June 29, 2014 (JUBA) – Heavyweight politicians and prominent community leaders from South Sudan’s Bahr el Ghazal region have reportedly asked president Salva Kiir not to stand for another term.
- South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, addresses the media in Juba on 2 May 2013 (Photo: Reuters/Paul Banks)
Kiir was born in the Bahr-el-Ghazal region of north-western South Sudan, which is widely viewed as a government stronghold.
However, in an exclusive an interview on Sunday, an elderly politician from Bahr el Ghazal’s council of elders told Sudan Tribune that Kiir was approached before the current crisis broke out and asked to “voluntarily relinquish” his position before the next elections, saying the call was intended to preserve unity among the people and prevent further disintegration.
“As elders and older politicians, we advised him based on experiences we have gone through during our political life with different governments and for the benefit of the country,” he said.
“We asked him to swallow the pride of his colleagues and political allies so that he leaves behind [a] good legacy, because we know he has good history and we wanted him to maintain that so that it becomes part of the history for his success,” he added.
The elder, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Kiir had acknowledged the request and although he did not indicate his intentions, the group believed he would act on their advice.
“He said ‘okay, I heard you’, but he did not explain in full, and [we] did not want to bother him because we thought he understood the importance of the message,” he said.
“We did not want to be seen as having groomed a bad leader, which is not our culture. We thought it would be wise and healthier for our son to voluntarily relinquish the power and call on the people of South Sudan to take over the affairs of the country, without allowing his name to be dragged into such [an] unfortunate situation,” he said.
The elder said the group had suggested to Kiir that he either choose a successor from within the region or from another area and tribe. Alternatively, he could also elect to leave the decision on the selection of a new leader to the party.
The group said they also urged the president to call a meeting with current vice-president James Wani Igga and Riek Machar, Kiir’s former deputy who was sacked last July, in order to discuss succession issues and avoid infighting.
The elder claimed they had discussed the three proposals with the president on several occasions during informal meetings and social gatherings, prompting Kiir to cancel his attendance at some events or prevent the group from speaking at such occasions.
The presidency has neither confirmed nor denied the claims made by the regional elders.
However, several government officials, including foreign affairs minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin, have in the past rejected calls for Kiir to step aside before his term expires in 2015.
Benjamin argued Kiir was the elected president and thus the people should decide on whether to give him another mandate or not during elections.
Kiir’s leadership style has come under question since a political split in the ruling SPLM turned violent in mid-December last year, with critics accusing him of mismanaging the country’s affairs.
Machar, who had become increasingly vocal in his criticism following his sacking, now heads the breakaway SPLM in Opposition.
Rebels under his command have been engaged in a brutal armed struggle with government forces loyal to the government for more than six months, despite regional attempts to broker a lasting ceasefire.
Kiir, a former military commander turned politician, became South Sudan’s first president after the country secured its independence from Sudan in 2011, having won elections the previous year in a landslide.
Earlier this month, Kiir said would not to a peace deal unless it guarantees that he will lead the transitional government.