The political state of Jonglei

The reign of Chagor, Jonglei’s governor, was characterized by feuds and corruption scandals. For instance, in 2021, Governor Chagor dismissed the minister of agriculture, John Chol, after Chol accused Chagor of diverting state funds to his personal account. On 3 January 2023, Kiir unilaterally dismissed the SPLA-IO speaker of the Jonglei parliament, Amer Ateny Alier—in an abrogation of the terms of the R-ARCSS—after Alier criticized Chagor for the non-payment of salaries to government workers. Humiliatingly for Chagor, Kiir reinstated the speaker on 5 April 2023 as part of his negotiations with Machar following the unilateral sacking of Angelina Teny, the SPLA-IO minister of defence and Machar’s wife, in a further violation of the terms of the peace agreement.

Chagor’s appointments did not win him popular support. Samuel Ateny Pech, appointed by Chagor as city mayor, is a relative of Kiir’s bellicose minister of information, Michael Makuei Lueth. As mayor, Pech took land from women’s groups and politicians, and sold it to investors from Juba—forcibly evicting women’s groups from UNDP-built sites guaranteed by Kuol Manyang Juuk, a Bor Dinka SPLM stalwart. The mayor was denounced by a Jonglei state minister, Isaac Mamer, who was consequently sacked by the state’s deputy governor, Jacob Akech Deng, on 23 March 2023. Protests against the mayor in Bor eventually forced Chagor to countermand the deputy governor’s order only five days later, sacking the mayor and reappointing Mamer. On 6 April, however, the tables turned again when Kiir unilaterally appointed Pech as the commissioner for Bor South, leading to protests against Kiir and the state government and dissent within the Bor Dinka political elite. Gabriel Jok Riak, the former SSPDF chief of staff, is firmly opposed to Pech’s appointment.

During Chagor’s reign, Deng, the deputy governor, effectively ran the state. His alliance with Makuei and the dismal performance of the state government have contributed to his growing unpopularity, however, and many figures within his own Twic Dinka community are manoeuvring to replace him.

At the beginning of April, Bor was also struck by demonstrations by civil servants protesting against unpaid salaries dating back to October 2021—the latest of many such protests. Only in Bor are such demonstrations even conceivable; elsewhere in the state, the government is almost entirely absent.

In May 2023, the clock finally ran out on Chagor and Deng’s reign. Kiir negotiated with Gabriel Changson Chang, the minister of higher education, who is part of the same coalition as Chagor—the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA). Chang agreed to a swap, with the SPLM receiving the governorship of Jonglei, and SSOA being given the deputy governorship of the state, along with a national ministerial and a special envoy position. For Chang, this was a chance to marginalize Chagor within SSOA, while Kiir hopes to appoint a governor who can bring a modicum of order to Jonglei. Denay, denied his gubernatorial post, will likely be placated with a special envoy position, while the rumours in Bor are that the governorship must go to a Lou Nuer, continuing an unspoken agreement about the ethnic division of administration positions in Jonglei. Riek Gai Kok, the veteran Lou Nuer politician, and former minister of health, is thought to be the likely gubernatorial candidate. Kok, however, played a leading role in the government’s brutal offensives against the Lou Nuer counties of Jonglei during the civil war, and has little chance of gaining real legitimacy among the White Army leadership. Given the strong structural reasons for Jonglei’s conflicts, whoever becomes governor is unlikely to be able to instil order in the state.