South Sudan on Monday swore in hundreds of lawmakers to a newly created national parliament, a long-overdue condition of a fragile peace deal that ended civil war in the young country.
In all, 588 MPs — a mix of delegates from the ruling party and former rebel factions who signed the truce — took the oath of office at a ceremony in Juba presided over by the chief justice.
The creation of an inclusive national assembly was a key condition of the 2018 ceasefire that paused five years of bloodshed between government and rebel forces that left nearly 400,000 people dead.
Like several other urgent and crucial provisions of the peace accords, the convening of parliament went long unfulfilled, eroding trust between the political rivals that unified in a tenuous coalition after the war.
It comes nearly a year behind schedule and remains incomplete, with 62 MPs absent from the swearing-in ceremony, some because of squabbles with the government over the power-sharing arrangement.
Daniel Awet, deputy of the ruling SPLM party, hailed the occasion as a show of unity.
“It is only through unity of purpose and love of one another that we progress our country and secure the future for the young generation that have been saved after long wars,” he told the lawmakers, community representatives and church leaders present for the occasion.
President Salva Kiir did not attend the event.
– ‘We are watching’ –
South Sudan has struggled with war, famine and chronic political and economic crisis since celebrating its hard-fought independence from Sudan a decade ago.
The ceasefire was just the latest inked between Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar, whose rivalry ignited the conflict that left the world’s newest country ethnically riven and desperately poor.
Their truce still largely holds but it is being sorely tested, as politicians bicker over power and promises for peace go unmet.
Last week, a coalition of civil society groups launched a public campaign to demand political change after the 10 turbulent and bloody years of independence.
“Know that South Sudanese are watching you,” said Justine Badi Arama, the archbishop of the Anglican Church in South Sudan, who offered prayers ahead of the swearing-in ceremony.
The number of lawmakers has grown from 450 to 650 in the new assembly — more delegates than seats allow for in the existing building, where a planned expansion is behind schedule.
“For the time being however, we appeal to the honourable members to be patient as we struggle to rectify this situation,” parliament’s new speaker Jemma Nunu Kumba told lawmakers.