South Sudan: Call for National Dialogue – Bluff Or Quest For Peace? By Wol Deng Atak – Gurtong

Salva Kiir Mayardit, South Sudan,
Salva Kiir Mayardit

The recent proposal for National Dialogue, unveiled by President Salva Kiir Mayardit in his speech to Parliament, is a good stride toward a right direction.

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The revelation is also in line with political opposition leaders and media personalities who earlier called for the same national exercise. Thus, it is evident that the opinion resonates
with President Kiir.


Furthermore, nurturing this quest for national dialogue will consolidate peace and national spirit.

This, however, is only achievable if President Kiir creates environment for free media and relax curbs placed on freedom of speech in the country.

Concern is growing in proponents, as quarters within Kiirís administration secretly voice serious reservations on the proposed National Dialogue. Their reservations are understandably based on fear of losing influence they have enjoyed during years of political and economic
crisis in the country. Their major fear is in possible new dimension to power equation that may result from National Dialogue.

However, the opposition to National Dialogues needs not to be incentivized because it is the only road to peace building, reconciliation and national unity.

It is important for the nation to have well-defined national dialogues to bear transparency and independent patronage to steer the process toward inclusive and measured success. This seems not to be the case as President Kiir recently nominated himself to serve as the patron
to National Debate exercise. This self-nomination is not plausible because Kiir is a side with interest to defend.

Thus, handing himself a podium to lead the process would only result into a replica of December, 2013 political monologue on SPLM documents in National Liberation Council. The proponents on side of President Kiir were then given chances to advance positions favourable to President Kiirís views while sentiments for constitutional amendment were denied the same opportunity.

Subsequently, many SPLM leaders for amendment of the clauses boycotted the deliberation on 15th December 2015; leaving Kiir’s side to pass the documents in their absent. This deepened disagreement and later degenerated into violence, pillaging and destructions, ethnic
targeting killings, and divisions the dialogues would now aim to undo. For this reasons, it would undermine the process if President Kiir leads the Dialogue.

International personality like Kofi Annan can lead the process of National Dialogues. He has led a successful political dialogue in Kenya in 2008 and he proved to be up to the task. Let us be very clear here, that there are important steps; recent calls for National Dialogue were
ignored; yet they are very important to its success. These include lifting restriction on free speech and media spaces required for serious dialogues.

Let us first examine what it means to have National Dialogues. Heibach informs that National Dialogues can be understood as an argumentative interaction of political elites in the frame-work of an institutionalised or non-institutionalised process outside a constitution or established associations that aims at engaging as many relevant actors as possible on a national level in negotiating socio-political issues relevant to the whole society, (Heibach, 2011, 78).

In other words, it is a political process geared toward establishing consensus on major issues of national importance. More so, it is a crucial tool for peace building, reconciliation, fostering good governance, and national unity. In a nutshell, it encompasses debates on constitution making, good governance, and provisions of vital services such as health, education, infrastructures, rules and procedures, legitimacy, etc.

Kiir calls for forgiveness for the mistakes he might have committed against the nation needs to correspond to his behaviours toward the opposition. Members of the opposition currently under detention for opposing him, or on ground of being sympathizers of Riek Machar, should be released to show a good gesture. It would also serve as a signal for reconciliation. For example releasing Hon. Andrew Kuach, Hon. Wol Mayom, Hon. Elise Wayuai, including critics from Eastern and Western Equatoria, among other political detainees would send a tone for reconciliation.

In the same light, Media houses forced to close by Kiir’s office, because they reported stories directly touching him or are owned by people opposed to his rule, should be allowed to resume printing or broadcasting. For example, the Nation Mirror, Citizen, Destiny, Al Waton, Al
Raiai, Al Masir, among other Newspapers currently under the National Security Detention should be allowed to resume printing.

Not to over emphasize the importance of free media and free speech as key ingredients to a successful National Dialogue, allowing political space and free media is crucial for fostering good governance and peace building in a country.

Most experiences on national dialogues have been on post-war situations. Unlike South Sudan, where the President has called for it as violence rages on in former Western Equatoria, Bhar el Ghazal and Upper Nile states. It is, therefore, incumbent on President Kiir to reach out to the armed opposition to consolidate the success of discourse, thereof.

I wouldn’t want to think of presidential calls for National Dialogue as a bluff to get every opposition back to the country then shut the doors behind them. But it is also difficult to ignore any sentiment gearing toward that direction if the president does not take key decisions
to create conducive environment required for National Dialogue. For no national debate can shape a nation’s future without the presence of free media and free speech.

In conclusion, it is equally important for President Kiir to reconsider the thorny Order No. 36 creating more states outside stipulations of peace agreement, and the directives revoking dissidents’ passports and private properties to echo a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation
he asked of the nation.

The opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views or have the endorsement of the Editorial Board of


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