South Sudan’s armed opposition faction led by first vice president designate, Riek Machar, has welcomed the country’s admission into the East African Community (EAC) on Wednesday, but called for legislative endorsement of the decision as well as referendum to confirm it by the people.
In a statement issued on Thursday by the opposition faction’s chairperson of the national committee for information and public relations, Mabior Garang de Mabior, he described the decision taken by the heads of state of the EAC member countries including Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and Kenya as a “sisterly” move.
“The people of the Republic of South Sudan share with our sisterly countries of the EAC a common history of struggle, and admission of the South Sudan is in harmony with this historical experience,” partly reads the statement signed by Mabior and extended to Sudan Tribune.
South Sudan applied for EAC membership four months after gaining independence from Sudan in July 2011. But institutional weakness, poorly managed economy and political instability delayed admission. Joining the bloc, the opposition faction said, has significant impacts.
“The admission […] shall assist South Sudan in the areas of capacity building, sharing experiences and trade. The SPLM/SPLA (in Opposition) calls on the administration of President Salva Kiir to put this decision through legislative process and a referendum,” the statement added.
But some South Sudanese on social media opposed the decision taken by politicians to join EAC, describing the move as “suicidal” and a rush, while others commend it as a way forward to expose the nation to a learning experience.
The main opposition leader in South Sudan, Lam Akol, also criticized the decision to join the EAC at this time, saying the membership will turn South Sudan into a “dumping ground” for the imported goods from the neighbouring countries, while the world’s youngest nation will have nothing to export in return.
The office of vice president, James Wani Igga, defended the admission. Igga, who represented President Salva Kiir in Arusha, Tanzania, during the summit on Wednesday where the admission was announced, said there are more benefits than disadvantages.
“South Sudan membership in the EAC is not strictly about economics, politics, culture or ethnicity. It is about history itself-present and future,” said Igga, according a press statement released by his office on Friday and extended to Sudan Tribune.
“In terms of development and welfare of our people, joining the EAC is about what future holds for our people and nation,” Igga reportedly told the EAC summit early this week.
There are hundreds of thousands of Ugandans, Kenyans, Ethiopians, Eritreans and Rwandans in South Sudan, working in businesses from manual to professional fields. Young South Sudanese are worried that they will lose more jobs to foreigners due to regional integration.
As joining the EAC will ease some common customs charges and visas between the member countries, it will as well open up South Sudan to influx of millions of citizens of the EAC from the neighbouring countries.