COVID reaches the top

Coronavirus: South Sudan’s Riek Machar latest victim of COVID-19

in depth

This article is part of the dossier:

Corona Chronicles: 18 May – 22 May

By Morris Kiruga

Posted on May 21, 2020 17:31

South Sudan’s First Vice President Riek Machar, his wife, Defence Minister Angelina Teny, and several aides tested positive for coronavirus.

The First Vice-President, his wife and several aides in their COVID-19 Task Force tested positive for the virus, the former rebel leader’s office confirmed on 18 Monday May.

According to his press secretary, Machar and Teny, will be in self-quarantine for the next two weeks. Machar himself had made the announcement on the country’s national television, but only named himself and his wife: “there are other members who are also tested and found positive. I can only say at this stage that Madam Angelina Teny, the Minister of Defence and Veterans Affairs is also found positive.”

  • The 67-year old, who resumed his position as President Salva Kiir’s first vice president in February, said he had asked for members of the COVID-19 task force, which he has been leading, to be tested after one person tested positive.
  • “Many of our colleagues who have been found positive are in good health… from now onwards we shall be quarantining ourselves in the house,” he said during his address.

According to the government’s spokesperson Michael Makuei, the task force members were exposed to the virus during several meetings held in the capital.

The COVID-19 task force

Ahead of Machar’s confirmation, President Kiir had announced the dissolution of the task force led by his number one VP amid internal criticism of its membership and handling of the pandemic. Members from the South Sudan Doctor’s Union and civil society organisations criticized the task force after it had relaxed some lockdown measures, despite rising COVID-19 cases.

READ MORE Shortages, inflation: East Africa scrambles against coronavirus

The new task force is headed by Hussein Abdelbagi, the country’s first Muslim leader in top of government ranks. It will have to reconsider some previous actions taken, such as easing travel restrictions including international flights.

Like several other East African countries, South Sudan is dealing with the effects of locust invasions, which have decimated farms and created a looming food crisis amidst the pandemic. By mid-May, the country had recorded 290 cases of COVID-19.

Who is Vice-President Machar

Riek Machar, a veteran of Sudanese wars, was first fired from his position as deputy to President Kiir in 2013, just two years after the creation of South Sudan in 2011.

That in turn sparked a civil war in the newest nation of about 12 million. Despite a 2015 peace agreement that saw him resume his position, he soon fled from the capital in mid-2016 and ended up under house arrest in South Africa.

READ MORE South Sudan: UN Security Council African members must renew arms embargo

  • President Kiir appointed Machar as First Vice-President in February, after several delays in implementing a new power sharing deal. Under the new deal, Machar is only the first among equals, as there are four other vice presidents including his close relative and former ally Taban Deng Gai, who leads a splinter faction of Machar’s army.
  • Angelina Teny, had served as Minister for Energy and Mining before South Sudan’s independence, and was appointed Defence Minister in March.

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