By Deng Machol
Juba – South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir pledged that he would not return the country to war, in a speech marking 10 troubled years of independence.
‘‘I assure you that I will not return you back to war again,” said president Kiir on Friday. “Let us work altogether to recover the last decade and put our country back to the path of development in this new decade,” he added.
The independence anniversary hasn’t been celebrated in the country as a result of the covid-19 pandemic and Kiir took to a televised public address to assure his country of sustainable peace.
The East Africa’s youngest nation, war – torn South Sudan mired in conflict, economic and political instability and faced with a deteriorating humanitarian crisis.
The world’s newest nation declared independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011 after a decades of civil war, ending the longest conflict in the Africa’s continent.
Just two years later it was plunged into a devastating civil war that claimed almost 400,000 lives and displaced four million people.
President Kiir’s message also comes a day after he warned in an interview with a Kenyan television that he would do anything within his power to ensure that the country does not plunge into the war again.
‘‘There are people who are still bloodthirsty who would like to see people die in South Sudan. I don’t subscribe to that. I think it will not happen,’’ he remarked.
He went on to reassure: ‘‘If South Sudanese accept themselves to stay in peace, in 10 years, South Sudan will be a great country.’’
The observers say despite that, there is no regret nor reverse gear for the independence, whose freedom was accomplished with the precious blood of 2.5 million’s Southerners for over five decades.
Despite a 2018 ceasefire between president Kiir and his rival ex- rebel leader Riek Machar who now serves as a vice president, the country remains in the grip of political instability, economic ruin and a deep hunger crisis.
But president Kiir said calm had returned to many areas of the country save for certain parts that are still in turmoil.
President kiir also says government is implementing a series economic reforms, which have led to the appreciation of the South Sudan Pound SSP against the US dollar.
Kiir said the current “cessation of hostilities is because of a new spirit of dialogue among the parties to the peace agreement which has reduced the huge trust deficit.”
He said the priority of the Transitional Government of National Unity was full implementation of the power-sharing accord, “with focus on security sector and economic reforms” in the oil-rich country.
“These two priority areas will stabilise our country and ensure economic growth through an increase in production leading to socio-economic development,” said Kiir.
He said more oil fields have been opened and a refinery to supply the domestic market and export to neighbouring countries “will soon be fully operational”.
“Pardons 15 Prisoners”
“To mark this an important occasion, I am granting a full pardon to 15 prisoners who were serving jail terms in various prisons across South Sudan,” said Kiir.
Since the conflict broke out in late 2013, unknown numbers of the citizens were reportedly arrested across the country.
President Kiir signalled the National Salvation Front led by Gen. Thomas Cirilo as one of the holdouts still contributing to instability in some pockets of the country, particularly in Equatoria regions.
This coupled with cattle rustling and occasional inter-communal fights have caused insecurity in certain states and must be solved, the president acknowledged.
To achieve total peace, Kiir said there is an ongoing engagement with the SSOMA leaders in Saint Egidio, Rome, peace which he said is promising a good fruits.
Last month, the Minister of Presidential Affairs, Dr Barnaba Marial Benjamin, recently wrote to the conveners of the negotiation to postpone the talks to allow room for the preparation of the independence.
President Kiir said that his government has increased salaries of all civil servants by 100 percent, days after the executive arm announced a fiscal budget of over 600 billion South Sudanese Pounds on Wednesday.
“In the 2021-2022 budget, the government has resolved to increase salaries by 100 percent as phase one with immediate effect and fully review late on during the fiscal year when the economy improves,” Kiir told reporters in Juba.
The current salary for civil servants can’t pay for their food, housing, transport, education and other needs.
They often go for nearly 4 to 5 months without salaries.
President Kiir, howeever said that he is aware of the situation and promised to adjust the payment system.
“I am aware that our civil scales are not been paid on time and they have endured irregularly salaries payment for a long time and I am also aware that salary structure has not been reviewed since we reline our currency in 2015,” Kiir said.
President further directed the Ministry of Finance and Petroleum to allocate 5,000 barrels for payment of salaries of government employees.
“I am directing the two ministries of Finance and Economic Planning and Petroleum to dedicate 5,000 barrels of crude oil per day to strengthen the financial standing of the government in order to regularize salaries and operation fund payment,” he said.
“Graduation Of Unify Forces”
President also reiterated the parties’ commitment to the revitalized peace agreement and said a force of 53,000 troops from various parties to the revitalized peace agreement is ready and will be graduated urgently.
“Fifty-three thousand forces from the entire security sector are now ready for graduation. We are committed to graduating them as a matter of urgency for security purposes,” Kiir added.
President Kiir, Dr. Riek Machar and other political leaders have formed a government in Juba implementing a three year deal that is billed to return the country to the path of democracy with elections at the end.
Across the country, citizens and groups including nongovernmental organizations see nothing to be proud of yet.
Agencies say 8.3 million people including women, children and the elderly are facing unprecedented multi-sector humanitarian needs.
Of this, over 7.2 million are facing the worst ever hunger crisis in the country, with some on the brink of famine, Save the Children said in a statement on July 09.
Both the international community and organization warned the situation “will most likely deteriorate in coming months due to ongoing violence, high food prices, climatic shocks, and barriers to humanitarian access, unless urgent national and global action is taken.”
The observers urge president Kiir’s administration to curb communal violence and fast track the implementation of the peace deal, to address some of the root causes of the hunger crisis.
More so, the world’s attention and support are needed now as much as ever to ensure the next ten years of the world’s newest nation do not repeat the tragedy of the past decade.