Shutting out the People

Citizens in search of a voice
Citizens in search of a voice

The Jieng Council of Elders are perceived by many as a warning of tribalism’s pernicious influences. But is there more than meets the eye?

This post was originally written on Facebook in response to a comment raising concerns about the sudden proliferation of tribal and community groups wanting involvement in the IGAD+ mediated peace talks.

The main thrust was that they were:

“Self appointment by these same politicians who caused the problem. They go behind the curtain and redress; sometimes this dress and at times the other. The whole idea is to derail the peace process.”

It’s regrettable that pressure from the citizenry is considered irrelevant to the peace process. I still believe this is why community groups are springing up everywhere. I don’t accept that the whole idea is to derail the peace process. People just want to engage & are desperate to influence the process. What matter if these representatives are self appointed as long as they are recognised by and/or represent the concerns of their respective communities.

It was the Murle community sheltering in Juba that reached out to the church and asked for their help in securing peace. Paride himself said that Yau Yau and his Cobra faction were participants in the peace process and not the drivers. In fact, when the civil war started, SPLA troops ran to Yau Yau for safe haven. Instead of mistreating or massacring them, he contacted Juba and said “come and take your people back”. This act, led the government to acknowledge that Yau Yau had truly bought into the idea of peace. And it was as a consequence of grassroots pressure from his community.

That both factions of SPLM agree that there can & should not be a mechanism for citizen involvement in the peace process is worryingly paternalistic. Saying that it slows, frustrates or confuses the process misses the point entirely. Irrespective of external pressure applied to get those with guns to sit at the negotiating table, the sustainability of any brokered peace is questionable whilst the belligerents think they can solve the nation’s problems alone without wider consultation & engagement.

They will remain trapped in group-think without access to alternative perspectives driven by very different motivations. As we say in my world – ‘the output will be sub-optimal’. The warring parties are just a part of South Sudanese society – fractious and fragmented as it is. They should not make the erroneous assumption that they ARE somehow South Sudanese society in its entirety.

Whilst we insist – for the sake of expediency – on shutting out the people, we’ll never get away from dependency on the leaders … some of whom might not always have our best interests at heart. They are just human beings after all.