Real SPLM leader Pagan Amum (Radio Tamazuj)

Pagan urges Juba not to cling to ‘failed’ peace deal

Pagan Amum, leader of the opposition Real SPLM and now a team leader in the Nairobi peace talks, said political leaders should not use the 2018 peace agreement to remain in power.

In the last part of an exclusive interview with Radio Tamazuj, Mr Amum, who also leads a faction of the holdout group South Sudan Opposition Movements Alliance (SSOMA), lashed out at the transitional government in Juba and said: “It is a failed government, unable to fulfil its promises, unable to implement what they have agreed upon, they are unable to provide citizens with basic services, unable to resolve even the least of the crises facing this country.”

Below are edited excerpts:

Q. Hon. Pagan, can you mention some of the groups that declined to join the Tumaini Initiative in Nairobi?

A. They are the National Salvation Front (NSF) led by Gen Thomas Cirillo, the National Democratic Movement-Patriotic Front (NDM-PF), led by Emmanuel Ajawin and the South Sudan National Movement for Change (SSMC) led by Alex Yada.

Q. What about the Equatoria People’s Alliance (EPA) led by Hakim Dario? He has openly accused SSOMA of excluding them from the Rome negotiations.

A. I do not know much about this organization. As a leader of Real SPLM, we do not have any engagement with them. Therefore, we cannot be enemies or be engaged with them in any dialogue. We have not reached the point of giving any opinion about whether they should participate in any talks now. That did not happen.

We were officially invited to the negotiations. In addition, each organization would respond positively or reject the invitation. Have they been invited by the mediation team in Kenya? That is something I do not know.

The government in Juba is the one, which reached out to Kenya and asked them to invite SSOMA to the negotiations. Is it our duty to go and look for Hakim or was he supposed to look for us and see how we can join these talks? Why is he accusing SSOMA, which does not have any invitation role?

Dr Hakim is supposed to address his grievances to the government in Juba. For him to attack SSOMA because we have been invited, is pure envy.

Q. You have been calling for a solution to rescue South Sudan. Do you think the government is sharing the same thinking?

A. Our observation is that South Sudan is facing a crisis and if we do not do something now, it will collapse before our own eyes. No one can dispute that; not even the government! South Sudan has had no constitution since independence. After 12 years, we are still talking about writing a constitution. Is it not a crisis?

The country is in a serious economic crisis. We have a humanitarian crisis, which can be regarded as the worst in our history. We have an environmental crisis and our country has become a victim of climate change, in addition to a total collapse of the social fabric.

That is why our objective should be how to rescue the country. We have presented these issues since day one. Even President Kiir agreed with us that the main objective of the Tumaini Initiative should be rescuing South Sudan from collapse.

Since day one of the Tumaini, we said we should change the mentality to an inclusive process for all the stakeholders. We should change our mentality from focusing on power sharing to building a national consensus.

During the opening ceremony, we agreed that our main objective and historical responsibility is to lay a solid foundation for the establishment of a modern state, in order to achieve all the promises we made to ourselves during the different struggles.

Our responsibility towards establishing a state would be to serve the ordinary citizen, to rebuild lives and prosperity. Our second responsibility is to form the different ethnic groups into a united nation.

Q. How is the Tumaini Initiative looking at the 2018 Peace Agreement?

A. The 2018 Peace Agreement is a spoilt good because its signatories did not fulfil their promises to the people, to build peace, rebuild social fabric and achieve prosperity. They failed to implement what they had agreed upon, and after the power sharing, they decided to extend the agreement and they were still unable to fulfil all their promises.

They promised to build peace, economic reforms, initiate development, and promote livelihoods, provide security and stability in urban and rural areas. None of these has been achieved.

They gave themselves about 36 months to fulfil the agreement and vowed that afterwards they would give power back to the people to choose their rulers through credible and free election, backed by a permanent constitution. They failed in that.

They achieved nothing other than sharing power. They extended their rule for 24 months and yet nothing has been done. Now they are discussing extending it further and they will achieve nothing.

If they continue, this country will collapse. If we have not agreed on a solid program to rescue South Sudan from the Tumaini, we will have no country. That is what we have been telling them since day one.

Q. Are you saying Tumaini is replacing the 2018 Peace Agreement?

A. It is not only a replacement, but Tumaini is a “Savior”. There will be no South Sudan without Tumaini. The Revitalized Peace Agreement is now regarded as a tool to destroy, divide the social fabric and demolish all foundations of a state. All the reforms stipulated in the Revitalized Peace Agreement can be shifted to the Tumaini Initiative.

Q. There is a high possibility of extending the 2018 agreement. What is your position?

A. We have to wait until they decide. In addition, if they decide to remain in power, we will also extend our opposition activities.

Q. That means you will adjourn the Tumaini talks?

A. That will depend on what they decide at the end of their discussions.

Q. Do you regret the division that occurred in SSOMA?

A. I do not regret, but I am hopeful that the South Sudan Opposition Movements Alliance (SSOMA) and South Sudan National Consensus Forum (SSNCF) will unite and participate to rescue South Sudan. Our hope is that all the South Sudan stakeholders should unite and establish a national consensus.

Q. Are you in communication with Gen Thomas Cirillo?

A. Yes, I am in contact with him through our National Consensus Forum. We shall work towards ensuring that this Tumaini Initiative unites all the stakeholders. We are keen on how to unite so that we utilize this opportunity to rebuild this nation.

Q. Since you launched the round table conference, nothing has been achieved and many South Sudanese are confused.

A. It is normal that we fail but for us to surrender to this failure is not correct. Our objective is how to find ways to rebuild this nation. This is our promise to the people and to our comrades who sacrificed their lives to liberate this country. This is our promise that we shall continue with this journey until we achieve it.

Q. What went wrong with the roundtable conference?

A. We are continuing. When we were invited to the Tumaini Initiative, we told all the participants that we should forget about a negotiation between the government and the opposition and focus on finding a national consensus, a new social contract and building a state with the participation of all the stakeholders.

Now we are here looking for a national consensus and looking for a new social contract and for ways to initiate a national constitutional conference. We are not going to give up.

Q. What is your perception of an interim government that would come out of the Tumaini Initiative?

A. I cannot get into detail at this stage as that might compromise the negotiations. If I speak now about the expected government, that will mean I have disclosed our status.

Q. Then what do you think about the current transitional government?

A. It is a failed government, unable to fulfill its promises, unable to implement what they have agreed upon, they are unable to provide citizens with basic services, unable to resolve even the least of the crises facing this country. The government is even shy to speak about the crises facing the country.

The country is currently witnessing floods, which have not happened since more than 400 years ago. The government is unable to announce that South Sudan is now a victim of climate change. This government is unable to announce to the world that about 85% of South Sudan’s population were at a risk of severe famine. What kind of a government is this? They are not even willing to admit the lack of food in the country.

The government opened up diplomatic missions across the world and is now facing difficulties even paying rent. Our diplomats have become homeless. If they extend their stay in power, it means they are extending the suffering of our people.

Q. Are you willing to take up a position in the upcoming government?

A. If it is formed to implement a national program that will rescue the country, I will accept.

Q. If you are not in any position, how will you ensure that these programs are implemented?

A. If there is a program we agree upon and there is a clear structure of implementing them, there should be no problem. I fought alongside other comrades for years to liberate this country and I was ready to die for that. I am still fighting to build a national and a democratic state, and I am ready to die for it. I am ready to work and spend hours and die during this work.

Q. What would be the guarantee that the Tumaini agreement would be different from the stalled 2018 peace agreement?

A. Our people have the right to be doubtful because we have had many governments and they have not achieved anything. The country is in a dilemma, in civil war, a failed interim government, and in negotiations with failures.

The Tumaini Initiative should be how to resolve all these. The situation now risks a return to the civil war and the genocide that we experienced in 2013 and 2016. As you heard during the president’s latest public address, there are people who are saying if an election is conducted; the country will witness another war. However, he said that if we do not conduct the election, the country would also go to war.

Q. What is the solution?

A. We should all agree on a clear national program to prevent South Sudan from falling into chaos. Tumaini is now providing a chance to rescue South Sudan. There are other parties who are blind or they do not care if South Sudan would collapse. All those holding positions in the revitalized government are in need of support from the people. The Tumaini Initiative is offering them this chance to move the country to stability.

Q. But what is the guarantee?

A. We have experience about the previous agreements. We shall benefit from these experiences and develop new implementation mechanisms in the Tumaini Initiative.

Our objectives should be to find an exit out of this circle. We should be able to rescue South Sudan. We must be in a rescue mood and even you in the independent media that are educating and informing the public.  The message should be that this country is about to collapse. You also have a role to initiate programs that would rescue this country. The media, as the fourth pillar of governance, should be in a rescue mood. This is not an ordinary situation.

Q. This is July and it is the month of the independence of the country. What is your message to the government and the people of South Sudan?

A. I take this opportunity to congratulate the people for choosing to have an independent country. I congratulate them while the country they voted for is facing the danger of collapse.

As we celebrate our 13th independence, my appeal to every citizen is that we should all be united to rescue South Sudan, and create a national program that will fulfil the aspirations of our people through all generations.

Many South Sudanese have lost hope. I am appealing to them that they instead keep the spirit high. South Sudan is capable of transforming into a united nation that respects everyone regardless of tribe, region, gender or religion.

My message to the government is that they should take this opportunity and agree with us to rescue South Sudan. They should stop extending the crises.