Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan: Return to a Troubled Region
One highly anticipated parallel event of the high-level week of the General Assembly this year was the meeting held today to support and consolidate peace in South Sudan. Before taking part in that event, Nicholas Haysom, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, spoke to us about his new role - he only recently took up his post after being appointed in March - and how his previous experience, including in the region, has equipped him to help the two countries make and build peace.
Politically Speaking: You are relatively new to this position, but not new to the region, where you have served before. Given that experience, how are you approaching this new role?
Well, I was quite struck by how many of the old personalities still wield quite significant influence today. It has been very easy for me to re-engage with many of them. But the issues have changed quite distinctly from a North-South conflict to one in which both Sudan and South Sudan are grappling to find a way of building an inclusive social contract which keeps all the players, stakeholders and potentially destructive forces inside their respective tents.
The second issue which has struck me or perspective coming back is really how troubled the region, the broader region is and how as a region it stands out from almost any other place in the world for the range and extent of violent conflicts, which take place both within the Sudans, between the Sudans and in between the member states of Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD). So, there’s a broader task, which has to be confronted, which is the need to have the region take real responsibility for creating stability and prosperity in the region.
The situation in South Sudan is especially frustrating for the international community given the role it played in bringing that state into being. How are you approaching your task? Where do you see the situation going?
Well, I think my rather specialized mandate which really comes out of the conflict between the north and the south at the time of secession has made me really aware of the incapacity of those two from forging a productive, collaborative relationship unless they can deal with their internal conflicts. And I think as the international community has really thrown itself into the task of trying to provide a regional protection force, particularly in Juba, to create the political space to forge a peace agreement, it seems to me that no one has taken a step back and looked at the political roadmap which the South, and of course in a different context the North, has to follow to create the conditions for a sustainable peace. And those are the primarily political measures and I would notably sort of single out that in addition to the state building imperative, with which most people have viewed South Sudan, there really is a much more important nation-building imperative. This is a country where the subnational identities overwhelm a sense of national identity, of a common destiny shared by all the people in South Sudan. I think if you ask them: Who are you? A South Sudan citizen would define himself by ethnic or tribal identity rather than his national identity.
You are here for the General Assembly (GA) during the high-level segment. What do you expect to achieve?
I think our focus here is a much narrower one. It’s not to speak to the international community as such, but it’s to use the opportunity of the GA week to pull in all the regional leaders, the continents political leadership and those international leaders who are directly engaged in the South Sudan situation and trying to have them agree on a common agenda going forward; to have them speak to the political imperatives which have to be addressed and not just the question of how to get the regional protection force into Juba. And I think if we can have that notably as an outcome of the [23 September] meeting, then that’ll be a take-away. Now, bringing people onto the same page is not something which takes place at a simple event in the margins of the GA, it’s the interaction, intensive interaction between all those stakeholders over the course of this week. And it’s going to generate a successful outcome from that meeting.