Event Reports

Decentralization as a Hindrance or a Catalyst for Sustainable Peace in South Sudan?

A Public Lecture by Hon. Betty Bigombe followed by a Panel Discussion

After an expert round table discussion in the morning of 19 November 2015, Hon. Betty Bigombe, Senior Director for Violence, Conflict and Fragility at the World Bank, held a public lecture on perspectives for sustainable peace and development in South Sudan at Makerere University. The University Forum on Governance (UNIFOG) and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) invited students from Makerere University to the public lecture which was followed by a panel discussion.

After some short opening remarks by Mr. Mathias Kamp, Country Director of KAS in Uganda, Mr. Yusuf Kiranda, Director of UNIFOG, introduced the panelists to the audience. Besides Hon. Bigombe, Prof. Philip Kasaija, Department of Political Science at Makerere University, Dr. Daniel Komakech, Director of the Institute of Peace and Strategic Studies, Gulu University, and Mr. Michael Mugisha, Lecturer at the Department of Statistics, Makerere University, were invited to the panel which was moderated by Mr. Thomas Tayebwa, Secretary at Uganda-South Sudan Grain Traders & Suppliers.

The event started with a lecture by Hon. Bigombe on challenges and opportunities of the transition process in South Sudan. She named the recent developments of renegotiating the peace agreement, which was suggested by the South Sudanese government, as a major threat for the achievements of the peace talks. Moreover, she warned against the decentralization process and the formation of new districts in South Sudan, which, in her opinion, could lead into an instable situation. According to her, it was not the right time for a decentralization process as this would not serve the aim of a united South Sudan. However, she highlighted the potential of the transition government in managing the challenges, but at the same time demanded for the stronger inclusion of women, youth and small ethnic groups. Elections were one of the major mechanisms to ensure inclusiveness, she pointed out.

Following Hon. Bigombe’s lecture, the panelists gave their input and expertise on the peace agreement and on Uganda’s role and influence on the peace process. Prof. Kasaija noted that the peace agreement was a very ambitious project and included almost all areas of governance. According to him, it was very problematic that the agreement was imposed by the international community and was not the result of a naturally growing process.

Dr. Komakech pointed out that there was the need to decriminalize rebellion in South Sudan to ensure the success of the peace agreement. He mentioned the historical background of the conflict and the huge impact of violence and threat on the society in South Sudan. In his opinion, the success of the peace agreement did not depend on the legal framework but on the political will. Therefore, incentives were needed to foster a decriminalization process and political negotiations which could eventually lead to peaceful relations between the parties to the conflict.

Mr. Mugisha focused more on the elites which were the driving actors in the conflict. He explained that the elites mainly had economic interests and were ready to protect their interests with violence. Moreover, he noted that the major driver for the independence of South Sudan was the oil which held the political settlement in South Sudan together, while it also caused new conflicts within this settlement on the question of oil shares.

Mr. Tayebwa gave Prof. Maximiano Ngabirano, who was part of the round table discussion in the morning, the chance to give his point of view on the conflict. He brought in a broader view on the South Sudan conflict and classified it within the regional context. Prof. Ngabirano emphasized that there would be no sustainable peace in South Sudan without handling the regional instability caused by political leaders who came into power through violence in the Great Lakes Region.

In an open discussion, a South Sudanese student explained that most of the leaders and citizens in South Sudan were not educated and suggested to foster education as an effective weapon against violence and as a ground for democratic understanding. Another participant brought in the issue of human rights and noted that it should be part of the debate when discussing peace and sustainable development in South Sudan. Mr. Kamp reacted to the argument that human rights should be a discussed topic. According to him, human rights were always an issue when discussing democratic principles and how to implement them in a society where violence affected the daily life of the people.

On the issue of Uganda’s military intervention in South Sudan Hon. Bigombe noted that the initial intervention was good. Uganda acted fast while the international community was not interested in an intervention. Hon. Bigombe saw the main problem of Uganda’s intervention in losing its neutrality in the war.

In the end, Mr. Majur Morwal, Minister of Plenipotentiary from the Embassy of South Sudan in Uganda, noted in his closing remarks that there was time for everything – for peace and for war – but now it was time for peace in South Sudan. Reacting to Hon Bigombe’s lecture, he clarified that the citizens of South Sudan were demanding for the formation of new districts in South Sudan and that it was the task of the government to serve its people. He requested for more support of the international community in rebuilding the country.

Author: Nele Krüger, KAS Intern

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