JUBA - Many Juba residents have welcomed South Sudan President Salva Kiir’s offer on Saturday to abandon the current 32-state system and go back to the original 10 states plus three administrative areas.
Kiir split South Sudan into 32 states during the five-and-a-half-year civil war that began in December 2013. Reverting to 10 states is a key demand of opposition leaders in talks with the president to form a transitional unity government.
Although many South Sudanese said the president’s offer is long overdue, it gives them hope that peace and stability will finally return to the country.
Realizing the change would mean scrapping 32 state governments, Kiir fired all of the country’s governors on Saturday. He empowered the party secretaries-general of each state to act as administrators, pending formation of a unity government by a Feb. 22 deadline.
Speaking in Juba Saturday, Kiir acknowledged it is time to refocus the energy of the national government “so that the peace agreement that we are going to implement reunites our people once again and gives us the opportunity to collectively embark on nation-building.”
Juba resident Juma Peter said most South Sudanese knew the president had to compromise on the number of states.
“Everyone is talking 10 states. People see it like creation of 32 states causes more division and damages our social fabric. You find that people have names like, ‘I am from this and I am from that,’” Peter told VOA's South Sudan in Focus program.
Peter said it is now up to SPLM-In Opposition leader Riek Machar to compromise so that a unity government will be formed and the government can stop wasting money on maintaining a bloated number of states.
“Given the economic recession in the country, there are no resources to fund those states and you find that some states are under the trees; you find that there are no roads. So when he announced, people are already celebrating,” Peter told VOA.
Juba resident Sworo Nelson Loboka said Kiir’s announcement was long overdue.
“We needed it yesterday, not today. That means it should have happened last year, not today when people were really in so much demand for peace in South Sudan. That also sends a very clear signal the presidency is standing with the people’s demand for peace,” Loboka told South Sudan in Focus.
Juba resident Elijah Luke said Kiir’s compromise offer will restore peace and make governing more economical.
"It's to bring and unite the people of South Sudan back ... to bring a durable peace to South Sudan,” Luke said.
Machar, who demanded a return to 10 states in several rounds of direct negotiations with Kiir, released a statement over the weekend welcoming Kir’s decision to compromise; but, Machar voiced reservations about the creation of a Ruweng administrative area, which Machar said was not part of the 10 states when they were dissolved in 2015 by the president.
Much of South Sudan’s oil is produced in Ruweng, which is now part of Unity state.
Desire for peace in Bor
Residents in the war-affected Jonglei state capital of Bor want to see the parties accept the president’s offer. Control of the town changed hands several times as government and rebel forces battled each other during the civil war. Some 2,500 people were killed, including many women and children, according to Amnesty International.
Before Kiir split Jonglei into four states in late 2015, the area became polarized along ethnic lines with the majority of Dinka residents siding with the president and most of the Nuer community siding with Machar. A power struggle between Kiir and Machar, Kiir's former deputy, triggered the civil war.
On Monday, many Bor residents said they would welcome becoming one state again. Thirty-five-year-old Bor resident Nhial Abednego said all parties are welcome in Jonglei.
“We welcome everybody. We have no problem. We are the custodians of peace in South Sudan. And if they are sure, they will not behave the same way they behaved in 2013, because we were the victims of the 2013 war,” Abednego said.
U.N. urges compromise
David Shearer, special representative of the U.N. secretary-general to South Sudan, called Kiir's offer an important compromise, and urged the parties to work together and make a decision on the right number of states, administrative areas and boundaries.
The U.N. mission chief said Monday that forming an inclusive transitional government by the agreed-to deadline of Feb. 22 will inspire greater trust and confidence among citizens that the peace process will succeed.
“We urge all parties to reach out and embrace each other’s positions so that the peace deal can be fully implemented,” said Shearer in Juba.
The peace deal signed by the parties stipulates that the number of states and their boundaries be determined before the transitional government is in place. It also stipulates that security mechanisms be completed before this week's deadline.
Peace monitors say a 3,000-strong VIP protection force is ready to be deployed to Juba. Military commanders say soldiers stationed at the Gorom Training Center, located 40 kilometers west of Juba, South Sudan's capital, have learned to work as one, unified force.
The center is one of 16 operational training centers around the country set up to train and unify a 83,000-strong force composed of military, police, national security service, wildlife, and fire brigade forces.
Speaking to the thousands of soldiers being trained at Gorom, Major General Abdal Moniem said peace is at hand.
“Nobody again will kill; nobody will shoot a gun again. You are now a soldier who follows law and if you cock a gun, let alone shoot, you will be tried in a military court and so no more war,” Moniem told the soldiers.
Carol Van Dam Falk contributed to this report.