Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – 18th December 2017

Statement by Dr. Francis Mading Deng  –  Revitalization Forum, Addis Ababa

Press Release
Ambassador Francis M. Deng
Dr. Francis M. Deng, National Dialogue Deputy Rapporteur
What follows below is the full text of the statement by National Dialogue Spokesperson Francis M. Deng at the recent High-Level Revitalization Forum in Addis Ababa. In his statement, Amb. Deng represented the goals and interests of the South Sudan National Dialogue in a renewal of the 2015 peace agreement.

Mr. Chairman,

Permit me to begin by expressing my appreciation for the opportunity granted me to participate in this historic Forum on the Revitalization of the 2015 Peace Agreement. Since  I have only five minutes, I will forgo diplomatic formalities and go directly to the substance of my statement.

My remarks will focus on three interconnected issues: the role of National Dialogue; its complementarity with Revitalization; and the need for international cooperation in both areas.

I realize that this Forum is on Revitalization, but I was glad that a number of people referred to National Dialogue, though in passing. There is an obvious synergy between the two initiatives and their related processes. I don’t think there is any reasonable person who can object to the principle of National Dialogue. The critical issue, which is an area of potential controversy, concerns the process through which it is pursued and the extent to which the principles necessary for its success are applied.

It has repeatedly been said that the success of any national dialogue depends on adherence to the principles of inclusivity, credibility, and transparency. These should be inherent in the integrity of the dialogue initiative itself. No leader of a country whose people are suffering, or whose nation is threatened with disintegration, can be opposed to ending the crisis afflicting his country. The question is how to end it, and that obviously requires meeting the operational standards for success.

From the time the President of the Republic declared the National Dialogue initiative, he has consistently stated that he expects these required principles to be observed. And he has made adjustments to his original decree in order to meet those standards. He has emphasized that he does not intend National Dialogue to be a net or a bait on a hook to catch his opponents. Instead, he wants it to be pursued with full credibility and integrity.

I must say that so far members of the Steering Committee have debated with remarkable freedom, openness, and candor. There have been no reported cases of intimidation, harassment, or arrest. This has also been true of the experience of the sub-committees that have gone to conduct regional and grass root consultations as well as with other stakeholders. On the issue of inclusivity, however, it must be noted that it is a two-way challenge. When all the stakeholders are invited to dialogue, with flexibility on a mutually agreeable venue, and some individuals refuse to join, where does the responsibility for the lack of inclusivity lie?

When all the stakeholders are invited to dialogue, with flexibility on a mutually agreeable venue, and some individuals refuse to join, where does the responsibility for the lack of inclusivity lie?

Rather than undermine the process through unwarranted skepticism and suspicion that it is intended to be self-serving for the regime, it would be more constructive to presume good will and the sincerity of motivation until proven otherwise and support the process fully to strengthen the prospects of success in achieving the mutually desired goal.

It should also be noted that National Dialogue is planned to operate at several levels: national, regional and local. It is a top-down and bottom-up inclusive process. Ultimately, the end game should be an outcome that promotes a culture of resolving conflicts through dialogue rather than by the barrel of a gun.

This is in line with the traditional South Sudanese method of conflict prevention, management, and resolution. To use a now popular concept, National Dialogue should therefore also aim at the ‘revitalization’  of our traditional values, institutions and operational practices.

National Dialogue should be seen as complementary, rather than contradictory, to the Revitalization initiative. Nor should Revitalization be seen as conflicting with National Dialogue. The two should be viewed as synergetic, with different comparative, yet complementary advantages. One focuses on the more immediate objective of ending violence and creating conditions for sustaining peace, while the other times at comprehensively addressing the root causes of the myriad conflicts and challenges facing the country at all levels.

At the higher spectrum of the two processes, where they meet, intersect, and overlap, they share the immediate objective of stopping the violence and fostering talks toward sustainable peace. This is the level where Revitalization has a comparative advantage over National Dialogue. The former is supported by regional and international leverage, but its internal legitimacy can be reinforced and enhanced through  National Dialogue.

Beyond the immediate objective of ending violence, National Dialogue has the comparative advantage of widening the scope of the dialogue toward addressing all issues at all levels in an ongoing process of talking peacefully rather than resolving differences through violence. Cooperation with international partners would be mutually reinforcing and augmentative, while competition would undermine and weaken both processes.

In this regard, National Dialogue is by definition ‘national’, owned by the people of South Sudan, and supported by their Government within the policy framework of ‘sovereignty as responsibility’. However, what is national should not be seen as separate from, or antagonistic to, what is international, especially when both share a deep concern about the plight of the people of South Sudan. Even if the country was able to fully shoulder the responsibility of the National Dialogue by itself, which,  of course, it must strive to do, it is ultimately in the mutual interest of the country and the concerned international partners to cooperate toward achieving the shared objectives. Working together constructively is a source of strength while competing negatively undermines mutual interest and results in counterproductive weakness.

National Dialogue is by definition ‘national’, owned by the people of South Sudan, and supported by their Government within the policy framework of ‘sovereignty as responsibility’. However, what is national should not be seen as separate from, or antagonistic to, what is international, especially when both share a deep concern about the plight of the people of South Sudan

To conclude, I must say that I was both profoundly moved and deeply saddened by what we heard today from the leaders of the IGAD, AU, and UN about the crisis in our country and how we are failing to respond to it constructively. As a representative of my country in many international forums, I have always found it painful and sad when it is stated or implied that the outside world cares more about our suffering people than their own leaders. But rather than be offended or defensive, I have always appreciated the concern of the international community about the tragic situation in our country.

We must, however, demonstrate to the outside world that we are equally, if not more, concerned about the plight of our people and our country. The challenge is what our leaders can, and should do, to address and end the crisis afflicting our country. What we all need to recognize is that we and the concerned international partners are standing on the same ground, and pursuing the same goal. We need to work together to enhance our collective capacity to be more effective in achieving that goal.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Distinguished Delegates for your kind attention.

Vincent Wanga contact@ssnationaldialogue.org