BENTIU, SOUTH SUDAN - South Sudanese President Salva Kiir has sacked the governor of Unity state, making for the second such firing of a top state official this year.
Kiir issued a presidential decree at the weekend announcing that Unity state Governor Taban Deng Gai was to be removed from office immediately and replaced with Joseph Nguen Montuel, the state leader of the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM).
Deng had held the governorship since 2005. The announcement of his sacking was made on television.
No explanation was given for Deng's removal from office, which the ousted governor insisted was unwarranted and unconstitutional.
"In South Sudan’s transitional constitution, it says, in case the governor failed to govern the state, the president has the right to sack the governor.
"But I did not fail to govern," he said.
Deng hypothesized that his sacking has something to do with his comradeship with South Sudanese Vice President Riek Machar, a formal rival of Kiir's for the presidency, whom the president relieved of many of his duties several weeks ago.
“Recently, when I went to America, the president was suspicious that I had a meeting with the American government and that I’m pushing for Riek Machar’s election,” Deng said.
Several locals welcomed the firing of Deng, saying he had been removed from office because he was out of touch with ordinary citizens in the state.
Par Nhial, a pharmacist in Bentiu, said many people perceived the ex-governor as working only for the benefit of the elite in Unity state while Franco Duoth Diu, the SPLM chairman for Leer County, said his leadership had grown "monotonous" and he had lost touch with his constituents.
Thomas Wicjial Chop, a representative of the SPLM on the state’s Liberation Council, said Kiir was merely responding to citizens' calls for change by removing Deng.
“Eighty percent or even 90 percent of Unity State communities have been requesting change. Maybe it was time for the president to respond to the requests of the community,” he said.
But Edmund Yakani, the director of the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization, said Deng's firing came after a rumor circulated, saying he had been advocating for Kiir to step down when his current term ends in 2015.
Deng's firing was the second of a state governor this year by Kiir, who in January ousted the governor of Lakes state, Chol Tong Mayay, and replaced him with his deputy, Mabor Achol Kuer.