Mike Pflanz, Telegraph (London), July 24, 2013
The world’s newest country, South Sudan, appealed for its citizens to remain calm after the president fired all of his ministers, their deputies, several senior policemen and his vice-president.
The surprise move immediately raised fears of increased instability or fresh outbreaks of violence.
Heavily-armed security forces guarded the administrative centre of the capital, Juba, as state radio called for calm and the country waited for explanations from Salva Kiir, the president.
South Sudan became independent of Sudan two years ago this month, with donors led by William Hague at the time expressing “optimism” and promising millions of pounds in aid to help build the new nation.
Today, the land is awash with guns, riven by rivalries between tribes and enduring ongoing civil conflict in its north.
Oil sales have dried up in ongoing arguments with Sudan over how to share the wealth. Most of the country’s 10 million people live in near-total poverty.
“Take all that and throw into the mix a president who’s just decided for no clear reason to suspend his entire administration and, yes, we’re pretty worried,” said one Western diplomat in Juba on Wednesday.
The United Nations initially confined its staff to their homes, before easing that order but restricting their movements. UN flights to Juba were temporarily halted.
State television broadcast a decree from Mr Kiir late on Tuesday informing the nation that all 29 ministers and deputy ministers, 17 senior police commanders and the vice-president were suspended. No reason has yet been given.
Among those sacked was Riek Machar, a former warlord who was chosen as vice-president to appease his Nuer tribesmen, traditional rivals to Mr Kiir’s Dinkas. Their rivalry may be behind the sudden dissolution of the government, analysts said.
Mr Machar, whose late wife, Emma McCune, was a British aid worker in Sudan, has made little secret of the fact that he intended to challenge Mr Kiir for president at elections due in 2015.
Pagan Amum, the SPLM’s secretary-general and the nation’s lead negotiator in talks with Sudan over oil sharing, was also fired, complicating efforts to bring the two sides to an agreement.
More than 60,000 people need emergency food aid in South Sudan after fleeing ethnic clashes in the most populous state, Jonglei, the World Food Programme said this week.
Sudan continues to claim that Juba is funding and arming rebels north of the two countries’ border.
Oil production was halted for close to a year last year in a row with Sudan over its charges to pipe landlocked South Sudan’s output to export terminals on the Red Sea.
After a brief resumption of production, supplies will again be turned off within weeks as the dispute continues. South Sudan earns 98% of its government income from oil sales.
Infrastructure is limited and funds for social services and job creation are almost entirely supplied by international donors. Britain plans to give GBP96 million in aid to support South Sudan this year, according to the Department for International Development.