South Sudan is staring at another failed attempt to form a transitional government on February 22 after all the opposition parties rejected calls for arbitration on the differences over number of states.
Both the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) led by Dr Riek Machar and the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA) led by Dr Lam Akol, have rejected suggestions by South African Deputy President David Mabuza to have the matter go for arbitration for 90 days, which would be long after the formation of the transitional government.
Mr Mabuza, after failing to have the parties agree to the number of states, has proposed to refer the matter for arbitration to Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), regional body that deals with peace, and the African Union.
The proposal entails referring the issue of the number of states to the arbitration committee to comprise the African Union’s C 5—South Africa as Chair, Algeria, Chad, Nigeria and Rwanda— the three Troika countries — US, the UK and Norway, and Igad Special Envoys for South Sudan. The committee was to complete its task in 90 days that will go into the transitional period.
Angelina Teny, the wife of Dr Machar has maintained that the two sticky issues — the security arrangements and the number of states and boundaries — must be addressed before the formation of the transitional cabinet.
She argued that the transitional National Assembly cannot be formed without having addressed the issue of the number of states as well the Council of States — which is linked to the number of states.
President Salva Kiir is pushing for the retention of current 32 states while the opposition argue that the states were created unilaterally contrary to the 2015 agreement that was based on 10 states.
Minister for Information, Michael Makuei Lueth, who is also the government spokesperson, maintained that the number of states shall forever remain 32 and can only be reduced by the people and not the opposition.
SSOA said the recent meeting in Juba convened by the Igad and which was chaired by Mr Mabuza, had made a lot of progress and a consensus emerged between the parties on adopting the 24 former districts in Southern Sudan as States for the transitional period.
The SSOA said the proposal presented by Mr Mabuza bears no relation to the previous discussions, in which the idea was for them to work out a compromise proposal that they can table before the parties to consider.
“We are for the formation of the Transitional Government on time, but only after resolving the issue of the number and boundaries of the states and concluding the formation and deployment of the Necessary Unified Forces (NUF),” said SSOA in a statement.
Last year, the Independent Boundaries Commission agreed to re-establish the 10 state system but the decision was supported only by six South Sudanese while the peace agreement implies that seven of the 10 South Sudanese members vote with the majority. The 15-member body includes five appointed by the government of President Kiir, five by the opposition groups and five by Igad.
Peter Kleto Aharanya, the SPLM IO in Tanzania, said that the fact that Mr Mabuza wanted the transitional government to be formed before the dispute over number of states is settled means he has agreed with the government position to maintain the 32 states, and has taken sides.
"The 32 states were created by a presidential decree, not through a referendum and therefore, creation of more states when you cannot even develop the 10 states is an unwise decision,” said Mr Aharanya.
Igad had released a programme on consolations on the number of states and their boundaries from January 13 to 16 in Juba, and on January 15, all parties presented their positions on the number of states.
According to James Oryema, the SPLM-IO representative in Kenya, all the parties had moved closer to 24+1 with exception of the government that insisted on maintaining the 32 states. This meant that the country would be divided into 24 states (former districts) plus the capital Juba that was to remain neutral.