SPLM-IO Secretary General Regina Kaba (Photo credit: Mamer Abraham)

Q&A: ‘Consultations ongoing to hold inter-party dialogue’-SPLM-IO SG

Regina Joseph Kaba, Secretary General of the SPLM-IO, has highlighted key challenges facing electoral preparations in South Sudan.

Regina Joseph Kaba, Secretary General of the SPLM-IO, has highlighted key challenges facing electoral preparations in South Sudan.

In an exclusive interview with Radio Tamazuj, Kaba, a prominent figure in the SPLM-IO Party led by First Vice President Dr. Riek Machar, shed light on the outfit’s efforts amidst a complex political landscape in South Sudan. From electoral preparations to ongoing peace agreement implementation, she has provided valuable insights into the challenges they face and the path forward for the country.

Below are edited excerpts:

Question: Hon. Regina, how is the registration process for the SPLM-IO going across the country?

Answer: The registration process in the 10 states where we have offices is progressing well. Some states have even registered over 1,000 members. However, we face challenges in the three administrative areas because we are not part of the administrative government. Consequently, we couldn’t open offices there, despite having prominent members in those areas.

Q: What will happen to those in the administrative areas? How will they be registered?

A: We are registering them. Some who are in Juba have already registered. For those in the administrative areas, we anticipate that those appointed to serve in the administrative governments will establish offices and continue with the registration.

Q: How is SPLM-IO preparing for the upcoming elections?

A: Our stance on the elections is clear. When the roadmap agreement was signed two years ago, we expected to have sufficient time to complete remaining peace agreement activities before the elections. Unfortunately, little progress has been made.

Critical tasks like drafting a constitution, addressing security arrangements, conducting a population census, and implementing judicial reforms remain unresolved. Without a constitution, it’s challenging to govern effectively. Security arrangements must be in place to prevent conflict during elections. Additionally, we lack a constitutional court for electoral disputes.

Repatriating IDPs and refugees is essential, but logistical and security challenges persist. Many South Sudanese abroad hesitate to return due to ongoing insecurity. Without addressing these issues, holding elections would be premature and ineffective in resolving broader societal challenges. Electoral reforms must precede any election to ensure credible, inclusive, and peaceful outcomes.

Q: Recently, you mentioned that the SPLM-IO faces restrictions on movement around the country. Can you elaborate on this and discuss your next steps considering the challenges ahead of the elections?

A: Actually, I didn’t imply that our movement is unrestricted. Quite the contrary, there are significant limitations on our mobility, which is a contentious issue. Political and social spaces are severely restricted in the country. Meetings and political rallies are prohibited, and even our chairman faces constraints on leaving Juba. So, there’s no freedom of movement. Even in our offices across ten states, our members still encounter harassment.

Q: So, these restrictions apply not just to Dr. Riek Machar but to all SPLM-IO members?

A: Absolutely. In places like certain counties in Warrap State, anyone wearing our blue T-shirt risks arrest. This illustrates the extent of the limitations. I didn’t imply freedom of movement to avoid any misinterpretation. Although we’ve managed to establish offices in ten states, challenges persist.

Q: Apart from Dr. Machar, are there other prominent IO leaders facing travel restrictions?

A: While I won’t name individuals, we do have members holding significant positions who struggle to obtain travel approvals. This is one of the many restrictions we confront.

Q: There were reports of a proposal for signatories to the peace agreement to hold dialogue regarding the elections. What became of this proposal?

A: Yes, indeed. The SPLM-IO proposed dialogue among all parties to decide whether to proceed with elections. The peace agreement mandates full implementation of specific provisions before elections, and the current transitional constitution doesn’t prioritize elections at this stage. Hence, we suggested signatories engage in dialogue as a way forward.

Currently, various consultative meetings are ongoing among signatories to explore the feasibility of such dialogue. Our stance is that any election-related dialogue should involve a third party. The extended roadmap we signed lacks third-party involvement, which is why we believe external oversight is necessary to ensure a fair dialogue, given our failure to fully implement the agreement’s provisions.

Q: Could you clarify what you mean by a third party or a mediator?

A: When we mention a third party, we’re referring to the mediation aspect. While we won’t name specific entities, it’s widely known that IGAD played a mediating role in this agreement. Hence, we believe it’s crucial for this third party to be involved in any future plans.

Q: Are all signatories aligned with SPLM-IO’s proposal for dialogue?

A: Currently, all signatories have sent representatives to participate in these consultative meetings. The discussions are ongoing, and a decision has yet to be made.

Q: Is there a deadline for these meetings or the end of dialogue?

A: The government is leading and organizing these meetings, so I’m uncertain if they’ve set a deadline for the conclusion of the dialogue.

Q: What are SPLM-IO’s expectations from these meetings?

A: In our documents, we’ve outlined the challenges and which provisions have been implemented or not. The outcome will depend on the discussions among the parties. Before the dialogue concludes, we can’t speculate on resolutions. It’s important to note that we’re not the sole party to the agreement, underscoring the need for inclusive dialogue to reach consensus.

Q: SPLM-IO has been operating alone, but now there are other opposition parties like OPP and SSOA who are happy with the dialogue. Will you be collaborating with them in the future?

A: As signatories to the agreement, every party has the right to express their views. Our focus has been on advocating for transparency and democracy. Expressing our views doesn’t imply working alone; it’s about fostering inclusive dialogue to achieve consensus among all signatories. Therefore, we advocate for dialogue among all parties to the agreement.

Q: South Sudanese have expressed fatigue with the repeated extensions of the agreement. How does this factor into your engagement in new dialogue?

A: Our primary concern, as a party, is the welfare of South Sudanese citizens. We signed the agreement and came to Juba with their interests in mind. Witnessing the suffering of our citizens compelled us to sign the peace agreement in 2018. Since then, there has been relative peace in the country.

However, several critical provisions of the agreement, particularly concerning security, remain unimplemented. The pre-transitional period has been extended multiple times to address these issues, yet progress has been slow.

Implementation requires resources, which are currently lacking, contributing to delays. A fully implemented peace agreement would pave the way for credible elections, preventing a return to conflict.

By advocating for the comprehensive implementation of the peace agreement, we stand in solidarity with the interests of the South Sudanese people, prioritizing their well-being above all else.

Q: Some voices say that the SPLM-IO hasn’t been faithful in implementing the agreement. How do you respond to these allegations?

A: It’s important to note that SPLM-IO is not the sole signatory to the agreement. We have five signatories, including SPLM-IG, SPLM-IO, SSOA, OPP, and FDs. Therefore, responsibility for implementing the agreement doesn’t rest solely with SPLM-IO.

SPLM-IG controls the finances and allocates resources for implementation. Without adequate resources, progress is hindered. We’ve been vocal in advocating for full agreement implementation, often more so than other parties. This may give the impression that we’re working alone, but our aim is to ensure the agreement’s comprehensive implementation.

The agreement was crafted to address root issues in South Sudan, including financial matters and governance systems. Premature elections won’t address these underlying problems.

Q: When can we expect the IO to announce its flag bearer, and will Machar still contest or will there be another candidate?

A: Are we prepared for elections? Currently, our focus is on organizing the electoral process. Once this groundwork is laid, we can discuss potential candidates. However, holding elections by December 2024 seems unlikely, which is why we advocate for dialogue.

While our party’s symbols and materials are ready, the electoral commission needs to commence its work and secure its budget. As of now, parliamentary approval for the commission’s budget is pending. Therefore, it’s premature to delve into candidate discussions.

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

A: My message to the SPLM is that let’s diligently adhere to the peace agreement we signed, ensuring its full implementation for a peaceful and credible election outcome that satisfies all parties.

To the people of South Sudan, your resilience amid adversity is commendable. Despite challenges, maintain hope for our nation’s bright future.