By Wol Deng Atak, Nairobi, Kenya
December 20, 2016 (SSB) — The recent proposal for National Dialogues unveiled by President Salva Kiir Mayardit, in his speech to Parliament, is a good stride toward a right direction. The revelation is also in line with political opposition’s leaders and media personalities who earlier called for the same national exercise. Thus, it is evident that the opinion resonates with President Kiir. Furthermore, nurturing this quest for national dialogue will consolidate peace and national spirit. This, however, is only achievable if President Kiir creates environment for free media and relax curbs placed on freedom of speech in the country.
Concern is growing in proponents as quarters within Kiir’s administration secretly voice serious reservations on the proposed National Dialogue. Their reservations are understandably based on fear of loosing influence they have enjoyed during years of political and economic crisis in the country. Their major fear is in possible new dimension to power equation that may result from National Dialogue. However, the opposition to National Dialogues needs not to be incentivized because it is the only road to peace building, reconciliation and national unity.
It is important for the nation to have well-defined national dialogues to bear transparency and independent patronage to steer the process toward inclusive and measured success. This seems not to be the case as President Kiir recently nominated himself to serve as the patron to National Debate exercise. This self-nomination is not plausible because Kiir is a side with interest to defend. Thus, handing himself a podium to lead the process would only result into a replica of December, 2013 political monologue on SPLM documents in National Liberation Council.
The proponents on side of President Kiir were then given chances to advance positions favorable to President Kiir’s views while sentiments for constitutional amendment were denied the same opportunity. Subsequently, many SPLM leaders for amendment of the clauses boycotted the deliberation on 15th December 2015; leaving Kiir’s side to pass the documents in their absent. This deepened disagreements and later degenerated into violence, pillaging and destructions, ethnic targeting killings, and divisions the dialogues would now aim to undo. For this reasons, it would undermine the process if President Kiir leads the Dialogue.
International personality like Kofi Anan can lead the process of National Dialogues. He has led a successful political dialogue in Kenya in 2008 and he proved to be up to the task.
Let us be very clear here that there are important steps recent calls for National Dialogue ignored yet they are very important to its success. These include lifting restriction on free speech and media spaces required for serious dialogues. Let us first examine what it means to have National Dialogues. Heibach informs that National Dialogues can be understood, as an “argumentative interaction of political elites in the framework of an institutionalised or non-institutionalised process outside a constitution or established associations that aims at engaging as many relevant actors as possible on a national level in negotiating socio- political issues relevant to the whole society” (Heibach, 2011, 78).
In other words it is a political process geared toward establishing consensus on major issues of national importance. More so, it is a crucial tool for peace building, reconciliation, fostering good governance, and national unity. In a nutshell, it encompasses debates on constitution making, good governance, and provisions of vital services such as health, education, infrastructures, rules and procedures, legitimacy, etc.
Kiir calls for forgiveness for the mistakes he might have committed against the nation needs to correspond to his behaviours toward oppositions. The oppositions currently under detention for opposing him or on ground of being sympathizers of Riek Machar should be released to show a good gesture. It would also serves as signal for reconciliation. For example releasing Hon. Andrew Kuach, Hon. Wol Mayom, Hon. Elise Wayuai, including critics from Eastern and Western Equatoria, among others political detainees would send a tone for reconciliation.
In the same light above, Media houses forced close by Kiir’s office because they reported stories directly touching him or are owned by people opposed to his rule should be allowed to resume print or broadcast. For example, the Nation Mirror, Citizen, Destiny, Al Waton, Al Raiai, Al Masir, among other Newspapers currently under the National Security’s ‘Detention’ should be allowed to resume print. Not to over emphasize the importance of free media and free speech as key ingredients to a successful National Dialogues, allowing political space and free media is crucial for fostering good governance and peace building in a country.
Most experiences on national dialogues have been on post-war situations. Unlike South Sudan where President has called for it as violence rages on in former Western Equatoria, Bhar el Ghazal and Upper Nile states. It is, therefore, incumbent on President Kiir to reach out to armed oppositions to consolidate the success of discourse, thereof.
I wouldn’t want to think of presidential calls for National Dialogues as a bluff to get every opposition back to the country then shut the doors behind them. But it is also difficult to ignore any sentiment gearing toward that direction if the president does not take key decisions to create conducive environment required for National Dialogues. For no national debate can shape nation’s future without the presence of free media and free speech.
In conclusion, it is equally important for President Kiir to reconsider the thorny Order No. 36 creating more states outside stipulations of peace agreement, and the directives revoking dissidents’ passports and private properties to echo a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation he asked of the nation.
The views expressed in the content of this opinion do not represent this medium but solely of the author. The author is a former Deputy of Right of Access to Information Commission. He can be reached at email@example.com
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