Juba, South Sudan – 13th February 2018

Amb. Deng: National Dialogue Gives the HLRF Hope for Peace

Press Release

Remarks by Amb. Francis Mading Deng
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 5-16, Feb 2018.

It is my pleasure and honor to have been invited again to this phase of the High-Level Revitalization Forum. I particularly appreciate the fact that I am invited in my personal capacity, even though I also bring to the Forum reflections from my other engagement in the National Dialogue. For this second phase of the Forum, my remarks will focus on issues related to the Revitalization process and end with a brief comment on the complementarity with the National Dialogue.

I would like to begin by apologizing for having missed the first two days of the deliberations because of other urgent matters that required my attention. Having listened to the discussions so far, I would like to make a few observations on the issues raised. I would, however, like to first offer some reflections on our last meeting.

I was struck by the way we all responded positively to the statements of the leaders from IGAD, AU, and UN on the crisis in our country and our failure to resolve the crisis to end the war and the suffering of our people. We all applauded in earnest, which indicated our agreement with their observations.

I was also struck by how much our people who spoke shared the same objective of urgently ending the war and the suffering of our people. I wondered what the problem was when we were all agreed on what we needed to do. It has indeed been often pointed out by foreign observers that our actions do not match our words.

Of course, the devil is in the details, as they say. To quote an article I wrote many years ago and which is still often referred to, ‘What is not said is what divides’. An aspect of what is not said that divides concerns the many groups that were, and are, represented in the Forum. I wondered what divides all these leaders into groups and whether their differences are on substantive issues or are driven by personal ambitions for leadership that would all need to be accommodated and rewarded in any peace agreement.

This sadly raises the question of the extent to which what should be a national cause is being personalized into an individual struggle for power. It also raises the question whether all the people present here would accept a solution that addresses the underlining challenges of governance in South Sudan if they are not part of the resulting government or continue to challenge the system.

I have heard some speakers in this meeting object to our being reminded of the suffering of our people because we know it and are concerned about it. While that is a noble argument, the fact is that we are not demonstrating our concern in a practical way that is visible and convincing to the international community.

I have always said that while it is sad and painful to hear that the outside world cares more about the suffering of our people than their own leaders, our response should not be anger or defensiveness, but to convince them that we indeed share that concern, perhaps even more than outsiders, and that we should join hands and work together to mutually reinforce our efforts toward our shared objective. We must also convince our people that we are indeed concerned about their suffering, and we can only do that through affirmative action.

We have so far spent much time discussing the terms of the agreement which we want to revitalize and the relevant provisions of our constitution. As I listened to the discussion, I kept thinking that while the wording of these instruments is important, what is crucial is the performance on the ground and effectiveness in achieving the intended objective. Virtually all constitutions stipulate lofty provisions in words that often conflict with performance or implementation.

Unfortunately, most, if not all, our constitutions in Africa are based on foreign models that are Eurocentric and are not adequately grounded in our political, social, and cultural realities. In fact, constitution making in the Sudan, and now in South Sudan, has always  been an elite exercise, unconnected to the masses of our people. I dare say that most of our leaders may not even have read the Interim Constitution of South Sudan.

Our constitutions certainly do not relate to our rural social contexts and normative frameworks. Every society has its coherent and cohesive social order, with an internal logic that is based on fundamental values that determine its patterns of participation and allocation of power and resources.

Our indigenous South Sudanese societies have been well studied and documented by world-renowned anthropologists. Almost all of them are segmentary lineage systems characterized by ethnocentric pride in individual and collective identity, autonomous decision making at all levels, and resistance to centralized authority and control. They have been described as acephalous, stateless, and anarchic, but paradoxically orderly. All of them had very well-established governance systems based on their cultural values and institutions, including traditional leadership, for maintaining peace and stability within and among their communities.

I often give the example of how a handful of British colonial administrators in the Sudan established law and order throughout the vast country of one million square miles, with enormous ethnic diversity, through indirect rule, using traditional authorities.

Prior to the modern state system, there were, of course, tribal wars, but these were mostly excesses in violation of the normative principles by youth warrior groups, who were supposed to defend society against external aggression. Each warrior age set was supposed to be guided and controlled by an Elder designated as the Spiritual Father of the group, a form of civilian control of the military.

Although they were to fight only in defense of the community and the land, warrior age sets exaggeratedly associated their identity and dignity with their status as warriors. And while chiefs and elders upheld the ideals of peace, unity, and harmony, warriors often resorted to violence at the slightest provocation and in defiance of the authority of their elders. That was where modern state power complemented the traditional system to be more effective in fostering peace and maintaining law and order.

In today’s militarized society of South Sudan, elders have paradoxically become the generals that are mobilizing the youth for war. The authority of the Chiefs and elders for peacemaking has been undermined and, in some cases, destroyed by military rulers. This is why we need to design a system of constitutionalism that revitalizes the role of traditional authority in maintaining law and order within and among our ethnic communities.

Of course, the objective is not to return to the past and restore outmoded values and practices. As has been noted in this meeting, some of the traditions and related customary laws were discriminatory, especially against women and children. Radical reform of these customs and practices is imperative and urgently needed. But reform by definition must be selective, rejecting what is undesirable and retaining what is valuable.

In significant areas, we need to remind our people of our positive values and traditional norms that we need to retain or revive. The horrific stories of gang rapes of women and the recruitment of child soldiers are completely alien to our culture and war ethics.

In our tradition, women were never targeted in war and a fallen warrior whom a woman physically covered for protection must no longer be harmed. Children who had not yet become of age as men and initiated as warriors were never targeted or conscripted into fighting. Any man known to have committed rape or taken sexual advantage of a woman without her consent was ostracized and banished from the community.

Ambush outside the battlefield was a grave moral wrong that invited a deadly spiritual sanction. Capital punishment, or vengeance killing other than in battle, was unknown.

These are some of the principles which the international community is still striving to enshrine and promote as fundamental human rights. As Kofi Annan used to say, to claim that human rights are imposed on us from outside is an insult to our own African cultural values and concepts of human dignity.

Let me now say a word about the relevance of the National Dialogue to the Revitalization agenda. Revitalization comes with regional and international leverage, while National Dialogue is homegrown and should enjoy national legitimacy. The two intersect or overlap at the point where they share the call for urgently ending the violence and restoring sustainable peace and security in the country.

It is important to note that our National Dialogue has so far endeavored to observe the principles of inclusivity, credibility, transparency, and integrity that are considered prerequisites for the success of any national dialogue. Discussions have so far been remarkably open, frank, and courageous. No one has been harassed or intimidated in any way. The President has repeatedly stated that National Dialogue is not intended to be a net, a trap, or a bait on a hook to catch political opponents, but, to the contrary, is intended to be genuinely credible.

Of course, inclusivity has to be a two-way process. The open invitation to join the dialogue must be accepted and acted upon by all concerned in order for the process to be operationally inclusive. When some people refuse to accept the invitation, responsibility for the failure of inclusivity must be appropriately placed upon those who have made the decision not to join the process. Likewise, recognition should be given to those who support the process and cooperate in ensuring its success.

The critical question is one of the timelines for the National Dialogue process. After an initial period of general debate in the Steering Committee, fifteen sub-committees were formed to conduct consultations at the regional and grassroots levels, and with refugees and the Diaspora. A number of sub-committees have already completed their work and the rest are expected to end their consultations in early March. Regional Conferences are planned to follow soon after and lead to the National Conference, whose recommendations will jumpstart the implementation phase.

The National Conference will also decide on the appropriate mechanism to assume the responsibility for implementation. This should usher in free and fair elections in which we expect the international community to play a supervisory role. This is where the two processes, Revitalization and the National Dialogue, should converge to affirmatively support arrangements for a transitional period and cooperate in promoting and ensuring durable peace, security, and stability.

It is our plan, working with respected constitutional experts, and building on the resource materials from the consultations, to develop normative frameworks, concepts, and principles for an appropriate governance system that is based on our social and cultural values and presented in a language that is understandable to the people. These could then be infused into the conventional framework that is common to most constitutions. Even that should be made more accessible to the people, translated into their local languages, and widely disseminated.

Furthermore, we envisage our National Dialogue as an on-going process that aims at addressing the challenges of peace, security, stability, and nation building at all levels, national, regional, and local. It is a top-down and bottom-up process which should reinforce the culture of dialogue that is part of our indigenous value-system.

That is why I believe that National Dialogue, should Revitalize our traditional authority to be more effective in maintaining peace and security within and among our communities. Even in this, we need the support and reinforcement of the Revitalization Forum and the cooperation of our regional and international partners.

Let me now end on a more personal note. It has always been my belief that pessimism leads to a dead end, while strategic optimism generates positive action. I also believe, as one speaker noted, that in crises there are often opportunities. The challenge is to identify them and pursue them with diligence.

I have now attended a number of meetings on the crises afflicting our country and have been struck by the impressive talents that should be actively engaged in building the nation, not in destroying it.

We must avoid the temptation of seeing the negotiation process as scoring points and returning to brag of having won the verbal contest. The winning of one side implies the loss of the opposing side, and that cannot be a basis for a genuine peace agreement. The objective must be a win-win outcome.

I hope that our increasing awareness of the tragic destruction our country is undergoing offers an opportunity, as one speaker noted, to strengthen our resolve to unify our will and collective efforts to end the violence that is tearing our country apart, to reconstruct, develop, and build our country in peace and unity in our enriching diversity.

Vincent Wanga contact@ssnationaldialogue.org