Southern Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit was sworn into office today at a ceremony that drew close to 1,000 people, including many regional dignitaries, in the southern capital of Juba.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, former Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi, and Kenyan General Lazarus Sumbeiyo – the lead negotiator in the Naivasha peace process that yielded the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement – traveled to southern Sudan for the festivities.
Kiir first assumed the presidential post in southern Sudan shortly after the signing of the CPA five years ago when then-president John Garang died suddenly. Kiir swept last month’s election with 93 percent of the vote in the semi-autonomous region. While he had been widely expected to retain his position, the vote was marred by allegations of fraud, voter intimidation, and some outbreaks of violence.
Enough’s South Sudan researcher Maggie Fick sent some details and color from the day in Juba.
After taking the oath of office, President Kiir’s pledged to work to promote “unity of the people of southern Sudan” and “democratic system of governance.” He announced a 15-point plan for the next five years, emphasizing among his priorities the importance of diversifying the economy, making education more widely accessible, and promoting reconciliation within the South. “United we stand, divide we fall,” Kiir proclaimed to the crowd gathered at the Dr. John Garang Mausoleum.
The South has faced a rise in inter-communal fighting over the past year; the U.N. estimates that 2,500 people died from violence in 2009.
Dengtiel Kuur, a newly sworn-in parliamentarian in the South Sudan Legislative Assembly from Bor, the capital of conflict-ridden Jonglei state, said of Kiir’s overtures: “It was a good speech. (…) He touched upon things people are concerned about.”
But whether the president will deliver is a frequent topic of discussion in Juba. “Me, I don’t know about Kiir,” said Fred Kenyi, 23, a motorcycle taxi driver who did not attend the president’s inauguration. “He is a not a politician, he is a military man,” said Kenyi, who returned to Juba last December after spending most of his life as refugee in Uganda. He said he is still getting used to life in his home country, but noted, “according to what I’ve heard from people [here], Juba is not developing well.”
Enough’s Maggie Fick also reported that new billboards have recently replaced campaign signs around town. “In our disparity you always build consensus between us,” one reads, highlighting the challenge the South’s ruling SPLM party has forging unity among southerners in the aftermath of the election. “We are close to the nation we have all wished to see,” reads another on the road from the airport into town, signaling the shift in focus from the elections to next year’s all-important southern referendum on secession, in which southerners are expected to overwhelmingly choose separation.
In related news, the inauguration of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir provoked controversy this week when it emerged that the European Union is considering sending diplomatic representation to the ceremony next Thursday. In response, Human Rights Watch sent letters this week to E.U. foreign ministers and Secretary of State Clinton highlighting the expectation that state parties to the International Criminal Court, U.N. officials, and those committed to justice for crimes in Darfur should not attend meetings or events with the Sudanese president. Al-Bashir would likely interpret attendance by the U.S. and E.U. countries at the celebratory event as show of support for his continued rule, Human Rights Watch wrote. “Al-Bashir is a fugitive from justice who should be arrested, not feted,” said Human Rights Watch’s Elise Keppler.