An Interview with David Shearer about the South Sudan National Dialogue

28th August 2018
Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in South Sudan and head of UNMISS, H.E David Shearer (Photo by: UNMISS)

On 27 August 2018, The Dawn Daily English Newspaper published an exclusive interview with Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in South Sudan and head of UNMISS, H.E David Shearer, on the work of the National Dialogue. The National Dialogue has obtained permission from the Dawn Newspaper to reproduce this interview below without any alteration in any form: 

Question: What is the UN’s position towards the National Dialogue?

David Shearer: The United Nations, as an inter­national organization, and the UN peacekeep­ing mission, UNMISS, are focused on working in partnership with the people of South Sudan to achieve durable peace anchored in the 2015 peace agreement. A transparent, genuinely in­clusive and participatory National Dialogue will provide an opportunity to inject new life into the 2015 peace agreement. So, the UN is supporting the National Dialogue as a positive step in the overall pursuit of peace in South Sudan.

Q: Is UNMISS ready to fully back the

National Dialogue process?

DS: UNMISS and UN support is conditional on certain principles, such as a transparent and inclusive process that engages with all sectors of society, including the opposition, civil society, representatives of the diaspora, women, youth, internally displaced people and refugee populations. The National Dia­logue presents an opportunity to engage in the peace process from grassroots to the national level. The collateral benefits can be positive in terms of people being able to air long-standing grievances and of bringing local communities together by involving them in the political and peace process.

Q: What benefits could the process bring?

DS: The National Dialogue is a process and not an event. It is beneficial as a process be­cause it broadens discussion beyond the po­litical elites to the grassroots. As such, it can bring hope and contribute to an environment for open dialogue of critical national issues including peace, reconciliation and nation building. However, a conducive environment for the Dialogue is needed and that must come through a complete cessation of hostilities and a focus on the implementation of the peace agreement.

Q: Does the right environment exist right now in South Sudan for the National Dialogue?

DS: To create the right conditions for the Di­alogue, all parties to the conflict must respect the cessation of hostilities and ensure human­itarian access. A stable security environment will allow the full and equal participation of all sectors of society. All constituencies, including the opposition and former political detainees should be encouraged to be part of the pro­cess.

Q: What practical support is the UN providing?

DS: The United Nations is currently support­ing the National Dialogue through sharing our technical expertise and experiences of work­ing on similar dialogue processes around the world. The UN is also helping to coordinate international partners that are interested in contributing in one way or another to the pro­cess.

Financial support is being channeled through UNDP. That funding currently amounts to one million US dollars and will be allocated to dialogue-focused initiatives on a case-by-case basis. And just last week, the UN Peacebuild­ing Fund pledged an additional half a million dollars. UNMISS, will also provide logistical support, which I believe will be especially val­uable as the National Dialogue moves into the regions.

In addition to our direct engagement with the Steering Committee members, we have been able to work with civil society including wom­en’s networks, youth and media to help lay the groundwork for understanding the process and facilitate meaningful participation in the process.

Q: What progress do you see so far?

DS: UNMISS acknowledges the significant progress made by the Steering Committee since it was sworn in and the positive devel­opments in the process so far. One of key pos­itives is that the Committee is becoming truly independent.

This ethnic and political diversity of the Steer­ing Committee is very important as is the in­clusion of women. The Committee leadership is made up of nine members including three women. From the outset of deliberations, our Political Affairs team has been observing the process on a daily basis. It is evident through the active and often times heated debates that the members feel free to participate without reservations. It’s also clear that these seasoned leaders and members of society are taking their roles seriously.

They have initiated the establishment of 15 sub-committees, of which 12 are geographical, and have developed specific plans for their en­gagement. These are important steps forward because it once again underlines the inde­pendence of the process.

Q: How important is a strong Steering Committee?

DS: The Steering Committee’s role is to craft the core elements of the National Dialogue. Strong leadership by the Committee will en­sure that the process is credible, inclusive, and respected by the people of South Sudan, regional actors, and the international commu­nity. I believe that the full participation of all sectors of society in the planning process is vi­tal, including reaching all regions of the coun­try, all major social groups, as well as the full and effective participation of women.

In shaping the format of the dialogue, it is crucial that single issues or constituencies do not dominate. The format must be fair to all those involved and must balance the interests of all constituencies. It’s important that specif­ic concerns are addressed, however the overall outcome must reflect the broader national in­terest.

Ultimately, a genuinely inclusive and trans­parent process will give the National Dialogue credibility and legitimacy. The Dialogue can support initiatives on the national, regional, and international level and contribute to a sus­tainable development.