Exclusive interviews: Supporters & critics of South Sudan’s National Dialogue

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir’s ‘National Dialogue’ has been controversial since it was announced, some hailing the initiative as a step toward peace and away from the violent practices of the past three years of civil war, while others see it as a cynical distraction as the government continues military efforts to crush its opponents.

The proposed National Dialogue has been plagued by a funding shortage, the resignation of the appointed co-chairman and disagreements over process and protocol. South Sudan’s government has called on international donors to step up to support the initiative.

In an attempt to find out more about what people think about the National Dialogue, The Messenger reached out to a few different prominent figures to hear their views.

Aldo Ajou Deng Akuey, member of the Jieng Council of Elders

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Hon. Aldo Ajou Deng (via Google Plus)

Aldo Ajou Deng Akuey, member of the Jieng (Dinka) tribal lobby group that advises President Salva Kiir, says the situation in the country is dire and requires a frank and honest national dialogue. He also linked the dialogue to the preservation of national power and dignity:

“There is a challenge for which all must rise up, go out for a search and see whether we will find a cohesive answer to it. There are serious existential threats and it is a challenge requiring all of us to stand together, because it is not about the government, not about any particular tribe, real or perceived or politicians struck over power. It is about the existence of the country.”

“There are serious existential threats… It is about our sovereignty.”

“It is about our sovereignty and the cause of liberation struggle is now at stake. We need to sit down and carry out a proper soul searching exercise because if this country breaks up and tear down into pieces, it will affect all us and picking rubbles will not be easy as some of us thinks.”

Daniel Deng Bul, Episcopal Archbishop of South Sudan and Sudan:

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Bishop Deng says he favors dialogue over violence. He also criticizes those who associate the government with the Dinka ethnic group, to which he belongs:

“To all our people, I would like them to reconcile, accept themselves and see themselves as people of one country with one destiny. I know there are emotions. Everyone is feeling pain and pointing fingers. I know there are genuine and great emotions of anger. They are genuine because innocent lives are killed,” said the archbishop.

“But it is not fair, not correct to be angry at a whole category of people, but simply at one person,” he said. He was referring to a perception among non-Dinka tribes who see the tribe as synonymous to the government. The religious leader said the only way to find a solution to the conflict is sitting down together and holding an honest discussion about the issues affecting the people.

“It is not fair to be angry at a whole category of people.”

“When there are issues, when there is a problem, it is not fighting that is the best way to resolve them; it is dialogue, bringing the two sides together and let them hold an honest dialogue. This is what the church is advising. This is what we have been doing and continue,” he adds.

Joseph Wol Modesto Ukelo, General Secretary of the Communist Party

Modesto says South Sudanese need to make peace as they are now increasingly regarded around the world as troublemakers who know only how to make war:

“In the world, we have now set an unprecedented image. We are being seen as troublemakers, people who know how to start wars and but do not known how to end them. We are seen as people who do not value peace, development.”

“We have no culture of peace and so we are seen as people who have no future. This comes as a result of our failure to clear our own mess in our house,” said Ukelo.

“We must change this by engaging ourselves in a frank and honest dialogue. This country belongs to all of us and it requires holding open, inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue so that we discuss all our issues.”

He said his party supports the call for inclusive dialogue but the process must be preceded by cessation of hostilities, release of political detainees, lifting of the state of emergency and allowing aid organizations to deliver assistance to conflict-affected areas.

Rebecca Nyandeng, widow of SPLM founder John Garang

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Nyandeng, widow of SPLM founder John Garang and also a former cabinet minister, welcomes the idea of national dialogue in principle, while questioning the exclusionary nature of the current initiative. She labels Kiir’s current dialogue proposal a “political project,” saying that what South Sudan needs instead is an inclusive dialogue rather than a stage-managed political initiative:

“That national dialogue should be inclusive, open to all so that it becomes participatory and becomes a forum at which real dialogue would take place to address multifaceted issues causing the crisis. But the way it has been designed shows that the motive is to consolidate the power and legitimacy of the government through a political process in preparation for future elections. So it is not a true national dialogue, it is a political project. If it is a national dialogue, it should be inclusive and participatory,” she said.

“If it is a national dialogue, it should be inclusive and participatory.”

“When you don’t want to include other people, people with different views, then who do you want to dialogue with — your friend, right? If it is your friend then that is not a national dialogue.”

“It is a monologue because your friends will not give a different view, and I don’t think that dialogue will succeed because no one makes a peace with a friend,” she stressed.


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