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JUBA - 13 Mar 2023

Revealed: Why Kiir fired defense minister

File photo: Fromer minister of defense Angelina Teny.
File photo: Fromer minister of defense Angelina Teny.

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir sacked the defense minister recently – in a shocking move that sparked questions on the motive of the action.

Kiir sacked defense minister Angelina Teny, a leading member of the opposition SPLM-IO led by First Vice President Riek Machar. Angelina is also Machar's wife.

 The president also swapped the defense ministry set for Machar's party to his party and handed Machar the interior ministry, in a move that goes against the terms of the 2018 peace agreement.

The two principals met last week in an attempt to ease tensions stemming from the controversial presidential orders, but could not reach a breakthrough.

Minister of Cabinet Affairs Dr. Martin Elia Lomuro on Monday revealed the factors that accounted for the defense minister’s dismissal.

Speaking to reporters in Juba, Dr Lomuro said President Kiir sacked the defense minister in order to control the crucial defense and veterans’ affairs ministry.

"His [Kiir] concern is the fact that these forces that are now unified, are now called the unified forces, are now under the command of one person, that is the commander in chief, who is the president," said Lomuro.

"He realized that the timescale for the implementation of the roadmap is very tight, and yet the ministry of defense is one of those ministries that are fundamental to provide the ground for the establishment of the professional security sector," he added.

"So he wants to take charge so that when he gives orders, no one will stop what he says must be done because sometimes, you know, technocrats can undermine decisions made by a minister," he continued.

"But if the president is in charge, nobody will stop [decisions]. That is why he wants to take full responsibility to complete the unification of the forces, deployment of the forces, professionalization of the forces and moving on to the second phase of the cantonment, training and graduation of phase two," he concluded.

Dr. Lomuro, a close ally of President Kiir, said: "This is a very simple thing for you out there. You look at it as a huge thing, but for us, it is a normal political glitch, and it is normal. It is happening everywhere, so it can be resolved either today or tomorrow or next tomorrow; it will be resolved peacefully."

He added: "There is nobody from elsewhere to come and help us. We are capable of doing it. We negotiated this agreement on our own, we were supported very minor, and the president gave in many things, including the cancellation of the 32 states. He moved on to reorganize, even accepting the armed groups to come into the cantonment without their arms."

“Nobody does it except the president whose heart is really in the safety and security of the country. We dealt with the roadmap on our own, no black or white man from anywhere. We did it on our own, and we are implementing it on our own; we are capable," he concluded.

It remains unclear when a new defense minister will be named.

The peace agreement calls for the unification and deployment of all the forces, but the process has been marred by delays. Other critical aspects of the peace deal, such as transitional justice and institutional reforms, are also behind schedule or completely frozen.

In August last year, Kiir and Machar announced the extension of the transitional government's time in office for another two years, meaning general elections would be conducted in December 2024.