Joseph Wol Modesto, Secretary General of the Communist Party of South Sudan, speaks to Radio Tamazuj on 27 May, 2024. (Radio Tamazuj photo)

Q&A: ‘Conclude roadmap and form a new government’- Joseph Modesto

Joseph Wol Modesto, Secretary General of the Communist Party of South Sudan, has called on the parties to the peace agreement to conclude the roadmap and start an inclusive workshop to discuss the future of the country.

Joseph Wol Modesto, Secretary General of the Communist Party of South Sudan, has called on the parties to the peace agreement to conclude the peace roadmap and start an inclusive workshop to discuss the future of the country and form a new government led by an executive prime minister.

In an exclusive interview with Radio Tamazuj, the veteran politician shared his views on the upcoming elections and emphasized the need for an inclusive national dialogue.

Below are edited excerpts:

Question: Joseph Modesto, could you tell us a bit about the activities of the Communist Party of South Sudan and your level of participation in the government?

Answer: I am Joseph Wol Modesto, Secretary General of the Communist Party of South Sudan. When South Sudan decided in a referendum to become an independent state, we, the communists who were part of the Sudan Communist Party, recognized that the new situation required our involvement. In June, we held a conference in Khartoum to decide our course of action.

We decided to establish the Communist Party of South Sudan. During this founding meeting, we elected the Central Committee and the Secretariat, and then we moved to South Sudan. We began our work by reinforcing the existing Communist Party branches, particularly in Juba, and reorganizing our party.

We conducted a nationwide tour to inform our members about the new situation and to establish our independence from the Khartoum Communist Party. Our goal was to popularize our party among the South Sudanese population. We have been active in South Sudanese politics since 2010. We participated in the political parties’ conference and the referendum, advocating for the right of South Sudanese to determine their destiny.

As communists, we initially believed that South Sudan was not ready for independence due to its underdeveloped state and lack of political consciousness among the population. We felt the political leadership was following a bourgeois path with no clear program for the ordinary person. We advocated for unity with northern political parties to improve the system before seeking independence. However, we respected the decision of the South Sudanese people and adapted our efforts accordingly.

We have been involved in various negotiations, including the discussions in Addis Ababa, where our party emphasized addressing the root causes of problems rather than focusing on positions. This approach led to significant contributions in the negotiations.

Additionally, we participated in the Independent Boundary Commission, addressing the issue of whether to maintain the 10 states or expand to 32. Our efforts, along with others, led to the decision to revert to 10 states, a resolution supported by President Salva Kiir.

Currently, we have only one member in the Council of State, as one of our members has passed away. We do not have any representatives in the government.

Q: There are reports of inter-party dialogue happening in Juba regarding elections or an extension. Are you part of this dialogue, and if so, how far has it progressed?

A: Indeed, this is the critical issue at the moment. The debate revolves around whether to hold elections or extend the current term, or if negotiations are necessary. Just a couple of days ago in Parliament, the Minister of Cabinet Affairs mentioned ongoing negotiations about the election process. He stated that a high-level committee would discuss the matter, after which their recommendations would be reviewed by the presidency. Subsequently, the presidency would consult the signatories of the agreement.

We believe this mirrors the process we saw during the roadmap discussions. However, the current situation in South Sudan is highly uncertain and confusing. People are unsure about whether there will be elections or an extension, creating significant anxiety among South Sudanese citizens. The current conditions are dire, with widespread hunger and economic hardship. Although the government is attempting to stabilize the dollar, this has yet to positively impact the market, leaving people struggling with high prices.

In terms of negotiations, we think it’s crucial for all political parties and stakeholders to convene for a comprehensive workshop. This workshop should differ from previous negotiations or dialogues, including those in Addis Ababa. It must be well-organized and inclusive, ensuring that all critical tasks in the revitalized agreement are addressed before any elections. Key issues such as the census, constituency demarcation, and constitutional matters must be resolved, particularly in the security sector.

Holding elections without addressing these critical tasks is unwise. Similarly, we oppose further extensions, as they may perpetuate the cycle of delay and uncertainty. Instead, we propose concluding the current roadmap and initiating a workshop where all relevant issues—economy, security, agriculture, and governance—are thoroughly discussed.

This workshop should last no less than five or six months and be conducted under the auspices of the United Nations, UNMISS, and the African Union to ensure credibility and funding. The government should participate as a party, not as the ruling authority, ensuring equal footing for all parties. The focus should be on ideas, not numbers, fostering a collaborative environment where meaningful decisions can be made and implemented.

Q: Given your proposal for a six-month workshop starting in June, how do you address the issue of leadership legitimacy once the transitional government’s term ends in February 2025?

A: Thank you for your question. We proposed this workshop about two months ago, and we still have about six or seven months ahead of us. If people are serious, the workshop could be completed in four months. The agreement officially ends in February, so there is enough time to finish the workshop and form a new government.

We propose that this new government includes an executive cabinet with a prime minister who has executive powers, composed of academics and civil servants. We do not want any political party members, parliamentarians, or individuals with political portfolios under the revitalized agreement in this new government. We need a fresh team to run the country for five years to address the critical issues we face.

Q: What do you think is the solution to the non-implementation of peace agreements and transitional governments in South Sudan?

A: The solution lies in ending the current roadmap when it concludes. If they talk about implementing the remaining tasks of the revitalized agreement, it often implies seeking another extension, which we believe is not beneficial. Instead, let the roadmap conclude and have the political parties establish a new government that can handle the remaining tasks. This new government should also address the needs of the people who are suffering. For example, many people live in poor conditions where even rain causes significant hardship. We need a government that truly understands and addresses these issues.

Q: Your party proposes a ceremonial president, Salva Kiir, and an executive prime minister to run a transitional government for five years. Could you expound on it? And will it be accepted during the dialogue? Who do you propose to be the prime minister?

A: Our proposal is for an executive prime minister and their cabinet to serve for five years, while President Salva Kiir remains as a ceremonial president. We want President Kiir to hold this position because he symbolizes the unity and identity of South Sudan. Despite any mistakes he may have made during his 19 years in power, he should be given immunity to live peacefully. This immunity is not necessarily an admission of guilt but a gesture of forgiveness and reconciliation, recognizing that everyone can make mistakes.

Whether this proposal is accepted depends on the dialogue participants. As a democratic nation, we should allow political parties to discuss and decide on these critical issues. The Communist Party believes this is a viable solution, providing political space for all parties. The parties will decide how to select the prime minister, likely from academia and civil service, ensuring a non-partisan approach to governance.

Q: What is your comment on the Nairobi peace talks? Are you represented there? What do you think will be the outcome?

A: The Nairobi talks were between the government and the holdout groups. We are not part of the holdout groups; we are already inside the process, so we view this as a positive step. Similarly, the Community of Sant’Egidio talks were beneficial. Any negotiation or dialogue between the government and those outside the system is constructive.

However, the crucial issue is addressing the root causes of South Sudan’s problems. Understanding these root causes is essential for finding effective solutions. From what we hear about the Nairobi talks, there is a focus on negotiation and inclusivity. Pagan Amum has been advocating for bringing more groups into the discussions, which is a positive approach.

If our workshop proposal is accepted, it could be addressed in these negotiations. Currently, we are not part of the Nairobi negotiations because we are not a holdout group. However, if there is an inclusive conference to solve South Sudan’s problems, we will definitely participate. It’s important to involve all stakeholders, including local chiefs who have their own grievances and sufferings.

We believe there should be a general, inclusive national dialogue, unlike previous national dialogues whose outcomes were unclear. This new dialogue should be under the auspices of the UN and the African Union, and they should fund it to ensure its success. The government should participate as a party, not as the government.

Q: Many people are blaming the political parties for not doing their work or carrying out activities across South Sudan so they can grow and compete with the ruling SPLM party. Why is the Communist Party not active on the ground?

A: Who is active on the ground? No political party is active, except for one. Even the SPLM/IO and the SSOA are not active because there is no political space. We wrote a letter requesting to hold a rally, but it was not approved. How can we be active under such conditions?

First of all, we are not in the government. Even those in the government struggle to implement their programs. When a political party is in government, it must implement its program. In a coalition government, like our national unity government, all parties should agree on a unified program. It should not be dominated by one party; it should reflect a collective agenda.

Q: You mentioned that you tried to write to the security requesting permission for a rally. What happened?

A: Yes, we wrote a letter, but it was not approved.

Q: What pressure or lobbying is the Communist Party applying to ensure political and civic spaces in the country?

A: Whom can you lobby now? There are areas that are inaccessible, even for government institutions and political leaders. This is our main difficulty. We try to work through our political groupings. The Communist Party is part of the OPP (Other Political Parties) and the National Alliance of Political Parties. If we have any issues, we address them through these organizations. The OPP represents us at a high level, headed by Tut Gatluak, with the Honourable Minister of Cabinet Affairs as the secretary. This is our only channel for lobbying, as there are no other effective avenues.

Q: People are still talking about elections in December 2024. Do we still have enough time to hold elections then?

A: The problem is not time; it is political will. If there had been political will since 2018, the necessary tasks could have been implemented multiple times by now. We discussed this during the roadmap talks and said clearly that if the critical tasks could be completed in a short period, then we could hold elections. But if not, we should not rush into an extension. Should the critical tasks be implemented before December, we will participate in the elections.

Q: In your opinion, is there still time to hold the elections?

A: This is a question for the technical experts, such as the National Election Commission and the Constitutional Amendment Committee. As a politician, I say these tasks must be completed. Whether there is enough time is for the technical experts to determine. They need to provide a clear answer. Are the National Election Commission and the Political Party’s Council prepared for elections in December? Can they organize everything in time? These are technical questions that need clear answers.

Q: Smaller parties are being blamed for not practicing democracy internally. How is the Communist Party practicing democracy within its structures?

A: The Communist Party is built on democratic principles, even beyond typical bourgeois democracy. We aim for socialism and believe in national democratic democracy. Our party’s highest authority is the party congress, followed by the Central Committee, the Political Bureau, and the Central Secretariat. We have branches and regional offices, and every position is filled through elections. Even small branches start through elections. For us, democracy is essential for growth, and the Communist Party cannot thrive without it. We want democracy to grow and oppose any form of dictatorial control.

Q: What is your final message to the political parties and the people of South Sudan?

A: My message to political parties is to organize themselves effectively. Each party should be prepared to function as a political entity and engage in dialogue with other parties. They should exchange ideas, constitutions, and programs to understand each other better and explore potential alliances based on shared visions.

For the people of South Sudan, it is crucial to be aware of your rights, including the right to education and health. Despite the government’s declarations of free primary and secondary education, the reality is different. People should organize themselves within their communities to promote welfare, development, and protection.

Tribes should focus on the welfare of their members and not engage in racial or tribal conflicts. They should address local needs, such as dealing with natural disasters like floods and droughts. Remember, the government is for the people, and everyone should find their place within it to ensure their needs are met.