President Salva Kiir of South Sudan has appointed a new army chief of staff, having fired the previous occupant, General Gabriel Jok Riak, only days before. No official reason was provided for the general’s termination, but in a Facebook post he suggested there was no ill will, saying he was “now the most relieved, happiest; and a normal citizen of this beloved country”.
The deputy chief of Defense Forces, General Johnson Juma Okot, has been designated as General Jok Riak’s replacement. This decision by the president is a risky one, as a former army chief of staff, Paul Malong Awang, formed a rebel group that participated in South Sudan’s bloody six-year civil war following his dismissal, and his deputy, Thomas Cirillo Swaka, formed another rebel group. Both outfits have refused to sign the 2018 Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan peace agreement.
He is the first military officer from the Equatoria region to hold such a position since independence in 2011.
General Juma Okot’s appointment is a positive development in the beleaguered nation’s attempts to form a unity government, as the general is the first military officer from the Equatoria region to hold such a position since South Sudan’s independence in 2011. Assuring the South Sudanese army is in accord with the unity government has become even more critical since South Sudan recorded its first death linked to COVID-19, forcing President Kiir to consider issuing a total lockdown to curb the spread of the virus.