, 17 February, 2020 / 4:21 AM
In a bid to narrow down the gap between the government of South Sudan and the main opposition and form a transitional unity government due February 22 after the latest postponement, the President of the world’s youngest nation February 15 gave in to one of the key demands of the opposition leader, Dr. Riek Machar, reducing the number of States from 32 to 10, a development that Catholic Church leaders have lauded.
President Kiir also announced the establishment of three administrative areas, namely, Abyei, a region whose border demarcation with Sudan remains controversial; the rich-oil area of Greater Pibor; and Ruweng.
“The compromise we have made today is a painful decision but a necessary one if that is what brings peace”, South Sudan President Salva Kiir has been quoted as saying in a statement Saturday, February 15 when his government agreed to go back to the original ten states that South Sudan had at independence in 2011.
“I expect the opposition to be prepared to do the same,” President Kiir added, interpreted as a reference to the disagreement about the integration of the different fighting forces.
“After a thorough deliberation on the subject matter and in the interest of peace and stability in the country, the presidency … resolved to return the country to ten (10) States and their previous respective counties; plus three (3) administrative areas,” the statement from South Sudan Presidency dated February 14 seen by ACI Africa reads.
Catholic Church leaders who spoke to ACI Africa Saturday, February 15 expressed positive reactions to the decision by President Kiir, terming the move a “people’s victory.”
“I just heard it now and I think that is the victory for the people,” the Archbishop-elect of Juba Archdiocese, Stephen Martin Ameyu Mulla told ACI Africa and added, “When the government begins to listen to its own people, I think that is really a very excellent achievement for the government because the voice of the people has to be heard.”
The decision by the Head of State, Bishop Ameyu noted, must have come as a result of the government of South Sudan “through its own systems having understood what it means really to listen to the voices of the people.”
He said, “I have seen that the president have made really a very great decision this time because the move by the governors and also other important people was that 32 states were the voice of the people, but for me I knew that those people were not speaking the voice of the people.”
Reacting to some protests from a section of those opposed to the reduction of the number of States that followed President Kiir’s announcement, the Bishop of South Sudan’s Torit diocese said, “Some of our people were mobilized; that mobilization you could see from the faces of the people, they speak another thing but in their hearts, their faces, there is a different thing.”
In his considered view, President Kiir seems to “have assessed privately the opinion of the people” and not for the ministers, parliamentarians and all other people who are preoccupied with their interest.
“I think the president is a man of courage because in leadership when you do not have courage to decide, then other people will decide and other people will lead,” the South Sudanese Prelate observed.
He added, “I wish that all our leaders should listen to their constituencies, listen carefully to what the people need; I think now it is the new dawn for me in this country, when we listen to the voice of the people, when we work for the people.”
The 56-year-old South Sudanese Prelate who had previously recommended a referendum to resolve the issue of State appealed for a compromise on the part of Dr. Riek Machar and allies saying, “My message to the Opposition Group is that they should from now listen to the compromise, for us to get peace we have to compromise for our people.”
He emphasized, “I heard that the opposition was for 23 states or 10 states, now that the president has decided that we go for the 10 states, the opposition should listen and try also on their part to compromise with the other issues and form the government of national unity.”
Similarly, the Apostolic Administrator of Juba Archdiocese, Paolino Lukudu Loro expressed his support for President’s Kiir’s decision.
“I am very positive today about this decision (having 10 states); it is the right way that South Sudan should have started, we were already 10 states when we started and that was like the birth of the child,” the Administrator of Juba Archdiocese told ACI Africa Saturday, February 15, and added, “We should continue growing and when we are unable to manage the other states we can settle for less.”
“I am not really against the 32 states; 32 states will be reached; my problem was that we at this moment are unable to manage 32 states. We cannot really begin with 32 sates, we can even begin from less than ten if that was a desire,” the 79-year-oldv South Sudanese Prelate said and added, “I think the decision is a very positive decision.”
He went on to urge the people of God in South Sudan to embrace peace and reconciliation for the development of their country. He said he likes the decision to return to 10 states because 32 states are not manageable.
“In general, we welcome the decision taken by the president to take the country to 10 states,” the Deputy Spokesman of Dr. Machar, Manawa Peter has been quoted as saying, adding, “this is a win win decision for the people and we commend the president for his wise choice.”
The compromise decision by President Kiir has also been seen by Alan Boswell who serves as a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group based in Brussels as paving a way forward for a peace deal for “Now the parties will need to complete the negotiations to form the long-awaited unity government.”
While the opposition groups in South welcomed President Kiir’s move to revert to 10 States, the decision to form three administrative areas seems controversial, with Dr. Machar being quoted as warning, Sunday, February 16 that three areas risk opening up a “Pandora’s box.”
Peter Mapuor Makur contributed to this story.
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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