THE FALLACY OF THE SO-CALLED SOUTH SUDAN NATIONAL DIALOGUE.
By Dr Lam Akol.
JUBA – On the 3rd of November 2020, the National Conference of the “National Dialogue” was opened in Juba amid a fanfare that it represented the voice of the people of South Sudan. “Our people have spoken” was a recurrent and repeated
phrase by the organizers of the Conference in self-congratulation for a job well
done. But which people? Where?
The organizers of the conferences have not been to the areas affected by war.
For instance, they have not visited large parts of Equatoria and Upper Nile
regions, let alone talking to the people there. As a matter of fact, their
Conference for Upper Nile region was held in Juba, not anywhere in the region.
This was the clearest testimony that the claim that “our people have spoken” is
at best partial.
To put the whole matter into perspective, it is important to trace the origin of
this so-called “National Dialogue”. On 14th December, 2016 President Salva Kiir
Mayardit announced before the Transitional National Legislative Assembly
(TNLA) a National Dialogue conference to be held in Juba. The objectives of the
exercise were set as ten points including to “end all forms of violence in the
country”. He also stated that “the National Dialogue is placed within the
framework of the Peace Agreement (ARCISS).’’ The initiative didn’t kick off
until it was relaunched on the 26th of May 2017.
Whereas the concept of National Dialogue is one of the ways a country
can choose to deal with the root causes of its problems, a credible
dialogue cannot take place while the war is raging as was the case in
South Sudan when it was announced. It can only be meaningful when the
country is enjoying peace. In fact, the National Dialogue was announced
with the onset of the government’s dry season military offensive in
December 2016 and relaunched together with a unilateral ceasefire
declaration at the end of that military campaign in May 2017. Therefore,
it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that it was intended to gain military
advantage on the ground while hoodwinking the world into believing
that the government was seriously pursuing peace. Furthermore, All the
objectives spelled out in President Kiir’s speech before the TNLA, except
“to end all forms of violence in the country”, are a mixture of matters 2
related to the Constitution Making Process and issues to be discussed
under Transitional Justice that are clearly dealt with under Chapters V
and VI of ARCISS. Hence, these objectives could have been achieved with
the full and faithful implementation of the peace agreement which he
had vowed not to implement. In this context, it was obvious that the
National Dialogue was meant to sidestep or replace ARCISS. The noises
we hear from inside that conference today tend to suggest, if not
confirm, that this “National Dialogue” is a substitute for R-ARCSS and its
resolutions are final and ready for implementation.
This conference is not a new undertaking as people are made to believe.
It is a continuation of the initiative announced in December 2016 and
implemented in some parts of South Sudan since May 2017. Nothing
proves that point more than the announcement from the organizers that
the conference is to deliberate on the recommendations of the Regional
Conferences and tabling before it documents related to those
conferences and other meetings held by the organizers in some parts of
South Sudan not affected by war.
As we all know, the three regional
conferences recommended the maintenance of Kiir’s infamous 32 States,
a presidential system of rule, decentralized governance, etc. These are some of the issues the ongoing conference will discuss and take resolutions on. The question is: what is the legitimacy of this coming together? The most fundamental point to be resolved first in all National Dialogues
worldwide is to define its objective(s) and who the participants will be.
That is followed by deep discussions between all the parties to work out
the agenda, choose a steering committee and agree on the venue of the
conference. The current “National Dialogue” overlooked all that. One
party defined its objectives, appointed a steering committee and
declared itself Patron of the dialogue. Now, at the last stage of its
monologue, they would like other parties to bless its political position in
the name of national consensus. This is being clever by a half.
Some of the organizers of this conference were delegates to or witnesses of the Round Table Conference held in Khartoum in March 1965 in order to
resolve the Southern Problem. They know the steps taken and amount of 3
energy expended in preparation to convening it. Therefore, the meeting
in Juba cannot pass as a nationally agreed upon forum to deserve the
name of “National Dialogue” whose resolutions are ready for the
government to implement. Even if that was the case, our government is
not a normal government that can claim a popular mandate.
The legal and constitutional basis of the Transitional Government of
National Unity (TGoNU) currently presided over by Salva Kiir is solely
derived from R-ARCSS. Therefore, its legitimacy and mandate stems from
that agreement. R-ARCSS is the programme of the TGoNU and it cannot
act outside it. Where do you anchor “National Dialogue” to R-ARCSS?
If this conference is to discuss constitutional matters, establishing state structures, reforming government institutions, etc.,
It must relate to RARCSS rather than claim to stand on its own or even supplant the agreement as some of its organizers have insinuated. The Revitalized Peace Agreement has provided for a forum to discuss our constitutional
matters in an open, thorough and transparent manner. A full chapter,
Chapter VI, is devoted to “Parameters of Permanent Constitution”. It sets
out the principles of the Permanent Constitution-making process, its
phases, a preparatory committee for convening the National
Constitutional Conference that will deliberate on the Permanent
Constitution and the process of adopting the same.
This is a consensual course agreed by the parties, not the conflictual course chosen by the
patron and organizers of the so-called National Dialogue. It is the only
forum acceptable by all to take decisions on the system of rule
(parliamentary, presidential or mixed), what type of federalism, the
number of States, etc. The provisions of R-ARCSS stand a better chance
of being accepted by all because all are involved in the process.
Also, a whole chapter, Chapter V, is dedicated to “Transitional Justice,
Accountability, Reconciliation and Healing”, very essential elements to
get over the atrocities meted out against our people during the
devastating war. It establishes transitional justice institutions:
Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing, the Hybrid Court for
South Sudan and Compensation and Reparation Authority. Impunity
must be fought through the courts, there must be genuine reconciliation 4
predicated on truth telling, and the victims of the war atrocities deserve
The people of South Sudan will not be taken in. They will see the Juba
meeting for what it really is: a futile attempt to impose one view-point
on our people and sneak through the backdoor controversial issues that
were at the centre of conflict in the country.
Dr Lam Akol
9 November 2020.