In 2011, South Sudan won its hard-fought independence from its northern neighbour, Sudan, but those hope-filled times were soon a distant memory as the world’s newest nation became embroiled in bloody, brutal civil wars.
With the signing of a peace deal in 2018 and a transitional government of national unity in place, a new era of relative political stability was ushered in.
Today, the country is at a critical moment in its history with a 24-month extension of its democratic transition and much for its leaders and people to accomplish, not least the drafting of a permanent constitution, a social contract that will ensure a harmonious, prosperous future.
To help infuse fresh momentum into ongoing peace processes, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is facilitating a series of consultative fora across all 10 states.
“The goal is identify and assess needs, gaps and focus on entry points for effective participation by marginalized groups including internally displaced persons, women, youth and the disabled,” revealed Ndubisi Obiorah, a Senior Political Affairs Officer with the UN Peacekeeping mission.
“The permanent constitution will lay the foundations for South Sudanese to leave their differences behind and forge a common national identity. Therefore, it is vital that everybody has a say in what goes into this document,” he added.
Recently, at one such dialogue in Bentiu, youth, women and displaced people held spirited conversations.
“We knew little about constitution-making until now,” said Nyujul Gatdet a young woman living in the Bentiu IDP camp. “But today I learnt why it is so important for all of us, especially women, to participate in the process. This is something that directly impacts our future and for too long, we have been denied a place in governance structures, politics and taking decisions on issues that directly impact us,” she continued passionately.
Nyujul was one of 43 women who actively participated in this forum helmed by the UNMISS Political Affairs Section, in partnership with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), UN Women, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which saw a total of 100 representatives from among displaced people and returnees in and around Bentiu come together.
“It is immensely gratifying to see people who are often on the fringes of South Sudanese society contribute concretely to these discussions,” said Jane Kony from the Mission’s Field Office in Unity state.
“I’d like to reassure women, young people and disabled persons that your opinions count and must always be considered,” she added.
Ms. Kony’s words were echoed by Daniel Dak Gai, a civil society representative, who also brought up another important upcoming political milestone – South Sudan’s first-ever elections.
“It is critical that the status of internally displaced persons and refugees be defined before we all head to the ballot boxes to cast our vote,” he averred.
“Refugees and displaced people must resettle and rebuild their lives before they can fully participate in elections. I hope our leaders make this a priority,” he emphasized.
For those attending the forum who felt that they weren’t fully involved or included in the fate of the nation, Tor Tunguar Keuigong, Deputy Governor of Unity state, had words of reassurance.
“My hope is that all of you gathered here understand that you are the backbone of South Sudan. Without your participation in public life, we do not have a nation,” stated the Deputy Governor.
While much remains to be done before South Sudan heads to elections, such consultations are essential to ensure an unfettered, informed political and civic space where the rights of all citizens are upheld, according to Hilda Ochuonyo, Head of UNHCR in Bentiu.
“Civic education is key for ongoing peace processes to be galvanized and as the UN family, we will be continuing all efforts to organize more informative and interactive sessions not merely in Bentiu but across the country. Our aim is that every individual can make an informed choice when the polls finally begin,” said Ms. Ochuonyu, while thanking state authorities for their support to the event.
The two-day meeting ended with a resolution document summarizing recommendations from internally displaced persons and returnees in Bentiu, to be considered for inclusion in the permanent constitution.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).