In 2000 he left the SSDF and formed a new militia, the Sudan People’s Defense Forces/Democratic Front (SPDF), and in 2002 rejoined the SPLA as a senior commander. After the death of John Garang in July 2005, Riek Machar became vice-president of the autonomous Southern Sudan. He became vice-president of South Sudan on 9 July 2011 when the country became independent, but was dismissed from office by President Salva Kiir Mayardit on 23 July 2013.
Riek Machar Teny Dhurgon was born in Leer, Unity State in 1953, the 26th son of the chief of both Ayod and Leer. He was brought up as a member of the Presbyterian church. Riek belongs to the Dok section of the Nuer people. He trained as an Engineer at Khartoum University, and obtained a PhD in Philosophy and strategic planning from the University of Bradford in 1984.
Riek has been called a tuut dhoali/Doth in English, which may be translated “adult boy”, meaning uninitiated and literate. He has tried to transcend tribal divisions, and at one time attempted to ban initiation marks. However, in his struggle with John Garang he exploited ethnic rivalries between the Nuer and Dinka people. Riek married Emma McCune, a British aid worker. She died in a car accident in Nairobi in 1993 at the age of 29, while pregnant. Riek’s second wife, Angelina Teny, is one of the leading women politicians in South Sudan. She was state minister of Energy and Mining in the transitional government (2005–2010).
Riek was a rebel leader with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLM/A) headed by John Garang from 1984 until he fell out with Garang in 1991. As Zonal Commander of Western Upper Nile, in 1986 he entered into an agreement with Baggara chiefs. Riek led forces that attacked and overran Melut in 1989. That year he was able to visit his family, which was based in Britain, for the first time since the civil war started. In 1990 Riek was based at Leer. Later he was appointed SPLA Regional Commander for a region that extended from the Ethiopian border in the east to Renk in the north and to Ayod and Waat in the south.
Riek disagreed with the SPLA leader John Garang over objectives. Where John Garang at first wanted a secular and democratic but united Sudan in which the southerners would have full representation, Riek wanted a fully independent South Sudan. In August 1991 Riek Machar, Lam Akol and Gordon Kong announced that John Garang had been ejected from the SPLM. Kong Chuol is from the Eastern Jikany Nuer and Lam Akol is from the Shilluk people. The breakaway faction, based in Nasir until 1995 and then in Waat and Ayod, was called the SPLM/A-Nasir faction from 1991 to 1993. The Bul Nuer Anyanya-2 militia at Mayom under Paulino Matip and the Lou Nuer Anyanya-2 militia at Doleib Hill under Yohannes Yual declared for Riek.
Kerubino Kuanyin and Faustino Atem Gualdit, Dinkas from Bahr el-Ghazal, had been among the founders of the SPLM but had fallen out with John Garang and had been jailed. They escaped and joined Riek in 1993, with their forces making an important addition to the formerly Nuer-dominated SPLA-Nasir. Kerubino became deputy Commander in Chief. After this addition by forces from other ethnic groups, Riek’s movement and force was called the SPLA-United from 1993 to 1994.
In September 1993, President Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya held separate talks with Garang and Riek Machar. In October 1993 the US Congress hosted a meeting between Garang and Riek. The two seemed to agree about various subjects related to a cease fire and reconciliation between the two factions, self-determination and opposition to the Khartoum regime, but Riek disputed Garang’s authority and refused to sign a joint declaration. Riek dismissed Lam Akol from the SPLA-United in February 1994. Lam Akol returned to Kodok in the government-held region of Upper Nile state.
From 1994 to 1997 Riek’s movement was known as the South Sudan Independence Movement / Army (SSIM/A). Although seeking independence for South Sudan, the group received covert support from the Government of Sudan as it fought the SPLA between 1991 and 1999 in attacks that became increasingly violent and ethnically motivated. Early in 1995 hostilities between the SSIM and SPLA, which had taken several thousands of civilian lives, were temporarily suspended. Riek dismissed Kerubino Kuanyin and Commander William Nyuon Bany from the SSIM on the basis that they had signed military and political agreements with the government of Sudan late in the previous year, and that they had attempted to form a government-supported faction in the SSIM.
During the 1990s Riek skillfully developed support among the eastern Nuer, the Jikany and the Lou, taking advantage of SPLA unpopularity with the Jikany and drawing on prophetic tradition to make his case. In 1996 Riek signed a Political Charter and in 1997 the Khartoum Peace Agreement with the government. 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.
Return to SPLM
There was growing tension between Riek Machar and Paulino Matip’s South Sudan Unity Movement (SSUM), which became engaged in forcibly removing civilians from the Block 5A oil concession area, and assisting in clearances from other oil blocks. In 1998–1999, Paulino’s fighters and government troops clashed several times with Riek’s SSDF forces in a struggle for control of the Unity state oilfields. Paulino’s fighters forced Tito Biel, a high-ranking SSDF commander, to evacuate Leer early in 1999. Tito Biel later went over to the SPLA.
Riek Machar’s failure to prevent the government from forcibly displacing civilians from the oil-producing areas of Unity State turned the Nuer against his leadership. Riek’s SSDF began to receive ammunition from the SPLA as of June 1999. In 2000 at a meeting of leaders in Koch he finally resigned from the government of Sudan and created a fresh militia named the SPDF. At risk in his own homeland of the Dok Nuer, Riek moved his base of operations to the eastern Jikany area. In January 2002 he signed an agreement with John Garang to merge the SPDF into the SPLA, and was given command of the Dok Nuer within the SPLA.
The civil war ended in January 2005. In August Riek became Vice President of the Government of Southern Sudan and SPLM Co-Chair of the Joint Executive Political Committee. When South Sudan became independent, in July 2011 he was appointed first Vice President of the new republic. On 15 July 2011 Riek represented South Sudan at the ceremony when his country’s flag was raised outside United Nations headquarters in New York.
South Sudan politics
Following the independence of South Sudan, Machar was the vice president of the country. In July 2013, he, along with the entire cabinet, was dismissed from office. However, he said that Kiir’s move was a step towards dictatorship and that he would challenge Kiir for the presidency.
He was implicated by President Salva Kiir in a failed coup d’état on 16th December 2013; though he denied being involved he praised the rebels.