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For South Sudan, the Promise of Full Dialogue Lies Ahead


People from South Sudan’s Gumbo-Sherikat neighborhood in the capital of Juba meet in a UN-led gathering to build peace, after the signing of the 2018 agreement to end the country’s civil war. So far, the pact has not been carried out, but the author describes another potential path to peace for the world’s youngest nation. ERIC KANALSTEIN/UN PHOTO

ROME, Italy — The clock is ticking for South Sudan. Many powerful players in the international community have expressed openly their disappointment at the reluctance of South Sudan power-brokers to resolve their violence-prone country. Meanwhile, the people of South Sudan are clearly signaling their readiness for peace and their support for new approaches that could lead to a stable, long-term solution. President Salva Kiir and First Vice President-designate Riek Machar strengthened the importance of these signals by meeting today.

In particular, the churches and the religious leaders have been engaging everyone in their search for peace in South Sudan, the world’s youngest country and one split apart by war since 2013.

Encouraged by the new dynamism created by last year’s dramatic encounter with Pope Francis, who kissed the feet of leaders from South Sudan, including President Kiir; the first vice president-designate, Machar; and Rebecca Garang de Mabior and Taban Deng Gay, vice presidents-designate, the community of Sant’Egidio successfully reached out to the representatives of the South Sudan Opposition Movements Alliance (SSOMA), the coalition of opposition movements that had not joined the Addis Ababa peace agreement of September 2018, aiming to end South Sudan’s civil war. The conflict has left thousands of people dead and millions of people homeless.

The SSOMA declaration, signed and launched in Rome on Nov. 20, 2019, is a welcome contribution to the official negotiations involving national, regional and international parties. The declaration is a step in the right direction. The meeting constructively aimed at moving beyond the impasse pertaining to the implementation of the provisions of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) and expressed gratitude “for the continuous outstanding empathy and affection shown to the suffering people of South Sudan by His Holiness Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury His Grace Justin Welby.”

While “commending the efforts exerted by the Community of Sant’Egidio to achieve genuine and sustainable peace in South Sudan,” the declaration stressed that “the conflict in South Sudan is political in nature and requires a political solution through constructive and genuine dialogue.”

Alexander Rondos, the European Union’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa, said: “South Sudan has fewer than 100 days to lay foundations for lasting peace. All must be included. The efforts of the Community of Sant’Egidio are timely, invaluable and command our collective support.”

The United States Embassy in Juba also wrote, “We support Sant’Egidio’s efforts to help bring peace and reconciliation in South Sudan and to engage non-signatories to the peace agreement.”

Significantly, Susan D. Page, of the American Academy of Diplomacy and former US ambassador to South Sudan, asks in a recent essay, “A Glimmer of Hope for South Sudan’s Peace Process?” while observing that “Rather than focusing on deadlines when the parties are not fully committed to the process, governments in the region and the international community must insist upon a broader peace process that includes continuous, active dialogue among all of the parties, as well as the participation of a wide cross-section of South Sudanese society. Peace processes require the resolution of deeply rooted animosities and are seldom smooth or easy. In order to succeed, the South Sudan process must address divisions and mistrust that exist among the signatory parties, the non-signatories to the agreement, and within society.

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To do this, the parties to the accord and civil society representatives must engage in regular, face-to-face dialogue about the priorities, timelines, and budgets of the implementation process and about the underlying grievances that are at the root of the conflict. The recent meeting of the opposition alliance hosted by the religious community of Sant’Egidio provides an illustrative example.”

So where is the promise of inclusive dialogue? It is not only in the offer that Pope Francis made to visit South Sudan once the government has been formed, but it is also the enticing opportunity of long-term commitment on the part of many players that are now frustrated by the violent convulsions of the world’s newest country.

What is needed is not just an agreement but a platform, a method of making agreements and keeping them. Inclusivity must be one of the pillars. Without everyone who can contribute to the peace process, there is no possibility of long-term solutions. Inclusivity is a must. True inclusivity recognizes that others hold some power and, especially, that they hold the key to future cooperation. Both the government of Juba and the signatories to the 2018 agreement were well aware of the Sant’Egidio engagement with the South Sudan Opposition Movements Alliance. The request for this engagement emerged during the visit of the National Pre-Transitional Committee to Sant’Egidio at the end of July, and it is clear that the three-way dynamism is different from the old bilateral rivalry.

South Sudan is emerging from a very brutal period. The recent developments in the engagement of church leaders point to new possibilities. This is a time for serious explorations and tough decisions. Peace is promising and hopefully more enticing than the war so far.

The South Sudan Council of Churches — which represents the Christian churches of South Sudan — came to Rome for consultations with Sant’Egidio, after being received by Pope Francis, and asked it to facilitate the path toward reconciliation with new initiatives.

“We thank the Community,” said the council’s secretary-general, Oyet Latansio, “for having hosted us and for having shared our consultation. We discussed how to achieve peace for our people, how to get to the end of a war of brothers against brothers that has cost too much pain and poverty and that has caused, in addition to the victims, millions of refugees.”

Mauro Garofalo, the head of the International Relations office of Sant’Egidio, has assured its support for the peace process “through a close collaboration between the Council of Churches and the Community, which will allow for the development of new joint initiatives.”

The new dynamism in South Sudan has been encouraged by many people and institutions like the South Sudan Council of Churches, who kept the hope of peace alive. Let’s continue to work so that their commitment will soon be shared by everyone.

This is an opinion essay.

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts?

Andrea Bartoli is the president of the Rome-based Sant’Egidio Foundation for Peace and Dialogue and a former dean of the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University, in South Orange, N.J. Previously, he was dean of George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. He founded and directed the Center for International Conflict Resolution at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

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