Home | Comment & Analysis    Tuesday 13 June 2017

South Sudan national dialogue: will it succeed?


By Daniel Zingifuaboro, Clement Mbugoniwia and Simon Ngbidigi

The Republic of South Sudan was born on 9th July 2011, after a successful referendum in which South Sudanese of all walk of lives voted overwhelmingly to separate from the Sudan. By voting in favour of independence, South Sudanese thought they were out of the woods, having fought bitter wars for autonomy from the Sudan since time immemorial. The first celebrations of independence on the 9th of July 2011, was marked with jubilation on the streets and villages of South Sudan. However, that happiness was short-lived as the young nation was towed into what now becomes civil war planned and executed by its own leaders on 15 December 2013.

Just one year after the CPA, a majority of South Sudanese started to feel that there was much that was not right about what was happening or not happening in the young nation. Clearly, there was no vision for nation-building and social cohesion. There was no political will to initiate reconciliation and healing after the hard fought war and human rights abuses during the 21-year civil war between Sudan Government and the SPLM/A. People were being told to be patient until after the referendum, which the Government thought was a priority by then. After the referendum, nothing happened. The people of Equatoria, comprising of the three States of Equatoria (Central Equatoria State; Eastern Equatoria State and Western Equatoria State) staged three conferences and recommended to Salva Kiir’s Government issues to do with reforming system of government; Constitution; overhaul of all public institutions including the security sector and diplomatic missions; stop looting of public resources, dominance of power by one ethnic group; social, human and economic developments, among others. All these warnings fell on the deaf ears of President Salva Kiir, who had a different agenda which is clearly manifested through a tribal council of elders known as Jieng Council of Elders (JCE).

Besides, Salva Kiir and Dr Riak Machar had very difficult, strained and uneasy political relationship both in government and within the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). Furthermore, there are factional political struggles for power within SPLM which became rife and contributed to the December 2013 crisis, as South Sudan approached its first general elections after independence, which were scheduled for 2015. Dr Machar made it clear that he wanted to contest the leadership of the ruling SPLM Party, a declaration that triggered the December 2013, crisis.

The crisis which was seen from outset as a political struggle for power soon descended into an armed struggle between two tribes: Dinka (Salva Kiir’s ethnic group) and Nuer (Machar’s ethnic group) and thereafter the whole 64 tribes of South Sudan is involved.

The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) mediated the conflict and brokered the Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS) in August 2015, which subsequently resulted in the formation of Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) in April 2016. With the signing of ARCSS, South Sudanese were hopeful once again that, peace has finally returned to their impoverished nation. The dream and hope of peace fell apart when the same government of Salva Kiir plotted to assassinate his peace partner, Dr Machar. Taban Deng Gai, now First Vice President, succumbed to JCE stiff pressure and accepted to oust his boss, Dr Riak Machar. President Kiir returned South Sudan back to war and continue to lie to the world that there is peace in South Sudan.

It is important to underline that, the people of South Sudan, the international community and indeed the IGAD should never overlook that President Kiir was very reluctant to sign the ARCSS but did so with reservations amid stiff pressure from the international community to impose sanctions.1 Salva Kiir stated: “With all those reservations that we have, we will sign this [ARCSS] document…some features of the document are not in the interest of just and lasting peace. We had only one of the two options, the option of an imposed peace or the option of a continued war”.2

Furthermore, Salva Kiir, in his public statement to the nation on 15 September 2015, promised commitment of the government to the faithful implementation of ARCSS. But commented to the contrary that the “IGAD prescribed ARCSS is the most divisive and unprecedented peace deal ever seen in the history of our country and the African continent at large. This agreement has also attacked the sovereignty of our country.3

We are sure Salva Kiir’s statement sent early warning signals to the international community, IGAD and other stakeholders as to whether he (Salva Kiir) would commit to the full implementation of ARCSS. It is to be noted that the reservations held by Kiir have largely been ignored by IGAD, knowing that the reservations themselves have the potential to erode Salva Kiir’s political will and ownership of the ARCSS. Furthermore, the reservations do not promote inclusivity and popular ownership of the ARCSS in order to ensure effective implementation.

Therefore, Salva Kiir quickly, and upon return of his peace partner to Juba unilaterally abrogated the ARCSS, by creating 28 states contrary to the 10 states agreed upon and went on to define and implement the ARCSS in his own terms. On the other end, the same Salva Kiir and his JCE colluded with Taban Deng Gai, who was also hungry for power, divided the SPLM/A (IO). At first, IGAD was of the opinion that the ARCISS has been violated but when Secretary of State, Hon. John Kerry visited Nairobi and Addis Ababa in August/September 2016, indicating that the ARCSS had not been violated. Consequently, IGAD abrogated their initial position in favour of the US position. This gave the Kiir government boost or licence to commit atrocities with impunity. Since then, fighting has spread throughout the country resulting in the catastrophic humanitarian situation. Millions of people have been killed and millions of others have taken refuge in neighbouring countries and in the UN Protection of Civilians Centres (POCs). Thousands of innocent civilians remained in secret detention facilities across the country.

On the basis of the above background comes the national dialogue, which was purported and inaugurated in Juba on the 12th of May 2017 by President Salva Kiir. We wonder If Salva Kiir who produced 16 reservations to the ARCSS, defined and implement ARCSS in his own terms; will Salva Kiir’s selective and one-sided national dialogue bring peace to the suffering people of South Sudan?

In this article, we will argue that though there is no one-side-fits-all approach, but for any national dialogue to succeed, it must be inclusive; transparent; with a credible convener(s); the agenda must address the root causes of South Sudan conflict(s); clear mandate, structure, rules and procedures; and an agreed mechanism for implementation of outcomes. Second, unless Salva Kiir takes the people of South Sudan to the drawing board by agreeing to renew the peace process and alongside run the process of national dialogue, the inaugurated national dialogue is just a political spin designed to derail the thwarted peace agreement and bestow legitimacy on Salva Kiir and his cronies to continue with their hidden agenda.

Defining the National Dialogue

Let us begin with some definitions. While there is no internationally agreed definition, the national dialogue is being continuously used to describe “heterogeneous set of processes”4 for resolving conflicts and for political transformation. It provides opportunity to citizens to have meaningful conversations about the root causes of conflict and ways to holistically address these issues.5

National Dialogue “presents a valid way to overcome internal rifts and to rebuild relationships, to ideally reach new social contract between the various groups in the conflict”.6 It is a critical tool for preventing violent conflicts and for managing political crisis and transitions. 7 National dialogues are nationally owned processes aimed at generating consensus among a broad range of national stakeholders in times of deep political crisis, in post-war situations or during far- reaching political transitions.8

These definitions definitely reflect the situation in and indicate that South Sudan is badly in need of a national dialogue. Having just come out of the war with Sudan, the country did not build or strengthen institutions that support an independent democratic state; defined national identity; making nation-building and social cohesion a priority rather than making it very difficult to achieve. There is massive corruption and mismanagement of national power and resources. The Salva kiir leadership have engaged in a very high level of tribalism and nepotism to the extent that the government have formed or supports an unconstitutional institution, which foster the interest of a tribal elite to control power and resources at the expense of others. Salva Kiir’s government has created civil crisis and famine. Thousands of our people have died and hundreds are dying daily. Our roads are closed and our streets and villages deserted, bombarded and burnt down to ashes. Our economy has collapsed. We cannot afford to pay our liabilities. Prices of commodities have skyrocketed. While all these are taking place, the government of Salva Kiir can afford to stockpile weapons including chemical armaments to destroy more lives and livelihoods; instead of purchasing food for our dying famine-affected people. Our hospitals have no medicines and personnel. There is no meaningful education, besides our young people, are being trained as militias to fight themselves. Our women and girls are being raped and killed by the same government forces meant to protect them. Human rights abuses are on the rampant. There is massive extra-judicial killings and disappearances. The rule of law has collapsed paving ways for acts of revenge and impunity. There is no freedom of speech and association. The media is heavily controlled to achieve the interest of the tribal ruling elites. Our people are living in fear of apprehension and persecution. The government no longer supports democratic principles. We believe that these are the same reasons that made President Kiir takes arms against the Sudan Government. Thus, it is beyond comprehension that the same Salva Kiir can apply same colonial strategies he fought against to rule his own people that he fought to liberate from the impoverished situation.

On the initiative of national dialogue, we appreciate the effort of President Kiir. South Sudan truly needs a national dialogue to heal the wounds in hearts and in our society and move on. We would like to underscore that, while the concept of holding a national dialogue is a noble idea, it is doubtful whether President Kiir is doing this in good faith or he is trying to keep his grip on power, because there is a risk when leaders misuse national dialogue seeking to consolidate their grip on power.9Although it is not bad idea to control power on the basis of ideology and democratic principles, what must not be condoned is when a regime control power in order to advance a narrow tribal interest(s).

Can the national dialogue in its current form succeed?

We will now examine and provide some answers to these questions. As already mentioned above, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to national dialogues, but there are necessary conditions and processes for a successful national dialogue. We will examine whether the current South Sudan national dialogue meets these conditions.

Phase One: Preparatory
Preparatory phase is about inclusivity. It is about national dialogue mandate that emerges from a consensus among the main stakeholders.10


First and foremost, national dialogue must be inclusive. It must bring together a “broad set of stakeholders for a deliberative process”. All key interest groups must be invited including but not limited to civil society, political parties/elites, opposition groups (armed and unarmed), traditional authorities, women, youth, religious groups, disabled people, refugees, Internal Displace People (IDP), business elites etc. this will ensure maximising the potential of the national dialogue to address the real drivers of South Sudan conflict. It is anticipated that before the process starts, there must be preparatory phase, setting proper foundation for a genuine national dialogue, which must be inclusive, transparent and consultative.12Any national dialogue mandate should emerge from a consensus among the main stakeholders to ensure that all participants, even those on the fringes agree to the mandate.13 Besides, an initial decision must be made on the shape and structure of the national dialogue; particularly who is invited to participate plus a preparatory committee that is inclusive of all major groups must undertake these preparations carefully and transparently.14

Sadly, we have examined the current South Sudan national dialogue and have serious doubts whether it meets the inclusivity principle. Let us give it the benefit of the doubt and agree in principle that we do have a preparatory committee considering that President Salva Kiir may claim that the committee he inaugurated on 12 May 2017 is a preparatory committee. The question, which is still, unanswered is whether the participants represent a broad range of stakeholders who have a stake in the issues affecting South Sudan. Having seen the list of the participant, their regions and affiliations, it is evidence that the list of the steering committee and indeed the participants is dominated by about 70 percent of the usual tribal elites, who consider South Sudan to be their own property, and so it belongs to them and they can decide what to do with it. Second, there is no evidence to suggest, otherwise that the stakeholders were consulted, invited and a pre-negotiation has been undertaken to define the scope of the mandate. Third, there is also no evidence to suggest the process is transparent. There is clear evidence of exclusion to the extent that President Kiir has publicly denounced the participation of SPLM/A (IO) led by Dr Riak Machar Teny, on condition that he/SPLM/A (IO) must first renounce violence, although he himself (Salva Kiir) and the JCE have not quit violence.

It is worth mentioning that there is also no evidence to suggest that President Kiir consulted the international community and regional bodies. While national dialogue must be nationally owned to be successful, it is equally paramount to consult international and regional bodies who may play roles including and not limited to funder, observer, provider of technical and expert support, facilitator, monitor and verifier. Excluding these international actors is not wisdom as far as their interests are concerned. However, we do assume perhaps that President Museveni might have been consulted as evident by his presence at the inauguration on 12 May 2017.

Phase Two: Process
The second phase is the “process phase” 15. This phase involves setting the agenda; finding a charismatic convener(s); establishing principles; developing decision-making modalities; selecting participants; ensuring public consultation and outreach; and ensuring effective and efficient support structures. This phase is critical but dependent on the success of the preparatory phase.

Setting the Agenda

Setting an agenda for national dialogue is paramount and any national dialogue initiative must address the root causes of South Sudan crisis and it must seek to reach an agreement on key issues facing the country. It takes months or even years of pre-negotiation or consultation to identify and agree on these issues. The question again is asked, have the major stakeholders reached an agreement on the key issues facing South Sudan? If as presumed, the answer is no, how shall the national dialogue be successful if the major opposition groups are not consulted or allowed to participate in the initial process? Will the current committee pre-negotiate or consult to identify and agree on the root causes of South Sudan conflict? If yes, but the current committee is not representative of the various stakeholders of the conflict, therefore, how can this be possible? Unless there is a sudden change in President Kiir’s approach, there is hardly any hope for these questions to be answered in the affirmative, because, history tells us that President Kiir has never had any political will to transform South Sudan for all South Sudanese. So, the issues of inclusivity of the current preparatory committee may render its agenda not acceptable by stakeholders who have not been invited to participate in the preparatory committee.

Transparency and Public Participation

For the national dialogue to gain legitimacy, there must be sufficient opportunities for the public to remain informed about and feed into the national dialogue.16 This means that the broader population must be included in the dialogue by creating local dialogue procedures, public consultations, regular outreach, and wider coverage via media outlets. Delegates must be mandated to hold consultative meetings with their groups and capacity building must be provided to the committee members to enable them to analyse information collected via consultations.

Now, imagine the current situation in South Sudan where half of the populations are either displaced or forced into exile as refugees and thousands more held in secret detentions centres across the country. How will the public be efficiently and effectively informed on the national dialogue? The already depleted public infrastructure has collapsed, the roads are not passable and airways are increasingly becoming difficult, scarce and unaffordable. So the movement of people and goods across the country have become impassable. People have vacated their towns and villages due to increasing insecurity. Those in the country, live in fear of being killed, apprehension and persecution, with no freedom of speech and association. Many media outlets have closed or forced to close by the government, leaving only those affiliated with the government. Journalists and civil society activists have been targeted and killed. Many South Sudanese no longer have faith in the SPLM government of Salva Kiir to protect them. There are doubts whether the international community that has not been involved in the national dialogue would provide support for the success of the national dialogue for fear that they may not return on their investment. As indicated above, the majority of South Sudanese including Salva Kiir’s ethnic group have lost confidence in his leadership and therefore, Salva Kiir’s government has no legitimacy, credibility and he is unwilling to change the status quo. The legitimacy of his government expired since July 2015, coupled with the fact that there has never been any election held under the banner of an independent South Sudan. Furthermore, any leaders who turn guns against his own people cannot claim legitimacy because legitimacy comes from the very people who are being killed in cold blood or forced into the protection of civilians camps run by UN and into exile as refugees. All these and others do not create a conducive environment for holding a national dialogue.

Credible Convener

To ensure the participation of a wide variety of stakeholders, the credibility of the convener is of utmost importance. 17 Whoever the person may be or whatsoever the organisation or coalition of organisations may be, the convener must command the respect of the majority of the people of South Sudan and must not present an obvious conflict of interest.

President Kiir proclaimed himself as the patron, though it was announced later that he has relinquished that position, 18 but really nothing has changed. He is still an indirect convener of the national dialogue, who will continue to engineer the processes, procedures, mandate and outcomes indirectly to achieve his agenda. A majority of the people of South Sudan regardless of ethnicity, believe that President Salva Kiir is not leading the country in the right direction. Second, President Kiir is the architect of the 15 December 2013 crisis. These views and those not expressed in this article do not qualify President Kiir to be a credible convener.

The direct co-chairs of this national dialogue are Hon. Abel Alier and Hon. Angelo Beda. Both of these gentlemen will never command the respect and credibility of the majority people of South Sudan. Their historical legacies, which will not be discussed in this article, before the independence of South Sudan are in deep and serious questions.

Clear Mandate, Structures, Rules and Procedures

For South Sudan national dialogue to be successful, it must have a clear mandate, structures, rules and procedures. This means that the national dialogue must take place outside of the existing institutions of government. This is because the only reason for President Kiir to initiate national dialogue is because he has recognised that his current sitting government and its existing institutions are unable to resolve the major issues at hand. Furthermore, national dialogue must have its own set of rules, structures and procedures for decision-making and they must be transparent. The President is heavily dependent on degrees because that is his only way of dictation. Framework for such a very crucial policy must go through parliamentary procedures so that the mandate, structure, rules and procedures are promulgated for transparency for public scrutiny.

Phase Three: Outcome Implementation

This phase involves setting mechanisms for the implementation of tangible outcomes.19

Outcome Implementation

The last phase is the implementation phase. These are tangible outcomes generated throughout the process and this includes setting out agreed mechanisms for the implementation of those outcomes.
Without a clear implementation plan, South Sudan national dialogue can never achieve tangible results besides the risks of consuming time and resources. Again you cannot assume you will arrive well at the final destination if at all you did not prepare very well for the journey. So, without inclusivity and consensus among stakeholders, the national dialogue risk being a one-sided dialogue, which hardly involves the participation of the other concerned partner(s). There is fear that if the recommendations do not support Salva Kiir’s/JCE’s agenda, they will never be implemented. Second, if the national dialogue is not inclusive, there is no way its recommendations shall be accepted by major opposition groups (armed and unarmed). And, if the oppositions are not part of the process, they will not participate in the implementation of outcomes. Therefore, the South Sudanese national dialogue, in its current form, will not achieve the much need outcome that could deliver peace dividends to be enjoyed by all South Sudanese.

What can President Kiir do to make the national dialogue successful?
Based on the above arguments, South Sudan national dialogue initiative is commendable; however, it will be wise for President Kiir to halt the current national dialogue processes and employ a more inclusive, transparent and publicly acceptable processes.

President Kiir should consider a request by all opposition groups to renew the ARCSS, which will make the national dialogue more attractive to the major stakeholders in the conflict once peace is achieved.

The best possible way is for President Kiir to hold the national dialogue outside South Sudan to allow for inclusivity and open conversation. Once the national dialogue is completed so that the outcomes of the national dialogue shall inform the renewed peace negotiation processes.

President Kiir must be prepared to re-negotiate the ARCSS in good faith without being intransigent if his agenda is centred on key issues of conflict including building South Sudan for all South Sudanese.

President Kiir must have the political will to fully implement the outcomes of national dialogue and/or renewed peace agreement without reservations and for the betterment of all South Sudanese people.

The authors can be reached at daniel.isbon@gmail.com, clementjuma@gmail.com, and sngbidi4@gmail.com

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  • 21 June 2017 09:51, by Achuil friedman

    People think they should voice their opinions but we should embarrassed our national value and unite our differences in order to call our self nation.

    repondre message

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