By Duop Chak Wuol
February 15, 2020 (SSNA) — In October 2015, President Salva Kiir issued a decree, expanding the original ten states to 28. In January 2017, Kiir issued another presidential order creating an additional four states, making the young nation a mother of 32 states. The move was met with mixed reactions from South Sudanese worldwide. Kiir’s move was mainly influenced in part by 21 states first proposed in December 2014 by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In Opposition (SPLM-IO) leader Dr. Riek Machar. In this opinion piece, I will argue that Kiir’s refusal to reduce the number of states has been one of the obstacles to the realization of lasting peace in the country and that the president probably deserves our thanks for finally abolishing the problematic states.
The politics of 21 and 32 states
When Dr. Machar created 21 states in December 2014, his key reasoning was that he wanted South Sudan to be a decentralized federal system. In a realistic sense, he wanted states to run their affairs without the involvement of the central government. The SPLM-IO leader also disclosed in his proposal that he created 21 states based on former British colonial districts. Machar’s plan was widely accepted by the armed opposition supporters, prompting President Kiir to closely examine the rationale behind the SPLM-IO’s new states. In a rather surprising move, Kiir followed in the footsteps of Machar by issuing his first decree, creating 28 states, and later adding four additional states. In his order, President Kiir claimed that he created more states merely because the people of South Sudan demanded them but there was a problem. The problem was that any idea to increase the number of states was blocked by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), saying any move to increase the number of the existing ten states violated the August 2015 power-sharing deal.
IGAD’s initial position on the number of states
In August 2015, the East African regional bloc, IGAD, asked Machar to drop his 21 states. In its position paper, IGAD told the SPLM-IO leader that 21 states are an impediment to peace and demanded a return to the original ten states. Dr. Machar agreed and decided to accept the IGAD’s proposal for the sake of peace. However, in October 2015—two months after the SPLM-IO leader accepted IGAD’s demand to abandon his 21 states for peace’s sake, Kiir shocked the people of South Sudan, IGAD, and the international community by creating 28 states. It is a known fact in South Sudan that the additional four states he decreed in January 2017 were proposed to appease some politicians and military commanders who were co-conspirators in the July 2016 Juba One (J1) fight. After Kiir formed more states, he then consistently refused any suggestion to return to the ten states despite the fact that the move was a direct violation of the August 2015 agreement.
The problems of 32 states and why Kiir deserves ‘thank you’
There are many problems associated with the 32 states’ policy. Politics is not dirty. Leaders or politicians are the ones who should be labeled dirty since they are the ones who make decisions. For years, the issue of 32 states has been at the center of debate in the country. There is no doubt Salva Kiir’s continuous refusal to accept IGAD’s mediation to return to ten states has contributed to the suffering of South Sudanese. Nevertheless, I believe Kiir deserves credit for his recent decision to remove the problematic 22 states. There are known facts that also contributed to the obstruction of peace in the country. One of these facts is that the notorious tribal group, the Jieng Council of Elders (JCE), has been working against peace behind the scene. JCE’s main goal is all about annexing other tribes’ resource-rich lands to Dinka-dominated areas. This strategy is not a secret in South Sudan, and it is widely documented. As a leader, Kiir failed to distance himself from this rather destructive tribal group, making him complicit in their actions. For example, the JCE has on many occasions issued numerous divisive statements that outraged other tribes in the country and president Kiir never condemned them. This is purely a leadership failure. Kiir must know that he is a president for all, not the other way around. The recent abolishment of 32 states is an act of real leadership. Kiir demonstrates this by throwing away the needless and problematic 22 states, leaving the nation with the beauty of diversity, the 10 states. Thank you, Mr. President. However, Salva Kiir’s abolishment of 32 states still left some non-Dinka skeptical. One of the reasons why some people still do not believe Kiir’s decision to return to the ten states is the fact that some areas belonging to non-Dinka are still in the hands of Dinka. For instance, in his October 2015 decree, Kiir created the Ruweng state deep inside the Nuer territory in Unity state. He first did this by creating Abeimnom county. In a logical sense, Kiir created this county as a Dinka county in a move to take over an oil field located in the northern part of Bentiu. If Kiir is truly for the elimination of his 32 states, then he should also abolish the so-called Ruweng administrative district since the decision is widely seen as a plan to keep the oil-rich land of Jikany Nuer, Leek Nuer, and Bul Nuer who are the real inhabitants of Northern part of the historical Bentiu town in the hands Ruweng Dinka. As you can see, Kiir still needs more convincing to do. Pibor’s administrative district is also another problem that needs to be clarified. One wonders why Pibor should be an administrative district when many places that are bigger than Pibor are not categorized as administrative districts. Something is fishy here.
As a known critic of South Sudan’s government, I would like to publicly admit that there is a time when those whom you disagree with deserve credit. Salva Kiir’s leadership has been an embodiment of destruction in the country but his recent decision to return to the founding ten states has compelled me to thank him but he clearly needs more work beyond the states’ issue.
Security arrangements should be Kiir’s next target
President Kiir has gained some respect from millions of South Sudanese after he decided to abandon his 32 states policy. But his newfound leadership courage should not stop here. I urge him to embrace peace by fully implementing the security arrangements so that the people of South Sudan can live in peace.
SPLM-IO is the real architect behind states reduction
South Sudan’s main opposition party, the SPLM-IO, also deserves high marks for its relentless fight for political reform in the country. Without the SPLM-IO, the voiceless South Sudanese would have simply hidden in the background. It is true that the decision by Kiir to return the country to the original ten states was mainly influenced by the SPLM-IO’s political doctrine.
The people of South Sudan have enough of the civil war which ended the lives of nearly 400,000 people. We should thank Kiir for making the right decision. The President should use this opportunity to show real leadership by disassociating himself from destructive and divisive politicians. Kiir should also reject belly-politicians and work with leaders who only care for the unity of South Sudanese and the future of the country. Political immaturity should not be allowed to destroy the young nation—enough blood has already been spilled and no single ordinary South Sudanese is interested in seeing the country going down the drain. The increase of states is not a good leadership quality and it is certainly not what the people of South Sudan want. Ten states are enough, at least for now, and I call on all South Sudanese leaders to embrace political, military, economic, and social reforms for the betterment of the country. Peace must be the number one priority.
Duop Chak Wuol is an analyst and editor-in-chief of the independent South Sudan News Agency (https://ssnanews.com/. He can be reached at [email protected]. Note: The views expressed in this article are his and should not be attributed to the South Sudan News Agency.