Ezekiel Lol: Boundaries of the States are the Problem, Not 32 States
By Ambassador Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth.
The history of creating regions and states in South Sudan dated back to the era of presidency of Jaafar Mohamed El-Nimeiri as the President of the Republic of Sudan from 1969 to 1985.
General Jafaar El-Nimeiri responded to a campaign of calling for regionalism by southerners in Juba. Some political elites in Juba called for more regions and Upper Nile; Bar El Ghazal and Equatoria regions were born. This was the beginning of the journey to establishing states in South Sudan.
President Omar Bashir created 10 states to address some of the demands by South Sudanese requesting for more states. These 10 states were inherited by the SPLM when Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed in 2005.
The 10 states did not address boundary disputes among our communities and conflict has lingered ever since. I vividly remember in 2009 CPA Celebration in Malakal President Bashir and General Salva Kiir Mayardit, First Vice President of Sudan then and now President of South Sudan attended celebrations in Malakal. An argument between the people of Shulluk and the Dinka over the control of Malakal erupted in a shootout in the local stadium and wider city before the army intervened and the celebration continued.
In 2014/2015, the SPLM/SPLA IO in Pagak introduced 21 states. Some of my colleagues opposed this idea and some were asking for more states but the majority of us supported the idea and 21 states were adopted.
The idea of 21 States struck a chord in South Sudan, including the supporters of the Government of South Sudan at that time. Later on, President Kiir responded to the demand of the people and created 28 States.
In 2016 First Vice President General Taban Deng Gai and his team (Alfred Ladu Gore, Dhieu Mathok Diing Wol, myself, Hussein Mar Nyuot, Michael Chiangjiek Geay, Richard K. Mulla; Gabriek Thokuc Deng, Yien Oral Lam, Sophia Pal Gai, Timothy Tot Chol, Gathoth Gatkuoth Hothnyang, Gabriel Yoal Dok, Michael Mario Dhuor, Ramadan Hassan Laku, Riaw Gatlier, Thoi Chany, James Mawich Bichiok, Bor Gatwech Kuany, Martha Martin Dar, Catherine Laa, Otim David Okot, Them Machar, Thayib Okic, Bol Ruach Rom, Gatwech Peter Kulang, James Duer Chol, Paulino David Ketta, Agel Ring Machar, Adel Sendrai, Elijah Tut Bikot, James Mawich Bichiok and many more Leaders and Generals) decided to remain with His Excellency General Salva Kiir Mayardit the President of the Republic of South Sudan after the tragic incidents of July 7, 2016 in which nearly 300 people were killed. The reasons to remain behind and support peace were to rescue the country from regional intervention, preventing the country’s collapse and saving South Sudanese lives. But some people, especially IO-Riek Machar, and FDs, hated the SPLM-IO peace wing because of that.
They were resolved to end the presidency of General Kiir, unknowing that this would also spell the end of South Sudan. We should remember that South Sudan will always remain, but all of us will die.
When General Taban Deng assumed his responsibilities as the First Vice President, the discussion of more states began again. Four more states were added. Today we have 32. In my view the people of South Sudan are very much happy with the 32 states, and possibly more. Resolving boundary disputes should be the point of our national dialogue, not the number of states. No single South Sudanese will allow their states to be taken back to another state. And President Kiir cannot decree it. This will be politically a hot potato.
I advocate to support the 32 states as introduced by His Excellency General Salva Kiir Mayardit and which are widely supported by the people of South Sudan.