February 14, 2014 (JUBA) - South Sudan’s bid to acquire Commonwealth membership has moved to the heads of state level, the spokesperson for the foreign affairs ministry said Friday.
- South Sudan’s foreign affairs minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin (Getty)
The new nation, according to Ambassador Mawien Makol, began the application processes to join the more than 54 nations, all of which have historical links to Britain dating back to the colonial period in most African countries.
Mawien said his country lobbied its allies in the region to back up the bid, despite human rights and press freedom concerns which form the basis of the condition which an aspiring nation must be seen to meet.
"There are a lot of benefits which we shall get in joining [the] Commonwealth. First of all, we are members of Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the African Union. We are also members of the United Nations. Some of these nations are members of the Commonwealth. So there are economics and political benefits for us”, Makol told Sudan Tribune on arrival from a trip to London on Friday.
Makol was part of the delegation that joined South Sudan’s foreign minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin on the trip to London this week. In a speech on Monday, Marial said that he would be discussing prospective membership of the Commonwealth with officials from the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office during his visit.
"We hope to get the membership as soon as possible, hopefully before the end of this year. The processes have already moved two critical steps. It has moved the ambassadorial and ministerial levels of the member countries, now it is at the level of heads of state”, Makol explained.
He did not say which countries in the region were backing the bid, although multiple diplomats at the ministry indicated that the country’s bid to join the group is receoving little support from Britain, Australia, Canada and some of the allies which are widely viewed as influential members in the group.
But many government officials have openly expressed support.
“Of course the admission would have to have the unanimous support and approval of all or the majority [of] member countries for us to get the membership. Some details also needs to be worked out”, he said.
Human and civil right activists as well as members of the media have not indicated approval of the decision by the country to join the club, some of whom have argued that freedom of speech has widely been suppressed while judiciary appears to have serious weaknesses and fails to function as an independent institution.
Many opposition parties in South Sudan say they feel political freedom in the young nation is truncated.
“Given the overwhelming evidence about the weakness of the institutions of government, it would not reflect well on the integrity of the Commonwealth to admit countries which have not shown respect to their own constitutions. There are people who feel that government of the Republic of South Sudan has not shown significant commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights and the democracy," a South Sudanese journalist, who preferred anonymity, told Sudan Tribune Friday.
"The current conflict explains it all. It does not need any additional justification," he added.