. The movement was formed in 1983 to fight against the marginalization and the socio-economic and political injustices of the (Arab) Sudan regime against the people of the South.

The rebellion whose main architect was John Garang ended in 2005 with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (known by its acronym CPA) which led to a break way referendum and the formation of the Republic of South Sudan.

Machar joined the SPLA in 1984 after obtaining his Doctorate Degree (PhD) from the University of Bradford in 1984 and became a top commander in its ranks.

Around 1990 there was a serious rift between Machar and Garang as both men tussled over the management of the movement. He broke away from the SPLA and formed a parallel group stationed in Nasir in greater Upper Nile region.

Machar named his group SPLA-Nasir, comprising of mostly his ethnic Nuer fighters. With this, he managed to pseudo brand the original SPLA an intolerant Dinka-only movement.

Learning of the divisions, Khartoum secretly courted Machar to disrupt and weaken the ranks of the SPLA.

Disagreement between the two men led to ethnic tensions in southern Sudan and culminated into the renowned Bor Massacre where about 2,000 civilians, mostly of Dinka ethnicity were killed in 1991.

Machar later managed to reach out to other SPLA founders and top commanders of Dinka ethnicity who had been jailed by Garang but escaped from prison (including Kerubino Kuanyin and Faustino Atem Gualdit) to expand his movement. He later re-branded it as SPLA-United and Kerubino became his deputy Commander in Chief.

A regional attempt to reconcile Machar and Garang spearheaded by then Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi failed. In October 1993 the US Congress made another attempt.

However, although both men seemed to agree about different aspects of their divisions including; a cease fire and reconciliation between the two factions among others, Machar was bitterly opposed to submitting to Garang’s authority and refused to sign a memorandum of understanding.

Machar garnered support among disgruntled communities against Garang and entered a deal with Khartoum to police parts of the south using his militia. In 1996 and 1997,  Machar signed a Political and Khartoum Peace Agreement with the government respectively.

Under this agreement he was assistant to Omar el-Bashir, President of Sudan, and President of the Southern States Coordinating Council. He was also made commander in chief of the South Sudan Defense Force (SSDF), which included most of the ex-rebels who had signed the Khartoum agreement.

Machar later fell out with Khartoum and resigned from his position in 2000.  He signed an agreement with Garang in 2002 to merged his SPDF into the SPLA, and was given command of the Dok Nuer within the SPLA.

When SPLA signed a comprehensive peace deal with Khartoum in 2005, Machar became Vice President of the Government of Southern Sudan and SPLM Co-Chair of the Joint Executive Political Committee.

On Independence in July 2011 he was appointed first Vice President of the new republic under president Salva Kiir.

Only two years in office, Machar declared his intentions to challenge Kiir’s presidency in the elections which were three years away.  Kiir accused Machar of planning a coup detat tensions would later in December 2013 culminate into a civil war in which hundreds of thousands of people have died, with millions displaced.

Machar’s forces clashed with the government army in an ethno-politicized civil war which lasted until 2018, with various attempts at a ceasefire and reconstitution of a joint government failing until the August 2018 Addis Peace deal.

That deal anchored Machar back to vice presidency.