Open Letter to Dr. Francis Mading Deng: Waste of time with National Dialogue

BY: Kuir GARANG, Poet, Novelist and Political Commentator, MAR/14/2018, SSN;

Many of us have read your books and reports on behalf of the United Nations. When I tell people, casually, during conversations, that the person who formulated the ‘Guiding Principles’ and ideas now used by the UN to take care of the internally displaced is [South Sudanese], they stare at me with a confused sense of wonder and admiration.

It is a good feeling in terms of the human communion and in terms of intellectual relatedness.

The Principles have not only been adopted by aid agencies and different governments, they have also been translated into different languages since they were introduced in the January of 1998.

“A number of governments,” you wrote in a paper in 2001, “publicly praised the development of the Principles and several governments in countries with serious situations of internal displacement have actively supported and participated in seminars on the Principles.”

This is indeed instructive on how valuable these Principles were and still are. You can understand why I’m inclined to speak about the fact that you were the brain behind these Principles with such a global appeal.

Besides your work with the Sudanese government in terms of your foreign affairs services, your books and other scholarly works, these PRINCIPLES speak loudly about how you perceive, and take seriously, the suffering of the internally displaced persons relative to their governments and your concept of ‘sovereignty as responsibility.’

This is a concept that I wished many African governments understood and practiced.

This brief reminder of your work with the internally displaced plays well into what I want to say and why I decided to write to you an open letter.

This letter is about what is happening in South Sudan and what the government of South Sudan has become: a vengeful, suspicious force against the average South Sudanese and all critical voices.

As you correctly said in your 2001 paper, The Global Challenge of Internal Displacement, that “Instead of being seen as citizens who merit protection and humanitarian assistance, these persons are often perceived as part of the enemy, if not the enemy itself.”

This, sadly, captures the reality of what is happening now to the average civilian in South Sudan. The government that is supposed to protect them sees them with a scary suspicion.

So when someone of your caliber works for the government that is doing exactly what you used to advise governments against, someone like me assumes that you are doing something internally, something that would mitigate the suffering of our people.

When you were appointed as the UN ambassador, my hopes were up. I told myself that “a cautious voice of reason will finally speak on behalf of the government of South Sudan.”

But I was being too optimistic or, to some extent, naive. Ambassadors are nothing but mouthpieces of governments.

However, when I heard that you’re again appointed as part of the national dialogue-ND, my hopes were high again.

But then I realized that the ND was merely a face-saving initiative with no real normative intent as resolving the conflict for it was very exclusive.

Since President Kiir Mayardit is being opposed by the likes of Dr. Riek Machar and other opposition figures, it’d have been clear to you that they’d not want to be part of an initiative that was started by their ‘enemy.’

That Riek Machar refused to meet your delegation in South Africa was common sense.

This statement, which you gave in December of 2017 in Addis Ababa, is troubling.

You said that, “On the issue of inclusivity, however, it must be noted that it’s a two-way challenge. When all the stakeholders are invited to dialogue, with flexibility on a mutually agreeable venue, and some individuals refuse to join, where does the responsibility for the lack of inclusivity lie?” That is strange.

Why’d you expect these ‘stakeholders’ to join something that was formed by someone they’re fighting?

You’ve worked with many governments and in politics to know the vanity and self-interestedness of ‘realpolitik.’ Why are you surprised by something you expected?

Did you expect Riek Machar to say, “Yes, it’s a good initiative, we’ll join it” without caring about the fact that this ND was formed by his archenemy?

You dashed my hopes here when it comes to rational expectations.

However, you always have a way of warming our hearts by saying the right thing when we need it the most.

You recently, in the February of this year, presented a noble address in Addis Ababa during the ill-fated ‘High-Level Revitalization Forum’ aimed at reviving the [2015] August Agreement that was meant to end the December 2013 crisis.

You wrote, with an eerie sense of impeccable humanness that: “I’ve always said that while it’s sad and painful to hear that the outside world cares more about the suffering of our people than their own leaders, our response should not be anger or defensiveness, but to convince them that we indeed share that concern, perhaps even more than outsiders, and that we’d join hands and work together to mutually reinforce our efforts toward our shared objective.

We must also convince our people that we’re indeed concerned about their suffering, and we can only do that through affirmative action.”

Undoubtedly, this is a reminder of ‘leadership as responsibility’ as Robert Joss would say. That outsiders sound more alarmed than the very leaders who’re supposed to be the most affected ones is deeply troubling.

However, given your history with the internally displaced, I do believe that you mean those words.

I’ve seen your calm demeanor, calculated and carefully reasoned arguments that makes one feel the need to listen.

You bring out that traditional African wisdom within a value-impoverished contemporary African politics.

Despite the fact that you’re with a group of hardened and desensitized men, who’ll find it hard to listen to the suffering of the people, I still believe that you can help change things.

However, I also believe that you’re approaching this in the wrong way.

First, for the ND to be inclusive, it has to be an entity formed by all the ‘stakeholders.’ This would force them to respect it and commit to it if they know they’ve people they can trust in the ND.

These would be people they chose themselves.

You also need to remember that the problem in South Sudan is the leaders, so for peace to come to South Sudan, these leaders are the ones who’re required to dialogue.

Even if the average South Sudanese in the villages and in towns reconcile, the bitter differences among the leaders will always divide them.

Unless the leaders reconcile and the war ended, any ND would be futile. How do you reconcile people who are still fighting one another?

While the ND is an excellent initiative, it’s being used for the wrong reason and applied to the wrong people.

You need to start by convincing President Kiir to dialogue with Riek and other stakeholders. You don’t even have to go to Addis Ababa.

Unless you help the leaders reconcile and end the war, you are wasting your time.

Just imagine you going to Akobo and the people accept to forgive those who’ve wronged them. But then the government and the rebels fight again in that area and the very people who’d accepted to forgive had their relatives killed.

Would they still respect such a dialogue?

Dr. Francis, while your heart is in the right place, you need to rethink what it means for something to be inclusive and who exactly needs to dialogue with whom and when.

Inclusivity shouldn’t only be in the intended execution of the ND but also in its very formation.

The idea that calling people to be part of the ND is what it means to be inclusive, worries me.
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Kuir Garang is a South Sudanese author and poet. For contact, visit www.kuirthiy.com