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“Leaders have to be partners – not opposition”

Davis Mugume
It is time for President Salva Kiir and First Vice President Riek Machar to live up to South Sudanese people’s expectations, Doctor James Okuk, a political analyst told The Niles.
25.05.2016  |  Juba, South Sudan
Dr. James Okuk. (photo: James Okuk)
Dr. James Okuk. (photo: James Okuk)

The political scientist from Juba University urged the two leaders to learn from their mistakes and not to allow the country to slide back into violecne again.

Following South Sudan’s downward spiral into two-plus years of civil war, which killed tens of thousands, he urged the country to move forward cautiously, saying the country needed time before delving into questions of accountability.

The Niles’ Mugume Davis Rwakaringi spoke with James Okuk:


The Niles: The two leaders have formed the government of national unity. Does this mean a return to peace in the country?

The top part of the government of national unity has been completed so from now we can go for the bottom part of it, until we reach the state level. This is the first positive step forward.

It is a heavy-weight government whose decisions will not be undermined.

The fact that it has all the heavy-weight politicians tells you that it is a heavy-weight government whose decisions will not be undermined.

It is a government that will be recognised by the international community and all friends of South Sudan.

It also means good will could be generated and the peace agreement could go ahead, even if it moves slowly. That is what people want – they want peace back in the country so they can be able to pursue their futures.

The Niles: Talking about the heavy weights – we have people like former detainees (Deng Alor-Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations), Minister Micheal Makuei (Minister of Information), Alfred Ladu Gore, Minister of Interior (SPLM-IO), Lam Akol Ajawin, Minister of Agriculture and Food Security (OPPs), Kuol Manyang, Taban Deng and many others. What do you make of this constellation? Will they be able to work together in the new government?

They have to learn to work with each other. They are put together in the same room of the council of ministers to discuss the future of the country and implement the resolutions that they would have taken together. If there are differences, they have to go by the decision of the majority.

The Niles: People have high expectations of the Transitional Government of National Unity, do you think that the new cabinet will live up to their hopes?

They (leaders) command the support of the populations. Some even command armed groups that could de-stabilise the country but the fact that they are here, means they will tell their supporters to cool down. This would improve security in the country. This means that the economic situation as well as the humanitarian situation will improve because they depend on security.

All these heavy weight politicians have good connections with the outside world so they can convince development partners to come and contribute to nation building, reconstruction and even reconciliation.

The Niles: Will the former rivals, the President and the First Vice President, be able to work together with the Council of Ministers?

Riek has come back as a very powerful First Vice President. In the past he did not have the powers which he has now. His office is independent from the president’s office. The current council of Ministers is also more powerful than the President and even the First Vice President – they can dictate whatever these two try to do which is not consonant with the Peace Agreement.

The Niles: How can the Council of Ministers and Parliament ensure that the country does not slip back to war?

They need to stick to the spirit and letter of the agreement because there are specific details spelt out very clearly in the agreement. For example, the area of economy and finance is detailed on what to do they need to do. The same applies to areas of land, oil and mining.

The Niles: What lessons have the former warring parties learnt from the conflict?

The leaders have to act as partners and not as opposition anymore.

The government is called the Government of National Unity so it means that all the stakeholders who are in that government are not supposed to be in opposition, they are supposed to be in partnership.

The fact that all of them are there means there is no strong opposition outside. They will exert effort to build on the affairs of the government. Those of Dr. Lam they will do their best to make sure that the peace agreement is implemented. That is what they are supposed to do, Dr. Riek the same, Salva Kiir the same, Deng Alor the same. They are the four major stakeholders.

The leaders have to act as partners and not as opposition anymore. This is good for the transitional period of 30 months when all are pulling in the same direction and that direction is the implementation of the peace agreement. We can now plan – we can do the research together and thus prosper together.

Those few powerful generals who have remained outside the peace agreement could get convinced that this is the time to join in the bigger call of the country. There is optimism that things are going to work.

The Niles: What do you think about Transitional Justice?

I think the issue of justice should not be rushed because it could risk crashing the peace agreement itself. Let people build confidence and let reconciliation take place first. Then come the issues of court and the issue of justice for those who have committed atrocities. My advice to the international community is that they should support the Transitional Government and the issue of transitional justice should follow.

The new government should also start a confiscation process and ensure the return South Sudanese stolen money and assets, taken through corrupt practices.

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