The Here and Not Yet of National Reconciliation Debate in South Sudan

BY: Tongun Lo Loyuong, South Sudanese, APR/18/2013, SSN;

With the latest Republican decree issued on 15 April, 2013 that relieved Vice President, Dr. Riek Machar of some of his delegated duties by President Mayardit, including the Vice President’s surprising assignment in the first place to spearhead a nationwide reconciliation process, the here and not yet of national reconciliation debate in South Sudan has been firmly reignited.

In light of the looming power struggle over the leadership of the ruling SPLM party, and the tense political climate in the country, perhaps many South Sudanese anticipated some action of firing and hiring, or demotion and elevation or some changes of power and personnel if you like, in the government as well as in the ruling party. At the moment, even drinking a cup of tea under the tree is politicized in South Sudan, and so was the case with this whole national reconciliation thing.

While it is true that a national reconciliation exercise is overdue in this beleaguered state, and is called for by our Transitional Constitution, neither the timing nor the technicalities and nature of the current reconciliation process was going to yield any meaningful social harmony and reconciliation in the country.

This process was always prematurely born, and was bound to be a slippery slope. I held this same position in a piece entitled “how to redress the violent past in South Sudan,” published on 30 November, 2012 on South Sudan Nation website when the national reconciliation debate was a hot topic then, and I maintain the same position now.

On that occasion, I concluded that the current reconciliation attempt can only generate the intended effect of “healing, closure, and a sense of national unity and cohesion between the diverse tribes of South Sudan, if it is perceived as a democratic project, intricately linked to other issues of good governance.”

Without this, I argued then that “the touted comprehensive national reconciliation project is as good as dead even before it is born.”

As detailed in that piece, there are ethical practices of reconciliation that must be pursued concurrently, in order for the process to come full circle and achieve the desired end. This includes adopting practices from sociological conflict resolution and reconciliation models, that may include the need of the government to be seen to be building just state institutions, particularly impartial rule of law enforcement institutions, and security sector reform; the need of acknowledgment of the crimes committed by perpetrators, or those under whose leadership the crimes were committed; the need to establish a mechanism for reparations for the inflicted damage, or if possible restitution of the loss; law enforcement through punishment of the culprits to remain an option; the need to for public apology, and finally the need for forgiveness by the end of the reconciliation process.

While some of these ethical factors conducive to the practice of reconciliation can be seen to have ushered in, in South Sudan, including the apology by the Vice President, and efforts in building state institutions, as well as discussions of reforming and professionalizing the security sector, nonetheless, many of the aforementioned conditions are yet to be met.

In this context, I am inclined to agree with President Kiir that the decision to suspend this process was a wise one, regardless of the reasoning behind it.

I am not a legal expert, and therefore, I cannot speak for the constitutionality of this decision, and whether or not the decision to suspend the reconciliation process is in breach of our Transitional Constitution.

But my fifty cents on this is that article 36 (2b) of our Transitional Constitution, which legislates the conduct of a national reconciliation process, and which is seen as being breached by the latest Presidential decree in suspending this process as some have argued, does not provide for a specific time frame for this process to be completed.

Along this line, it is within the right of the President to suspend the process as he deems fit. I am sure the Presidential legal advising team would do what they are paid for best in debating the legality of this issue, and it is not my role here.

What I want to point out here, much like I did before is that for a genuine reconciliation to hold in South Sudan, the process must also be context specific and conflict sensitive.

It must be context specific in that it must be locally grown and tailored to the local needs of the victims the way they have experienced the trauma, if it is to bring healing and closure and receive local blessing, ownership, and therefore sustainability.

What this also means is that the process must be time-sensitive and unrushed, and must enjoy nationwide consultations with local cultural agents and those directly affected by the past atrocities and human rights violations.

This can be accomplished through a nationwide conflict impact assessment and fact finding mission that should take no less than six months at least.

In South Sudan, contrary to the current reconciliation attempt, for the process to enjoy any integrity devoid of politics at all, it must be presided over not by politicians, and certainly not by those perceived to be culpable in perpetrating the human rights violation in the first place, but by the church.

Few will disagree that the only institution that boasts moral credibility and authority to foster such local ownership of such an important national healing event is the church. Moreover, the church does not only hold moral authority and credibility in the eyes of most South Sudanese, but it is also the only remaining symbol of unity in this ethnically polarized country.

In furtherance, the church by its nature is an agent of reconciliation.

During my recent visit to Juba, I was amazed and indeed encouraged to see Dinka, Nuer, and presumably other tribes attending the early morning Bari officiated mass at St. Joseph’s Cathedral Church in Juba.

Indeed the tremendous role played by the church in the life of South Sudanese in war and peace alike, often filling the void left by the absence of state institutions through the provision of moral, spiritual, and physical support, makes the church the only viable institution that should have been tasked to execute the national reconciliation process.

This is particularly true in a spiritual and devout society like South Sudanese, for whom the only reason they continue to tick in their endless suffering is because they have placed their hope in God.

As an example, throughout the liberation struggle it is a common knowledge that the church was the only institution that did not relent from accompanying South Sudanese and sharing in the pain of the innocent afflicted by the conflict.

The church not only consoled us, but also delivered much needed humanitarian aid, as well as working tirelessly to be our voice in international fora and influential policy making powerhouses, through robust policy advocacy and awareness raising.

The church also fostered intra-South-South peace and reconciliation processes, as in the successful church mediated people-to-people peace and reconciliation process (P2P), from 1997 through 2002. As we all know, that process managed to reconcile the belligerent Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups, particularly in the Greater Upper Nile region, and consolidated the rapidly disintegrating second liberation movement due to the 1991 schism and ugly Southern in-fighting, so that we became a force to be reckoned with on the CPA negotiating table that ultimately bought us our independence.

The current reconciliation attempt was meant to pick up from where it was left off and amend the standing wound of injustice mostly resulting from the 1991 atrocious schism in the rebel movement. If this is the case we should not, therefore, water-down the deep pain caused as a result of that schism and the ensuing catastrophic violent carnage.

As Jok Madut Jok and Sharon E. Hutchinson forcefully pointed out in their article entitled “Sudan’s Prolonged Second Civil War and the Militarization of Nuer and Dinka Ethnic Identities,” “the number of Dinka and Nuer who have died in these fratricidal conflicts and in other South-on-South confrontations since the re-eruption of full-scale civil war in Sudan in 1983 exceeds those lost to atrocities committed by the Sudanese army.”

It was against this horrific background that the church stepped in to end the violence and promoted reconciliation between the warring communities in South Sudan.

Now, how the church was left out from leading the current renewed national reconciliation attempt to bring healing and closure to this deep wound, defeats me. For this reason I think the President was right to suspend the process, and hopefully assign the right institutions and local leaders who boast moral authority to spur the process forward.

In short, for any genuine attempt of national reconciliation to deliver the desired objectives, it must not be seen as politicized, and must be complete, namely, a methodological blend of local and traditional reconciliation practices, wedded with God-given church reconciliation mandate, and buttressed by modern-day sociological conflict resolution and reconciliation models.

The current reconciliation attempt that has been suspended by the President seemed to posses little of these attributes, but more of a political game to score cheap political points which lends itself to futility.

That said I applaud the calm and maturity displayed by the Vice President in handling the latest Republican decree. I also commend the sharp political awareness of South Sudanese as a whole in recognizing that these are just political maneuvers, arms-twisting, and muscle flexing and stretching that must not be allowed to provoke any tensions across ethnic divides.

Reconciliation in South Sudan is here and much needed yesterday rather than today, but the time is not yet ripe.

The process must be seen to be a genuine one that will truly seek to close a chapter and open a new one in our history, and the church must play a leading role in it, if the process were to achieve its objectives.

I am just a concerned South Sudanese, and happy to entertain questions and concerns at: tloloyuong@gmail.com

2 Comments

  1. Manyok Chuol says:

    Tongun Lo Loyuong,

    You are on spot here. I support the president’s suspension of National Reconciliation because it was designed to fail in achieving any semblance of true Reconciliation. The process was brazenly political or was unfortunately politicized and not least by His Excellency the VP, Dr. Riek Machar; it’s likely that President Kiir suspended the process not because he actually believed or cared in credible Reconciliation and Healing, the President most likely acted as ruthlessly as he did possibly because he must have felt VP Machar was posturing at his expense.

    As the suspension may entirely be a political decision, South Sudanese will be happy now to see the church, civil society, South Sudanese at the grassroots lead this process. That, I believe, is the benefit to the public of the suspension of proposed National Reconciliation process.

    Having said the foregoing, I must say there is general incompetence everywhere including the Office of the President; for example, the Decree purports to withdraw powers the president had delegated to his VP and the same decree is restricting the VP to exercise constitutional “powers of Article 105 (a), (b), and (c)” of the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan, 2011. Article 105, however, is a constitutional provision on Appointment and Removal of the VP, NOT about the VP powers.

    Article 106 (a), (b), (c), and (d) articulate the functions of the Office of VP. The President can legally, I think it’s constitutionally his prerogative, reclaim functions delegated to the VP in article 106(d) and also not assign powers to the VP in 106(d). However, the president cannot take away or suggest scrapping 106(d) entirely from the functions of office of the VP as the decree appears to declare.

    Finally if the president had not decreed delegations of powers to the VP to exercise in 106(d), then there must have been little value in publicly decreeing reclamation of powers so delegated in 106(d); this unnecessarily caused public anxiety. Also, not citing constitutional articles accurately did not help.

  2. Ambago woriRamba says:

    Thank you Maulimu,
    It is not uncommon for a country to get caught up in this kind of a mess. No one should be surprised to learn that neither the SPLM – the guy in the black hat nor his smiling deputy, the guy with the “Kanda Bongo Man” gap have any clue of where the last destination would be.
    As for the SPLM it ceased to exist as a principled organization. Where is the so–called liberation vision!
    The way out for RSS is to see salvation elsewhere.

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