South Sudan’s government may have ignored advice not to tinker with the number of states, in order to foster fragile peace and unity.
Details emerged this week of how the South Sudan Independent Boundaries Commission, a body made up of experts across the continent, indicated there would be risks of raising the number of states beyond 21, although they suggested the country should start with ten.
But there is little suggestion Juba heeded the call, as it has stuck to either 32 or more states in the country.
A group of five experts in the Commission, known as C5, had written to then Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) Executive Secretary Mahboub Maalim explaining that South Sudan should revert to the ten states initially created, before discussing on whether to legitimise any increase.
“There was a strong voice that said there was relative peace and harmony amongst all the South Sudanese communities when they lived under 10 states. They believe that the increase to 28 and 32 states without any public consultations had divided them into tribes,” the C5 indicated in June to Igad, a month after South Sudanese leaders failed to create a transitional government of national unity as planned.
Igad has been midwifing mediation in South Sudan, including talks on state boundaries.
President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar have since failed to agree again, forcing another extension last month by 100 days.
But as the clock ticks, there are fears this extension could also lapse. Dr Machar was expected to hold meetings with President Kiir on Monday in Juba.
Speaking at Juba International Airport, Machar’s Party, the SPLM-IO, Spokesperson Mamawa Peter said Dr Machar will spend about three to four days in the capital “for productive and tangible peace talks with the president.”
“While in Juba Machar will hold meetings with his members and government officials regarding the number and boundaries of State.
“He has returned to make consultations with the leaders, SPLM-IO political bureau on the number of States. He will also meet with the figures and signatories to the peace agreement on the outstanding issues before the 100 days elapses."
The C5 proposed that any solution on the number of states must also include adequate independence given to local experts in the Commission.