Chairman of the Equatoria People’s Alliance (EPA) Hakim Dario (Courtesy photo)

Opposition figure bitter over exclusion from Nairobi talks

A South Sudanese opposition figure has expressed resentment towards the Kenya-led mediation and some opposition coalition members for not including their members from Equatoria People’s Alliance (EPA) in the ongoing peace talks in Nairobi.

In an interview with Radio Tamazuj, Hakim Dario, the chairman of the Equatoria People’s Alliance (EPA), said the ongoing peace talks are about forming a government and that this will not rescue the country “because they are the same political groups who destroyed the country.”

Below are edited excerpts:

Q. Could you introduce yourself and your party?

A. My name is Hakim Dario. I am the chairman of the Equatoria People’s Democratic Movement (PDM). We participated in the Addis Ababa peace talks from 2017 to 2018 but did not sign the agreement. After that, we formed the Alliance for Democracy and Freedom Action in South Sudan. We also tried to take part in the Rome talks sponsored by Saint Egidio, but our application was rejected. We were very surprised because it was a platform for a search for peace. That was because the South Sudan Opposition Movement Alliance (SSOMA), monopolized the platform. They did not welcome us, although we issued a statement welcoming the Rome platform. In April this year, we engaged the South Sudan desk at the Kenyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and we presented our application to participate in the Nairobi peace talks. We even sent a request to Gen Lazarus Sumbeiywo, the chief mediator, but we did not get any positive feedback and yet they gave chances to other unarmed groups like the People’s Coalition for Civil Action (PCCA). PCCA came into existence in 2022 but we have been there since 2017.

Q. What could be the reason for your exclusion from the Nairobi talks?

A. We were not part of the Rome talks. However, we welcomed the Saint Egidio talks, but we were not accepted. I believe the SSOMA group had their own interests. Even though there was no selection criteria into the talks. They only said it was an inclusive forum for all non-signatories.

Q. Who do you blame?

A. We blame SSOMA for monopolizing the platform and the group of Gen Thomas Cyrillo, Emmanuel Ajawin and the group of Vakindi; the South Sudan National Movement for Change.  The groups of Paul Malong, including Pagan Amum, came late and joined the non-signatories.

Q. The groups you are referring to are part of the SSOMA coalition. How can you defend this argument?

A. It is true; we are not part of SSOMA. However, that does not mean we should not participate in the peace talks.

Q. Has SSOMA ever invited you to be part of the coalition?

A. No. However, we wrote an official application to the Secretary General of Saint’Egidio and explained out contribution to SSOMA at that time, but they did not reply. We came to know from within SSOMA that any group not affiliated to it would not participate in the peace talks.

Q. The Nairobi talks are now entering the second month. Have you addressed this concern to the Kenyan chief mediator?

A. Before the appointment of Gen Sumbeiywo, we had engaged the chief of the secretariat at the Kenyan Foreign Affairs Ministry, Madam Kaguta, through a zoom meeting and we narrated the stories of EPA, the Equatoria People’s Alliance (EPA) and all other groups that were speaking about Equatoria that wanted to be part of the peace talks. They asked us to write a formal letter to be presented to Gen Sumbeiywo, which we did, and whose copy we have. We told them that South Sudan is now a failed state and we would like to highlight this situation in a platform such as Nairobi peace talks.

Q. Despite writing the official letter, the mediation team did not invite you?

A. We did not get any feedback, not even an explanation why they rejected our application.

Q. There are claims that EPA is just a briefcase party. What is your comment?

A. That is a strange statement. PDM is a member of the EPA. Yet the EPA is part of the New Alliance for Democracy and Freedom Action in South Sudan (NADFA). They also include other groups from the Upper Nile. Therefore, we are the oldest group, formed in 2020. Even older than PCCA, which was formed in 2022. We have participated in previous peace talks and it is not compulsory to take up arms for us to be known.

Q. How many members are there in your coalition?

A. There are more than 300 people who are active in the Diaspora and on the ground.

Q. Where are they found?

A. Majority of them are in the Diaspora because there is no political space in South Sudan. The National Democratic Movement-Patriotic Front (NDM-PF) of Emmanuel Ajawin, which took part in the Saint’Egidio forum, does not have a presence on the ground, yet they have a voice. Why can’t Equatorians be recognised? Why are our voices not being heard?

Q. What do you want the mediation team to do because they are already two months into the negotiation?

A. If you look at these peace talks, the majority of them are from Upper Nile and Bahr al-Ghazal. Therefore, I regard this as the Upper Nile and Bahr al-Ghazal peace process.

Q. There is a group, which split from Gen. Cirillo and is taking part in this peace talks?

A. They do not represent all the Equatorians, yet the people of Equatoria are one third of the population of South Sudan. Look at the revitalized peace agreement, there are two vice presidents from Upper Nile, two from Bahr al-Ghazal and one from Equatoria. All the political decisions are in the hands of leaders from Upper Nile and Bahr al-Ghazal. Equatorians have no role in the political decisions. This is wrong. If you look keenly into the ongoing talks in Nairobi, you will see that Equatorians have been excluded. Pagan Amum and Stephen Buay are from Upper Nile. Paul Malong is from Bahr al-Ghazal. The PCCA group, even though there are two or three from Equatoria there, the majority of them are from Bahr al-Ghazal and Upper Nile. There are pivotal issues that Equatorians should be involved in towards establishing the governance in South Sudan. The fact remains that the sovereignty of any nation comes from the people. What has happened since the revitalized peace agreement is an alienation of the decision-making. All the decisions are taken by politicians and that is why the revitalized peace agreement failed.

Even though it has witnessed two extensions, it has failed because there is no political will among the political elites and those who control power.

The sovereign decision should be from the people. What is going on in Nairobi is the same thing. Politicians discuss the fate of the people and at the end of the day; they impose it on the people. It is supposed to be the other way around.

We believe that the best way forward is to have a constitution in which the people from Equatoria, Upper Nile and Bahr al-Ghazal decide in a convention that should elect representatives to the constituency assembly. These people will have the support of the entire nation to participate in the constitution making and nation building.

Q. What is your last message to the people of South Sudan?

A. The ongoing peace talks in Nairobi are about forming a government that will rescue the country. This government will not rescue the country because they are the same political groups who destroyed the country.

Q. Is that because they have destroyed the country; as you said?

A. There is no inclusivity and any decision there will lead to another extension. They will form another government headed by the same President Salva Kiir for another three years. Kiir will not do anything new because he is not able to think outside the box. He is not able to address the contentious issues affecting the country now.

Q. That means you do not see anything positive in the Nairobi talks?

A. They will only reach an agreement with the same people who failed South Sudan. Indeed, we are in need of a change but this change cannot come through the same people who failed our country. These peace talks will end up having a partial representation. Those who are at the talks do not reflect the entire nation. The revitalized government has failed; why should we give them another term in office.

Q. What is the way forward?

A. First of all, the revitalized government did not prepare the country for an election. They have failed to write a constitution and any plan for elections without a constitution will have no value. I believe there is no election going to take place without the participation of the people. If they do it, this will destabilize the future politics. We suggest a new period where people focus on the constitution. This can be done through a people’s convention in Upper Nile, Equatoria and Bahr al-Ghazal. Each region will elect representatives to the constituency assembly, to the executive and the legislative organs to govern this new period. The people should be allowed to participate in this process directly. The power that was there through the revitalized peace agreement, has gone and I do not think they will do anything more. At the end of the day, sovereignty is vested on the people and it needs to flow to the institutions of the government. This should be our focus now instead of focusing on power sharing by the political elites. I would like to encourage our people in Equatoria to demand their rights because the current government has failed the country. There is no legitimacy in any group of political elites who want to force themselves on the people.