The security crisis is fueled by many factors. One is fighting between segments of the civilian population caused by: loot cattle, among other things. Another is an armed confrontation between government forces and insurgents such as the South Sudan Popular movement/army. This is a group of disgruntled soldiers who have recently been discharged from the military and are agitating for new government positions.
In general, the crisis speaks volumes about South Sudan’s fragility as a state. It is the result of weak political institutions in the country, not just Unity State. I believe that the National Government of South Sudan and the Government of the Unity State should work together to deal with the crisis effectively.
Such a way could involve disarming young people who have worked elsewhere in the country, for example in the Lakes State. It is the use of weapons by civilians to fight each other that has made the situation much worse.
The role of states
The roles of states as regional institutions are relevant in the set of things. South Sudan consists of 10 states and three administrative territories. States were created under the flag of the country transitional constitution in 2011.
Of the three administrative territories, two – Pibor an Ruweng – were created by the national executive government. The third – Abyei, in the north of the country – was established under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement as a disputed territory between South Sudan and Sudan. Abyei’s status remains unresolved.
Each state has a legislative assembly (one chamber of parliament). Its members come from government and opposition parties as parties to the 2018 revived peace agreement. This agreement is included in the transitional arrangement.
The responsibilities and functions of state governments include maintaining peace and good order, protecting and promoting human rights and freedoms, and undertaking their own economic and infrastructure development.
States have been unable to achieve these essential goals due to lack of resources. Apart from generating their own revenues, states are expected to receive some of the petroleum money – public money – under the transitional constitution. However, the constitution is silent on how much money each state should receive. That leaves the government to decide.
The petroleum producing areas – Upper Nile and Ruweng – are allocated 2% of net petroleum revenues. But reports suggest that they do not receive the amount because of them every year.
States have been hampered by security concerns since at least independence in 2011. Reports have shown: common conflicts as the main cause. These are the result of long-standing land conflicts and cattle looting.
A proliferation of weapons has exacerbated the conflicts. It’s estimated that every young person in the villages has a gun.
The governor of the unitary state has acknowledged this problemand urged the national government to support him in disarming young people.
These conflicts have deepened divisions in the country and weakened the government’s efforts to bring about peace.
State power under the Transitional Constitution
Perhaps the key to understanding the security crisis is the division of state power according to the country’s transitional constitution.
The Transitional Constitution outlines the powers and functions of government institutions in South Sudan. In particular, it provides for the powers and functions of the two chambers of the national legislature: the National Legislative Assembly and the Council of States.
The national legislature has the general power to legislate and oversee the national executive government. The second chamber – the Council of States – has 100 members who represent the states.
The role of the municipality has recently been scrutinized. This came after the decision to to take off Unity State Governor Nguen Monytuil before the crisis.
But President Kiir Mayardit has… overruled the council’s decision, saying it was unconstitutional. The chairman has the power to fire a state governor if a crisis has occurred in the state of the governor that threatens the territorial integrity of South Sudan.
While the president has acted appropriately in this matter, the national government is not doing enough to help Unity State resolve the security crisis. Like the rest of the states, the Unity State has limited capacity and resources to address security issues decisively.
There are obvious measures that the government could take. One is the total disarmament of youth across the country. To make this more effective, parliament should pass a law to criminalize gun ownership by civilians with severe penalties.
This approach has been adopted in some states in South Sudan, such as Lakes State. And it works. Lakes State used to be the country’s most violent place. But security has improved significantly since the governor, Rin Tueny, began disarming in 2021.
The same approach is being tested in Warrap State, another violence-affected area. It’s too early to say if it works.
Finally, the power regime in the country, as enshrined in the transitional constitution, needs to be reviewed. It is this regulation that is partly responsible for the overstepping of power by the Council of States. In a sense, it gives the council a supervisory role over states. This is rightly what encouraged the council to interfere in the affairs of the Unity State government.
This problem will have to be solved in a new constitution to be drafted for the country. That constitution should be based on a balance of power between the national and state governments, with an emphasis on allowing state governments to operate politically independently.
This is perhaps the most effective way to prevent the national government from meddling in the political affairs of states.
What cattle conflicts say about identity in South Sudan
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