Members of the Sudanese Transitional Military Council attend a meeting in Juba, capital of South Sudan, Sept. 9, 2019. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) on Tuesday hailed the latest meeting of South Sudan's President Salva Kiir Mayardit and opposition group leader Riek Machar in Juba, capital of South Sudan. (Xinhua/Denis Elamu)
Members of the Sudanese Transitional Military Council attend a meeting in Juba, capital of South Sudan, Sept. 9, 2019. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) on Tuesday hailed the latest meeting of South Sudan's President Salva Kiir Mayardit and opposition group leader Riek Machar in Juba, capital of South Sudan. (Xinhua/Denis Elamu)

South Sudanese experts said the recent decision by President Salva Kiir to cut the number of states from 32 to 10, demonstrates the much-needed political will to push the peace process forward.

The peace process had stalled over the disagreement on the hitherto contentious issue of states and their boundaries.

President Kiir last week took the region and international community by surprise, when he dissolved the former 32 states he decreed in 2015.

The main opposition group, Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In Opposition (SPLM-IO) led by former First Vice President Riek Machar had disagreed on several occasions with the government over the number of states.

The SPLM-IO prior to the latest compromise was in favor of reverting to the previous 10 states which had been in existence before the outbreak of conflict in December 2013 while the government insisted on having the 32 states.

Machar’s group, despite welcoming Kiir’s gesture on the current 10 states, protested the creation of additional three administrative units which include Abyei, Ruweng and Pibor areas.

Jacob Chol, professor of politics at University of Juba, told Xinhua in Juba that the return to the 10 states is a popular demand of the people.

“The opinion poll that was conducted by the Independent Boundaries Commission (IBC) sampled about 2,000 South Sudanese and out of these, about 1,500 South Sudanese indicated that they want to return to the 10 states. That option was brushed aside because some hardliners in the government had wanted just to use a national euphoric and sort of tribalized presentation to show that people are for the 32 states,” said Chol.

He said the unprecedented move will help redeem President Kiir’s image within the region and international community.

“It’s a decision that has helped President Kiir to change or brush away the image as President of South Sudan who was not moving to compromise on certain important things in the peace process,” he said.

“The president will be relieved from the international pressure, and will also change his own image from the global view on how they used to look at him to be a president who decides without listening to other people,” disclosed Chol.

He noted that Machar should be very happy with this latest development, after the former warring parties failed twice to form the transitional unity government on time, due to disagreements on the states and security arrangement.

“This gesture by President (Kiir) is going to build trust and confidence during the negotiations although there will be challenges on the security arrangement. But if they work together they can easily address those challenges,” added Chol.

James Okuk, lecturer of political science at the University of Juba, said the decision to revert to 10 states has set the political will which had been missing to move the peace process to its conclusion.

“It is the right choice, because that has now reset the political will that has been missing all along. So from here, things will move positively toward the formation of the transitional unity government. They may not meet the deadline on Saturday, but they may meet it partially, meaning they could now pass the constitution and sign it into law within a few days,” said Okuk.

“Based on that constitution, the president can now appoint himself, first vice president and the rest of the four vice presidents,” he noted.

He said the issue of the newly created administrative areas is just being used as a decoy for negotiation purposes but the main issue is the 10 states.

“The administrative areas have been attached only for negotiation purposes by these politicians because, in the end, they are benefiting. If they compromise it means they compromise with something in their interests, that’s why it’s not a big deal. The big deal is the 10 states,” he said.

Abraham Awolich, senior political analyst at the Juba-based Sudd Institute think tank, said the issue of the number of states has not been the major problem in the South Sudan crisis.

“I don’t think this will change much. Surely if they change things the government may be formed but the formation of the government does not guarantee peace, they have to do a lot more than that,” he said.

“There are issues of security arrangement, and there is a power struggle. Those are the real issues. The issue of the number of states, came later on in the middle of the game while the country was already in the war. When the peace agreement broke down in 2016, it didn’t have anything to do with the number of states,” said Awolich.

Awolich said that if the parties still feel the security arrangement is not sufficient, they could still have a problem despite having reduced the number of states.

“I think to the international community they will be happy, they will consider the decision of the president (Kiir) as significant. But, to the supporters of the president, the decision is not that great, because it only will be great if it brings peace. If it does not bring peace, it can backfire. It is not a popular decision within Kiir’s political base,” he said.

South Sudan descended into conflict in December 2013, after President Salva Kiir sacked his deputy Riek Machar leading to fighting between soldiers loyal to the respective leader.

The two leaders are currently implementing the 2018 revitalized peace agreement but have twice failed to form the unity government due to disagreement on the outstanding issues.

The forming of the transitional unity government is slated on Feb.22. Enditem

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