South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir vows to hold country’s first election

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir declared on Tuesday that the long-awaited elections, originally scheduled for next year, would proceed as planned, confirming his intention to run for the presidency once again.

Salva Kiir, a revered guerrilla commander, has been at the helm of the nation since it gained independence from Sudan in 2011. South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, has faced numerous challenges during Kiir’s leadership, and its stability relies on a fragile unity government between Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar.

According to the terms of the revitalized peace agreement, the transition period was supposed to conclude with elections in February 2023. However, the government has struggled to fulfill crucial provisions of the agreement, such as drafting a constitution, resulting in delays.

Addressing supporters of his ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) party, Kiir expressed his gratitude for their endorsement of his candidacy, describing it as a historic occasion. He affirmed his commitment to adhering to the provisions of the peace agreement, emphasizing that the election would indeed take place in 2024.

While no other candidates have officially declared their intention to run, it is expected that Kiir’s long-standing adversary, Riek Machar, will enter the race. In August, the two leaders extended their transitional government by an additional two years, citing the need to tackle challenges that hindered the agreement’s implementation.

Kiir assured the nation on Tuesday that these obstacles would be effectively addressed “prior to the elections” scheduled for December next year. South Sudan, despite its significant oil reserves, remains one of the world’s poorest countries, having experienced nearly half of its existence in a state of conflict.

During a five-year civil war, almost 400,000 lives were lost before Kiir and Machar finally signed a peace agreement in 2018, forming the unity government. Since then, the nation has faced ongoing struggles with flooding, famine, violence, and political disputes, as the promised benefits of the peace agreement have yet to materialize.

The United Nations has repeatedly criticized South Sudan’s leadership for perpetuating violence, suppressing political freedoms, and engaging in widespread corruption. In March, the UN envoy to South Sudan, Nicholas Haysom, warned that 2023 would be a decisive year for the country, emphasizing the urgent need for its leaders to implement the peace agreement in order to conduct inclusive and credible elections in the following year.

Haysom stressed that Juba, the capital city, had explicitly stated that there would be no further extensions of the election timeline beyond the end of 2024.

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