On Contention about States in South Sudan, Bishop Recommends Engaging Citizens

The 28 States of South Sudan decreed by President Salva Kiir in October 2015
Credit: Public Domain

One of the reasons for the latest postponement of the formation of a unity government in South Sudan, a power-sharing government that would see the leader of opposition Dr. Riek Machar sworn in a Vice-President, is the arrangement of the boundaries of states in the world’s youngest country, including the number of states.

While welcoming the decision to extend the deadline for the formation of a unity government by 100 days, Bishop Stephen Ameyu of South Sudan’s Torit Diocese has recommended that the controversies around the states in his country be resolved by engaging South Sudanese.

“This question of 10 states, 28 states or 32 states (can) be resolved by the people, by a referendum, so that we can settle it once and for all – that people need 32, they need 28 or they need 10, that is the only solution for us  in this country,” Bishop Ameyu told ACI Africa correspondent after learning about another delay in the formation of a unity government.  

President Kiir decreed, in October 2015, a change in South Sudan’s administrative structure, increasing the number of states from 10 to 28. Prior to this decree, Dr. Machar’s party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-iO) had suggested 21 states, an administrative structure based on the British colonial administration of 21 districts in what was then called southern Sudan.

Still, others wanted that the 10-state structure be maintained. Yet others argued for a reduction of the administrative structure to three provinces that characterized Sudan at independence in 1956.

Despite the controversies around the matter, in December 2015, President Kiir announced the appointment of governors to oversee the administration of the newly created 28 states.

Bishop Ameyu has recommended the involvement of South Sudanese in deciding about the boundaries between states and their number arguing that the political leaders had failed over the years to “bring a unanimous agreement.”

Among those to be engaged in resolving the controversy, Bishop Ameyu said, are leaders at the grassroots who are familiar with grievances around the land between states.

“Our traditional people, our traditional chiefs or rainmakers or landlords, know the interstate borders,” the South Sudanese Prelate said and added, “the traditional leaders know which people were there long time ago.”

“I think this has to be really done in a traditional way,” he emphasized and suggested that the government provides support to the traditional leaders who are familiar with the territory of South Sudan at the very basic unit of society including the borders between different tribes.

In September 2018, President Kiir and Dr. Machar signed an agreement for peace requiring that all parties in conflict, including rebel groups, become part of a unity government.

The Catholic Church leaders have advocated for an all-inclusive unity government, insisting that leaders of political parties that did not sign the peace agreement are incorporated in the unity government.

The creation of a unity government was first delayed in May, justified by what the political leaders described as “critical issues” awaiting implementation.

Another critical issue yet to be implemented is security arrangement as provided for in the peace agreement. The September 2018 agreement envisaged the creation of a common army that would integrate soldiers from Dr. Machar’s rebel movement.

The failure to implement the conditions of the peace deal has been attributed in part to little political will from the partners to the peace agreement to make it a reality.

The Church Parliamentary Liaison’s officer Mr. Isaac Kungur Kenyi who has been tracking the peace process on behalf of the Bishops’ Secretariat believes that “the real issue is the security issue, the cantonments, the training and the reunification of the army.”

Mr. Kenyi called upon the government “to be honest to itself and release the money to pre-transitional committee so that they can finish the unfinished job.” 


ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]