January 2, 2014 (JUBA) - An executive order issued on Wednesday by South Sudan president Salva Kiir Mayardit declaring a state of emergency in the strategic states of Unity and Jonglei has drawn mixed reactions from government officials and citizens across the country.
- South Sudan president Salva Kiir has declared a state of emergency amid ongoing violence in Jonglei and Unity states (Photo: Reuters)
This is the first time the president has officially declared a state of emergency in the country, following violent clashes that erupted mid-December between members of the presidential guards in Juba, later spreading to other areas.
Dissident rebel forces loyal to former vice-president Riek Machar have been engaged in pitched battles with government loyalists in both Jonglei and Unity states, in a bid to retain control over the two strategic areas.
Sudan Tribune carried out a series of sample interviews with residents of Juba from different states of South Sudan in an attempt to assess views about the decision, particularly its impacts on the lives of those trapped in-conflict affected areas.
In an interview with Sudan Tribune on Thursday, Warrap state native Deng Simon Mawien said the declaration effectively classifies the areas as war zones.
“As far as I know, state of emergency entails a lot of things, but one thing which I must underline here is that these areas will be no-go areas for the civil population, because they will now be considered war zones. There will be no movements beyond government-controlled areas or beyond places under the rebels’ control”, Maine said.
He has commended Kiir’s decision to place the two states under a state of emergency, saying it would now enable government forces to “decisively” deal the rebel forces, as civilians would now be aware of which areas to avoid.
Charles Sebit Gberende, a native of Western Bahr el Ghazal, said it was time for South Sudan to take decisive action to curb the violence, saying senseless fighting and killing had no place in South Sudan now that it has gained its independence from the north.
“I could not believe that our people would again be killed in meaningless war because [of] individuals trying to get the power to satisfy their own interests. This is unacceptable and our people should not support such people”, said Gberende, himself a senior member of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in the state.
He said it was high time the international community intervened before the country plunged back into full-scale civil war.
“Every time one issue is settled, another would appear farther down the street. This is too much to bear alone as [a] new nation”, he said.
“No key foreign government had accepted it (the conflict) was a coup [attempt] and condemned it. This mean they are knowledgeable of what was to happen”, Gberende added.
Mary Ajok, a civil servant with the central government in Juba, expressed fears for her children and what influence growing up in an atmosphere of violence among radical elements would have on their future.
Meanwhile, Tut Peter Yoak, expressed confidence that the situation would soon change for the better, as there is already a general consensus that the situation is heading in the wrong direction.
“There has been a general consensus that things are not working and I think this plan just laid out; if the plan is buttressed by judicial and police reforms, which must be done, it has the potential to address the grievances of the local population”, said Yoak.
He said years of harsh treatment by security forces during the more than two-decades of conflict with Sudan, from which the new nation seceded, has left a legacy of bitterness among many inhabitants, some of whom maintain that power has only been maintained by the use of force and threats.
As seen by the harsh reaction to the December conflict here, which left dozens injured, the authorities fear losing control, said one prominent human rights activist.
“They don’t really want to open the area to human rights because they know it is like dominos”, said an executive member of the civil society alliance. “You touch the first piece and all the pieces will fall down. The international community should press them hard”, he added.
The activist said the declaration of the state of emergency would complicate the situation, stressing that civilians caught in conflict-affected areas would become the victims of the military engagements.
“I believe the only to settle these differences are through political dialogue. Differences are not settled through violence. The language of [the] gun had been tried several times and the result has always been destruction and loss of innocent lives”, he said.
The president’s directive to declare a state of emergency comes as ceasefire talks between South Sudan rebels and the government get underway in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, under the auspices of leaders of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD).