South Sudan

South Sudan’s President makes surprise announcement to return the war-torn country to 10 states

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Francesca Mold

South Sudan’s President today announced the country will return to 10 states in a bid to end a tense-standoff with opposition parties just a week out from a deadline requiring the formation of a new transitional government.

President Salva Kiir made the surprise announcement at the Presidential Palace, flanked by his vice-presidents, in a conference hall full of ministers and members of the security forces.

He has previously held firm to the view that the current 32 states, plus the administrative area of Abeyei, should be retained.

“The compromise we have made today is one of the painful decisions I have ever made but it is necessary if that is what will bring back peace and preserve the unity of our people,” he said.

“I have been fighting throughout my entire life for the liberation of this country and I will always stand against the forces that aspire to destroy our hard-won sovereignty. I will not accept to preside over the destruction of the same country that I sacrificed to liberate.”

Since the signing of the peace deal in September 2018, the issue of states and boundaries has proved to be a major obstacle to the formation of the new transitional government of national unity. The inability of the parties to resolve the issue as well as sluggish progress on reunifying the country’s security forces has resulted in two previous delays to the peace process.

Intensive negotiations between the parties over recent weeks had failed to find a compromise with the government sticking to its position of at least 32 states and the opposition holding out for 10 or 23. With the deadline for forming a new government looming next week, the President said he had to make a decision in the interests of the country and its citizens.

“We thought this compromise will preserve the unity of the country and move the people of South Sudan out of this senseless conflict which has affected the livelihoods of many of our citizens for the last six years. We must put a stop to this suffering because our people deserve the best,” he said.

The decision is effective immediately and will impact on existing governors and county commissioners across the country.

The country’s First Vice-President, Taban Deng Gai, said a technical committee would be formed to “work out the modalities of how to accommodate those people”.

“But what we are saying is that nobody is going to be laid off employment. They will be employed because, since we shall have total peace, it means more services to the people including opportunities for jobs for our young south Sudanese.

Asked by media after the announcement if today’s decision could result in a rebellion in the current states, the Vice-President James Wani Igga said the government was prepared to persuade people that it was the best option in the circumstances.

“I don’t think it will lead to any conflict. If anybody becomes that angry, really, I think it is unguided,” he said. “What is paramount is peace rather than positions.”

The President acknowledged that some of the government’s supporters may view the decision as buckling to the demands of the opposition.

“I call upon all of you, the citizens of this country, especially those who may not be comfortable with this decision, to accept it and rally behind the government.”

The decision to return to 10 states is likely to be temporary with the President making it clear that the government’s preference for many more states remains in place. He said, ultimately, a final decision would be made by the new transitional government, potentially after elections are held in three years’ time.

“Should that come after the elections, these conditions of confining us to the conflict will not be there any longer and we go back to whatever number of states that we want. Let the people’s hearts not be broken because 10 states will not cover all South Sudan. Let us move forward.”

In his speech, the President accused the opposition of “holding the country to ransom”.

“The insistent demand to return the country to 10 states is a strategy of the people who do not wish us good but more suffering and destruction. My decision today will thwart such ill intentions and make us resilient against their insidious threats.”

He appealed to “our brothers and sisters who are still holding out to come and join us on this journey of reuniting the country”.

“The compromise we have just made is in the interests of peace and the quest for peace should not be one-sided. I expect the opposition to reciprocate the same and allow the country to move forward.”

The President noted the intense pressure that has been exerted on the parties by the international community to resolve the issue of states and called on them to recognize and reward the government’s “major compromise”.

“I appeal to them to support the implementation of the agreement both morally and materially for without their support and contributions we may not be able to meet the task of reviving our economy and set the country on the path of development.”

The opposition is yet to comment on the President’s announcement but will now be under pressure to make a decision about whether to join the new transitional government within the next week.