South Sudan's fragile peace deal is in jeopardy as opposition leader Lam Akol today joined with 18 political parties to bring a legal challenge against President Salva Kiir's order to expand the number of states in the country from 10 to 28. "That order actually violates the constitution and it also contravenes the peace agreement," he said, refering to the pact that Kiir and the head of the armed opposition, Riek Machar, signed in August. "Our people are yearning for peace, so nobody should tamper with this peace agreement." he said. The leadership of rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO) also said the plan threatens to unravel the peace agreement. (Sudan Tribune, VOA, Oct. 15; Al Jazeera, Aug. 29) Not surprisingly, control of oil seems the critical issue here. A commentary for Kenya's The East African (online at AllAfrica) charges that Kiir "has basically deprived rebel leader Riek Machar of all the oil resources he was to preside over in the transitional government by unilaterally creating 18 new states. The increase of the states…through a presidential decree has placed areas with the highest concentration of oil resources in Unity, Jonglei and Upper Nile in the hands of President Kiir's Dinka community. This has created tension between the Nuer, Shiluk and Dinka in Unity and Upper Nile States, with the first two communities accusing President Kiir of carving out the oil-rich areas for his community."
Machar is calling the order unconstitutional. The European Union delegation to South Sudan and the "Troika" the brokered the peace deal—consisting of the US, UK and Norway—have all rejected the move as potentially destabilizing.
But the Jieng Council of Elders, a group of Dinka leaders (many said to be relatives of President Kiir), has welcomed the order.
Ambrose Riiny Thiik, former chief justice and now chair of the Council of Elders, said the so-called "Establishment Order" would "be a win-win for all the parties in this conflict… There is nothing wrong with creation of more states, more counties and more other administrative units. This is the policy of the government and it is in line with the demand of the people of South Sudan. The primary objective is to take services close to the people and involve them in decision making process on issues which matters [sic] to them… We should congratulate the President and embrace the Order, own it and implement it because this has been a long demand of our people." But he also warned that Dinka militias that fought for the government could return to arms if the order is not instated. (Radio Tamazuj, Sudan, Oct. 6)
As we've stated before: the model of a ruling clique controlling oil wealth and distributing it in clientelist manner to build a power base is what is really at root of the conflict—and neither side has any interest in challenging that.