A Rope from the Sky by Zach Vertin

A Rope from the Sky by Zach Vertin

Author:Zach Vertin
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Published: 2018-10-25T16:00:00+00:00


15

ROCKING THE BOAT

“War is the continuation of politics by other means.”

— Carl von Clausewitz, On War, 1832

JUBA, MARCH 2013–DECEMBER 2013

I, General Salva Kiir Mayardit, do hereby issue this republican decree,” the radio announcer began, reciting the president’s words. It was a familiar start to an executive order, dictates which often concerned matters of benign administration. Those lending one ear to scratchy radio broadcasts in mechanics’ garages, church rectories, and market stalls might normally tune out at this stage. Not today. It was Tuesday, July 23, 2013, and the man on the radio was about to deliver a bombshell.

Decree No. 49, the radio announcer continued, was “for the relief of Dr. Riek Machar as Vice President of the Republic.” Those half-listening turned their heads in surprise and reached for the volume knobs on their radios. Before the stunning announcement could sink in, the announcer began reciting another decree. Salva and his new circle of advisers had prepared not one but four sweeping orders to be issued that day. Decrees 50 and 51 relieved “All National Ministers of the Government,” and their deputies. The final order, the announcer explained, came under Salva’s signature as SPLM Chairman: “Suspension and Formation of the Committee to Investigate Secretary General, Comrade Pagan Amum.” In one fell swoop, the 55 most powerful government officials in South Sudan had been sacked.

The president’s office was peppered with questions, and his lieutenants attempted to downplay the action as a normal cabinet “reshuffle.” But as they spoke, army units were fanning out across the city to pre-empt any reactions. There was no camouflaging the enormity of the day’s political massacre.

Months of internal discord had preceded the day’s provocative announcements, as a fight for control of the SPLM was in high gear. In response to agitation from party challengers, Salva had played defense by going on offense: he canceled meetings of the SPLM’s highest organs, dismissed state governors and army generals, and suspended high-profile ministers on account of perceived disloyalty. He used government funds and positions to shore up support inside a divided party and tighten his hold on state governments. Opponents had cried foul at what appeared to be an increasingly authoritarian drift in the world’s newest democracy.

As news of the vice president’s firing circulated, angry supporters gathered at his house, eager to take up arms against their president-turned-tyrant. Enough was enough, they argued. Friends and observers watching from afar held their breath, worried that South Sudan—having just celebrated its second anniversary—was about to explode.

From his seventh-floor office at the State Department in Washington’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood, Secretary of State John Kerry phoned Salva to appeal for restraint. Six blocks east at the White House, national security officials dialed Riek with the same message. Hours later, as tension in the capital city mounted, Secretary Kerry issued what would be a portentous statement: “The world is watching to see if South Sudan pursues the path of peace and prosperity, or the tragic path of violence and conflict that has characterized much of its past.



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