September 23, 2019 South Sudan NEWS PORTAL
(JUBA – UNMISS) – A state of mind. An elusive dream. Hard-fought with many casualties. Agreed on. Waiting to happen. Partially achieved. Already here.
The progress of peace, it seems, is a matter of perceptions.
In South Sudan in 2019, peace appears to have come, or at least to be closer to consummation than it has been for years. To celebrate the International Day of Peace, the last hurdles to be overcome to make the foundations of it rock solid were discussed at a crowd-pleasing event at the Nyakuron Cultural Centre in the capital Juba.
“With what is happening now, it feels as if peace has really come to South Sudan. I believe that,” says Monica Amakou Mayak a 21-year-old student of Mass Communication & Journalism at Starford International University.
She refers to the recent face-to-face talks between President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar, aimed at speeding up the implementation of the pre-transitional phase of the revitalized peace agreement, signed almost exactly a year ago.
Monica, though familiar with the content of the deal, was never going to miss out on an opportunity to learn more about the established roadmap to fully implement it.
“Peace is what we all need. When you have it, everything is settled around you. It is life itself to have peace,” she philosophizes.
Ms. Mayak is one of a few hundred students, mostly from different universities, who have gathered to “Understand, own and support the revitalized peace agreement”, as the theme of the function dictates.
To make it all happen, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan has invited the National Pre-Transitional Committee (NPTC), to educate those in attendance on the key provisions of the peace accord, and to field questions about it*.
Not before a cultural performance put in by a dozen of serenely smiling women and men serving with the peacekeeping mission’s Ethiopian military contingent, however. Their energetic, full-body-shaking dancing display kept medical staff present on their toes, as they surveyed the stage for near-inevitable incidents of dislocated joints, notably frantically forward-thrusted shoulders. On this occasion, they were in luck.
And so was the crowd, as Simon Arkangelo, head of the NPTC team of information, took an hour to give the audience a comprehensive overview of the key provisions stipulated in the formal roadmap to peace. Security arrangements, political power-sharing, timelines, funding, issues about state boundaries, the future establishment of a hybrid court and a truth commission – most topics were covered.
And yet, questions abounded.
“Is it true that South Sudan will have five vice presidents? If so, explain”, read one of the paper slips where students had scribbled down their dozens of inquiries.
Others asked about alleged violations of the ceasefire in the Yei area, what qualifications future female government ministers will need, why a decision on the number of states and their boundaries has not yet been made, when non-signatories of the peace deal may join and what the government is doing to bring them on board.
A fair number of questions revealed that considerable doubts about the prospect of durable peace persist. What happens if the agreement is not implemented? What guarantees are there that it will work this time and not end up with more violence, like in 2016? Who should be blamed if the deal fails?
“The question does not apply because everyone who has signed the revitalized peace agreement is absolutely committed to [implementing] it,” an adamant Mr. Arkangelo replied to this line of questioning.
And Eugene Nindorera, Director of the peacekeeping mission’s Human Rights Division, did offer the crowd signs that the process leading to unity and a new dawn is making progress: a ceasefire which is “largely continuing to hold”, an impressive number (more than 130) of rapprochements between former foes at the grassroots level, some 594,000 displaced people and refugees having returned home in the past year.
“But I think we will all agree that there is still much to be done,” Mr. Nindorera added, citing food insecurity, a lack of basic services and some still unresolved peace agreement issues, such as the reunification of security forces and decisions on states and their borders, as some remaining challenges.
Reiterating recent remarks made by UNMISS chief David Shearer while briefing the Security Council, the Human Rights Director encouraged leaders Kiir and Machar to make face-to-face discussions “a regular feature” to keep pushing the peace process forward.
“Maintaining momentum is key,” Mr. Nindorera concluded, urging the assembled students to play their part. “Your contribution is vital. We need you to be ambassadors for peace to help secure a much brighter future.”
After a bit of impromptu grooving to the love-inducing tunes of homegrown artist WJ De King, Michael Makuei, Minister of Information and Telecommunications and the guest of honour, also pleaded to be “messengers” of the revitalized peace agreement, and insisted that the future is bright indeed.
The Minister had a message to “the doubting Thomases who think we are not serious about peace: “They [the doubters] will see, and seeing is believing,” he boomed. “A transitional government will be established on 12 November. There are no more extensions.”
Referring to outstanding issues, such as the number of states and their boundaries, Mr. Makuei affirmed that “we are working on it, and I am sure that we will agree.”
Stating that the main objective of the revitalized peace agreement is to “create a conducive environment for democratic and transparent reforms”, the Minister made it clear that the pre-transitional phase is just the beginning, with much more of substance to follow once the time has come to draft a permanent constitution.
“That is when we will decide on what kind of federalism we want, whether to continue with a presidential system or switch to parliamentarism, and many other issues. And this will be a bottom-up process, with our people being consulted,” he said.
Peter Mayen, chairperson of the five political parties known as “Other Political Parties”, challenged the students in attendance to start consulting themselves right now.
“I don’t want you to be brainwashed by political parties. I want you to think for yourselves about who you want to be and become,” he stated, implicitly asking how they think this can be done.
He then asked the audience: “Are we ready to be a generation of peace?” Loud affirmative cheering made Mr. Mayen follow up with: “Really?”, which was met by a louder positive response.
Abraham Kon Gok from Greater Jonglei and a 28-year-old student of Public Health and Environmental Sanitation at the University of Upper Nile, is likely to have joined in the cheering – but with an important caveat.
Implying that different ethnic groups must break free of sometimes boundary-imposed isolation and separation to interact more with each other to reconcile, Mr. Gok concluded: “If we can sit together in trust and talk, it will bring harmony to our people, but if we stay separate from each other things may well go badly.”
*As only a fraction of the questions posed by the audience could be answered, NPTC representative Simon Arkangelo invited citizens to bring their queries to the entity’s headquarters in Juba. Mr. Arkangelo also announced that a booklet answering frequent questions about the revitalized peace agreement will be published.