South Sudan appoints female as speaker of parliament

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Jemma Nunu Kumba will become the first woman to preside over the parliament of South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation that only recently marked 10 troubled years of independence.

The secretary-general of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) “will be the next speaker” of the newly reconstituted assembly, President Salva Kiir said on Friday afternoon.

Born in 1966, Kumba joined SPLM rebels at the start of the 1990s in a civil war that pitted them against Khartoum.

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She was active in the party and eventually took part in peace negotiations between the SPLM and the Sudanese government, then led by Omar al-Bashir.

After independence in 2011, she held several official posts, including governor of the Western Equatoria state in the country’s southwest.

But then in 2013, just two years after independence, South Sudan plunged into a civil war that pitted Kiir against his nemesis Riek Machar.

Close to 400,000 people died and four million were displaced before a ceasefire was declared in 2018.

Kiir and Machar are now both part of a coalition government.

As part of the 2018 peace deal, parliament was dissolved and then reconstituted in May, with 550 lawmakers instead of the previous 400.

Of these, 332 deputies were chosen by Kiir, 128 by Machar, and 90 others by other signatory parties.

As such, Kumba will preside over an assembly that includes nearly 40 percent of members of Machar’s party.

The deputy speaker, who has yet to be nominated, will also be from that party.

“It is not going to be business as usual. The current political dispensation calls for diligence from all of us, it calls for unity of purpose,” Kumba said after her nomination.

Kiir called on Kumba and SPLM members to focus on the truce, of which few provisions have been honored.

“You must be the ambassadors of peace,” he said.

The oil-rich country remains severely underdeveloped and poorly managed.

Despite the peace deal, brutal communal conflicts - often over cattle raiding - continue, with more than 1,000 killed in violence between rival communities in the last six months of 2020.

The country also faces its worst hunger crisis since independence.

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