As a mere 14 months remain for South Sudan to complete its long delayed democratic transition by holding the country’s first-ever national elections, ensuring widespread participation in the peace process is now more necessary than ever.
Last week in Wau, the capital of Western Bahr El Ghazal, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) held a landmark forum where signatory parties to the 2018 peace deal and high-ranking officials from the state’s security apparatus came together with civil society representatives and authorities to discuss working collaboratively to enhance peace, security, and informed public participation in the upcoming polls.
The three-day event saw spirited discussions and, at times, heated debates.
“The need for sustained peace in South Sudan has never been more acute as the country prepares to hold its first national elections and draft its permanent constitution. These critical processes must take place in an environment that respects freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, which does not inhibit, but rather encourages civic engagement,” said Guang Cong, UNMISS Deputy Special Representative-Political, to participants.
For her part, state Governor Sara Cleto Hassan clearly outlined the challenges faced by the people of Western Bahr El Ghazal and requested UNMISS’ assistance. These included strengthening the capacities of local police personnel to better equip them in dealing with conflict between farmers and pastoralists during the annual cattle migration season as well as engineering support to clear cantonment areas prior to the rainy season.
“Security is key for peace, and we call on all of you to help move things faster in terms of deploying the unified forces. Also, as we prepare for the second phase of the training, there is a need for all forces to congregate in the cantonment centers, and we hope UNMISS will help us in clearing these cantonments,” stated Governor Cleto.
Security personnel attending the event were also frank in detailing their views.
“We have spoken our minds and we hope state politicians have understood our concerns,” averred Brigadier General James Majuong Riak, speaking on behalf of security organs.
“Today all of us representing the various security institutions—the South Sudan People’s Defense Forces; military leaders-in Opposition; police wildlife, prison, and fire officers; as well as national security representatives declare that we will work in unison and harmony to ensure a stable security situation across Western Bahr El Ghazal,” said the Brigadier General.
These pronouncements were met with gratitude by civil society representatives.
“In the past, we have encountered roadblocks when it comes to hosting public gatherings but participating in these deliberations over the past three days, I am optimistic that this forum heralds a new dawn for the people of Western Bahr El Ghazal where every citizen will have their voice heard and included in nation-building,” said Linda Ferdinand Hussein, an activist.
The feeling of optimism was unanimous.
“We have been reminded of the importance of cooperation among political parties,” Gabriel Gok of the United South Sudan African Party (USSAP2) revealed.
“To ensure we take every decision in the best interests of all South Sudanese, we must work together and embrace the spirit of compromise. This forum has helped us better understand how to achieve political gains while ensuring peace and stability,” he continued.
For Sam Muhumure, the Head of the UNMISS Field Office in the state, this three-day event is an essential interface between politics, people, peace, and security.
“Holding elections and writing a permanent constitution are quintessential acts of sovereignty. But there are necessary steps, enshrined within the Revitalized Peace Agreement, that must be taken for South Sudan to complete its difficult journey from war to an enduring peace. A stable security environment is non-negotiable, as is the formation of a unified national army, plus upholding the right of every citizen to express their will at the ballot boxes without fear,” Mr. Muhumure explained.
“Such fora are vital because they narrow the gap between all key actors, especially between politicians and the security sector, but, importantly, between security actors themselves, by building synergies where none existed before,” he added.
The event, which took place in Wau Peace Hall, was attended by some 150 stakeholders as well as representatives from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD); the African Union (AU) and the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (RJMEC).
“The presence of senior party representatives, state government officials and members of the security sector here today demonstrates the significance that you place on the success of the peace process, settling personal and political differences peacefully and maturely; and safeguarding civic and the political space,” praised Ahamed Hersi, the IGAD delegate.
“By fostering political cohesion, you can establish a shared understanding, drive the implementation of the peace process and facilitate a smooth, peaceful transition in South Sudan,” he continued.
In conclusion, Governor Cleto, expressed her gratitude for support from international friends, including UNMISS.
“I would like to express our profound gratitude to our peace partners for always reminding us that, as politicians, we have to put our people front and center in each activity that we undertake, in each step we take.”
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).