South Sudan may be subdivided again, for the third time into new states, as protagonists fail to agree on a regional mechanism aimed at silencing the guns in the war ravaged and famine ridden country.
The bitter divergence of views on the future of South Sudan exploded into the open at the 33rd African Union Summit this past weekend in Ethiopia. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) leaders could also not agree on way forward.
First, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, the South Sudan peace mediator, publicly dismissed proposal by IGAD council of ministers to have 23 states. This number was from the armed opposition headed by former vice president Dr Riek Machar.
At independence from the north in 2011, South Sudan had 10 states. After signing the 2015 peace deal, however, President Salva Kiir increased the number of states to 28, and later expanded to 32 states.
The fight over the shape South Sudan should take, is not new. When the SPLM took over government following independence, it opposed a subdivision of the country into a federal system from the start, arguing that it would undermine national unity.
However with the rise of Dr Machar and his SPLM-IO, it favoured a federal solution and argued for a subdivision into 21 states. In a tactical move, President Kiir adopted federalism.
The opposition was in arms against this change of tack by Kiir. They interpreted the move as a bid to contain the territorial control of the SPLM-IO and its Nuer constituency.
It is several years now, President Kiir and Dr Machar are at war of arms, and cannot agree on the way forward. The eight-country security and trade bloc IGAD has mandated February 21 as deadline to have signed final peace deal.
Before travelling to AU Summit, President Kiir is reported to have directed his finance minister to wire $600,000 to each of the 32 state governors for cars. The opposition has accused Kiir of bribing the governors so that they resist any attempt to render them jobless.
At the IGAD summit on Sunday, President Kiir was given an extra five days for consultations back home. However this Tuesday, government made what has been shocked the opposition and IGAD diplomats.
Minister of Information, Communication Technology and Postal Services – also the Official Government spokesperson, Michael Makuei Lueth issued a statement on the states issue.
“The Government of the Republic of South Sudan under the able Leadership of H.E Salva Kiir Mayardit is ready to implement the outcome of the consultation in regard to the number of States in the country,” the statement said.
However, the statement did not clarify whether the government had accepted 10 states or 23 which were all discussed during the weekend’s IGAD summit in Addis Ababa.
IGAD council of ministers in their proposal also said the country should return to ten states.
It remains to be see what will happen in days left to the IGAD deadline on February 21. And what will the region will do if no deal is hammered.
South Sudan is also recent entrant into the East African Community (EAC) now with Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi.
IGAD is comprised of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda.