South Sudan President Salva Kiir got into a heated exchange with Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth over a communal fight, in which military commanders from a section of ethnic Dinka Bor, used state assets to attack neighboring Murle community, sparking national outcry and condemnations.
The circumstances under which the president and his minister fell out remain speculative.
There have not been formal statements clarifying what transpired. Multiple cabinet ministers privy to how it occurred told Sudan Tribune during a series of interviews that President Kiir had received security reports indicating that military commanders with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) from Bor community have sided with their community members in the attack against ethnic Murle.
The objective of the attack was to recover allegedly stolen cows and abducted children by members of ethnic Murle.
Long-standing tribal conflicts in Jonglei between the two tribal groups over cattle raids have escalated into more organised attacks on villages of both sides.
The continuation of the armed clashes between the two groups proves the failure of the different campaigns to collect weapons, analysts agree in Juba.
“The President was asking Michael Makuei Lueth in his capacity as the leader of Bor community about security reports which he received that the government soldiers using military assets and disguised as Dinka Bor Youths launched the attack on Murle area. These reports show that individual commanding officers from Bor in the SPLA’s 8th division have ordered troops to take a side in the communal conflict. The commanders have instructed soldiers to go and support the Dinka Bor Youths. This was what the president has heard and wanted clarifications from Makuei but he reacted negatively, a cabinet minister told press on Sunday.
“It was in a completely disrespectful manner, disdainful way,” he added.
Minister Makuei, according to another cabinet source, supported the decision of his Bor youth and government soldiers, suggesting they should, in fact, be provided with more weapons to disarm Murle.
“The youth of Bor, like any other youth in the Republic of South Sudan, have taken the law into their hands. They have refused to listen to the leaders just like what is going on between Apuk and Aguok. This is the situation, and to address it requires the disarmament of the Murle tribe,” Makuei reportedly told President Kiir in response to the question asking what was happening in the area.
The minister further told the president youths were not using the government weapons but acquired their own weapons just like any youth in the country and have refused to hand them to anybody.
This, the source added, angered the president and when Makuei realised the president was annoyed, he decided to leave the cabinet meeting hall. These exchanges forced minister Makuei to call for a community meeting in Juba on Saturday, the result of which remains speculative. No formal release was made after the meeting.
Some community members have reportedly asked the minister to go meet the President in person and apologise to him. Others have rejected the idea and asked Makuei to resign.
This is not the first time Minister Makuei and President Kiir have fallen out.
In 2015, Makuei walked out of an official function at which the president was due to sign the peace agreement, saying the deal should not be signed if the reservations held by the government on the agreement were not addressed.