JUBA — Powerful South Sudan opposition leader and incumbent First Vice President Dr. Riek Machar Teny has today turned 70. Machar who is also the leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) was joined by his deputy and other senior SPLM-IO figures at his office in Juba.
Machar, an advocate of self-determination for the people of South Sudan during the Sudanese civil wars, was surprised with a cake by his wife, Angelina Teny, who is also the country’s defense minister and the chairperson of the SPLM-IO National Committee for Security and Defense.
Born on 27 July 1952 to a traditional chief in Leer County of Unity State, Machar has spent most of his life in the liberation struggle that resulted in the secession of South Sudan from Sudan in July 2011 to become the world’s youngest country.
Machar graduated with a decree of engineering from the University of Khartoum in the late 1970s. He briefly taught at the same university before winning a scholarship to the United Kingdom where he earned a doctorate in strategic planning from the University of Bradford in 1984.
He returned to Sudan the same year to join the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/SPLA) and quickly climbed the ranks to become a zonal commander in the Nuba Mountains, Western Upper Nile (present-day Unity State) and Southern Blue Nile.
In 1991, Machar, Dr. Lam Akol, and late Gen. Gordon Koang Chuol broke away from Dr. John Garang De Mabior to sign a peace agreement with the government of Sudan on the basis of a promise that a referendum was going to be conducted for Southern Sudanese to decide if they want to have a separate country.
That agreement broke apart after the Sudanese government refused to respect it and Machar once again signed an agreement with Dr. John Garang paving way for his return to the SPLM to become number three in the leadership structure of the rebel movement following an agreement in 2002.
In 2005, following the tragic death of Dr. Garang, Dr. Riek became the deputy chairperson of the SPLM party and as well the vice-president of the semi-autonomous Southern Sudan. He was elected to that position during the 2010 Sudanese general elections when he was the running mate to President Kiir and on July 9th 2011, he became the first vice president of the independent South Sudan.
In December 2013, he was accused by President Kiir of staging a coup after he announced that he was going to challenge the president in the leadership of the SPLM party ahead of elections then set for 2015. He fled an assassination attempt on the morning of December 16, 2013 following attack on his compound in Juba with tanks and heavily armed troops.
In April 2014, Machar and other senior army generals as well as politicians who had deserted Juba following the massacre in which tens of thousands of civilians were killed gathered in Nasir town of Upper Nile state to form the main armed opposition Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition.
In 2015, he signed a peace deal with President Kiir in Addis Ababa and took over the new position of a first vice president created by the agreement. The peace deal collapsed in July 2016 and fled the country once again but was detained while on a medical visit to South Africa.
He was kept for nearly two years in hope that the conflict may stop. He was released in 2018 and engaged in a new peace talk with Kiir leading to the signing of the revitalized peace agreement that once again installed him as the first vice president.
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