By: Daniel Juol Nhomngek, Kampala, Uganda, MAR/07/2017, SSN;
In most cases, majority of South Sudanese are being ruled by fear simply because if one comes out openly to say the truth then he or she is branded as either a rebel or the government agent. The existence of only two concepts of either being a rebel or the government agent in South Sudan has effectively suppressed the independent minds that will have been of help in finding the way out of crisis in South Sudan.
To make matters worse, the recent deportation program engineered by the Government of South Sudan in collaboration with neighboring countries has scared majority of South Sudanese to the bone. This is because it has led to the disappearance of honest or objective dissenting voices from the internet or social media leaving us on social media with warmongers who are not interested in peace but are interested in how to defeat the government or rebels, depending on the side which one falls.
As the voices are longer objective, the truth is no longer told and problems keep on persisting because the truth is not there. Therefore, it is upon this reflection that I have decided to hold the bull on its horns by telling the truth in this article that there is no national Dialogue though the Government is assailing the whole world preaching that the peace is coming through National Dialogue yet on the ground people are dying every day putting into question the truth of the national dialogue as the government claims.
Thus, as the subject matter of this article indicates in the title, this article is written as a direct answer to the question how national dialogue is national dialogue in South Sudan? Of course, in brief what is in South Sudan is not a national dialogue but something like it.
I know at this point, the authorities will be angered with my answer and will not read the whole article since the answer confirms their speculation that I am rebel because I have written an article that is critical of government, which is a great tragedy of our time.
It is the great tragedy of our time because many people survive on news or commentaries or opinions headlines without reading the opinion or the news in full. Hence, in South Sudan majority of the people do not read what is written but they only lift from the news or opinion headline and conclude from there that so and so writing is for the government or against the government.
What are saved in memories of the majority of South Sudanese are two words only: rebels or government. So, what individuals do is judged on the two angles as determined by the interest of the ones judging. If the one judging finds hat what the person has done favours him or her, then the person belong to his or her group, likewise with the other side.
The reason why the people as mentioned in the above paragraph are biased is because their interests override their objectivity. This makes them to remain in standby as they are searching for the way to fault the actor. In relation to reading news or articles, they do read in full what is written because they are not interested in truth but they are only interested in rumors which they use as a basis of judging a person they are monitoring and also the use news as the way of accessing leaders. This is why someone who has heard the news will run to the leadership who he or she thinks to have been attacked to tell that person and in return gets something. That is the survival in South Sudan.
And because our leaders have the culture of Arabs, they believe in gossips more than the truth and this is why they are easily persuaded by white lies which are maliciously twisted for the benefits of the informant.
Therefore, due to the truth discussed in the above paragraphs, leaders in South Sudan rely on falsehoods, which they jealously guard at the expense of the truth. For instance, if I say that there is no National Dialogue, which I am writing about in this article and in the real sense it is not there, the leaders of South Sudan in the government will not assess whether my assertion has merit or not but they will conclude that I am a rebel though I am not.
As soon as they reach the conclusion that I am rebel, instead of reading the opinion of the rebel, the authorities will look for how to deal with me either to eliminate me or collaborate with the State whose jurisdiction I am to deport me so that I am kept under the national security to keep quiet forever in the hell.
The reality of our government is that it has found deportation to be the easiest solution to the problems of South Sudan, which is a simplistic way of looking at and solving the problems.
On the other side, majority of the rebels except the First Vice President, General Taban and his Group, will be happy with me because they will believe that I am supporting their views and some may even try to contact me which will be a mistake because I am not interested in either rebels or government since they have destroyed the country.
This kind of a situation is sad indeed. The business of leaving the problem in the country and resort into deportation and detention of South Sudanese or condemning those who tell the truth concerning the problems facing people in the country is bad. What the government should understand is that deportation is not a solution or near to the solution at all.
Rather, it is a solution devised by those who have run out of ideas and are also bankrupt of the real solutions to the problems. There are many problems going on in South Sudan but rebels and government are stuck to the barrels of guns which the only know to be the solution hence misusing National Dialogue as the government does not know what it means in practice.
National Dialogue in practice means sacrifice and compromise. This means that when the National Dialogue is adopted as a way of solving conflict, then the leaders and every citizen must be ready to compromise and to forgive each to forge the way forward. It should be understand that when we talk of compromise we mean giving up everything that may be an obstacle to achieving the real and lasting peace.
The role of the people in national dialogue is to provide solutions to the problems during the National Dialogue, however, in South Sudan the citizens are under threat for what they say and because of that they have drawn into their own cocoons and comfortable zones as they no longer oppose lies due to the fear of reprisal from the authorities who may target them for having told the truth.
But as Jesus Christ clearly puts it ‘if you tell the truth the truth will set you free’, I therefore need to be set free by the truth by telling the truth concerning our national dialogue by saying that there is no national dialogue in the sense.
Though the national dialogue was announced in December 2016 and was expected to begin in March 2017, there is no national dialogue in the real sense. This is because what is taking place in the country is not a national dialogue.
A dialogue is defined to mean an exchange of ideas or opinions on a particular issue, especially a political or religious issue, with a view to reaching an amicable agreement or settlement (see; Dialogue/define dialogue at dictionary.com www.dictionary.com/browse/dialogue). In other words, dialogue is a literary work in the form of a conversation as discussed in a dialogue of Plato.
Looking to the definition of dialogue above, which is the exchange of ideas or opinions on a particular issue especially in political or religious issues with a view to reaching an amicable agreement or settlement, it is not hard to conclude that what is happening in South Sudan is not National Dialogue.
If what is in South Sudan were National Dialogue, it would have fitted in the definition of dialogue given above and would have had an element of amicable agreement or settlement…which gives understanding that there must be two parties who have been in misunderstanding or quarreling among themselves over certain issue and because of that the third party comes in to mediate so that the two parties reach understanding without cohesion and settle the matter amicably.
Having explained the meaning of dialogue above it is time now to go straight to the question of how National Dialogue is National Dialogue in South Sudan. As I have already answered above, I still maintain the same answer that it is not a national dialogue in the real sense due to the following reasons:-
First of all, for the dialogue to be called a dialogue it must be inclusive. This means that all the warring parties must be involved whether the authorities dislike them or not. In that regard, the question of leadership of the SPLM/A-IO in general must be determined.
Currently, we have two IO groups, one in the bush and another one in Juba. Whereas the leadership of the IO in Juba claims to be the Supreme Commander of the IO, the IO in the bush in Equatoria, Western Bahr El Ghazal and the Upper Nile Region are continuing to fight which shows that the leadership of IO Juba is not in direct control over the IO in the Bush.
This means that without determining the question of IO leadership, peace will never prevail in short run and because of that political environment in which a meaningful dialogue can be conducted is not there. Hence, no national dialogue in the real sense.
In order to be meaningful that will lead to amicable dispute settlement and establishment of the rule of law, the dialogue must be fair and unconditional as it was the intention of the present flawed National Dialogue and all the avenues of the conflict must be closed.
This means that there is a need to bring on board the IO in the bush in order to create conducive environment for the National Dialogue. The fact that the Government of South Sudan puts condition on dialogue as to who can take part in dialogue proves that there is no National Dialogue contrary to what the President of the Republic claim.
Secondly, for a national dialogue to be inclusive it must be conducted unconditionally. In other words, National Dialogue is a form of repentance which the parties who were bitter enemies meet to discuss, regret and eventually forgive each other.
However, even if the Government came up with the initiative of introducing the National Dialogue, the same government puts a condition on who to participate and who should not. The clear example is the refusal of the Government to allow Dr. Riek Machar to participate in the National Dialogue, yet it is undeniable fact that Riek comments substantial followers in South Sudan.
If the government were serious about bringing peace through National Dialogue, it would have invited all South Sudanese irrespective of who they are to participate in the Dialogue. However, the government appears not to be interested in achieving peace through National Dialogue and this is why it is not making the national dialogue inclusive so that all South Sudanese participate unconditionally. This takes me to the next point which is closely related to this point.
Thirdly, for a dialogue to be called dialogue in actual sense there must be a third a party who is accepted by both parties. A third is that person who does not have any interest in the matter and also has expertise in the process. The purpose of the third part is to faithfully mediate between the two conflicting parties while steering them towards the direction he or she wants until the two parties reach amicable agreement or settlement.
Nonetheless, in the situation like South Sudan where one party to the conflict is the head of dialogue as the President appointed himself to be patron which, means that he is above all persons participating in the process of the dialogue and the dialogue is under his control, the dialogue ceases to be dialogue as we know it.
This is because the conflict of interest will come in and the truth will never be said in the process and without the truth being said then there is no National Dialogue.
As part of mediation, National Dialogue is supposed to be conducted fairly by neutral person which will help to minimize the conflict of interest in the process. Conflict of interest is one of the serious issues that must be kept in check in the process of national dialogue as part of mediation. Otherwise, if we allow one part to the conflict to have an upper hand in the mediation process then the just solution will never be reached.
In national dialogue or mediation both parties must be satisfied with the outcome if lasting peace is to be achieved, which is not likely to be the case in South Sudan.
Fourthly and finally, in the dialogue, the parties to the conflict must all renounce the violence and ready to go into compromise. Without renouncing the violence and be ready to compromise to bring peace by all costs, it will be hard to achieve peace through dialogue as “extremists” on both sides “are eager to tie responsibility for past crimes and human rights violations to their ethnic… adversaries (see; Transitional Justice and Reconciliation: Theory and Practice by Martina Fischer).
This implies that the spirit of revenge will still be on yet the purpose of dialogue is to ensure that the previous torn relationship between the two conflicting parties is renewed through forgiveness and compromise.
However in South Sudan currently, parties are still absorbed in hatred and ill-feelings towards each which means that the violence cannot or be renounced easily by either side. This is even now more apparent in South Sudan because as long as the issue of the two IOs is not resolved in order to achieve comprehensive ceasefire, the extremist on both sides (i.e. on the side of rebels in the bush and the government) will keep on instigating the violence, and in such a case, there no National Dialogue.
In fact as I have mentioned in the above paragraph, the government is not telling the whole public of South Sudan and the world the truth that the dialogue is not going on as plan because what is taking place is not dialogue as it not fitting in the definition of dialogue as defined above.
In order to revive the dialogue and give it momentous to achieve peace as desired, it must be inclusive to engage and confront all South Sudanese who have different view and different feelings in a painful national dialogue that will make all citizens go into serious soul-searching, to find out the ills within South Sudanese communities that make abuses of human rights possible.
Furthermore, there is a need for more involvement of civil society which will help produce a sense of public ownership in the process, so that the dialogue actually leads to something. Otherwise, the way the national Dialogue is being conducted shows that South Sudan will never achieve peace except merely a nice history lesson, destined for the bookshelf (this expression is used by Martina Fischer as cited above.)
In summary, my recommendations are that: the Dialogue should be inclusive and this can only be achieved if the question of the leadership of the IO in the bush is determined. The government should also introduce the rule of law so that those citizens who return to the country to participate in the National Dialogue are protected under law. For instance, it is somehow perplexing to see the Government preaching dialogue while arbitrarily arrest and detention of the citizens goes on unabatedly.
How do we talk of national dialogue such a situation where citizens fear to express themselves openly?. The imminent threat that citizens always face shows that there is no national dialogue. This is because when talk of the National Dialogue people are supposed to say anything they thing is not going on well with the government but if we block citizens from saying what they think is bad, then how do we talk of national dialogue?
In fact currently, there is no National Dialogue in South Sudan and for it to be, citizens should be allowed to openly say what they do not want to continue in the country and if that is done then the Dialogue has achieved its purpose and the peace will prevail.
NB//: the Author is Human Rights Lawyer residing in Kampala Uganda and can be reached through: +256783579256or firstname.lastname@example.org