As hundreds of supporters of the armed opposition faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM-IO) expressed shock over the recent congratulatory message sent to President Yoweri Museveni by the SPLM-IO leadership on winning the Uganda’s presidential election on 20 February, a senior official of the opposition faction defended the letter, saying there is no “permanent enemy” in politics.
SPLM-IO leader, Riek Machar, on 20 February wrote the congratulatory message to the Ugandan President Museveni on the re-election and vowed to work with him as he plays his role in the implementation of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS).
The full copy of the letter circulated on the social media reads: “I am writing to congratulate your Excellency on the occasion of your re-election as President of the Republic of Uganda as declared today February 20, 2016.
I am also writing to urge your Excellency to play your role in the implementation of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS) as a guarantor of the said agreement as well as a neighbor with interest in peace and stability in the region.
I am looking forward to working closely with you as we implement the Agreement to restore peace and political stability in the Nile Valley.
Once again, congratulation for the trust bestowed upon you by the people of Uganda to continue serving your country that has witnessed rapid economic growth and peace in the recent years under your wise leadership,” reads in full the letter signed by Machar and seen by Sudan Tribune.
The contents of the letter dominated social media discussions for the past two days with overwhelming majority of the opposition’s supporters expressing shock, criticizing that it has compromised the democratic principles and beliefs of the SPLM-IO and its leadership.
Hundreds of discussants, mainly supporters of the SPLM-IO poured messages on the social media with mixed reactions in rejection and support to the letter.
“Is this a democratic election that SPLM IO can really congratulate the winner who did it so by harassing his opponent? How will Riek Machar Teny call this situation when Salva Kiir decide[s] to follow M7 [Museveni] tactic?,” wrote Bel Chuol Bel.
“Why do we rush to congratulate someone who we are not quite sure of his honest win of election? How will our allies who are not in good term with M7 feel about our shift? Did we betray them? No other democratic nation that can support us? IO congratulatory message will cause IO more harm than good,” he added.
However, Pal Chol, another discussant from the diaspora said it was the right thing for Machar to send a congratulatory message to the Ugandan President on winning the election as long as Ugandans accepted the outcome.
“What is bothering us when the owners said the election was not rigged?” he said, referring to the declaration by the Ugandan electoral commission on 20 February.
“What concerns us is our bilateral relation with Uganda following the visit of Dr Riek Machar,” he added.
Another discussant said the aspects of democracy and the rule of law which SPLM-IO believed in had been in “jeopardy.”
“Since it’s our right to protest against any decision taken at any level of leadership we reserved our rights to make such inputs on the issue whatever the ties between the two leaders. Otherwise the very aspects of our stance on democracy and rule of law is in jeopardy,” said Thomas Gador Makouc.
“That is invitation of problems at home in 2018 election. Dr. Machar will win but they [President Kiir] will rig. We are even seeing SPLA in Kampala streets,” Dennis Arthur Ogoro, another discussant, said.
Uganda participated in the two-year old civil war in South Sudan by sending thousands of troops who sided with President Salva Kiir, defeating opposition forces between Juba and Bor road in January 2014 and taking control of Jonglei state’s capital, Bor.
The Ugandan People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) also played a significant role in securing the national capital, Juba. The agreement by South Sudanese parties however called for their withdrawal from the country.
NO PERMANENT ENEMY
The secretary general of the SPLM-IO, Dhieu Mathok Diing, issued a statement explaining the importance of the congratulatory letter to President Museveni.
“Friends, the congratulatory message sent by FVP [First Vice President] of the Republic of South Sudan, Chairman and Commander In Chief of the SPLM/SPLA-IO generates a debate between rejecters of the message and supporters,” Diing wrote in acknowledgement of the debate.
“Announcement of rigging in any elections is a responsibility of technical institutions; like national electoral commissions and other regional and international organizations that have participated in the processes,” he said.
The SPLM-IO’s third most senior official further explained that as a democratic movement, the SPLM-IO respects the decision of electoral bodies and “considers the results credible, otherwise.”
“On 17th August, 2015 the SPLM/SPLA-IO signed a peace deal that has ceased hostilities and opened a new page with all individuals and forces who were fighting the Movement (M7 and his government included),” he further explained.
He said the opposition’s top leader, Machar, visited Kampala on 26 January and held bilateral talks over normalization of the relations between the SPLM-IO and the National Resistance Movement (NRM) of Uganda.
“The two leaders agreed to open a new page and foster political normalization and cooperation that could help in implementation of the agreement,” he added.
He further explained that the two leaders during the visit also agreed on issues to do with the implementation of the peace agreement signed in August 2015 by warring parties in South Sudan.
“After all, there is no permanent friend or enemy in politics,” he concluded.
Although the electoral commission appointed by President Museveni declared him the winner, Ugandan opposition parties and international observers said the elections were rigged.
President Museveni, who has been president in power for 30 years since 1986, will rule Uganda for another 5 years term, bringing his rule to 35 years and counting.
A number of countries including the United States (US) have condemned the manner in which the elections were conducted and said they would not recognize the outcome.
US government has also called on all its citizens residing in Uganda to evacuate and leave the country “immediately.”