Interview: ‘We have not seen any preparations, commitment to elections’-Norwegian Ambassador
The Ambassador of Norway to South Sudan, Siv Kaspersen, started her tour of duty in the country nearly 3 years ago and says they have not seen any preparations for elections yet and have not heard any announcement of any kind from any particular side on a commitment to elections.
Radio Tamazuj caught up with her and during an exclusive interview sounded her out on a broad range of issues.
Below are edited excerpts:
Q: Norway played a big role during Southern Sudan’s struggle and quest for independence and also during the negotiations that led to the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005. What role is Norway playing in the implementation of the revitalized peace agreement momentarily?
A: I have been here since the fall of 2019. So, I have been here for nearly three years. We (Norway) have been here (South Sudan) for a long time and have a long history with the people of South Sudan. This year we marked 50 years of presence with the Norwegian Church Aid (NCA). We have supported Southern Sudan’s struggle for freedom and independence from the north (Sudan) with the United States and the United Kingdom as part of the Troika.
The troika played an instrumental role in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005 and is continuing to play a role.
So, Norway is supporting the peace process in different ways. We provide finances and we second people and participate in the mechanism that is monitoring and evaluating the implementation of the revitalized peace agreement and the ceasefire agreement.
As part of the troika, we constantly engage with the parties and encourage leadership and dialogue between them to resolve outstanding issues. At the same time, South Sudan is still one of the biggest recipients of Norwegian aid and humanitarian assistance. We support different peace and reconciliation efforts including through the church. We have a lot to do in South Sudan in different ways when it comes to the peace agreement.
Q: On 9 July, South Sudan will celebrate its eleventh independence anniversary. In your opinion, is there hope for lasting peace in South Sudan?
A: I think we should not lose hope for lasting peace. The people deserve peace, a better life, and a more prosperous future and that was the promise and they (leaders) must commit to that promise. What is required is for the leaders to demonstrate the political will to implement the peace agreement and we need to see dialogue between the parties. We also need to see more concessions being made alongside a sincere engagement for peace.
Q: Has Norway’s expectations of South Sudan after independence changed? Is this the country you expected after independence?
A: I think that is a very difficult question to respond to but I can imagine the expectations, in general, were very high. You remember Norway played an important role through the Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) and the Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) and later from the (Norwegian) government side, so we have invested quite a lot in our presence here for the last 50 years.
I am in contact with many Norwegians who invested a lot in this country’s independence and this week I had a long conversation with one of them who has worked on South Sudan since he was a student in Juba in 1978 when he did his research for his Ph.D. and I must admit that there is disappointment. There is a huge disappointment and as the president correctly said at the tenth independence celebrations last year, this is a lost decade and that is indeed very sad because this country has a huge potential. It is rich in different ways not only in oil.
Unfortunately, there is very little progress in the implementation of the peace agreement and also very little evidence of political will. Of course, it is not too late to turn the page to demonstrate what is constantly being said that the country will not return to war. The people are concerned and I think it is important for the leaders to start listening to their people.
Q: South Sudan has 8 months left to the general elections. What is Norway’s role in ensuring that the country holds peaceful, free, fair, and transparent elections?
A: Well, we have not seen any preparations for elections yet and we have not seen any announcement of any kind from any particular side on a commitment to elections and what the government is actually doing to prepare for elections. The way forward from the international community side is that there is very little to support yet. So, what we do is to continue to encourage the government to come up with a road map which is a prerequisite for international support and a roadmap to also give us confidence that this time it will be different. So, we need a clear list of what is needed to focus on the unification of necessary armed forces, preparations for elections, and the key bills to be adopted by parliament.
And if I can add, another important thing is also the opening of civic space and that does not need any financing.
Q: Do you think South Sudan is ready for the elections?
A: Right now the country is not ready for elections before the end of the revitalized peace agreement and that is why we constantly focus on what they need to do and that is why we constantly ask them to prepare for that road map so that we know what they need to do and so that we can be ready to support them to prepare for credible elections.
Q: The sanctions and arms embargo seemed to have failed to achieve their intended purpose. What other mechanisms can the troika use to ensure democratic transformation in South Sudan?
A: We work in different ways to encourage democratic forces in South Sudan and we encourage the government to implement the peace agreement. It is a very ambitious peace agreement and we do not expect them to do everything at the same time but at least they have to start working on it. We do want to concentrate on economic reforms because we need the country and the government also to start delivering services to the people. As I said, they need to start opening civic space because people have to start engaging in different ways.
Q: There has been a lack of political will in implementing the peace agreement and many critical clauses have not been implemented. What is your take on this?
A: I agree. The implementation is way too slow. And that is again why we encourage the transitional government and also the parliament to do its work. We also have to see the parliament doing its work and continue to adopt necessary bills which are important for the preparations for the elections.
Q: The government has in the past severally blamed the international community, including the troika, and the guarantors of the agreement have not been supportive in the implementation of the peace agreement. What do you have to say about that?
A: What I can say is that my government is continuing to support the people and continuing to support the implementation of the peace agreement but we cannot force the stakeholders to implement. We have been supporting the country in different ways. I would say, who is actually financing education and the health sector in this country? And I can continue down the list. That is why we are saying that the government needs to start delivering services because they cannot expect the international community to continue paying for education, health, and virtually everything. That is why we need them to engage in fighting corruption and finance and get services to its people.
Q: Can you list some of the development assistance your country gives South Sudan?
A: We are doing so much because we have been here for 50 years. What I can say is that when I travel around this country, everyone knows about Norway and that is not the case in many other countries and certainly not in Africa. But here (South Sudan), everyone knows what Norway has done. Everyone knows the work done by NPA and NCA but they have little knowledge of what we are doing now, particularly in terms of humanitarian aid and development assistance. We try to shift from short-term humanitarian assistance to more long-term development efforts.
It is a bit challenging because of the growing humanitarian needs in the country and the fact that for the time being 70 percent of the population needs humanitarian aid so it is difficult to cut down on humanitarian assistance but we do support education, food assistance, agriculture to reduce food insecurity. So, there is actually a long list of what we are doing in South Sudan.
Q: What are the challenges you encounter in carrying out your duties as an embassy and the troika in South Sudan?
A: Of course, we are under restrictions on what we can do but I try to travel as often as possible because I think it is important to get to know the country and not only concentrate on what we are doing here in Juba. It is important to travel around to see what we are doing. I feel like I keep repeating my messages because there is not much happening in terms of development. It is sad but I keep repeating my messages when I meet government officials. I need to keep on encouraging them to do different things to implement what is in the peace agreement. I think that is one of the huge challenges.
Q: What is your message to the political leaders in South Sudan?
A: To the leaders, I will say that peace requires a lot more than a promise not to turn to war. It requires reconciliation and active engagement. And I would say, show leadership. I would say your people are suffering and put your people first and continue implementing the peace agreement.
Also, the leaders should prepare a roadmap necessary for holding a free, fair, and credible election.
To the people, I would say, be aware that we support you and will continue to support you in fighting for a more prosperous future and a better life for you and the next generation. We stand in solidarity with you in the hope for peace.