South Sudan’s incumbent government has toughened on a resolve to retain 32 states, as President Salva Kiir urged regional governors to support retention of the current states.
Opposition groups have demanded a reversion to the old administrative units of 10 states.
A meeting between President Salva Kiir’s officials and 32 state governors in Juba on Friday recommended that South Sudan maintains the current number of states, as well as an additional special region of Abyei whose border with Sudan is under discussion.
The 32 regional chiefs met with Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth and voted to uphold the status quo.
Mr Kiir had been directed by mediators, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) to seek public views on the suitable number of states and return to Ethiopia for a final solution with his former vice president Riek Machar. Kiir is expected in Addis Ababa on Saturday to table the proposal.
“If I had time, I would even make these states not only 39, but 40. We as South Sudanese are not alone, there are people amongst us who think they know better than us but when we fought for more than 50 years, did they come to help us,” Kiir said in Juba after the meeting on Friday.
“We fought on our own; the international community came in and we continued to fight until we went to referendum [for our independence from Sudan]. All of them were not there,” he added.
During the memorial service of Kenya’s former President Daniel Moi in Nairobi, President Kiir said international partners like Kenya helped broker a deal for Sudan to accept cessation. The mediation for the current conflict has been heavily funded by the US, UK and Norway and midwifed by Igad, an eight-member bloc of neighbouring countries in the Horn of Africa.
Opposition group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO), rejected the invitation for the meeting in Juba, saying it was improper and at that the venue was inappropriate.
During the consultative meeting, representatives of South Sudanese Opposition Alliance and Former Detainees, other main signatories to the peace deal, walked out of the session. They did not immediately comment on their reasons. But they have also argued in the past that the country should retain the original ten states it had at independence.
When South Sudan gained Independence from Sudan in 2011, it had 10 states. In 2015, during peace talks in Ethiopia, the SPLM-IO proposed 21 federal states based on the old districts created by the British colonial administration. The government strongly opposed this move.
And in August 2015, the parties signed the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (A-ARCSS) which acknowledged the initial 10 states.
However, in a surprise move in October 2015, President Kiir issued a decree creating 28 states, saying it was a popular demand by the people.
He said it was meant to devolve power rather than centralise governance in Juba, a move that was condemned as unconstitutional by political parties, civil society organisations and members of the international community.
Gradually, the states have increased to the current 32.
President Kiir has previously dared those calling for the withdrawal of the decree to go to the states and tell the communities to return to the pre-Independence 10 states.