JUBA, KHARTOUM - The governments of the United States, the United Kingdom and Norway — the so-called South Sudan Troika — praised the parties to the revitalized peace deal for abiding by the latest deadline and forming a unity government last Saturday.
The three countries, also known as the “Troika,” said in a joint statement, “We welcome the fact that the government and opposition parties have made the necessary compromises to allow this important step.” It went on to say in order for the transitional government to succeed, “a spirit of continuous collaboration, supported by the active, engaged and free voices of citizens and civil society must continue.”
On Feb. 15, President Salva Kiir agreed to revert to the original 10 states, plus three administrative areas. Years ago, he unilaterally imposed 21 states, then later increased the number of states to 32.
Machar is first vice president
SPLM-IO leader Riek Machar was sworn in again as first vice president, as were four other vice presidents, paving the way for South Sudan’s three-year transitional government.
Machar, who had been Kiir’s deputy, fled the country when fighting erupted in July of 2016 in and around the presidential palace between Machar’s bodyguards and government forces. The fighting quickly spread to other parts of the country.
According to the Chapter 1 of the 2018 revitalized peace deal, Machar will chair the governance cluster. Vice Presidents James Wani Igga from the SPLM-IN government will head the Economics Cluster, Hussein Abdel Bagi from the South Sudan Opposition Alliance will preside over the Service Cluster, Taban Deng Ghai from the “SPLM-IO-In Government” will lead the Infrastructure Cluster, and Rebecca Nyandeng will lead the Gender and Youth Cluster.
In a tweet this week, Kelly Craft, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called the transitional government’s formation “a first step toward lasting dignity, stability and peace in South Sudan."
Mousssa Faki Mahamat, chairperson of the African Union Commission, also called it just the beginning, adding, “the more challenging reform process will require steadfast, collegial and transparent leadership to deliver on the legitimate expectations for peace of the South Sudanese populations.”
Regional bloc IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) said the leaders have a responsibility to ensure that the 35% quota for appointing women to government positions is observed.
Some South Sudanese living in the Sudanese capital Khartoum welcomed the new government, but said they want the government to prioritize making the return of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) as smooth as possible.
Ready to return home
Khartoum resident Francis Michael Hassan, who hails from Western Bahr el Ghazal state, urged the new government to quickly facilitate the return of IDPs and refugees so they can participate in nation-building.
“Those who are in camps [as] IDPs, to go back to their various homes and villages and to have that security so that they may have the ability to embark on agriculture and the rest of their activities which have been abandoned for some years back,” Hassan told South Sudan in Focus.
Ezekiel Yom Ayel, who fled to Sudan from Bentiu in Unity State in 2013 during the start of the fighting, said he hopes to return soon to his hometown.
Corruption a concern
Ayel said authorities should prosecute corrupt officials who destroyed the economy.
“What makes our country more a place of corruption — it is about the dollars. The rate of dollars is very high in our country, whereby the third-class [citizens] would not get a chance to make their practical support because they are unemployed,” Ayel told South Sudan in Focus.
Nadia Bismarck Bungit, a widow with five children who grew up in Central Equatoria’s Kajokeji County, has lived in Khartoum for the last 25 years. Bungit said she just wants to go home and feel safe.
“Our heart is in our country, we want to go back to our country and stay in a peaceful and stable South Sudan. We want to take a bus from here and travel to our country without any obstacles. We don’t need to use plane to go to South Sudan,” Bungit told South Sudan in Focus.
New leaders are 'old faces'
James Okuk, senior researcher at Juba’s Center for Strategic and Policy Studies, does not expect much from the new government, but he said he’s willing to remain open-minded.
“Since they are old faces, we do not expect much from them but then will give them the benefit of doubt. If they follow what is written in the agreement and they deliver on the cluster that is given to them to manage,” Okuk told South Sudan in Focus.
Abraham Koul, assistant professor of International Politics at the University of Juba, said there is one advantage to having five vice presidents.
“This agreement has accommodated all key principals that were causing conflict in South Sudan. As a result of the coming on board of each of these vice presidents, it will make each of them be a source of development and progress in South Sudan and [they] will not act as spoilers the way they were participating in the war,” Koul told South Sudan in Focus.
Carol Van Dam Falk contributed to this report.