South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir toured the capital Juba on the back of a pickup truck as he launched his election campaign with a pledge to stamp out corruption.
Sudan is preparing for April presidential and legislative elections, set up under a 2005 peace accord that also promised the south a referendum in 2011 on whether to split off as an independent country.
Kiir told a crowd of supporters he would eradicate corruption and the “culture of impunity” among southern officials.
“If I am elected back, I think things will be different from what has been happening these last five years,” he said.
Many southerners have become frustrated at the slow process of development and perceived corruption in their oil-producing region since the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement ended two decades of civil war between Sudan’s Muslim north and the south, where most follow Christianity and traditional beliefs.
Kiir is the head of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), former southern rebels who now dominate south Sudan’s semi-autonomous government appointed after the peace deal.
Kiir decided to run for the top position in the south, choosing a more junior member of the SPLM Yasir Arman to compete for the presidency for the whole of Sudan.
Many analysts have seen the move as a sign the SPLM is more interested in consolidating its position in the south before an expected independence vote in the referendum than in taking on the whole country.
Kiir is widely expected to win the southern vote and supporters have covered Juba in campaign posters showing Kiir looking skywards next to the slogan “vision and mission”.
“(South Sudan’s other political parties) have directly or indirectly supported my nomination…by not putting forward any nominee. Already they have voted for me,” Kiir said.
“I have only one challenger and I don’t think that this challenger is from south Sudan’s political parties,” Kiir said a reference to Lam Akol who is from the southern Shiluk tribe and is also contesting the same seat.
Akol’s party SPLM-Democratic Change has been treated with suspicion by some southerners who see him as closely aligned with the north. Akol has said that his members have been harassed in the south.
Kiir also announced that the current vice-president of south Sudan, Riek Machar, will maintain his position if Kiir was elected president. Machar wore a T-shirt with Kiir’s face surrounded by the shape of a sunbeam-filled Sudan.
Machar, now a senior member of the SPLM, broke away from the insurgent movement during the war, causing a tribal rift that led to thousands of deaths.
Pic: President Salva Kiir of South Sudan