Before traveling to Ethiopia for the 33rd African Union Summit which took place this Sunday, South Sudan President directed the finance ministry to transfer money to each of the 32 state governors.
President Salva Kiir gave each of them $600,000 (Rwf 559m) for the governors to buy themselves cars and shopping, according to South Sudanese media. It will add up to a total of nearly $20m for the program.
The directive to offer this amount is not new, and is also very controversial because the armed opposition led by former vice president Dr Riek Machar is fiercely opposed. The remaining sticking point for a peace deal is on the number of states.
The armed opposition wants the states reduced to 23, while President Kiir who himself divided up the country into 32 states, wants the status-quo maintained. Dr Machar has in return refused to put his signature to final peace deal.
This Saturday, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who was mandated by regional body IGAD as mediator in the Sudanese conflict, reportedly refused to endorse proposal by IGAD council of ministers to reduce the States to 23.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) is an eight-country trade bloc in Eastern Africa. The member states are Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda.
Museveni, according to sources, who attended the meeting, directed the ministers to go back and conduct new urgent consultations with President Kiir and opposition leader Dr Machar on the issue.
President Museveni is reported to have said the decision by the ministers to adopt such a stance was “unacceptable”. He addressed the Council of Ministers on Saturday evening, saying their decision to reduce the number of states is not supported by any reason.
A senior SPLM-IO (Riek Machar opposition group) official who preferred anonymity described President Museveni’s demand as “not new” and accuses him of working against peace.
“Museveni is an ally of Kiir. He fought alongside Kiir against us (SPLM/A-IO) so we are not surprised,” the official said in interview with Sudans Post newspaper, adding, “If he doesn’t like the number of states be reducers then we would like to know what he wants.”
“Museveni position as a piece maker while advocating for the same status quo in South Sudan will never be accepted,” the official added.
The promise by President Kiir to offer state Governors money for cars has been long-standing, and was only waiting to be implemented. The timing is what is suspect. Seems designed to make the governors resist any attempt to reduce the states, as that would mean they lose the benefits.
Meanwhile, aid agencies have heavily criticised such acts of dishing out money yet the country is facing famine in many regions. There are also millions of refugees and internally displaced South Sudanese people.
Previously, President Kiir set aside $16m to buy cars for members of parliament.
Meanwhile, this Sunday, the IGAD leaders held closed door summit on South Sudan on the sidelines of the AU Summit.
The meeting was attended by Presidents, Museveni of Uganda; Salva Kiir of South Sudan; Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo of Somalia; Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti and representatives from Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia and Eritrea among others.
Shortly before the IGAD summit was closed to the media, the Chairperson of IGAD who is the President of the Republic of Djibouti, Ismail Omar Guelleh, welcomed IGAD member states and commended them for their remarkable efforts of ensuring peace and security in South Sudan.
He said some of the issues related to boundaries in South Sudan need to be addressed and resolved before the formation of a transitional Government due on February 21, 2020.
“As we are approaching the 100 days extension due on 21st February 2020, we urge all warring parties in South Sudan to resolve all the outstanding issues and pave way for the everlasting peace,” Ismail Omar Guelleh said.
South Sudan government has threatened to opt out of the mediation process should IGAD endorse reduction of states from 32 down to 23. As the situation stands now, the possibility of a final deal being signed on February 21, is becoming ever mkre elusive.