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‘Mother’ of South Sudan Says Genocide Looming

FILE - A U.N. refugee agency official speaks to civilians during a distribution of food items in Yei, in southern South Sudan, Nov. 15, 2016. The formerly peaceful town of Yei became a center of country's renewed civil war, gripped by killings among the dozens of ethnic groups.

The widow of South Sudan’s founding father, the late John Garang De Mabior, said U.S. President Donald Trump should pay attention to the crisis in her country.

“If I could get an opportunity, I want him to lend me his ear to hear what is going on inside South Sudan,” said Rebeeca Nyandeng De Mabior.

Nyandeng, who is regarded by many as the mother of South Sudan, told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus in an exclusive interview in Washington on Thursday that genocide is looming in her country.

FILE - South Sudan Vice President James Wani Igga speaks with Rebecca Nyandeng, widow of the founding father of South Sudan, John Garang.
FILE - South Sudan Vice President James Wani Igga speaks with Rebecca Nyandeng, widow of the founding father of South Sudan, John Garang.

“I know Trump categorically told us ‘America First.’ But we just want to have his ear; to learn what is happening in South Sudan; human lives which are being lost unnecessarily; the senseless war which is going in our country, but we want peace,” Nyandeng said.

'At each other's throats'

Nyandeng, who served as President Salva Kiir’s adviser on gender and human rights affairs until she was fired in 2014, said the majority of people in South Sudan “are now at each other’s throats.”

The political activist is hoping the U.S. and others in the international community will come to the aid of the South Sudanese people.

“This is why I’m here. I’m for peace,” Nyandeng said.

Late last year, a United Nations representative on genocide said South Sudan was on the verge of mass killings. When asked who was killing whom, Nyandeng responded, “Sixty-four tribes are at each other’s throats. The panel of experts at the U.N. are right. Genocide is looming in our country because nobody is seeing it; the whole world is quiet about it.”

Rwanda lessons

Nyandeng said there should have been lessons learned from the genocide that occurred in Rwanda.

“We thought South Sudan would be rescued because of what happened in Rwanda, but the whole region and Africa is quiet about it,” she said. “How many people do you want to die?”

Nyandeng said she does not take sides with the warring parties in South Sudan. But many South Sudanese politicians associate her with Former Detainees, a group of former senior members of the ruling SPLM party who were accused by Kiir of attempting topple him in 2013.

She said she’s not been in touch with Kiir, but has been talking to other leaders because she, too, considers herself the mother of the people of South Sudan. Nyandeng said she talks to everyone she meets and never sets boundaries “to say so and so is good, or so and so is bad.”

“As a mother, everybody is your child,” she said.

Peace agreement disagreement

Nyandeng strongly disagrees with the assessment of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) that the 2015 peace agreement is being implemented.

“We have violated the agreement immediately after formation of the transitional government of national unity. We have not apologized to the people of Southern Sudan for what had happened. Seventy days, immediately after the swearing in of Dr. Riek [Machar], 70 days, and everything fell apart,” Nyandeng said.

Furthermore, Nyandeng said First Vice President Taban Deng Gai is “not the legitimate first vice president, because he did not sign the peace agreement.”

Deng was appointed by Kiir to replace Machar after the SPLM-IO leader fled from Juba during the surge in fighting in July. Nyandeng insisted that Deng did not bring the majority of SPLM-IO members with him when he joined the government.

And although Deng and other government officials believe the peace deal is making progress, Nyandeng strongly disagrees.

“If Taban and the government are implementing the agreement, why is there still problems on the roads of South Sudan? People are being ambushed and killed; why is it like that?” she said.

FILE - South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar speaks in an interview with The Associated Press in Johannesburg, South Africa, Oct. 20, 2016.
FILE - South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar speaks in an interview with The Associated Press in Johannesburg, South Africa, Oct. 20, 2016.

Machar's future

Former U.S. special envoy to Sudan and Sudan Ambassador Donald Booth said during a congressional hearing last year that he thought it was unwise for Machar to return to Juba at the time. Since he left the South Sudanese capital in July, Machar has traveled to several countries before landing in South Africa, where he has resided for the past few months.

Nyandeng wonders how keeping Machar in exile will help South Sudan.

“Because if Dr. Riek does not return to South Sudan, it does not stop the crisis in South Sudan,” she said.

Nyandeng said she met with Booth and told him, “Listen to the voice of reason, the people of South Sudan.”

She asked, “What are they really experiencing in the country? Because you come here for some hours and go back to America. ... If they say Dr. Riek does not come, then they leave President Salva there, to do what?”

Nyanding believes that for South Sudan to experience a peaceful transition, both leaders must be in the country in order to pave the way for the next election. She said Kiir’s announcement dialogue is good, but Kiir must be allowed to be in charge.

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    John Tanza

    John Tanza works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is the managing editor and host of the South Sudan In Focus radio program.