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By Roger Alfred Yoron Modi - 10 Jan 2022

Ideas to enhance review of United States Policy toward South Sudan

In an Analysis and Commentary published by The United States Institute of Peace titled “South Sudan’s people have spoken on peace. Is anyone listening? A recently concluded National Dialogue creates opportunities that U.S. policymakers should not ignore”, David Deng, a South Sudanese-American human rights lawyer, researcher, and author, and Ola Mohajer, USIP Senior Program Officer, Sudan, and South Sudan argued that “The results of the National Dialogue offer one set of answers to questions that U.S. policymakers have grappled with in addressing the root causes of South Sudan’s violence, weak governance and lack of justice.” And that the U.S. “would be remiss to ignore the product of this remarkable process.”

They wrote:

“Despite its political complexity, the current situation offers a number of opportunities and lessons for U.S. policymakers. To strengthen their efforts to bring stability and security to South Sudan — and by extension the broader region — U.S. policymakers should:

Conduct an in-depth review of the National Dialogue resolutions to incorporate them into U.S. government policies and strategies.

Offer diplomatic and political support to explore ways the resolutions of National Dialogue and the implementation of the 2018 peace agreement complement each other.

Provide political and financial support to enhance and expand citizen-informed and-led policymaking in South Sudan and involve diverse populations and civil society.

Increase financial and technical support to enlarge the capacity of civil society to safeguard, collate, disseminate and advance the implementation of the National Dialogue’s resolutions.”

Other points they mentioned in the publication are that “Ordinary citizens even called for political leaders, including Kiir and Machar, to step down or agree not to contest elections currently scheduled for 2023” and that “Although lacking the hoped-for inclusivity, the dialogue’s results remain a credible reflection of South Sudanese thinking.”

As a person who has written extensively and held debates about the National Dialogue and related issues on my program The Weekly Review, all available through links provided at the end of this article, taking current events into consideration, including recent suggestion by Dr. Lam Akol to extend the transitional period to be run by a transitional government of technocrats, in the absence of the requirements in the R-ARCSS for free, fair and credible elections, I am hereby making more contributions.

This is also in recognition of the last month’s United States Senate passage of S.Res.380, a resolution reiterating United States support for the people of the Republic of South Sudan in their quest for lasting peace, stability, and democracy after 10 years of independence and calling for a review of United States policy toward South Sudan, “given the persistent intercommunal violence, humanitarian crisis, and corruption in the country, and the lack of political will by its leaders to genuinely commit to peace and democracy and resolve outstanding issues.”

Acknowledging the R-ARCSS and without making reference to the National Dialogue, the Senate Resolution, among others, calls on the Secretary of State to lead a comprehensive interagency process to develop a revitalized United States policy toward South Sudan that— (A) identifies a broader range of South Sudanese political and civilian stakeholders, beyond President Kiir and First Vice President Machar, with whom the United States may work for the promotion of peace, democracy, development, accountability, transparency, and anti-corruption efforts;

(B) restores United States diplomatic leadership with regard to South Sudan alongside European and African partners.

On Excluding Kiir, Machar, and Others from Public Office

While according to Eye Radio, the content of the final resolution of the National Dialogue Steering Committee (NDSC) and communique presented to President Salva Kiir are yet to be made public, earlier in December 2020 the committee’s leadership came out to distance itself from the draft document that the National Dialogue Steering Committee had recommended for President Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar to step down “if South Sudan is to have a successful transition,” arguing that “it was not the final one.” “This is not our document. It had been rejected and was put aside,” Eye Radio quoted the deputy rapporteur, William Othwuon to have said then.

Also, part of the publication at the time on Sudanspost says “Furthermore, we (NDSC) recommend that none of the four vice presidents in the RTGoNU should take part in the coming elections, although they can participate in future elections. South Sudan must have a fresh start, if the interest of the people of South Sudan is to be served, and if the toxic political deadlock is to be broken.”

The Press Secretary in the office of the president, Ateny Wek Ateny responded at the time that the national dialogue has no legal basis to ask the two leaders to leave politics.

“National dialogue does not have the mandate to ask President Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek not to continue as leaders in this country,” he said.

In a January 2021 publication, Augustino Ting Mayai (Ph.D.), the Director of Research at the Sudd Institute, “writes A vast majority of the views criticizes the SPLM and its leaders for a colossal failure to govern South Sudan. The NDSC asserts that this failure is rooted in a power struggle and political stalemate, which must be broken if the country is to move forward. To break the political deadlock, it recommends that both President Salva Kiir Mayardit and First Vice President Dr. Riek Machar should now step aside, enabling the country to eventually heal and prosper. If the two cannot step aside right away, according to the views from the grassroots, they should come out openly to declare that they will not run in the coming elections, which are scheduled at the end of the Transitional Period.”

In all these, while references are being made to move forward with the Transitional Period within the framework of the R-ARCSS and The Transitional Constitution while seeking to incorporate resolutions of the National Dialogue, several issues and questions need to be looked into.

The R-ARCSS has clear provisions on those matters, including ineligibility for participation in the Transitional or Successor Governments. In Article 5.5.1, it says “Individuals indicted or convicted by the Hybrid Court for South Sudan HCSS shall not be eligible for participation in the RTGoNU, or in its successor government(s) for a period determined by law, or, if already participating in the RTGoNU, or in its successor government(s), they shall lose their position in government. If proven innocent, individuals indicted shall be entitled to compensation as shall be determined by law.”

In Chapter Four also, the R-ARCSS says “Political leaders and stakeholders shall establish effective leadership and commitment in the fight against corruption. Any leader found to have condoned or engaged in corrupt practices shall be held accountable and barred from holding public office in accordance with this Agreement and the law.”

As far as The Transitional Constitution is concerned, eligibility for the Office of the President and Vice President is the same, a candidate shall:

(a) be a South Sudanese by birth;

(b) be of sound mind;

(c) be at least forty years of age;

(d) be literate; and

(e) not have been convicted of an offense involving honesty or moral turpitude. (Articles 98 and 105 (4).)

So, the questions here are: what makes a “National Dialogue” a National Dialogue? What precedent would blocking individuals from public office or running in elections without following due processes in The Constitution and the R-ARCSS set, as far as the rights of those individuals and possibly others in future when such a similar process (National Dialogue) is to happen are concerned? And the rule of law? Even if it were to be considered, amending the R-ARCSS and The Constitution have clear processes, considering the people being the Sovereign, while in the National Dialogue 200,000 South Sudanese were said to have participated. And regarding the lack of the inclusivity expressed and the reasons behind significant parties opting out of the National Dialogue, are the views to block individuals from public office or running in elections that now make the National Dialogue the process they wanted?

Meanwhile, there is still a lack of clarity, at least publicly, on mechanisms and processes for the implementation of resolutions of the National Dialogue.

In November 2020 before the conclusion of the National Dialogue Conference, I asked Dr. Lual Deng, the Coordinator of the Secretariat of the leadership of the NDSC on my program The Weekly Review if the National Dialogue was not trying to repeal the R-ARCSS. His response was as follows:

“We are using the word synergy. Last time Dr. Riek said ‘don’t use the word synergy,’ use ‘symbiotic relationship’. We said OK. National Dialogue is a grassroots process, bottom-up. The peace agreement is top-down. No contradiction. And we said there is a synergy between National Dialogue and the peace agreement. They don’t contradict each other, they are complementary to each other.”

On his part, during the closing of the National Dialogue Conference in November 2020, President Kiir who initiated the National Dialogue said the “views on numerous issues affecting our Country at multiple levels: on governance, security, economy and social cohesion have been heard”, further acknowledging that “there is no doubt that the outcome of National Dialogue represents the views of a broad cross-section of our society on the issues raised.”

However, he went on to say that the R-ARCSS has the constitutional sanctity that the National Dialogue lacks, despite its “popular legitimacy.”

“Therefore, we should not attempt to replace the agreement with the consensus reached through the National Dialogue, but rather use the National Dialogue as a guide to enrich the forthcoming Permanent Constitution-making process that the Revitalized Peace Agreement mandates,” he added.

In May 2021, the NDSC did present to the President the “final resolutions” of the National Dialogue Conference, which, as Eye Radio reported, yet to be made public.

To the US government, all partners, and well-wishers:

As the United States works to review its policy toward South Sudan, for the promotion of peace, democracy, development, accountability, transparency, and anti-corruption efforts, per last month’s Senate Resolution, here below, in addition to the arguments expressed above in this article, are some ideas and questions to enhance the process:  

 Indeed there were a lot of valuable contributions in the National Dialogue on the issues discussed, those can be taken within the legal framework and other possible processes aimed at resolving the crises in South Sudan.

-There is a growing concern that South Sudan’s transition will be completed through the elections provided for in the R-ARCSS, together with requirements in the agreement and possibly with arrangements with groups not part of it. Others are also suggesting an extension of the transitional period, with arguments including the time left is not sufficient to complete preparations for free, fair, and credible elections. There is also a concern about the implementation of the Agreement as a whole, with the institutional and legal reforms therein, and that improvements are needed in some parts.

-Other major issues that need to be looked into include studying factors leading to group formation, the cycle of violence, and the transitional government, studying genuine grievance versus mere political rhetoric. What are the grievances that have not been able to be addressed whenever there are peace talks? Could the government or some of its members or the opposition have an influence in creating new groups by intentionally leaving certain grievances unaddressed during talks? For what reasons? Simply to have multiple indirect allies for purposes of strengthening their status or power for future elections or other objectives? What about other (external) actors who have an influence on South Sudanese groups, and in the process, all got their hands dirty, making them committed to working against realities or to evade justice by, among others, sabotaging possible all-inclusive peace with the hope of having their group win against all others? A letter in April 2021 from the UN Panel of Experts on South Sudan addressed to the President of the Security Council highlighted a spark of “warlord politics”, whereby “armed groups were fighting for control of resources and territorial control rather than the protection of civilians and law and order.” What could such developments mean to the whole peace process in South Sudan and what could legitimately be done to address that? How could vulnerable civilians and local communities be best protected from exploitation from their few elites (in government and opposition) who may not be honest in presenting to their people real grievances and solutions needed? 

-Should South Sudan be all about some few educated or influential South Sudanese who are well connected in the international circles and within corridors of powers locally ( government, opposition, or other bodies) and they keep changing narratives about the crises facing the country to suit their personal greed and selfish ambitions over public good while the majority of the public suffer the effects of the cycle of violence, instability, and lack of democracy?

In a statement to the United Nations Security Council last month, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Nicholas Haysom highlighted that, as of now, what’s at stake is the continued viability of the Revitalized Peace Agreement.

“With the broader Horn of Africa region facing complex political, security and humanitarian challenges, it is essential now, more than ever, to ensure that South Sudan remains stable,” he said, adding that during his engagements with the African Union Commission and the African Union Ad Hoc Committee for South Sudan (C5) in Addis Ababa in December, “there were strong commitments made to re-engage, at the highest levels, in support of the peace process.” While that is encouraging, it is also important that Igad, the African Union, and other bodies involved in the South Sudan peace process become more democratic and transparent in how they take actions, including those related to the peace process. Peace and democracy in South Sudan also need to be looked into in relation to how actions of governments and groups in the region could make positive contributions.

Though not fully implemented, to address the effects of the past conflict and displacements, the 2005 CPA had provided for South Sudanese repatriation, relief, rehabilitation, resettlement, reconstruction, and development plan to address the needs of the areas affected by the conflict and redress the imbalances in development and resource allocation. Now, also taking into consideration the conflict since 2013, the R-ARCSS has made several provisions about the right of Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to return in safety and dignity and to be afforded physical, legal, and psychological protection and that efforts shall be made to assist in the reunification of family members who were separated during the conflict. These are all matters that need to be looked into more carefully and how best they can be addressed, without having parties or others using the vulnerabilities of such people for purposes of building support for elections or continuity of conflict against their will. So many people from South Sudan, displaced in several parts of the region and a little beyond are in this category. While repatriation, resettlement, rehabilitation, and reintegration is voluntary, it is also worth making known that On Citizenship and Nationality,  Article 45 (1) of the Transitional Constitution is clear that every person born to a South Sudanese mother or father shall have an inalienable right to enjoy South Sudanese citizenship and nationality. And Article 45 (2) says Citizenship is the basis of equal rights and duties for all South Sudanese. The issue of dual citizenship and related modern challenges regarding allegiance, rights, and duties also need a focus.

In an article on African Arguments published this Thursday, Joshua Craze and Ferenc David Marko argued that the peace agreement is not working, it will not bring sustainable peace to the country, nor will it enable the country’s flourishing. “To envision alternatives to the peace agreement, however, would require a level of political, economic, and intellectual investment in South Sudan that,” they said, none of the home-governments of foreign diplomats in Juba “are willing to consider.” This is something the United States may need to look into while pursuing the resolutions of the Senate. Other allies and partners too.

Already in his last year's speech on the United States Foreign Policy, the Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged that the U.S. will renew democracy because it’s under threat.

The United States, he said, is making a big push, to reconnect with friends and allies, and to “reinvent partnerships that were built years ago, so they’re suited to today’s and tomorrow’s challenges.

“We will stand firm behind our commitments to human rights, democracy, the rule of law,” Blinken said, committing that the United States “will respect science and data, and we will fight misinformation and disinformation because the truth” is the cornerstone of democracy. Interesting and promising.

Helping South Sudanese needs to look through its history of emergence from conflicts and related effects, how best to conduct transitional justice, reconciliation and healing included, and fulfill the determination of the people, under the Transitional Constitution, “to lay the foundation for a united, peaceful and prosperous society based on justice,  equality, respect for human rights and the rule of law,” among several other legitimate concerns and commitments.

Let the ideas shared here, including in the Analysis and Commentary cited above, hopefully, help positively as the United States works to review its policy toward South Sudan, for the promotion of peace, democracy, development, accountability, transparency, and anti-corruption efforts.

Roger Alfred Yoron Modi, a South Sudanese journalist, is the author of the book Freedom of Expression and Media Laws in South Sudan.  He is also the Producer and Host of The Weekly Review: Making Sense of Relevant Topics and News. For more, keep in touch with his website

The views expressed in ‘opinion’ articles published by Radio Tamazuj are solely those of the writer. The veracity of any claims made is the responsibility of the author, not Radio Tamazuj.