As South Sudan makes the long journey from winning independence a decade ago through a long and brutal war to rebuilding its economy and democracy, people across the country are beginning an important debate about a new permanent constitution.
“To me, a people-driven constitution-making process is a process whereby people are allowed to speak, but also one where a conducive environment is created for everybody to air their views and aspirations in regard to what kind of constitution we want,” says civil society representative, Lorna Merekaje.
To support public debate, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan worked in partnership with a local Non-Governmental Organization, Community Empowerment for Rural Development, to host a special two-day workshop in Juba. Participants included political leaders, academics, think-tanks, civil society, women and youth groups, media, and international partners in the peace process.
“The constitution-making process is very important and, with the inauguration of the Transitional National Legislative Assembly and the Parliament, this is the moment to support widespread consultations throughout the country so that everybody feels included and able to project their own voice,” says UNMISS Political Affairs Director, Guy Bennett.
Legislation establishing the new constitution has been drafted and will ultimately be voted on by the newly reconstituted Transitional National Legislative Assembly. Political leaders say it is critical that any deficiencies are identified now so they can be remedied prior to the law being adopted. It’s also vital that the process is supported by the Government.
“Without requisite political, financial and administrative support from the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity, the constitution-making process shall be wishful thinking. It shall never proceed or succeed,” says Nathaniel Oyet Pierino, the Deputy Speaker of the Revitalized Transitional National Legislature.
It is also important that all sections of society have the opportunity to understand the new constitution and actively participate in crafting it, including the media, who have an important role in raising awareness among communities across the country.
“We are always called to come and cover events, either the peace process or the constitution-making process, and then to inform the public. But we do not have representation in these institutions to advocate for our voices,” says journalist Oyet Patrick. “For example, one of the things we want maintained and, if anything improved, in the permanent constitution is freedom of expression, access to information and removing laws that we think will actually limit the freedom of expression.”
All participants agree that honest, transparent, and inclusive debate is the only way to secure a durable constitution and democratic future for South Sudan.