The cabinet of South Sudan’s revitalized transitional government of national unity has today been sworn in at the State House in Juba, at a ceremony clearly marked by precautions prompted by the global Covid-19 pandemic.
The 35 ministers, eight of whom are women, and ten deputy ministers, made their pledges in the presence of President Salva Kiir, First Vice President Riek Machar and the other four Vice Presidents, but with considerably less fanfare than the swearing in of the transitional presidency on 22 February.
The odd facial mask could be spotted among those attending the milestone event, as could a few instinctive handshakes and hugs before being swiftly replaced by the in-vogue elbow-bumping greetings.
“Welcome to a ceremony where we cannot great each other properly,” as the President remarked, with more to follow on the Covid-19 topic as the swearing-in proceedings ended.
While the 35 per cent political representation for women at all political levels was not fully observed (the eight females represent 23 per cent of the line-up of ministers), two women assumed the posts of Minister of Defense and Veteran Affairs (Angelina Teny) and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (Beatrice Khamisa Wani).
Retaining his previous post as Minister of Cabinet Affairs, Martin Elia Lomuro spoke on behalf of all his newly appointed colleagues, thanking the President for his trust.
“We shall work hard to make sure that war does not start again, ever again,” he said, echoing the sentiments expressed by the Christian priest officiating the opening prayers, who stressed the need for the cabinet to “dwell in unity” and “to be one government, not two or three or more.”
Concluding the short ceremony, President Kiir declared that South Sudan is still (at the time of writing) free from Covid-19 and urged everyone to take the necessary measures to try to keep the virus at bay.
“My ministers have travelled a lot. This time it [taking precautions] will start with you,” he said. In fact, one minister and one deputy minister to be sworn in were absent, as they are currently in self-isolation.
Self-isolation for 14 days, the President declared, is now mandatory for travellers arriving in South Sudan from any country where cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed.
With Ebola fading away in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, the daunting task of minimizing the potential impact of Covid-19 in South Sudan, a country with limited preparedness to handle a disease capable of spreading as fast as this virus does, is likely to be one of the new cabinet’s biggest challenges over the next few months.
Other measures announced to contain a possible outbreak of the virus were to postpone or cancel any international conferences or other big social gatherings normally taking place in the country. Such large gatherings include church services and related activities – with one notable exception announced by the President.
“The arrival of the new archbishop will be a big event which the [Catholic] Church cannot postpone. I hope God will protect us for that one.”