IS A NATIONAL DIALOGUE THE ANSWER TO SOUTH SUDAN’S QUEST FOR PEACE?

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Since 2013, the world’s youngest nation has been engulfed in a brutal civil war. Since then, there have been a number of attempts to promote peace and dialogue; however, with the civil war now reaching its fourth year, the obstacles to peace multiply. In late 2016, President Salva Kiir initiated a National Dialogue which aimed to find a resolution to the conflict. However, the Dialogue was marred with issues even before it began this year.

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Lively discussion

On 30th August 2017, KAS and their partner UNIFOG collaborated with three South Sudanese CSOs, namely; International Youth for Africa (IYA), Africa Youth Action Network (AYAN) and South Sudan Youth in Uganda Forum on National Dialogue (SSYFUND) organised a public dialogue on the South Sudanese National Dialogue at Makerere University in Kampala.

Rather than trying to find alternatives, the public dialogue sought to find ways to make the existing National Dialogue be more effective. Yusuf Kiranda commenced with a keynote address on the current status of the National Dialogue and the South Sudanese conflict in general. Mr Kiranda acknowledged the pessimism that many South Sudanese have towards the National Dialogue because of its favouritism towards the government, which has resulted in rejection to comply from the opposition. He also remarked that the Dialogue should become a space for civility and equality and campaigned for the involvement of ordinary South Sudanese citizens in the National Dialogue, since they are affected the most by the civil war.

Mr Kiranda also highlighted the complex roles of the different actors involved in the conflict, especially that of neighbouring countries and international agencies. He advised the many South Sudanese participants present to understand that each external actor, even if they are intervening under the guise of humanitarian intervention, still have their personal interests in the conflict. Mr Kiranda also argued that ethnicity is not the root cause of the conflict, but is rather used as a tool to polarise different ethnic groups against each other. The core issue, according to Kiranda, stems from resource competition (oil in particular) between warlords who disguise themselves as politicians. Concluding his address, Yusuf Kiranda asked the participants if there is still enough will to end the conflict through National Dialogue, or whether peace should be attained by other means.

Acting as moderator, KAS project manager Donnas Ojok opened the panel discussion. The panellists included Clement Maring, an independent South Sudanese researcher, as well as Tito Anthony, Grace Andrua, and Daniel Joul, who are all active members of the South Sudanese civil society. When asked about their first reaction to the National Dialogue, all panellists agreed that they initially thought it was a good initiative but soon became aware of the deficits of the Dialogue, because of its lack of proper planning, inclusivity and impartiality. Daniel Joul remarked that the Dialogue’s shortcomings stem from the motives of the government to initiate it, since President Salva Kiir was more focused on consolidating power than ending the conflict. The panellists also tackled the sensitive issue of ensuring justice in a democratic and lawful manner once the conflict has ended, as well as tackling the issue of tribalism.

The panel discussion was followed by a very lively and involved plenary discussion. Participants voiced their grievances on the exclusive nature of the National Dialogue, the need for civic education and an ideological framework, and most importantly, the involvement of women, the youth, and ethnic minorities in the peace process. When asked how to make the National Dialogue more inclusive, Clement Maring argued that Salva Kiir and his government would have to ensure a more neutral setting for the dialogue, or step down completely and leave the peace process to technocrats and the South Sudanese citizens.

Overall, the public dialogue highlighted the many grievances that South Sudanese have towards the bleak situation of the country and the National Dialogue. Both panellists and participants unanimously agreed that the National Dialogue has to become more inclusive, transparent, and neutral in order for it to contribute to the peacebuilding process. While the overall tone of the public dialogue seemed grim, many participants remained hopeful that a National Dialogue, if improved, could be a step forward in the struggle for peace in South Sudan.

Report compiled by Leandra Bitahwa

Publication series

Event Reports

published

Uganda, September 4, 2017

Panelists
Participants
Plenary discussion
Panel discussion
Moderator Donnas Ojok