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Africa

South Sudan unveils unity government amid concerns

President Salva Kiir has split 30 cabinet posts between his government and opposition factions. Despite the formation of the new transitional government of national unity, fighting continues.

The formation of the new South Sudanese Transitional Government of National Unity is a key step to restore peace in the war-torn nation. However, some residents in the capital Juba told DW they saw little change in the new cabinet line-up.

"There is no difference. These are the same people who led us into war and now they are back. I hope they would begin to think anew, let them begin to think anew," said Simon Monoja, an Associate Professor at the University of Juba.

Mayar Moses, a legal advisor, said the new government represents a new beginning for the people of South Sudan. "We expect a lot from cabinet members to live above their interests and make sure the interests of the people of South Sudan prevail," Moses added.

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon applauded the naming of the ministers as an "important milestone" in the peace process, urging the parties "to cease immediately all hostilities."

Power-sharing deal

Former rebel leader Riek Machar returned to Juba on Tuesday (26.04.16) and he was swiftly sworn in as the vice president.

President Salva Kiir still dominates the cabinet. Kuol Manyang and David Deng Athorbei, Kiir's loyalists, have been given the defense and finance ministries respectively. The new finance minister is faced with a tough task of rebuilding an economy brought to its knees by more than two years of civil war.

A South Sudanese soldier.

The new unity government has a tough task of ensuring all guns remain silent

On the other hand, Machar's SPLM-IO faction has been given the key petroleum portfolio. Dak Duop Bichok will be its new minister. According to the International Business Times, crude production has been cut in half in South Sudan since the war broke out in December 2013. Much of the oil infrastructure has been damaged and some oil fields are now in the hands of rebels.

Another faction made up of former influential political detainees was given the foreign affairs ministry. Deng Alor, who was arrested when war broke out but was later set free after pressure from regional leaders, is now South Sudan's top envoy. Alor held this post before South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in July 2011.

Lam Akol, an opposition leader and government critic, was handed the agriculture and food security portfolio. Five million people in South Sudan are in need of food while some regions are facing the prospect of famine.

For Annette Weber, a political and security analyst on South Sudan with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin, the new unity government represents no change at all.

"It feels a bit like a déjà vu because there is no big change. After more than 50,000 people have been killed, the destruction of large parts of the country and the destruction of trust not only amongst the population but also between the government and the international community, one would have wished that the start of the new government would be more dynamic," Weber told DW in a phone interview.

Challenges of the unity government

One of the biggest challenges facing the new transitional government of national unity will be to ensure that thousands of armed forces from rival camps inside the capital Juba keep their guns silent. President Kiir's spokesperson Ateny Wek Ateny, told DW that the first priority of the new cabinet would be to improve the security situation in the country.

A South Sudanese refugee woman carries her child inside Yida refugee camp as food aid is being unloaded.

South Sudan's conflict has left five million people in need of food aid

"As the security situation improves, the economic situation will improve significantly," Wek Ateny said. "Killings that happen in South Sudan are an impediment to investors," he added.

Weber said she wished that the [new] government would be seen as a government that is working for its population regardless of the faction it represented. "The question in South Sudan's cabinet has always been who is with defense and who is with the finance ministries," she said. "More than fifty percent [of the budget] goes to defense, and finance was basically taken as a bank." In Weber's view, more scrutiny should be on what powers and possibilities these ministries have, rather than "who is the minister."

Despite the formation of the new unity government, fighting continues with militia gangs that are not loyal to either President Kiir or his deputy Machar. Presidential spokesperson Ateny Wek Ateny said that a splinter rebel group which initially was part of Vice President Riek Machar's faction during the peace negotiations in Addis Ababa could be one of the groups behind the ongoing fighting.

"This group led by Peter Gadet, who is still in Khartoum, said it was not going to be part of Machar or President Salva Kiir," Wek Ateny said. However, the government official was quick to offer an olive branch. "The government of South Sudan has extended its hand out to any South Sudanese who is aggrieved by any situation to be able to join us in the government of national unity and make sure that we silence all guns," he added.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon shaking hands with Sout Sudan President Salva Kiir

Lost trust? UN chief Ban Ki-moon has been putting pressure on President Kiir (L)

As if to emphasize the ongoing violence, the UN said this week, that one of its compounds had been hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and gunfire damaging a container. There has been no word as to who was responsible for the attack.

According to UN estimates, tens of thousands of people have been killed and more than two million people have fled their homes as a result of the conflict. South Sudan's crisis has also been characterized by gross human rights violations.

Waakhe Simon Wudu in Juba contributed to this article

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