Pope Francis’ “feet kiss” Gesture Pays Off as South Sudan Unity Government is Formed

Delegation of South Sudan political leaders at the Vatican with Pope Francis in April 2019

After intense international pressure on political leaders in South Sudan including Pope Francis’ dramatic gesture of kissing the feet of President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar, a unity government was formed Saturday, February 22, opening a new chapter that seems an answer to the prayers of many.

The previous day, Friday, February 21, President Kiir dissolved his government, paving the way for the formation of the long-awaited coalition government that had been postponed twice during the South Sudan conflict that has seen nearly 400,000 killed and millions displaced.

In an event characterized with a strong message of forgivingness that started off with a presentation of the photo of Pope Francis kissing the feet of South Sudanese political leaders last April as a reminder, a unity government was formed in South Sudan.

Former rebel leader Machar was sworn in as first Vice-President (VP) during the ceremony at Juba-based State House, alongside three other vice-presidents.

The other VPs include James Wani igga appointed as the second VP, Taban Deng Gai appointed the third VP, and the widow of South Sudan’s founding father John Garang, Rebecca Garang, appointed as fourth VP.


The slot of the fifth VP is yet to be filled, waiting the decision of South Sudan Opposition Alliance.

“We are proud to report to him that we have also reconciled,” President Kiir said Saturday, February 22 referencing Pope Francis and added in reference to his efforts symbolized in the kiss of their feet, “We were greatly humbled and challenged.”

“The official end of war, and we can now proclaim a new dawn,” President Kiir declared at the formation of the unity government based on the September 2018 Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) and expressed the hope that South Sudan will “ never be shaken again.”

President Kiir said he had forgiven Machar and went on to ask for Machar’s forgiveness. He also called on his kinspersons, the Dinka, and those of Machar, the Nuer, to reach out to each other for reconciliation and peaceful co-existence.

It is a three-year establishment that should pave the way for the displaced populations to return to their respective homes, including ancestral ones.

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Last month, the Rome-based lay Catholic association, Sant’Egidio community, organized a meeting that brought together representatives of government and various opposition parties in South Sudan and facilitated an agreement to end hostilities and to allow “continued and uninterrupted humanitarian access” as the country prepared itself for the form a unity government that was realized Saturday, February 22.

Last November, some days after Pope Francis led Catholic faithful in praying for peace and reconciliation in South Sudan and expressed the hope to visit the East African country, the Holy Father reconfirmed his desire to visit the country and disclosed that it would be a joint pastoral visit, together with the spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican communion, Archbishop Justin Welby.

“I rejoice with the South Sudanese, especially the displaced, hungry and grieving who waited so long,” the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has been quoted as saying in a Tweet.

The formation of the unity government is a realization of the desires or many, including the Bishop of Yei, Erkolano Lodu Tombe, who recently expressed his optimism for the formation of a unity government and had called upon Christians to pray for peace as negotiations toward the coalition government were taking place.

However, in the latest coalition establishment, there are issues that remain unresolved such as the integration of the rebel fighters into a national army and its status.


Fr. Don Bosco Onyalla is ACI Africa’s founding Editor-in-Chief. He was formed in the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers (Spiritans), and later incardinated in Rumbek Diocese, South Sudan. He has a PhD in Media Studies from Daystar University in Kenya, and a Master’s degree in Organizational Communication from Marist College, New York, USA.