Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General David Shearer's Remarks at the National Dialogue Conference, South Sudan
Members of the Steering committee
Ladies and Gentlemen
Delegates from across South Sudan.
Thank you for being here and making this event a success, particularly at this difficult time with flooding across the country.
The National Dialogue was established to give people a voice at a difficult time following the 2016 violence.
It was initially conceived with the President as the patron. To his credit, he graciously stepped aside to enhance inclusivity on which the National Dialogue depended on.
As we know, the peace agreement is about the parties coming together and agreeing.
But the National Dialogue is much different. It has reached right down to the grassroots with wide participation ranging from community leaders to farmers, women, youth and faith-based leaders. It really has given people across the country the chance to have an opinion and their voice heard in order to be able to shape the future of South Sudan.
What many said was not particularly complimentary. They have spoken of many problems that they face personally and their disappointments. They said they wanted more. They wanted to participate and see that this government represents them more fully.
Within the National Dialogue, they were able to speak freely, and they did. Some of my colleagues sat at the back and listened to people express themselves very forcefully and robustly but without any fear.
South Sudan’s leaders need to listen to their voices.
Abraham Lincoln’s famous lines are very relevant at this time, perhaps most relevant today, because it is the day of US elections. But his words are also universal:
“Government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
And that is what these people were looking for when they spoke to the National Dialogue. They want to have a real say in the way the country goes forward.
We should remind ourselves, and the politicians that are here today, that they should listen to the people because, in a few short years, we will have general elections here and the people will decide who their leaders are going to be for the future.
This National Dialogue is an opportunity for peace and rebuilding South Sudan. From 2016 until today, we have seen some considerable change. I have been here since the beginning of 2017 and, since that time, we have seen the ceasefire in place for three years and still holding, a peace agreement for over two years and, since beginning of this year, a revitalized transitional government that is functioning and moving forward. It is progress and we all should be collectively very proud of what has been achieved.
I am pleased that the United Nations through UNMISS and UNDP has been able to support the National Dialogue which has gone on to achieve great things.
The question for me now is: what now? What is next?
I have always felt that there is a risk that the National Dialogue has a final conference and produces a report that might sit in a corner and not be read again. We need to be true to the people, their thoughts, and the opinions they have shared with the National Dialogue to make sure their aspirations go forward.
I think that one thing that the National Dialogue has brought is an understanding that freedom of expression is important. It is the foundation on which the country depends and an important step forward for the future
So, the challenge for this conference to address is, how do we take those voices forward? How do we take those hopes forward? Where do we go from here?
I wish you well with your deliberations.
Lastly, I want to say a very big special thanks to the Steering Committee and the Secretariat for their hard work. There is no rule book for National Dialogues. Every country has their National Dialogue in a way they feel is appropriate and this is South Sudan’s. So, thank you for your time and effort to get where we are today. To the delegates, thank you for coming here despite the adversity and weather.
I wish you all the best over the next few days as you deliberate on the future of South Sudan.