By Peter Gai Manyuon
April 2, 2014 - There have been a lot of debates and confrontations from the Juba government about civil society participation in the peace process in the Ethiopian capital, Addis-Ababa. Partly, there are some individuals within Government of South Sudan who do not want full participation of the civil society working groups due to what is best known to them and when you look internationally and regionally, civil society’s role is fundamental; that is put as a number one priority among the countries that claim to be called democratic nations globally. But for the case of the Republic of South Sudan, I am confused because the work that civil society has exerted for a long time since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, the Referendum process in 2010 and the declaration of the independence of the Republic of South Sudan on the 9th of July 2011. Civil society’s role and responsibility has never been acknowledged in one way or the other by Juba government.
Highlights about civil society in South Sudan
Civil society in South Sudan for the last two years has moved to the all ten (10) states of the Republic of South Sudan collecting views of the citizen on how the constitution of the Country should be amended. They started the program in 2011/2012 and accomplished collecting views in 2013, respectively. The work was carried out by the South Sudan Civil Society Resource Team on the Constitution. Hence, according to what I have noticed, only the validation process, compilations or computation of the finding, recommendations and giving feedbacks to the Community in various states is what has remains so far. Reflecting on the sensitivity of the ongoing crisis and the peace process in Ethiopia, will you say civil society cannot participate in the process and they are doing the needful to the entire republic? If civil society will not participate in the mediation and negotiation process, who will be the right body to point out the rights and the wrongs things that are affecting the people of South Sudan in particular?
Well for the case of South Sudan where dictatorship, corruption and tribalism are the mission and vision of the regime; things have turned upside down.
Sometimes, it seems like the government of Juba have not research about the goodness of having civil society working groups in the Country.
Therefore, after I have learned about the comments and reactions from some concern people about the civil society involvement in the negotiations and mediations processes in Ethiopia, I was very happy but after some government officials reacts and said, civil society should not be allow in the peace process, I was very shocked and get discouraged at the same time. More interestingly the person who came out verbally and said civil society should not be allow was the current spokesperson or Press Secretary of the President of South Sudan, Mr.AtenyWekAteny, who was one a senior activist who criticize the government in various meetings and conferences in Juba.
Realistically on the one hand, civil society is more vibrant and dynamic than ever, with social movements emerging in different parts of the world and in spontaneous, online forums on issues ranging from civic participation and women’s rights to corruption. Politicians and private-sector leaders are recognizing civil society as an essential ingredient in an effective, stable democracy and as a vital contributor to innovative development solute but for the case of South Sudan is not. The question is,is South Sudan not part of the world? And if yes, what make the government of Juba to complain about civil society participation in the peace process in Ethiopia?
Furthermore, to be part of civil society, groups must meet some other conditions as well. In a democracy, civil society groups have respect for the law, for the rights of individuals, and for the rights of other groups to express their interests and opinions. Hence since then, civil society in South Sudan are in far front advocating for the welfare of nation building, respect for the rule of law and democratization processes.
Roles and responsibilities of civil society
The first and most basic role of civil society is to limit and control the power of the state. Of course, any democracy needs a well-functioning and authoritative state. But when a country is emerging from decades of dictatorship like South Sudan in particular, it also needs to find ways to check, monitor, and restrain the power of political leaders and state officials which I think South Sudan is inclusive in this context.
Civil society actors should watch how state officials use their powers. They should raise public concern about any abuse of power like what is happening or manifested in Juba. They should lobby for access to information, including freedom of information laws, and rules and institutions to control corruption, and that is what the civil society in South Sudan is doing and the government does not appreciates the importance of its for a Country which has just been exposed to the world. This constitutes a second important function of civil society: to expose the corrupt conduct of public officials and lobby for good governance reforms. Even where anti-corruption laws and bodies exist, they cannot function effectively without the active support and participation of civil society.
Another function of civil society is to promote political participation. Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) can do this by educating people about their rights and obligations as democratic citizens, and encouraging them to listen to election campaigns and vote in elections. Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) can also help develop citizens’ skills to work with one another to solve common problems, to debate public issues, and express their views. And therefore, many civil society organizations in South Sudan are really working with the entire citizen of the Country up to date and the government is looking at the civil society as opposition which is not the case.
Meanwhile, civil society organizations can help to develop the other values of democratic life: tolerance, moderation, compromise, and respect for opposing points of view. Without this deeper culture of accommodation, democracy cannot be stable. These values cannot simply be taught; they must also be experienced through practice. We have outstanding examples from other countries of NGOs especially women’s groups that have cultivated these values in young people and adults through various programs that practice participation and debate.
Another interesting issue is, civil society also can help to develop programs for democratic civic education in the schools like Universities as well. After dictatorship, comprehensive reforms are needed to revise the curricula, rewrite the textbooks, and retrain teachers in order to educate young people about the crimes of the past and teach them the principles and values of democracy which should be address now in South Sudan. This is too important a task to leave only to officials in the education ministry. Civil society must be involved as a constructive partner and advocate for democracy and human rights training.
In a develop world, civil society is an arena for the expression of diverse interests, and one role for civil society organizations is to lobby for the needs and concerns of their members, as women, students, farmers, environmentalists, trade unionists, lawyers, doctors, and so on. Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) and interest groups can present their views to parliament and provincial councils, by contacting individual members and testifying before parliamentary committees. They can also establish a dialogue with relevant government ministries and agencies to lobby for their interests and concerns. South Sudan government is too bitter about the roles and responsibilities of civil society. What a nation?
And it is not only the resourceful and well organized who can have their voices heard. Over time, groups that have historically been oppressed and confined to the margins of society can organize to assert their rights and defend their interests as well.
• Both the government of South Sudan under President General KiirMayardit, Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) in opposition, the inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and International Communities should allow civil society to participate in the peace process because civil society are the voice for the voiceless and therefore; they must be given a space in dialogue to bring back peaceful co-existence to the South Sudanese people because without involvement of the civil society working groups there will be more gaps in the peace process.
• Civil Society themselves should delegate members to represent them in Addis-Ababa, people who are very well informed intellectually, morally and has a good negotiation and mediation skills in them not just opportunists who lack intellectual dynamism in them as persons. The delegation of civil society should compose of high profile civil society activists who have got experiences in strategic communications, Public Relations, diplomatic approaches and people who cannot be manipulated by money. Because some times, in negotiation there is bribing that sometimes lead to crossover.
I want to stress that civil society is not simply in tension with the state but civil society is independent of the state doesn’t mean that it must always criticize and oppose the state. In fact, by making the state at all levels more accountable, responsive, inclusive, effective and hence more legitimate a vigorous civil society strengthens citizens’ respect for the state and promotes their positive engagement with it.
Author is Independent Journalist and Columnist who had written extensively on the issues of Democratization and Human Rights in South Sudan. You can contact him through;firstname.lastname@example.org. He will publish soon a book on tribalism and corruption in South Sudan context.