National News

National Dialogues: Tools for Conflict Transformation and Peace building (1-2)

By Nichola Dominic Mandil

In this episode of the peace building, I would like to focus on the concept of national dialogues as tools for conflict transformation and peace building. As you know these days there are talks about the national dialogue process, which was declared by President Salva Kiir Mayardit in December 2016.

Since the national dialogue is dominating the media spotlight in South Sudan, I would also like to shed some light and enhance the understanding of the national dialogue in the wake of the general sense of quest for peace, which to some people is the priority rather than the national dialogue.

Many have written about national dialogue, but I would like to put into context an epitome of what many call national dialogue to comprehend the understandability of this process, which seems to in a way overshadow the implementation of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS).

Today I will be focusing on the concept of the National Dialogue according to the United States Institute of Peace. I will be using what two peace experts of the U.S. Institute of Peace had written to guide our understanding of the national dialogue.

To begin with, what is national dialogue? This question can be well answered by people who might have undergone conflict and or civil wars and used this process to resolve the conflict they experienced.

For example, during the war in Yemen, a lot of questions were asked about the national dialogue. The simplest answer coined by members of the Yemeni National Dialogue Conference (NDC) was that national dialogue was about citizen’s working together to find solutions to the key challenges facing Yemen.

This could be the same questions for us in South Sudan today. Many could ask what this national dialogue is and what is it all about, and why now, why not long time ago? Was it initiated to usurp the implementation of ARCSS?

Neither the members of the National Dialogue Steering Committee nor the members of the National Dialogue Secretariat of South Sudan provided such an elaborate answer like what the members of the National Dialogue Conference of Yemeni provided to their citizens.

So the question is who to blame if the national dialogue taking place in South Sudan for the first time is not  understood, and perhaps rejected due to its flimsy understanding? Certainly the national dialogue leadership or the steering committee are to blame for not having explained explicitly to the people of South Sudan the national dialogue process.

The national dialogue process seems to be an insubstantial process because the members of the leadership and steering committee who are supposed to steer the process as the name suggests, confine themselves to the national capital Juba. They have not conducted extensive visits to the states and to the different counties, payams and bomas to sensitise the people at the grassroots level on the meaning and why the national dialogue.

For a deeper understanding of the national dialogue, in this article I would like to use the materials published by two peace experts from the United States Institute of Peace to help expand our understanding of national dialogue.

According to Susan Stigant and Elizabeth Murray of the United States Institute of Peace in their article in Peace Brief Number 194, published in October 2015, they wrote that National dialogues are becoming increasingly popular tools for conflict resolution and political transformation.

The two experts said in the past several years, national dialogues have been proposed or carried out in a diverse group of countries and circumstances. In broadening the debate about a country’s trajectory beyond the usual group of elite decision makers, national dialogues offer the potential for meaningful conversation about the underlying drivers of conflict and ways to holistically address these issues.

They said there is a risk that national dialogues can be deliberately misused by leaders seeking to further consolidate their grip on power. The U.S. experts also said there is no one-size-fits-all model, but  suggested that the citizens hypothesize that national dialogues will have a  higher likelihood of success if they incorporate the following principles: inclusion, transparency and public participation, a far-reaching agenda, a credible convener, appropriate and clear rules of procedure, and an implementation plan.

We will look into these processes in details as we continue. Susan Stigant and Elizabeth Murray further said it is important to temper the enthusiasm for national dialogues with a critical analysis of the necessary conditions for a successful national dialogue. They said there are many circumstances under, which a national dialogue is likely to be inappropriate and where another conflict resolution tool may be more suitable.

They cited the widely publicized national dialogue experiences in Tunisia and Yemen in 2013–14, which brought national dialogues to the fore as a tool for breaking political deadlock and transforming complex conflicts. “Although the 2015 conflict in Yemen had called into question the effectiveness of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC), national dialogues have continued to gain traction,” Susan Stigant and Elizabeth Murray wrote.

The two peace experts explained that the processes, initiated through political pacts, civil society activism, internationally-brokered peace agreements, or other mechanisms, have been used to address a wide variety of issues.

They said as the concept of an inclusive and holistic national conversation has gained popularity, the term national dialogue has been used to describe an increasingly heterogeneous set of processes. Consequently, it is challenging to define national dialogues or to assess their individual or cumulative impact.

This seems to be the dilemma with South Sudan National Dialogue (SSND) process. It is still far from the mind of a common man or a common woman in South Sudan to understand what is this national dialogue that people are talking about? What many can quickly comprehend is the word “peace”!

Many South Sudanese seem to understand that the national dialogue process is meant to mollycoddle the peace process, which is their high hope for lasting peace, security and stability.

In the light of such heap surrounding the understanding of the national dialogue, the onus is on the South Sudan national dialogue leadership or the steering committee to ensure that the national dialogue process is explained to the public and they understand and welcome it.

There is need to elaborate that the national dialogue is not to expunge the peace agreement implementation process. This seems to be the worry of many South Sudanese. What they exceedingly need is peace, security and stability. As I wrote in episode one of the peace building, human security is the heart of peace building.

If the national dialogue can complete the implementation of the peace agreement, end the conflict, establish rule of law, respect for human rights, promote democracy, freedom of speech freedom of expression and freedom of press and other freedoms, then many South Sudanese would at the end say, oh yes it (the national dialogue) was indeed something good. The question remains, can anything good comes from the national dialogue? The answer is yes or no. but the best answer is wait and see.

Next week we will continue with more understanding of the national dialogue process from the materials provided by the United States Institute of Peace. For now, enjoy your reading and peace be with you all.





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