In the later hours of Monday July 25, 2016, South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation (SSBC) announced that President Salva Kiir has issued a decree relieving his rival Dr. Riek Machar from vice presidency and appointed Mining Minister Taban Deng Gai as the new second in command.
An advocate group Enough Project is pondering on the decision, and warns that battle lines have been drawn again and the country is sauntering towards full-scale war.
“This move represents another marker in the South Sudan’s slow motion political suicide,” said Enough Project’s Founding Director, John Prendergast.
“It unnecessarily brings South Sudan a step closer to full-scale war, shutting another door to dialogue and trampling on democratic processes espoused by both South Sudan’s government and opposition SPLA-IO [Sudan People Liberation Army in Opposition],” he added.
South Sudan has been since April 2016 governed by a Transitional Government of National Unity created after a peace agreement signed in August 2015.
On July 8, 2016 fighting broke out in the capital Juba between government forces and those loyal to ex-rebel leader Machar. Over 300 are reported to be dead and thousands displaced.
Machar fled the capital Juba after his residency was boomed by government forces, citing danger on his life. He has been besought by his counterpart to return to no avail.
The Minister of Federal Affairs Richard Kebe Mulla, a member of Machar’s opposition SPLM-IO presented Gai to president Kiir at State House in Juba to replace Machar.
“We are here this morning to inform you about the decision of the SPLM-IO “top leadership” which was taken two days ago. Your excellence (President Salva Kiir), the country needs peace, the people need peace, all of us need peace and in order to achieve meaningful peace in our country the agreement needs to be implemented,” Mulla read the statement.
Gai was the rebels’ chief negotiator for a peace accord signed last year between Machar, President Kiir, which brought an end to the 20 months of civil war in which thousands died.
Accepting the nomination of Gai, Kiir appealed to his rival to return to Juba. But said in the event that Machar doesn’t return, the SPLM-IO party must hold to the principles of the agreement so the nation moves forward.
Brian Adeba, an Associate Director of Policy at the Enough Project told Sudan Tribune that if President Kiir’s action to remove the former rebel leader and replace him with Deng proves to be part of an elite pact without grassroots support, it could undermine the peace accord.
“It is imperative that South Sudan’s leaders adhere to implementing the peace agreement and not allow inner-circle power plays to bring forth more violence and destabilization,” Sudan tibune quoted Adeba.
Reacting to the incident, Machar’s spokesperson James Gatdet Dak said President Kiir has proved to the whole world that he was behind the conspiracy hatched by Gai to illegally replace him from his positions.
Gatdet insisted that the government has sent troops to hunt down Machar but the mystery surrounding his whereabouts is what is saving the situation. Gatdet warned there would be confrontations if forces loyal to Machar are attacked.
“We also have reliable information that President Kiir’s forces are on offensive today, July 25, 2016, to hunt down Dr. Riek Machar around Juba. However, our forces have the right to fight back in self-defence,” Gatdet Said.
“We call on the regional players and the international community to not allow South Sudan to slide back into another civil war by actions of President Kiir” he added.
Earlier, the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC), a body charged with supervising the implementation of the peace agreement, said changes within the Machar-led opposition movement depends on the leadership of the movement itself
“As previously stated, a change to the leadership depends on the Opposition itself and we are not here to speculate on such changes. We do not see any value in speculating when the people and friends of South Sudan are working hard to ensure a return to the implementation of the Peace Agreement”.
It has since not reacted to the recent developments in south Sudan