Call for Political and Civic Space by Participants Dominates Political Forum in Rumbek

Call for Political and Civic Space by Participants Dominates Political Forum in Rumbek

Call for Political and Civic Space by Participants Dominates Political Forum in Rumbek

Call for Political and Civic Space by Participants Dominates Political Forum in Rumbek

“During the civil wars of 2013 and 2016, we never imagined a time would come when we could be free to assemble and discuss the future of our nation without fear,” says Stephen Mathiang Deng, Minister for Cabinet Affairs in Lakes state, South Sudan.

Minister Deng was speaking at a three-day interaction, supported by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), which brought together key stakeholders—politicians, youth, women, community leaders, faith-based organizations, and academics—to begin constructive conversations on the route towards free, fair, and inclusive elections that are currently scheduled for December 2024.

“Earlier, there was pervasive fear among communities, even to go to a local market. These days it is different. Stores and shops are open, vendors ply their wares; and people convene to talk to one another. It is this dialogue on the way forward towards a more peaceful, prosperous future, that we, as the government, would like to encourage,” adds the Minister, assuring all gathered of the state’s commitment to nurturing spaces for consistent civic and political engagement by all.

Intense and detailed discussions by participants focused on the roles and responsibilities of the National Elections Commission (NEC); the National Constitutional Review Commission (NCRC) and the Political Parties Council (PPC). Stakeholders also sought updates on the status of the Tumaini Peace Initiative, currently ongoing in Nairobi, capital of neighboring Kenya, where non-signatories to the 2018 peace deal are engaged in finding a consensus-based way forward for South Sudan to complete its long overdue democratic transition while incorporating viewpoints across the political spectrum.

“The shifts in the country’s political landscape in past weeks have been rapid, and in an information environment where people may find it difficult to distinguish fact from fiction, connecting state-level actors to national developments, plus raising awareness on individual obligations before citizens head to the polls, is vital,” reveals Guy Bennett, Chief of the UN Peacekeeping Mission’s Political Affairs Division.

“This political parties forum is the first of its kind supported by UNMISS at the state level. So far, we’ve only been rolling these out in different formats in Juba. What’s coming through quite clearly is that South Sudanese everywhere want to be actively involved in shaping a better future. This requires trust between citizens and their leaders; it requires that facts aren’t diluted by differing perspectives; and that everybody is cogniscent of what’s required to hold timely elections. We will, therefore, be replicating this event across all states,” he says.

Mr Bennett’s views are echoed simply, yet eloquently by Anjelina Adhel Malual, Chair of Lakes States’ Civil Society Organizations’ Network.

“We can’t sustain peace or development as individuals. It’s a collective undertaking. And the path towards that is through open, honest communication on what South Sudanese communities want. We are, therefore, overjoyed with the clarity this forum has provided us as well as the options we have jointly come up with to work keeping in mind the interests of all communities,” she avers.

Nyandiar Mabor, a women’s representative, echoes Angelina.

“It’s a fact that when women from all walks of life are fully and equally included in peace processes, they stand the test of time,” she states. “We can define a gender-sensitive political space when we participate in politics, governance, and decision-making. This is non-negotiable if our country is to become truly democratic,” she adds, while noting that the initiative had given participants several actionable ways to strengthen women’s voices.

In a joint communique issued at the end of their deliberations, delegates concluded that they will pursue all avenues to foster trust, build confidence, and work towards establishing versatile, dynamic civic and political discourses across Lakes.

For his part, Christopher Murenga, Head of the UNMISS Field Office in the state, was appreciative of the commitment and enthusiasm demonstrated by all participants, and called for nominees who could form a committee to disseminate these recommendations far and wide.

“Having open, inclusive civic space is a priority for any country. South Sudan is no exception. I am heartened by the conversations we have heard in the past three days. I am certain these will form a strong foundation for all communities across Lakes to participate in nation building,” he said.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).