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Politics

Schumann: "Democracy still very fragile"

South Sudanese officials urged citizens to be patient and calm, following President Salva Kiir's dismissal of his deputy and entire cabinet. No replacements have been named.

DW: Did developments in South Sudan take you by surprise?

Peter Schumann: In a way I am not very surprised that he is now taking the step of removing his cabinet and reducing the number of his ministry. What really surprises me is the way he handled the case of Pagan Amum because as the secretary general of the SPLM, he is really outside the executive branch of the government. The president, according to the constitution, can change his cabinet any time he likes. But to remove the secretary general of the ruling party is something quite different. I'm not so sure how the party in its entirety will react to this. As far as I'm aware Pagan is under investigation and has been suspended for the duration of the investigation, so he has not been entirely removed, but this is something that needs to be verified.

How big a threat is Vice President Riek Machar and his allies to Salva Kiir's presidency?

Salva Kiir has always felt uncomfortable with Riek Machar. In discussions I had with Salva Kiir, he mentioned this. It was known, this was common knowledge in Juba politics that the two had a complex history and that even when it came to setting policy priorities, they would not always see eye to eye. The danger now is that we are seeing the ethnic element resurfacing again and rearing its ugly head. I do hope the politicians don't play this card, I'm personally not convinced that Riek Machar will play the ethnic card, but they are people below him who may do just that.

How is the reshuffle likely to affect the stability of South Sudan which only gained independence two years ago?

Juba seems to be rather quiet. There are more security personnel on the streets in front of  the Khartoum University and a few other places, but it seems that the population appears to sympathize with Salva Kiir's decision. For them,  it is a matter of removing corrupt politicians and finding politicians who are not corrupt. My concern is that we may see a new cabinet about which people will say that it is not solving the corruption problem. Corruption is about personalities, but it is also about the weakness of government institutions when handling public property, public money.  This issue will not be solved by reshuffling the cabinet.

You say the population appears to sympathize with Salva Kiir. What does this tell us about his leadership style?

We see that democracy is still very fragile and still very new in the Republic of South Sudan and the "strong leader" who takes a "strong decision" finds a lot of support and acclamation. I have heard a few people saying that President Salva Kiir should call fresh elections. I think this would be an appropriate step in a crisis like this when the whole executive branch of government has been removed. But I don't think he will choose that route. Some analysts are saying we will get a one party state. I don't think so. I believe that the ministers, the political leaders, who have been dismissed will quickly create their own political movement, organizations. This may - in the end - contribute to the growth of multiparty politics in the Republic of South Sudan.    

Peter Schumann is a former head of the UN mission in South Sudan.

Interviewer: Isaac Mugabi   

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