Near verbatim transcript
Good afternoon and thank you for being here.
Thank you also to our Radio Miraya listeners who are tuning in live to this press conference.
I’ll make some opening remarks about the peace process and then I’ll be happy to take your questions.
As we all know, the parties to the peace agreement recently decided to extend the pretransitional period for a further 100 days.
According to the IGAD communique which makes the 100 days effective from 12 November, this means a transitional government should be formed by February 19.
In our discussions with stakeholders and communities around the country, the extension has eased anxiety – at least temporarily - because the ceasefire will be preserved, and the implementation of the agreement can continue.
But, at a grassroots level, some people are expressing disappointment, and even anger, at the further delay. They told us that they are frustrated by what they see as a failure to unite the country despite the promises made and they are beginning to feel disillusioned.
People we spoke to frequently raised the point that political wrangling, rather than what is in the best interests of the people, is dominating.
The citizens of South Sudan crave peace – durable peace.
Too many people continue to suffer.
7.2 million people need some kind of humanitarian assistance.
On top of this, at least 900,000 people have been affected by flooding which caused widespread destruction, washed away crops, destroyed homes and contaminated water supplies.
The UN and humanitarian partners have responded quickly in Jonglei, Upper Nile, Warrap, Northern Bahr El-Ghazal, Unity, Lakes, Central and Eastern Equatoria regions.
Food and relief items have been distributed to people in Maban. Water and health items have been transported to Pibor. Work to prevent waterborne disease is underway in all of the worst-hit areas.
The response is expected to cost more than 61 million dollars.
Donations from the UN, the European Union, Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom have met three-quarters of that funding needed already. We thank those donors for their generosity.
The water will subside. But the real issue that continues to face South Sudan is the need for peace.
Just a few days ago, I attended the AU Peace and Security Council meeting to discuss efforts to accelerate implementation of the Agreement.
The Peace and Security Commissioner has described the latest extension as the “last chance”. Other partners have said that clear benchmarks must be set and met over the 100 days.
We support IGAD’s efforts to establish a robust mechanism to ensure the parties meet those benchmarks.
There are several issues that we believe need particular attention.
First, and most importantly, the key ingredient is political will. If the parties want to fully implement the agreement and form a transitional government, they can, if that will exists.
Second, on the reunification of forces, we need substantial progress to give all parties trust and confidence coming into a transitional government. The progress made will be a measure of the parties’ commitment to peace.
In this regard, I welcome the security workshop hosted by IGAD over the past two days which has refreshed plans.
Third, on the issue of states and boundaries – this requires negotiation and a political settlement. The committee agreed upon by the President and Dr. Riek Machar a few weeks ago must be activated and move forward with open minds to reach consensus.
Fourth, the issue I hear people talking about most right now is the resources needed to implement the agreement.
We hear different figures from different sources about how much funding has actually been released.
Transparency is needed urgently – a point also made strongly by the African Union in its communique yesterday.
Essentially, a trust fund or something similar with independent oversight is needed.
That would then ensure greater accountability and provide reassurance that supplies purchased are reaching cantonment sites. We are hearing that a lack of food at some sites is leaving soldiers no choice but to leave and move elsewhere to meet their basic needs.
Finally, there is the ongoing challenge of the uncertain status of Dr. Riek Machar. This should not be difficult to fix. IGAD should lift all restrictions on his movement and the South Sudan Government should issue him a passport in the spirit of building trust and confidence.
One hundred days is not long.
The parties must step up. It can’t be ‘business as usual’ as a young civil society leader said to me the other day.
It is critical that the guarantors, Uganda and Sudan, continue to show strong leadership to keep the parties on task, as they did when they brought them together just prior to November 12.
As you have seen, IGAD countries and the international community have pledged support for them taking the initiative.
As I said earlier, full implementation of the agreement requires political will. It will happen if the leaders want it to happen.
Forming the transitional government is particularly important because it signals the beginning of preparations for elections.
Elections provide the opportunity to resolve differences through democratic rather than violent means. They give citizens the right to select their own leaders and hold them to account.
That will, however, require political space – the freedom for parties to campaign, organize and, even, criticize. That environment does not yet exist.
In conclusion, as I’ve said to you before, there is a palpable desire for peace in communities right across the country.
Yesterday, I was in Magwi where people are starting to return to their villages because of the ceasefire and ongoing peace process.
Their expectations are high.
South Sudanese I have met want to rebuild their lives and enjoy the prosperous future they fought so hard for when they won independence.
Those expectations must be met in 2020. The clock is ticking.