South Sudanese Bishop Emeritus Paride Taban has declined to take part in running the government-initiated ‘National Dialogue,’ citing his old age and his desire to spend his time in prayer and fasting for peace instead.
Taban was meant to serve as the co-chairman of the initiative, which was recently announced by President Salva Kiir. Effectively, the National Dialogue has overshadowed the national healing and reconciliation process mandated by the August 2015 peace deal, which has not begun and which apparently lacks political support from the government.
The retired bishop said in a letter to Kiir that he welcomes the National Dialogue initiative and prays that it is sincere, but pointed out that he is 81 years of age and retired to the peace village in Kuron, “to join the international prayer houses in Europe, America and Africa to pray day and night for nonviolence and peace with justice in our country, anguishing from war and hunger.”
“Hence I beg your Excellency to excuse me from the role of Co-chairman of the National Dialogue Initiative,” he wrote to the president, adding that he will continue praying for the initiative and will meet the steering committee members whenever his contribution or advice is needed.
Kiir has a habit of appointing people to positions without first consulting them. Normally they accept but in this case not.
Paride Taban’s letter comes after others by church leaders expressing reservations about the National Dialogue. One group of church leaders after meeting in December wrote that they did not think Salva Kiir should be ‘patron’ of such a National Dialogue. But some clergy support the initiative or are reluctant to criticize it openly.
South Sudanese citizens express mixed views on the National Dialogue on social media. Some see it as a genuine peace initiative while others consider it a cynical move launched by the president at a time that his forces continue military campaigns in several parts of the country.
Lombe Lojogo, writing on Facebook recently said, “How do you conduct dialogue without accountability and justice? How do you have a national dialogue when entire states have been displaced? How?”
Taban Emma echoed this saying, “Attacks on civilian population, rape, looting, burning of houses, cattle raiding by the so called Mathiang Anyoor [militia] is still continuing here in Yei town and its surrounding villages. In my own opinion, the National Dialogue will succeed if all the Mathiang Anyoor militias are taken back to Bahr el Ghazal and the people are allowed and provided security to return to their homes.”
Another citizen, Johnson Joseph Matar said, “We are tired of war. I call upon the president to [make] this dialogue to be inclusive so that we can have a lasting peace in our beloved country South Sudan.”