South Sudan’s only functioning arm of government has been roiled with Covid-19 infections among the ranks of top officials, threatening to shut down main operations.
This week, First Vice President Riek Machar and his wife Angelina Teny, also the Defence Minister, came out in public to confirm they were nursing the illness.
Later, Information Minister Michael Makuei also declared he had contracted the virus.
The announcement risked shutting down their offices after it turned out their juniors and body guards had also contracted the virus.
The officials initially sat on the defunct High Level Taskforce on Covid-19, a team created by President Salva Kiir to help advise on how to tackle the novel coronavirus disease.
On Wednesday, President Kiir issued a get-well-quick note to his team as many opted for self-quarantine.
“I want to personally encourage you and the rest of your colleagues to go through this with the courage and zeal needed to win the battle. I appreciate that you have already taken swift measures to go into self-quarantine” said Kiir.
The officials ran South Sudan’s only fully functional arm of government under the structure created by the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS), a document signed on by various parties in 2018, but which was only implemented from February this year.
The other arms like the legislature, which is to have 549 members has yet to be re- created [and expanded] to include representatives from other parties in the agreement. The government is also yet to install governors under the new arrangement of ten states and the judiciary is sorely understaffed by judges.
As of Friday, South Sudan confirmed 563 Covid-19 cases with six deaths and six recoveries.
Paul Yoane, the head of Information Committee at the Legislative Assembly, said all lawmakers have agreed to go for voluntary testing in the next one week.
“I don’t want to call it a compulsory test but the test will help the statuses of honourable members to be known because MPs are individuals who interact with members of community in different aspects” said Yoane.
Yoane said that the surge of Covid-19 cases in the executive wing threatened the national legislature as well, a view shared by Jame Kolok, the executive director for Foundation for Democracy and Accountable Governance, a local NGO.
“The bottom-line likely to be caused by Covid-19 on the executive wing is, first, it will delay full establishment of unity government. This, automatically, is going to affect the peace deal because all the ministers will be quarantined and that may create difficulties in terms of carrying out meetings to decide tangible issues,” he told The EastAfrican.
He recommended that the executive deploy technology, including online meetings, to avoid a total shutdown of the unity government, and with it the collapse of the peace deal.