Joint UNMISS, AU, RJMEC Political Parties Forum starts vital conversation on civic and political space ahead of elections

UNMISS political parties south sudan wau western bahr el ghazal rjmec african union elections peace security united nations un peacekeeping

In Wau, South Sudan, a state-level political parties forum jointly hosted by UNMISS, the AU, and RJMEC, saw spirited conversations on the need for extending political and civic space before this young nation heads to the polls in its first-ever elections next year. Photo by Michael Wondi/UNMISS

23 Aug 2023

Joint UNMISS, AU, RJMEC Political Parties Forum starts vital conversation on civic and political space ahead of elections

Roseline Nzelle Nkwelle

WESTERN BAHR EL GHAZAL – The ongoing peace process in South Sudan has been marred by repeated delays.

Last year, signatories to the 2018 Revitalized Peace Agreement agreed to a Roadmap intended to progress outstanding peace targets, including the country’s first ever elections, which were originally scheduled for February 2023.

This Roadmap gave South Sudan’s leaders time till December 2024 to ensure that necessary conditions—including the drafting of a permanent constitution, passing of key legislative bills, the formation of the National Elections Commission; and the graduation of the Necessary Unified Forces—were in place for citizens to finally head to the polls.

Today, this young nation stands at a critical moment in its history, and it has become more important than ever to galvanize momentum for a sustained, inclusive peace.

In this context, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) in partnership with the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (RJMEC) and the African Union (AU), is facilitating a series of dialogues to foster understanding on how political parties can contribute to a peaceful democratic transition at the state level.

A crucial discussion point at the first such forum held in Western Bahr El Ghazal’s capital, Wau: Expanding civic and political space for unfettered discourse!

“We are bringing political parties together to start dialoguing on how they can ensure that they compete for elections in a respectful, credible, and responsible way that does not take the country back to violence,” stated Sam Muhumure, Head of the UNMISS Field Office in Wau.      

This groundbreaking event saw more than 60 representatives of registered political parties in the state, civil society organizations, youth, and women’s representatives participate.

And with unprecedented frankness, they opened up.

“When it comes to a safe and open political space for everyone, we are concerned about the full implementation of the 35 per cent affirmative action that ensures greater participation from women,” averred Bahja Mohamed Alamin, Chairperson of the South Sudan Women’s Association in Western Bahr El Ghazal.

“I hope all political parties can create more space for women as we move forward,” she continued.

For Mario Uding Agany, a member of Western Bahr El Ghazal Youth Union, young people are central to the country’s economy and development and should not be left out of the political process.

“Youth constitutes some 70 per cent of South Sudan’s population and must hold defined roles within political parties and civil society. Our contributions to decisions can determine the direction the country will take during elections. Therefore, our voices must be heard, and our rights upheld,” he stated.

Participants discussed a host of related issues including the absence of political tolerance, the lack of measures to ensure respect for minorities and the need for a fully functioning security apparatus – all essential prerequisites for electoral preparations to be fruitful.  

“As the President clearly stated, uniformed and organized forces should stay away from political parties’ activities,” said Vincent Taban, Western Bahr El Ghazal’s state Minister for Health, while opening the forum on behalf of the government.

“The only role for military presence at political fora is to uphold law and order, not to influence political decisions or debate,” he emphasized.

For three days, heated debates, fruitful discussions and camaraderie resulted in concrete resolutions.

“The immediate impact of this forum has been the visible reconciliation and forgiveness between the political parties in the state,” revealed Edmund Yakani from the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO) who was a facilitator at the forum.

“All parties have resolved to work together for a peaceful transition in Western Bahr El Ghazal and agreed to create a communication platform to enable them to interact frequently, share information and swiftly address any instance of hate speech,” he added. “This is a great beginning.”

Mr. Muhumure, the top UNMISS official in Western Bahr El Ghazal, agrees.

“It’s tough to start the conversation but once people sit together, there isn’t any thorny issue that can’t be solved,” he stated. “As UNMISS, we will continue supporting political parties and encouraging them to take these discussions to counties and payams so that all citizens can contribute to a political environment where everybody cooperates and coexists,” he said.