Coup allegations in South Sudan

This week brought rumors of a coup plot last month against South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir. This marks at least the second time since late April that there have been rumors of this type.

Just to set the scene, the first set of rumors came a few months after South Sudan decided to cut off oil production, a few days after Kiir ordered the SPLA to withdraw from Heglig/Panthou, and while Kiir was abroad in China. This most recent set of rumors came as the clock was ticking towards the UN Security Council’s August 2 deadline for Sudan and South Sudan to reach an agreement on oil transport fees and border security, among other issues. In both instances, Kiir urged people to disregard the rumors and blamed Sudan for disseminating such propaganda.

The alleged coup plotters are believed to be high-ranking officers in the SPLA known as the “Garang Boys” for their support of the late John Garang, whose death 7 years ago is commemorated every July 31 on Martyr’s Day. Following the discovery of this alleged coup plot, Major General Mac Paul (Deputy Director of Military Intelligence) and 15 other officers were arrested and imprisoned. However, the government claims the arrests are linked to human rights violations, not a coup plot. There may be some truth to that, although denying rumors of a coup plot also serves to present a strong front in the standoff with Khartoum and pacify South Sudan’s international partners who observe the country’s trajectory with alarm at the most, and concern at the very least.

I don’t really have a sense for how much truth there is to these rumors, but some people say, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. It is plausible that there are elements of the SPLA that may be interested in overthrowing Kiir. Even though Kiir has a military background himself, the SPLA as an institution pre-dates the South Sudanese state. Therefore, there may be some officers who believe that a stronger role for the military in the day-to-day government of South Sudan might help the country through this rather trying period.

On a personal note, I have a vested interest in there being no coup in South Sudan for at least 33 days. I’m supposed to be traveling to Juba soon and I have a sneaking suspicion that my trip will not be looked upon favorably if there’s political instability. So if any of you readers have a say in this, just do me a solid and make sure there’s no coup. Thanks.

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