“I swear to be loyal (…) to the Republic of South Sudan”. In front of an audience of diplomats and representatives of neighboring countries gathered on Saturday 22 February in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, the rebel leader Riek Machar has been invested vice-president of this country at war for six years, in accordance with a peace agreement concluded in 2018.
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Riek Machar gave the hug and shook hands with his longtime rival, President Salva Kiir, with whom he will try to govern for the third time since the independence of this African state in 2011. Under international pressure, they agreed to form a government of national unity, the cornerstone of the peace agreement reached in September 2018.
The rebel has already been vice-president
Riek Machar was previously vice-president twice between 2011 and 2013, then briefly in 2016. He has been living in exile since the failure of this previous attempt at a government of union, brutally interrupted by intense fighting between his troops and those of Salva Kiir in Juba. Since then, the two previous deadlines for forming an executive uniting them had not been respected, disagreements persisting between the two men.
Salva Kiir’s recent proposal to return to a federal system of 10 states, instead of 32, plus three “administrative areas” (Ruweng, Pibor and Abyei), has helped unblock the situation. Riek Machar rejected the president’s concession, challenging the proposed status of Ruweng, a region essential for oil production, but without precluding agreement on the government.
380,000 dead in conflict
South Sudan sank into civil war in December 2013 when Salva Kiir, a Dinka, accused Riek Machar, a member of the Nuer ethnic group, of staging a coup. The conflict, marked by atrocities, including murders and rapes, has killed more than 380,000 people in six years and caused a catastrophic humanitarian crisis.