Juba — South Sudan on Sunday defended its decision to remove 118 senior military officers from active military service and place them on reserve docket, a move seen as an attempt to transform the security sector, according to its minister of information and broadcast.
The order, which drew mixed reactions from the general public, includes senior officials serving in the civil administration.
The presidential decree issued on Thursday saw the names of the governor of Unity state, Taban Deng Gai, governor of Eastern Equatoria state Louis Lobong Lojore, governor of Western Bahr el Ghazal state Rizik Hassan Zachariah and the governor of Upper Nile state, Simon Kun Puoc removed from the active military files where their names continued to appear.
The move followed the removal in January of some 35 top-level military officers, seen as the biggest shake-up to army leadership since independence, with president Salva Kiir issuing an order removing the senior officers and placing them on a reserve list. Kiir has since appointed replacements for the officers who were previously serving, most of whom were rebel commanders during the war with the north.
Senior officials attribute the changes to government policy aimed at transforming the security sector and other institutions in order to provide services effectively and efficiently.
Insiders say the move is part of broader reforms planned and it is expected that once the army has been overhauled, the government will move on to the security forces, police, public services and eventually the cabinet.
South Sudan's minister information and broadcasting service, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, said the president was acting within the law and according to public demands to transform the national army away from perceptions of it as a guerrilla movement to a professional body.
"The president was not acting outside the law. He was exercising the powers conferred upon him by the transitional constitution. The changes were meant to basically promote growth in the system. It means giving responsibilities of managing the affairs of this country to the fresh group, people with new ideas which needs to be tried since we are living in the fast moving and developing world", Marial said.
He said there were still many other opportunities in the country in different areas in which the removed army generals could participate in to help the new nation to grow.
"There are a lot of opportunities which these general will exploit. Some of these generals have administrative background, they have security background, they have business background and they have agriculture background. It will be an opportunity to utilise their knowledge in establishing and managing private security firms in accordance with the parameters of the law. Doing so will bring a positive change in the economy of this country. In fact everybody would be happy to hear that all these retired generals have started producing millions of metric tonnes of food in the next harvesting season which they could not have done while in the active service", Marial told reporters on Sunday.
However, members of the general public remain sceptical about plans to reassign some of the officers who were removed due to perceptions associated with their performance and competence while serving in the army at different levels.
Meanwhile, Marial has dismissed claims of an alleged coup plot purportedly fermented by some of the generals as one of the reasons behind the president's decision to embark on security reforms.
"The president still trusts them [the generals]. He has hope in them and they should show good examples in accepting the changes. I know the president may be planning to assign some of them. Others have actually been assigned. Those who have requested to go for studies will be facilitated so that they can go and get the knowledge they might need to help them while trying to settle and fit into the society", he explained.
Marial also said that removed officers should feel proud that they had witnessed the birth of the new nation and the achievement of the objectives for which they fought so hard for during the country's protracted civil war with the north, adding that he encouraged them to support good governance and accept the changes with good grace.
LONG AWAITED DEMAND
Tut Chuol Lam, a native of Languchuk in Upper Nile state currently visiting Juba, described the president's decision to introduce changes in the military was in line with public opinion on the matter.
"The decision of the president is in the right one. It is one of the long awaited demands of the public. There are those who are not fit to serve in the army but they have been there just for the sake of money. There are a lot of opportunities but which cannot be identified when we focus on why so and so were removed from the army. The new officers should not sleep. Time is up for them to do a lot. They need to make a difference. [They should] start from where their predecessors have left and prepare the ground for those who will [come] after them, as it was for those they have replaced", Lam told Sudan Tribune on Saturday.
He said he was aware of the different views generated by the changes, but added the majority supported the president's decision as being good for the country.
In discussions with those opposed to the move, Lam said most of those complaining about the changes were "either affected themselves directly or some of their close family members or relatives".
He said the decision had caught some by surprise and there was now speculation over what will happen to the officers if they are not immediately re-assigned elsewhere.
From my analysis, it likes some were taken by the surprise and have started speculating about what will happen if these groups are not assigned immediately. Some individuals have expressed views indicating that the changes were made due to the exhibited lack of discipline, lack of competence like physical strength to remain in the active military services, corruption and other malpractices during their period of service"., he explained.
Bol Wek, a native of Warrap State in Juba said the president was acting in response to public demands to improve the general security situation and reduce the size of government institutions, of which the armed forces are part of.
"I see these changes as answers to demands of the general public. We have had members of the general public who elected the president repeatedly complaining about security situation in the country and the size of the government," Wek told Sudan Tribune on Saturday. .
"There have been talks about the need for transformation in all the institutions of government in order to build a strong nation," he added.
There is speculation the Kiir is planning a major cabinet reshuffle to improve service delivery and governance. The move is believed to be facing strong resistance from senior members of his own party - the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) - who stand to lose their positions.