Making sense of S. Sudan’s confusing politics of Presidential decrees: New details emerge about powers stripped from VP




Vice President Riek (left) walks side by side with his boss, President Salva Kiir.

(Alberta, Canada) – Ever since South Sudan gained  independence in 2011 and its Interim Constitution was promulgated into law, the new nation’s president, Mr. Salva Kiir Mayardit began to rule by decree in accordance with an article enshrined in the supreme law of the land.

South Sudanese citizens for the last few years have grown accustomed to onslaughts of decrees, one after the other. In President Kiir’s administration, it doesn’t matter whether you’re appointed or fired– loathed or loved– you get your fate sealed in a decree, in the comfort of artificial communication.  A defining feature of a rule by decree is its ability to convey a precise message in a linear fashion (one-way communication), or so the President’s lieutenants believe. To the contrary, the limited explanation afforded by a decree usually buries its substance in a mirage of legalese. And in all this the public is left to agonize or speculate about the President’s intentions. The vacuum is often filled with unflattering verbiage to the President, which amounts to disastrous communication. No other time has this ineffectual communication by the Office of the President unfavourably marked a seemingly innocuous decree in the court of public opinion than in the wake of Monday’s removal of delegated powers from the President to his Vice President.  

A random sample of reactions from social media suggests a vast number of comments consider the decree punitive in nature: they attribute it to Mr. Machar’s declared announcement to challenge Mr. Kiir for the chairmanship of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. While that view cannot be discounted entirely, it doesn’t sufficiently explain how and when the stripped executive powers were assigned to the Vice President in the first place, what they’re and why they were conferred upon him. We will address these questions later.  For now, it seems abundantly clear that Kiir administration’s communication arm is broken: even when the presidential press unit is superiorly in command of facts, they exhibit ineptitude in their external relations with the public. This raises a big question mark about their preparedness in the era of democracy. On the one hand, after Monday’s decree generated a lot of uproar– even confusion– the country’s Minister of Information, Dr. Barnaba Marial tried to do damage control:

“In the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan, there are responsibilities and duties of the President as well as responsibilities and duties of the Vice President,” he was quoted by the somniferous website.  ‘What happens at times is that the President delegates to the Vice President some of his responsibilities and duties for a certain period of time. In the same way, the President can issue a decree to withdraw these responsibilities.”

Conversely, on social media, especially Facebook, Dr. Marial undercut his role as the official spokesman of the government when he egged on thousands of his followers to “have positive conversation on the latest development in our political arena.” He posed: “How do you see the latest presidential decree by our president HON.KIIR on reducing the powers of The Vice president?” One would have expected the Minister to fight the misconceptions, by responding to the overflowing comments on his page but he wrote “have a nice evening.”


New details…

Not to belabor the point for too long, readers should reset their clocks to the last eight years of the interim period, the forgotten days of the coalition government between the SPLM and the NCP. In the ‘unity government’, Mr. Kiir was the First Vice President of the Republic of Sudan and President of semi-autonomous Southern Sudan and Dr. Riek Machar, his Vice President. Initially Mr. Kiir used to spend a lot of time in the Republican Palace in Khartoum and with it came the risk of encasing and travelling with the Presidency of the South in a briefcase. Against this background Mr. Kiir issued an administrative order that  delegated the executive powers to Dr. Riek. The New Sudan Vision learned from a well-placed source in Kiir’s administration, who preferred anonymity, that the powers were “Everything except the powers of the Commander-In-Chief.”

When South Sudan became a sovereign state and Mr. Kiir returned to Juba full time, he never challenged his deputy’s sweeping executive powers. Our news website cannot reliably establish why it took so long for the President to cancel the order. However, President Kiir’s cautious and incrementalist approach to decision making may explain the delay. Our source offers the following observations behind the news:

  • The limiting of powers should’ve been done administratively
  • The decree was poorly timed and he feared that South Sudanese would misunderstand and naturally conclude that the move is motivated by brewing power struggle
  • The President was ‘suspicious’ and felt ‘undermined’ by his Vice President    

The last points present a foray into the mutually exclusive worlds of the President and his Vice President, one that’s punctuated by ‘parallelism’ and competition. In Mr. Kiir and Mr. Riek ‘s administration, both live under one roof with two doors where one enters and exits when he so chooses. In other words, the duo’s relationship is akin to a ‘bossless’ union. The Vice President Riek appears to overplay his hands at times and some of his moves border on insubordination, expressed consciously or not.

On March 17, 2012, at the inauguration of  the Governor of Central Equatoria State, Clement Wani Konga, a major breach of protocol ensued. President Kiir had arrived at the Juba Stadium for the ceremony. He walked up the steps of the stadium to take up his seat which overlooked the field. A short while later, Dr. Riek turned up late at the venue and a nervous master of ceremony decided to tell “everyone to welcome our Vice President.” Everybody sprang up to their feet for Riek, including President Kiir who received his Vice President with an open arms and waved him to an adjacent seat. A year earlier, the characteristically reserved President lost his cool on the eve of independence in the heat of a fierce debate over the Transitional Constitution. Mr. Kiir was angered by what he perceived as Vice President Riek Machar’s ‘floating of his own constitution.’ The President said these words while addressing the Sixth speakers’ Forum in Juba on June 7, 2011. “This shows that there is parallelism: You cannot identify, you cannot really say; is there one government or are there more than one governments?” Mr. Kiir asked. “There is no country that can be run by more than one governments,” he added.

As President Kiir complained vociferously at home about his Vice President Dr. Riek, he was on an official mission in the United States. In an exclusive interview with the New Sudan Vision at the time from Washington, Dr. Riek, who doubles up as an MP denied harbouring a separate constitution:  “Because I knew I was going to be away, I wrote down my views over it [Transitional Constitution]. These are comments. They’re comments on the Constitution. It’s not a separate Constitution,” he explained, underscoring that the President had prior knowledge about his actions. The public display of differences between the two animated Jubans’ roadside talks over their sweet tea. In some hushed quarters, fear of a repeat of 1991 when Dr. Riek and Dr. Lam split with the mainstream SPLM to form their breakaway Nasir wing was broached. Thousands of civilians died in the struggle.    

Upon his arrival from abroad, speculations about Dr. Riek’s future spun out of control. The Vice President’s job was all but assured. The buck stopped with the Commander-in-Chief who knew what he had in store for his Vice President. Remarkably, Dr. Riek was retained.

Similarly, many would like to read much into the President’s recent decree to limit Dr. Riek’s powers, to the extent that some consider it ‘provocative’ or ‘half-firing.’  Yet, these views unnecessarily rachet up the political temperatures between the two camps. All eyes are set on the Vice President’s next move in response to the decree. On Monday,  Dr. Riek’s wife Becky posted on Facebook that he “will be in his office tomorrow morning as usual and give a press [conference] then regarding the decree.” Observers predict it’s a matter of time before Mr. Kiir and Mr. Riek clash at the party’s Convention, set to take place this year or the next.

**Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



More Articles By This Author