Statement of the Co-Chairman, Hon. Angelo Beda |On the Occasion of the Opening Ceremony of the National Dialogue Conference 3rd Nov. 2020
Your Excellency, Salva Kiir Mayardit, President of the Republic of
Your Excellency, Cyril Ramaphosa, President of the Republic of South
Your Excellency, Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairman of the African
Your excellency Molano Abel Alier, Co-Chairman of the National
Dialogue Steering Committee,
Your Excellency, Naohiro Tsutsumi, the Japanese Ambassador to the
Republic of South Sudan
Your Excellency, David Shearer, Special Representative of the Secretary
General to South Sudan,
Members of the diplomatic community accredited to the Republic of
Members of the International organizations,
Distinguished delegates to the National Dialogue National Conference Members of the Steering Committee,
Fellow members of the Steering Committee Leadership,
Members of the Steering Committee Secretariat,
Members of the press core,
Invited guests and observers,
Ladies and Gentlemen: Good morning.
It is a great honor to welcome all of you to this opening ceremony of the National Dialogue National Conference. Your presence here attests to the significance of this occasion and it is a demonstration of your love and care for the people of South Sudan and for that, I must thank you very much. Welcome to Juba! Welcome to the National Conference!
I am greatly humbled to convene and chair this conference with His Excellency Molana Abel Alier, a man who has served this country for his entire life and continue to do so despite his physical condition. It is a great honor to serve in this capacity side-by-side with him and Hon. Bona Malwal Madut Ring and Francis Mading Deng and all these great men and women of the Steering Committee leadership.
I want to thank the eminent members of the Steering Committee who have been incredibly committed and dedicated to the service of their country and to this process without whom, this process would not have succeeded. They had to go to the most impossible places to get to access our people for consultations. Their actions were heroic.
I also want to thank wholeheartedly, the Secretariat of the Steering Committee made up of young men and women of South Sudan who are dedicated and who have demonstrated exceptional skills and expertise and have been the engine driving this process. We are indebted to them and we thank them for organizing this beautiful occasion.
Most importantly, we want to welcome and thank the delegates of the National Conference who have struggled in the floods and difficult roads from all corners of our country to come and attend this conference. We want to thank them for participating in this process from the grassroots consultations, the regional conferences, and now the National Conference. These men and women of South Sudan proved to the whole world the bravery, candor, and the commitment to speak the truth no matter what the circumstances. We thank them very much; they are the owners of South Sudan and this process. We are simply their servants.
To our President and the whole government, we must thank and honor you for this process, conceived and underwritten by your government. We want to thank you because you have kept your words. When you launched this process on the 14th of December 2016, you said and I quote, “I am throwing the full weight of the government behind it, but the government will not lead or control this process.” You have kept your words Mr. President and that is a demonstration of leadership.
This process has been so critical of your government, your security forces, your ruling party and your person as a leader of this country. But you have kept your composure, and you kept faith in this process. The people at the grassroots have even call for your resignation and for Riek Machar and Lam Akol to step aside, you still kept faith in the process and this process will go down in history as one of your wisest decisions and it is a legacy that no one can take away from you. Up to this point, no one has ever been arrested or harassed for speaking in a National Dialogue event. We hope this remains the case until the end of this process. You have provided the resources needed to sustain this process and we thank you and your ministers of finance for their cooperation.
We also want to thank the Government Japan, the only international partner, that has kept faith in this process and provided resources to the UNDP to support the Steering Committee. Despite pressure not to support us, they kept their promise and for this, we thank the people of Japan represented by the Ambassador here.
We must also thank our technical partners UNMISS in the person of the Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) for his support, especially during the grassroots consultations, and most importantly, UNDP in the person of Dr. Kamil Kamalluddeen and his dedicated staff for standing with us throughout this process.
We want to extend a special thank and gratitude to the South African government, especially His Excellency Cyril Ramaphosa and Roef Myers for sharing their experiences with the National Dialogue Steering Committee and its leadership at the inception of this process and thereafter. We are truly indebted to them for inspiring us and for helping us understand the essence of our assignment.
Last, but not the least, we want to thank the people and government of the Arab Republic of Egypt for their support in providing our secretariat with equipment and tools to carry out their duties.
The Launch of the National Dialogue and the formation of the Steering Committee
Fellow Delegates, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
We are gathered today to open the National Dialogue National
Conference, the last stage, in what has been a three-staged process starting with the grassroots consultations, the regional conferences, and now the National Conference. The South Sudan National Dialogue process was launched by His Excellency President Salva Kiir Mayardit in the National Parliament on the 14th of December 2016, that is nearly four years ago.
After announcing his intention to take the nation through the Dialogue, he formed a Steering Committee of eminent persons and a small unit of the secretariat. The process ran into some challenges, so the President decided to restructure the Steering Committee, and this is how I got my poor self to be the Co-chairman alongside H.E. Molana Abel Alier and the able Rapporteur Bona Malwal Madut Ring steering this process. I got the news of my appointment in Tumbura where I was a farmer, as I had retired from politics.
When the President launched the National Dialogue, this country was in an extremely dangerous situation. In July that year, a day before the celebration of our fifth independence anniversary, there was a dog fight at the State House, the bloodiest act of violence ever experienced in this country and the lives of the President and his two deputies were online that day. Hundreds of their bodyguards were killed. This incident revibrated across the country, especially in the Equatoria and violence was spreading and consuming this country like a wildfire. The UN Special Representative on the Prevention of Genocide came for a visit here and later released a report to the Security Council, saying that there was a real threat of genocide in South Sudan. Millions of people had fled the country and tempers were extremely high and ethnic targeting of civilians was rampant. There was a real fear that this country was heading for collapse and disintegration. There was no political process at the time and Dr. Riek Machar was stuck in South Africa.
This is the context in which the National Dialogue was launched and our assignment as the Steering Committee was to reverse this spiraling trend. To a greater degree, the National Dialogue did help in cooling the tempers and in restoring a sense of hope. The Steering Committee was sworn-in here at Freedom Hall on the 22nd of May 2017 and we started our work right away. For the purposes of transparency, at the time of the launch of the National Dialogue Steering Committee, the President was going to be the patron of the process, but he came under severe criticism, so he relinquished being the patron and gave us the full mandate of an independent body to make decisions and to steer this process without asking for his blessing and this is what we have done.
Second, there was a great deal of skepticism about the intention of the President and this process and many people rushed to the conclusion that this process is simply a smokescreen to whitewash the President’s actions and to extend his stay in power. Some people as far as saying that this process was simply a monologue as the oppositions were not part of it. To the contrary, the people of South Sudan did dialogue, though it was not a dialogue about power sharing.
Third, in the first session of the Steering Committee, not many of us, including me, the Chairman, had any idea what the National Dialogue actually was. We had to try and reflect on this ourselves and so we decided to open a debate among the members of the Steering Committee asking a simple question, “what went wrong”. The members of Steering Committee spoke for nearly a month in a debate where no one was timed. People spoke until they ran out of words and they could sit down, and someone would take the mike. Through this process, a very rough sketch of what was wrong begun to emerge, and this generated a lot of thoughts about what this process was.
After completing internal debates, we asked for help from people who have had this experience here on the continent and around the world. The UNMISS and UNDP came to our support and we organized seminars and workshops were experts from Tunisia, Rwanda, South Africa, Liberia and Yemen, came to share their stories. Institutions such as the United States Institute of Peace, UN Mediation Unit, Berghof Foundation, and CMI also came with more expertise. These exchanges were extremely useful in preparing us for the task of taking our nation through the dialogue process.
We decided then to organize the Steering Committee into subcommittees. We first defined for our purpose what the grassroots were going to be and what the regions were going to be. We also decided to define inclusivity for our purpose to be both geographically based on 80 counties of South Sudan including Abyei and 11 categories of stakeholders were identified in each county as the key participants in the process. These stakeholders include women, youth, political parties, traders, farmers, religious leaders, organized forces, community-based organizations, people with special needs, teachers, and traditional leaders.
We defined regions as the 10 states of South Sudan and Abyei and Pibor Administrative Areas. So, the Steering Committee set up 12 subcommittees representing these regions. We also created three additional subcommittees, one representing the organized and security forces, one committee for the national capital, and one to reach out to refugees and diaspora. The Steering had a total of 15 subcommittees. The purpose of this subcommittees was to carryout grassroots consultations and facilitate the selection of delegates to the regional and national conferences.
At the grassroots consultations, we went to the counties and simply asked our people, what went wrong? Our job was not to respond to what they said, we simply documented what they said in video, voice and written minutes. After completing their consultations, each subcommittee submitted a report of what people said and the report was presented to the Steering Committee for adoption. Now, we have the 15 reports of the subcommittees, containing evidence of what people said in each of the 80 locations. We also have this recording in video for future reference.
The able Secretariat of the National Dialogue Steering Committee, then analyzed these reports and compiled a document of the key issues coming from the 15 reports of the subcommittees and produced a document called “The People Have Spoken”. The Secretariat went further to group the emerging issues into four broad clusters. There were issues under governance, security, economy, and social cohesion. After the grassroots consultations, we had a very good idea of what is happening in the country and what truly went wrong.
What went wrong
Your Excellencies, delegates, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
Allow me to highlight a few points of what we found went wrong in our country, according to the people at the grassroots and our own analysis as the Steering Committee. I do this not to point fingers at individuals, but in the honesty and transparency required as one of five principles of the National Dialogue and to prove to the delegates who have gathered here that what they said is relayed as it was. We are not doing this to name and shame our leaders, we do this as a way to seek the truth and to restore normalcy in our people’s lives.
Prominent among the issues we found went wrong, is that the people at the grassroots blamed the crises in the country on the ‘failure of leadership, particularly under the ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).’ When we reference SPLM, are talking about the SPLM before it broke into the numerous factions as we know today. The SPLM took helm of power in South Sudan following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in January 2005. The failure of leadership and of the SPLM is manifested in a number of ways.
First, the SPLM and its leadership, per the provisions of the CPA, was charged with a responsibility to build a new political system in Southern Sudan that was to contrast the then existing system in the Sudan—a system that was perceived to be undemocratic, unjust, oppressive and based on parochial distorted Arab and Islamic identity. The CPA provided for two systems of government in one country. The SPLM demonstrably failed to build a new political system in South Sudan, so by the end of the six years Interim Period, the reverse was true, there was one system, two separate countries. The SPLM simply took the poorer version of the Sudanese state and ran with it. Notably, the SPLM built an authoritarian system in the country, which is becoming more and more tyrannical, although without the substance and authority of a functioning state.
‘One of the defining features of the authoritarian system instituted here in South Sudan is the centralization of power in Juba.’ During the Interim Period, states had functioned largely without the interference from the central government. After independence, the central government took over state power and governors were being dismissed and appointed at will. This obviously choked and paralyzed the states and this contributed to the collapse of the system in the regions, which exacerbated instability across the country.
As we speak, citizens’ civil liberties are violated daily. Freedom of speech, of assembly, freedom of press, and even freedom to associate politically have largely been curtailed by the state.
“People were arrested arbitrarily and detained, forced disappearance as well as intimidation of journalists and political opposition leaders are common occurrences in South Sudan.”
These actions are a far cry from what the SPLM fought for and what it envisioned to build through its New Sudan vision where all are equal, where justice reign, and where prosperity is shared across. The government of South Sudan derailed from its democratic commitments long time ago, it is a system that is a complete opposite of what was envisioned that is now in place.
The 2013 political conflict is explained in large part by the fact that the governing instruments of the SPLM were undemocratic and political competition was not tolerated and a strict political hierarchy established during the war was dogmatically followed. Hence, those who had political aspirations had no chance, they must wait for their turn in what was clearly a long line. This also meant that debates about the future of the country could not happen in the party, as such was considered indiscipline. This is why the party raptured and the resultant chaos is what the Steering Committee is assigned to remedy.
“Second, the SPLM government failed to contain widespread ethnic conflicts in the country and so insecurity became the hallmark of autonomous region of Southern Sudan and this situation extended to an independent South Sudan and as we speak, this situation is persistent.”
The rural areas of South Sudan are at war communally and inter-communally besides the political conflict. Hence, the government demonstrated inability to penetrate the society and exert control. Since the SPLM was in charge, hardly could we, and the people we consulted, find anyone else in the country to blame, but the SPLM.
Third, while the SPLM-led government succeeded in mobilizing the people of South Sudan for a referendum, and thanks to the SPLM, we now have a country we called our own, but the government failed to prepare the people of South Sudan for the independence. This is why after independence, it was not so clear what was the political, economic, and socio developmental program of the government and where we were heading next. In essence, there is a blurred vision and up to now, it is not so clear what is the grand vision of the state for the society.
Fourth, from 2005 to July 2011, South Sudan was earning lucratively from its 50% share of oil revenues, earning more than half a billion in a month.
These financial resources were wasted and squandered and there is nothing significant to show for this amount. Estimates show that South Sudan collected more than 20 billion in oil share during the Interim Period, yet there are no permanent roads, Juba still lacks clean drinking water and electricity, not to speak of the rest of the country. Where did the money go?
“Fifth, corruption became the hallmark of the SPLM-led government and South Sudan, if it is not the most corrupt country in Africa, it is the second according to the corruption perception index.”
The President in 2013 issued 75 letters to his ministers and members of his government, to return allegedly 4 billion dollars they have stolen. Only two members came out clearly saying they did not take any money and are willing to be investigated. The rampant corruption is thriving on the sense of entitlement among the liberators, that since they fought, all power, money, and even the law were their personal trophies.
Six, the decision of the government to shutdown oil production in 2012 and its decision to attack Sudan forces in Panthou, clearly bankrupted the country, a situation that arguably precipitated the events of 2013 and the country has not recovered from the negative impact of that decision to this day.
Seventh, the ethnicization of politics was fomented by the SPLM leaders, for example, political appointments are based on ethnicity and not necessarily on competence. Besides, the military was also ethnicized with the President having allegedly recruited exclusively an ethnic militia from Warrap and Dr. Riek Machar recruited the White Army exclusively from the Lou Nuer area. By the time the fighting broke out in December 2013, the formal military, the SPLA also split along ethnic lines. This suggests that the leaders of South Sudan had no plan to build a nonpolitical national army that is able to stand independently from the political leaders.
This situation got worse after the events of 2013 when ethnic Nuer were targeted here in Juba and ethnic Dinka were targeted in Upper Nile. The Equatoria got its share of this following the dog fight in the State House 2016. The core of our country was shaken, and it cracked deeply, but our job is to mend these cracks and to piece together the broken pieces.
The most serious challenge is that the contenders over the power of South Sudan each believe that they must have an army of their own, by which they can overcome the current national army of the young South Sudanese state. It is now a practice in South Sudan that every ambitious political aspirant to power does not want to accept and respect peace in South Sudan unless and until his forces are also integrated as part of the national army, the SPLA. This situation has created a feeling that the National Army is now dominated by two ethnic groups, the Nuer and the Dinka. If the SPLA did not split and target civilians ethnically, it wouldn’t matter whether army is dominated by one family. One of the most difficult and intricate matters to resolve by the South Sudan National Dialogue is the tribal animosity that the failure of the political system has engendered in South Sudan today.
Eighth, South Sudan, though endowed with fertile arable land, is permanently a humanitarian hub. Our people are being fed by the international community since 1983 and the government failed to create a conducive environment for investment in agriculture, and so our people, almost 10 years into their independence, are still fed with handouts from the international community. This is an extremely shameful situation and we must really feel sorry for ourselves having been unable to wean ourselves off this dependency. Our sense of collective worth and pride is insulted everyday our people receive food from the World Food Program.
Ninth, South Sudan squandered a huge international goodwill. This happened because our allies then, the United States, Norway, and the UK plus the European Union are democratic states that cherish human rights and democratic governance. They supported the people of South Sudan because the vision that was put forth by the SPLM was appealing as it had democratic aspirations in it and elements of justice and development. Upon close scrutiny, they found that neither did the SPLM leaders believe in these values nor do they practice these values, so they withdrew.
Overnight, these friends became the fiercest critics of South Sudan to the extent that some of them regretted their support for our independence. In the nutshell, the SPLM government’s foreign policy failed spectacularly and South Sudan now is under the UN arms embargo and targeted sanctions are placed on individual leaders of the government. How did we get ourselves to this, from the darling to now being the laughingstock?
Tenth, gross human rights violations have characterized the conflict that broke out 2013. The level of ethnic hatred was exacerbated by the brutality that the government and rebel forces exacted on the citizens. Young girls and women were raped, and no one is held to account. Pregnant women were killed, and their fetuses removed and mutilated. Members of Dinka community were targeted on the Equatorian roads, especially Nimule and Yei roads and removed from buses and killed. There was that incident where nearly 200 people were killed on Yei road including women and young children. These abuses and human rights violations characterize a state and rebel groups that have no shred of respect for democratic values and human dignity. These actions divided the country further. This is partly what pulled our friends away from us and our image around the globe and in Africa is tarnished irreparably and it will take a lot of efforts and a lot of reforms to restore it.
Lastly, just to name a few, impunity. Public officials commit so many mistakes and crimes, but no one is held to account. South Sudan is the only country in the world where government officials are free to do whatever they want and even some ordinary citizens do as they wish. They can kill people through rebellion and the next day they are rewarded with lucrative financial packages and prominent positions in the government. There are many who have committed horrendous crimes, who are now prominent in the current government. One pays absolutely nothing for public offenses, if anything, the public pays you for your misconduct and corruption. No system built as such can stand.
I don’t want to belabor too much on what went wrong, but I wanted to give you a sense of what it is that we are dealing with and what the meaning of the National Dialogue has been. At the National Conference stage, we are going to tackle the question of what we can do in light of everything that has gone wrong. If you come for the closing ceremony, perhaps you will have a glimpse of what our resolutions will be.
The Regional Conferences
Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
After we completed the grassroots consultations, we organized the regional conferences and we decided, instead of organizing 12 regional conferences, we went for three greater regions of Bahr el Ghazal, Equatoria, and Upper Nile. This decision was influence by time and resources. The objective of the regional conferences was to validate the findings of the grassroots consultations and to screen and prioritize the issues that really matter in our current situation and to simply ask the delegates what to do about what we have found. Each region discussed and made recommendations to the National Conference.
The Steering Committee, through its Secretariat, sat and analyzed the recommendations of the regional conferences along the four thematic areas, and found that though each region met separately, the agenda was structured the same and so there are issues on which consensus has already been reached and there are issues were the regions have diverged. The National Dialogue National Conference will therefore tackle those outstanding issues and make final resolutions, including a proposal on the implementation and follow up mechanism.
The political parties joined the South Sudan National Dialogue after the completion of the Bahr el Ghazal Regional Conference. Following the signing of the R-ARCSS on the 12th of December 2018, the organized peace celebration in Juba in October that year and during the occasion, the President invited all the parties to join the National Dialogue. By February 2019, we met with all the political parties and discussed the modalities on how they will be joined. We then when to South Africa to develop a shared vision for the National Dialogue and signed the Pretoria Declaration. It was agreed that the political parties would participate in all structures of the Steering Committee, so four were accepted to the leadership, 35 to the Steering Committee and 10 to the secretariat. For reasons unknown to us, the SPLM-IO pulled its members out of the National Dialogue later, but all the other political parties have remained. We actually organized a special conference for all the 52 parties of South Sudan from the 20TH—25the May 2019. The South Sudan National Dialogue is and has been an inclusive process supported by most political parties.
The National Conference
Your Excellencies, delegates,
Today we are opening the formal session of the National Conference. The National Conference has the mandate to deliberate on the recommendations of the regional conferences and any other emerging issues, make final resolutions, and issue a final communique of the National Dialogue. This will formally end the National Dialogue process, although the Steering Committee through its leadership and the Secretariat will write the final report, which will be handed over to the Presidency together with the final resolutions, and the President will then take this report and the resolutions to the parliament for endorsement and thereafter the implementation will follow.
The link between the National Dialogue and the Peace
We get asked regularly what the link between the National Dialogue and the Peace Agreement is. It is our considered view that the political Agreement signed in September 2018 is a top down process dominated by the political elites whose primary motivation had been power; be it military, political, or financial. The National Dialogue process, on the other hand, is a bottom up process where ordinary people discussed issues, which they believe affect them in terms of their relations with the state and among themselves. Hence, their decisions should be considered sovereign and of course can only be implemented by the government. We therefore believe that the two process are each one-half of the other and when put together make a complete whole. The difference though is that the ordinary people, coming from the rural villages of South Sudan, discussed these issues in an environment free of political pressure and it is our belief that their resolutions will be objective and will aim at laying a strong foundation for a more peaceful and stable South Sudan.
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I want to conclude by reiterating my gratitude to all of you for coming and to thank each one of you for your support. You are all invited to the closing ceremony of the National Conference, which is now scheduled for Sunday the 15th of November 2020. By that time, hopefully the final resolutions would have been ready and could be read out. If anyone of the dignitaries wishes to attend our working sessions any of the days, we should be notified in advance to ensure proper sitting arrangements are made for them. Fellow delegates, our real business shall begin tomorrow when we will present to you the draft agenda of the National Dialogue and the Rules and Procedures. I wish all of you a pleasant day today and,
Thank you all, very, very much.