Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1160, (15 - 21 August 2013)
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1160, (15 - 21 August 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Kiir’s delicate game

Salah Khalil examines the ripples of the recent reshuffle in South Sudan

Al-Ahram Weekly

South Sudan President Salva Kiir has tightened his grip on power and risked losing everything.

The composition of South Sudan’s new government shows how determined President Kiir is to shore up support among various tribal groups, ensure loyalty to the government, and to pave the way for reconciliation with northern Sudan.

But his earlier dismissal of two of his most powerful rivals may come back to haunt him in the coming months, as the possibility of a united front forming against him is all too real.

A few weeks ago, Kiir fired his entire cabinet, a move that many interpreted as a smokescreen for his resolve to undermine two of his main rivals: former Vice President Riek Machar and former Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) Secretary General Pagan Amum.

Now Kiir went into step two of his plan. He named a new government packed with carefully chosen tribal leaders and top brass, to shore up his position against any possible challenges in the near future.

The new cabinet, made up of 19 ministers and 10 deputy ministers, includes some of the most well established politicians of South Sudan. One is Abdallah Deng Nhial, a former Sudanese presidential candidate, who was named minister of electricity, dams, irrigation, and water resources.

Although Nhial and other prominent leaders now sit in the cabinet, the post of vice president remains vacant. For all his attempts to rally support, Kiir couldn’t find a person he trusts enough with the country’s second highest position. Some analysts say that the lack of a vice president reveals the extent of rivalry in the ranks of the old guard and the inability of the latter to find support among the new generation.

Observers also note that Rebecca Garang, widow of the late SPLM leader John Garang, is currently trying to unite supporters of both Riek Machar and Pagan Amum, in an attempt to pose a credible challenge to Kiir in the next elections.

Meanwhile, the Defence Ministry went to General Kuol Manyang Juuk, the former governor of Jonglei province. Juuk was a close associate of John Garang and is a much-respected figure within the army. So his appointment is almost certain to guarantee the army’s support for Kiir in any subsequent power struggle.

Kiir gave the Interior Ministry to a fellow member of the Dinka tribe, Aleu Ayen Aleu, a senior SPLM member with a natural knack for intelligence work.

Stephen Dhieu Daw, also a Dinka, retained his position as minister of petroleum, mining, industry and environment. A seasoned technocrat, Daw was minister of petroleum in the pre-partition Sudanese government.

Nhial, too, is a Dinka.

Riek Gai Kok, SPLM dissident and former chief of the National Congress Party in South Sudan, was named minister of health.

The appointment of former officials from pre-partition Sudan suggests that Kiir is serious about sorting out problems with the north in the near future.

Gai Kok, a member of the Nuer tribe, is also a well-known figure in Sudanese politics. He was a member of parliament in Sudan, prior to the South’s secession, and became a member of the South Sudanese parliament immediately afterward.

Many believe that this reshuffle will greatly boost Kiir’s hold on power in South Sudan. But some think that by alienating two of his most powerful opponents, Salva Kiir may be forcing his opponents to unite in a final bid to defeat him in the April 2015 elections.

Kiir is not only adept at playing the balancing act of sharing power with traditional leaders in various tribes. He is showing flexibility in talks with his militia adversaries in Jonglei and Al-Wahda provinces.

In fact, there are indications that Kiir is actively seeking close ties with militia leaders in order to use them in any future confrontation with the political opposition.

Kiir is trying to bring into his powerbase men such as General David Yaw Yaw, who has considerable influence among the Murle tribe and many of the insurgents in Jonglei. Many of the insurgents in South Sudan had voiced dissatisfaction with the influence of politicians, such as Pagan, on government policies. If Kiir makes a deal with the insurgents, this would strengthen his hand in the current power struggle.

Khartoum is keeping a close eye on developments in Juba and is said to be willing to mend fences with South Sudan if the latter shows some flexibility in future talks. One of the things Kiir could do to placate the north is to stop aiding the rebels of SPLM-N and the Kauda Alliance.

It is quite likely that this will be Kiir’s next step. If he can pull off an acceptable deal with the north, he may salvage not only his country’s economy, but also his own political future.

If he fails to do so, however, the combined opposition of Riek Machar, Pagan Amum, and Rebecca Garang may prove too much for him to withstand.

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