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JUBA - 4 Feb 2021

INTERVIEW: ‘We do not support Kiir, we support the people’s demands’-JCE

File photo: Joshua Dau (centre), a leading member of the 'Jieng Council of Elders' during a meeting with Equatoria and Nuer elders in Juba in November 2016
File photo: Joshua Dau (centre), a leading member of the 'Jieng Council of Elders' during a meeting with Equatoria and Nuer elders in Juba in November 2016

The Jieng Council of Elders (JCE), a grouping of prominent Dinka politicians and elders from across South Sudan, last week released a statement that drew mixed reactions by inter alia disparaging the 2018 Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) as being worse than the botched 2015 agreement, and demanding that the period of the peace agreement and subsequent implementation be cut short and elections called early.

Joshua Dau Diu signed off the JCE statement as chairman. Radio Tamazuj caught up with him and sounded him out on the objectives of the JCE, the timing, and the intention of their bold statement.

Below are excerpts:

Q: Can you elaborate more to our listeners about the recent statement made by the Jieng Council of Elders (JCE) about the situation in South Sudan?

A: Yes, we issued the statement on 26th January for a specific reason because it came shortly after the National Dialogue (ND) completed its work and they also issued their final recommendations and resolution. In addition, there was also a letter annex written by Angelo Beda, Bona Malual, and Molana Abel Alier.

The resolutions of the National Dialogue are the voices of all South Sudanese. They recommended the unity of the country because now the country is suffering in some areas. We are reacting to the notes they put in the recommendations.

We assured South Sudanese that President Kiir is the person who initiated the idea of the National Dialogue and we voiced our support to all the resolutions of the ND so that we are all in one spirit with the rest of the South Sudanese. So this is the reason for our statement and it is just meant to show our support for the ND’s resolutions.

Q: Your statement was received with different reactions and criticism. You mention that the government has failed to implement the peace agreement, the situation in the country is dire, civil servants are not paid for months and the economy has collapsed. Can you explain this further?

A: Ok, it is not us that said the government has failed the country, but it is one of the resolutions of the ND that has been expressed by all South Sudanese from all over the country. The ND organized different levels of dialogue in the three regions and the people expressed these concerns during the final National Dialogue. The people say the current government has failed to administer the country. Not only President Kiir alone, but all leaders; which include vice presidents, ministers, and all other institutions have failed to deliver basic services. The president doesn’t rule alone but he rules through institutions. So all the institutions have failed us and this is a leadership failure from Boma to the national level at the presidency.

Q: So the JCE is also saying that the current leadership has failed the country? Is that what you are implying? 

A: This is the opinion of all South Sudanese and we have expressed our full support to their opinion. All governments from Boma to the National level have been dissolved and there is no stability, no agriculture and there is no production. So this is a failure of the administration.

So, we only expressed our support for this opinion. For example, if we look at the issue of salaries, the civil servants, embassies, and organized forces are not paid on time. And this salary is little, it doesn’t meet the prices in the market. Ordinary people are getting one or two thousand, the high-rank military officers are receiving five, six, and a maximum of eight thousand. Members of the parliament get eleven thousand and ministers are getting thirteen thousand. They cannot survive on this salary. Yet prices in the market are very high and there is no local production. What we have in the market are imported from abroad.

Traders are not supervised, they decide on the price as they like. And when you look at the market currency rate, the dollar has reached more than 60,000 SSP. This is because there is no proper monitoring of the prices and consumption. We are not producing and instability across the country has not allowed people to farm. We have land, enough water but yet we don’t cultivate due to insecurity. That is why an ordinary citizen cannot afford the market prices. So, South Sudanese during the dialogues, from Boma to the national level, said the county has collapsed. 

The economic collapse cannot allow the country to develop. There are no schools, hospitals and there are no proper institutions that can deliver services to the people.

So the solution, according to the citizens, is that there should be real reforms in the government. A national election should be held. The period we are in now is governed by the agreements. Leaders have not been chosen by the people and cannot hold them accountable. For example, our presidency is composed of a president and five vice presidents. It has never happened in the world to have five vice presidents. They came as a result of war and the agreement.

The current revitalized peace agreement is not being implemented. All parties are experiencing disagreements and none of them is loyal to the citizens. All of them are loyal to their military or political forces. The first vice president was brought by military forces and others such as Rebecca Garang were brought by political forces. They are not chosen by the people. Citizens need to choose one president and the president can form his cabinet who are accountable to the people. If there is another chance of election, people can say you have failed or succeeded.

Q: If you are calling for an election, would you support the idea of Salva Kiir and Riek Machar to stand?

A: When we were participating in the ND, reports that came from the citizens say the president and his vice were the main cause of the war in the country and if any one of them stands in the election and wins, the other one will begin to fight again. So, there was a suggestion that both of them should not participate in the election. But what we could say is that in the coming period, it is political parties that will decide on their candidates. If the party of Riek Machar nominated him to stand in the election, no one has a right to reject that. If Kiir’s party nominates him for the election, no one also will say no, because both are being chosen by their parties. We are not a party and we can’t agree or reject the nomination of anyone.

Q: What will be the difference if both of them appear in the election and yet they were the cause of wars in the country?

A: There is a big difference here, the people know leaders who contributed to the destruction of the country and failed to restore stability in the country. The people know that both of them fought, recruited innocent civilians as soldiers, and denied the country's development. The people will decide who will rule this country. When leaders are brought through an election, they will no longer depend on military power like it is now. So citizens have a final say.

Q: JCE has been criticized a lot and accused of advising President Kiir which led the county where it is now. But after your statement as JCE, people are shocked at your change in position. So South Sudanese are asking what could be the reason behind this.

A: JCE has not changed its position and our opinion has been clear since day one.

Q: Are you still supporting the government of President Kiir?

A: We have never been supporting the government of Kiir as a Jieng nor as a person. We were supporting the government that fought and helped the people to gain independence. We wanted a government that governs with justice and peace. We have never been taking sides with the president nor have we been ministers or advisors to him.

Q: But yet you have been very close to the president, right?

A: We were not close to him but we were there as normal citizens like others. We organized ourselves like any other tribe in the country that has an elder’s association. We met earlier with Equatorian elders through former governor Clement Konga, Joseph Bakasoro, and Louis Lobong, as elders of greater Equatoria. We met with the elders of Zande under the leadership of Angelo Beda and we issued a statement. We also met with the elders of Nuer in Juba and Nairobi.

Q: You also addressed IGAD during the peace negotiations and yet as you say you are just an ordinary association. Why do you interfere with the politics of the country?

A: Ok, elders of the country have a right to intervene in decisions that concern the affairs of the country. When decisions are being taken from outside the country, for example, if IGAD decides on something in our country that would affect it in any way, we should say this is wrong. So, we criticized the foreign intervention in the country because we believe it is the citizens who decide on their affairs. If they feel their leaders are not capable of ruling the country, they should bring in new leadership through the known democratic system and election. We don’t want leaders that are brought through agreements as it has been all these periods since 2015 and 2016. And observing the current situation in the country, we expect that these leaders might lead the country to another wave of war. So we said since the ND suggested the idea of the national election which has been expressed by all South Sudanese, that is why we came out and supported this idea. We must go and elect our leaders through a democratic process.

Q: There are 64 tribes in South Sudan and all of them have their council of elders but yet they don’t involve themselves in the politics of the country like JCE. What is your say on this?

A: It depends on political awareness. How much members of other associations understand politics. Our JCE is composed of political intellectuals and has enough political experience.

Q: And some of them are also members of or ministers in the government?

A: Members of the government and ministers are regarded as observers. They are not full members. We only seek their advice on certain issues and we also advise them as we did with governor Clement Konga about the Capital City. That let it be governed by the rule of law that is just for everybody. So our JCE is composed of bright political members, technocrats, the elderly and they work hand in hand with their intellectuals. Take Aldo Ajou, he is regarded as a prominent political figure. And I headed the committee of non-Muslims in Khartoum since the CPA was signed until 2011. My colleague Molana Ambrose Riing has been our chairman until now when he went for treatment. I wish him a quick recovery and to resume his work. He was the head of the judiciary here in Juba. So these people are well informed about politics and have experience. That is why when we felt the interference of IGAD and AU, and yet we are members of the AU and UN, we said no this is wrong. We should not allow any external interference.

Q: What is the way forward to save the country from this mess?

A: IGAD and AU supervised the revitalized peace agreement in 2018 and it will go for three years. So, what we are seeing is that this period should be shortened as the ND has suggested in their recommendations. They should form a transitional government that allows political parties to organize themselves, set a constitution, carry out a national population census, and divide constituencies in the country. So three years should be made short so that people can come out from all this suffering.

That is why we fully support the recommendations of the ND which calls for shortening of the period, form a technocrat’s government, and go to a national election as soon as possible. This government should write a constitution, form a political party, carry out census population and go for an election. Any government that has been elected through by the people will be accountable to the people, they will be keen to implement policies. Otherwise, the parliament can impeach them. If you look at the current parliament, they have no voice. They cannot hold the president accountable. He has been brought by an external peace agreement that is above the country’s constitution. This is not good. A country cannot be ruled by an agreement imposed from outside.

This agreement has guarantors-Sudan and Uganda. So we don’t have any power in our constitution. Any constitution of the county is guaranteed by its people but not a foreign country. These countries who are guarantors of the agreement have entered the territory of South Sudan. Why? They used the opportunity of being guarantors of the peace agreement and came in without any reason.

Q: We also heard that after you issued your (JCE) statement, some of your members have experienced intimidation by security operatives. Is this true?

A: Yes, the national security asked the same question you asked me earlier what the motive behind this statement is. So we told them that we are supporting the ND which was established by the president to help and relieve the burden on our citizens. To design changes and policies per the ambitions of the citizens. So we supported this process because the president was behind this move. The recommendations and resolutions of the ND were signed by Angelo Beda, Abel Alier, and Bona Malual. So this is something official and we are supporting it.

Q: So what did the security say?

A: They listened to us and they did not say anything else.

Q: Who summoned you and how many of you attended that meeting the National Security?

A: We went as the five members who signed the paper. And we met with many security officers whose names I can’t recall. They came as a group and we explained to them and we left. So, none of us was intimidated or harassed. It was a healthy discussion, questions, and answers and that is all.

Q: When did that happen?

A: It was yesterday (Tuesday).

Q: Why do you think you were summoned by the security regarding this statement?

A: They were not aware of the motives of our statement. So they wanted to understand this. We did explain to them that we are supporting the ND that was initiated by the president, who formed a 15 member committee and tasked them with collecting views from citizens through regional conferences in Upper Nile, Bahr el Ghazal, and Equatoria. And all the people have expressed their concerns and we are supporting this. We don’t have any other intention rather than supporting something that unites our citizens and allows our country to be one and move towards democracy. We don’t want our country to be ruled through agreements or the military to grab power by force.