Special Reports

South Sudan’s rebel leader: ‘I am a hero. I am a victim.’


South Sudan's rebel leader Riek Machar addresses a news conference in Uganda's capital, Kampala, January 26, 2016. Reuters/Edward Echwalu

Despite overseeing the near-total destruction of Africa’s newest country, South Sudan’s liberation hero-turned-rebel leader Riek Machar says that his war is just. In an in-depth interview at his residence, Machar tells SIMON ALLISON that while he has some regrets, he’s not the bad guy and that history will vindicate him.

One of Africa’s bloodiest wars is being waged from a three-storey building in a calm, upscale Addis Ababa neighbourhood. It is here, in a typical suburban villa, an easy walk away from luxury hotels, burger-joints and the city’s red-light district, that Riek Machar maintains his residence.

It’s a long, long way from the frontline.

Machar is a man of many titles. He’s a doctor, with a PhD in mechanical engineering from an American university. He’s a hero of South Sudan’s decades-long war for independence. He’s a father and a husband, a former vice-president, and a seasoned diplomat. But his most relevant title, as South Sudan enters its third year of a disastrous civil war is Commander-in-Chief of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLM-IO).

Along with President Salva Kiir, who still runs what remains of South Sudan, Machar has presided over a vicious internecine conflict in which the brutality has been matched only by the scale of the slaughter. Tens of thousands of civilians have died since the war began in December 2013, as fighters from both sides haveraped and pillaged their way through towns and villages, while more than two million people have been forced out of their homes. Many more are slowly starving to death as fields lie fallow and markets empty.

Life in South Sudan, Africa’s newest country and a beacon of hope when it became independent in 2011, is more difficult than it ever has been. And Machar is one reason why.

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