Exclusive interview: Kosti Manibe rejects National Dialogue appointment

Kosti Manibe, South Sudan’s former finance minister and a former political detainee now living in exile, has declined an appointment by President Salva Kiir to the National Dialogue steering committee, citing a number of concerns with the government-run initiative.

Manibe’s decision comes after a decree read out on state-owned television last Tuesday, appointing him alongside 102 other steering committee members and a secretariat of ten. The “Republican Order No. 09/2017 for the Reconstitution of the National Dialogue Steering Committee,” dated April 25th, aimed at reviving Kiir’s proposed dialogue initiative.

Kiir has cast himself as peacemaker and ‘patron’ of the dialogue process, but critics objected to the initiative saying his forces continue to wage attacks and commit abuses throughout the country, disqualifying him from serving in the neutral role of convener or facilitator.

In an exclusive interview, Manibe explained his decision for declining the appointment, saying the National Dialogue lacks a terms of reference and lacks inclusivity. He also took issue with the role of Salva Kiir as the ‘convener’ of the Dialogue, saying a credible person is needed.

Earlier this week, Rebecca Nyandeng, the widow of the late SPLM leader John Garang de Mabior, also declined an appointment to the steering committee, saying that the “mandate of this committee is unclear and its inclusivity is questionable.”

Manibe and ‘Mama Rebecca’ are both members of the dissident ‘Former Detainees’ group — which is now divided between a group that has accepted reinstatement into government and another that remains in exile.

Both Manibe and Nyandeng were detained on Kiir’s orders in December 2013 and released several months later at the request of Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta. The Former Detainees, also called the G10 or ‘SPLM Leaders’, later signed the August 2015 peace deal, which has broken down since a bloody episode in Juba in July 2016.

Below is our interview with Kosti Manibe in which he shares his thoughts on the National Dialogue and how South Sudan’s conflict can be brought to an end:

Messenger: Recently you were appointed by President Salva Kiir into the newly reconstituted National Dialogue and later you declined — why? Were you not consulted?

Kosti Manibe: I know you journalists like asking direct questions because you are always time conscious. You want to beat the time by being time-sensitive. But if you would like your readers or viewers to understand the reasons for my decision, I think it would be better you allow me to give you the background for my decision. I did not just decide to turn down the appointment because of lack of consultation — which is one of the reasons — but the main reason is the lack of terms of reference. You know that this idea of national dialogue came from us and it was picked by others and gave it their own names.

We called for an all-inclusive round table conference in November 2016, because we think it would be a suitable platform through which all key interest groups would have the opportunity to discuss the conflict (so that) it would be ended as the priority. So, in our minds, we were thinking of a forum in which all key stakeholders would be invited to participate.

National dialogue is but one step along the long and arduous path of building a peaceful society.

But before the process begins, an inclusive, transparent, and consultative preparatory phase, a small team representing all sides should be assembled to consult consultations with all the parties for a genuine national dialogue, which is a tool with the potential to facilitate peaceful political transformation, though not a magic bullet. Even in the most successful instances, national dialogue is but one step along the long and arduous path of building a peaceful society. It is this small team which reaches out to all the stakeholders on issues like the shape and structure of a national dialogue, and in particular, who is invited to participate, as it can be as intensely political as the dialogue itself.

It is important that these preparations are undertaken carefully and transparently by a preparatory committee that is inclusive of all major groups.

Another important reason for which I declined the appointment is the issue of convener. You know that the national dialogue (should) seek to secure the participation of a wide variety of stakeholder groups and to avoid perceptions of bias. This requires a credible convener, which may take the form of a single person, a group of people, an organization, or a coalition of organizations.

The National Dialogue ‘requires a credible convener.’

The convener should be respected by the majority of stakeholders and should not have any political aspirations or goals that would present an obvious conflict of interest.

The national dialogue or the round table, whichever names you would like to use, should have a clear mandate and appropriately tailored structure, rules, and procedures. This is because it will have its own set of procedures and rules for making decisions, which should be transparent and carefully tailored to the composition of the group and the nature of the issues. These procedures should also include mechanisms to break deadlocks if an agreement cannot be reached.

Messenger: So in your opinion, what do you propose as a way to stopping the conflict and reconcile the nation?   

Kosti Manibe: The way forward is to hold consultation first with all the stakeholders and this needs to be the work of a small team, not everyone, like it has been done by the presidential decree.

President Salva Kiir, from his side, should form a small team to engage with other stakeholders on designing the mechanics of the proposed national dialogue, including carrying out consultations with a view to developing agenda, rules of procedures, code of conduct and determine the size of participation, how to create conducive environment for free and genuine dialogue.