South Sudan

South Sudan elite left exposed as Covid-19 strikes government

South Sudanese official from ministry of health takes a nasal sample from a woman at her home in Juba, South Sudan, 14 April 2020.
South Sudanese official from ministry of health takes a nasal sample from a woman at her home in Juba, South Sudan, 14 April 2020. © AFP - Alex McBride

The spread of Covid-19 in South Sudan is increasingly hitting the country’s ruling elite, as rumours circulate about Tuesday's death of John Luk Jok, a long-standing minister in the government. 


Several top South Sudanese officials have tested positive for the coronavirus, with Vice President James Wani Igga telling the media on Saturday that he too had been infected. 

First Vice President Riek Machar, his wife and Defence Minister Angelina Teny were the first to be confirmed as suffering from Covid-19. Information Minister Michael Makuei and Vice President Hussein Abdelbagi have also tested positive, according to the Sudan Tribune

East African Affairs Minister John Luk Jok died at his home in Juba on Tuesday from cardiac arrest, Radio Tamazuj reported, citing family members. However, there were reports that Luk had also been suffering from Covid-19. 

Political establishment decimated

The spread of the coronavirus amongst high profile South Sudanese politicians has highlighted the risk to the country’s ageing elites, according to analysis by the European Institute of Peace, a non-profit foundation supported by several countries of the EU. 

“I think this is the first country you see almost the entire political establishment being hit by the disease and it's not just people getting sick, it’s people dying,” Lucas van de Vondervoort, senior programme manager for the Brussels-based EIP, told RFI in a telephone interview. 

Van de Vondervoort highlighted how all members of South Sudan’s Covid-19 task force, except the health minister, contracted the disease. Members of the replacement team also became infected. 

The prevalence of coronavirus circulating amongst the elite demonstrates how far the disease has spread and how ineffective measures to contain the virus have been, according to van de Vondervoort, who has worked as an expert on South Sudan for the UN. 

“Limiting the spread around the city largely had something to do with ensuring that the elite, who normally would just be able to flee the country, would be less exposed, less at risk – that strategy obviously failed,” said the EIP expert, referring to containment measures in the capital Juba. 

Undermining peace agreement

South Sudan has seen 994 cases of the coronavirus, with 10 deaths, according to the latest figures from the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

An analysis by the European Institute of Peace studying the impact of Covid-19 judges the South Sudanese government’s response to be “inconsistent and ineffective”, highlighting how Covid-19 could undermine South Sudan’s peace agreement. 

The country's health minister has no healthcare experience, there is no meaningful healthcare system and any specialists, such as epidemiologists, were provided by the World Health Organization or other international partners, according to Van de Vondervoort. 

“It's not particularly surprising that they didn’t take it very seriously in the first instance. This is not exactly a government known for its ability to respond to public health crises, or to any political crises either,” he said.  

A peace agreement in 2018 ended the country’s civil war, although there continue to be outbreaks of violence. Violence broke out shortly after the country’s formation in 2011, leaving thousands dead and creating one of the African continent’s worst refugee crises. 


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