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Rift Valley Institute

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Juba Lectures 2014: Negotiating peace in South Sudan—Historical agreements and their lessons for the future

The fourth annual Juba University Rift Valley Institute lecture series took place on 22, 23 and 24 October, in the New Hall at Juba University.

The 2014 series examined three historic peace agreements and their implications for the current peace negotiations in South Sudan: the 1972 Addis Ababa Agreement, which brought the first civil war in the South to an end; the Wunlit Peace and Reconciliation Conference of 1999, which opened the way for reconciliation of the two wings of the SPLA; and the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ushered in the process leading to independence for South Sudan in 2011.

The lectures and the discussions that followed brought together academics, political figures, church people and representatives of civil society—from South Sudan and elsewhere. They attracted an audience of several hundred students and members of the public. The speakers included Oliver Batali Albino, one of the last surviving negotiators of the Addis Ababa Agreeement, Dr Lam Akol, Chairman of the SPLM-DC (Sudan Peoples Democratic Movement- Democratic Change) and Emeritus Bishop Paride Taban.

The lecture series was opened by the Vice Chancellor of the University, Dr John Akec, who reminded attendees of the importance of open debate for political process. Dr Douglas Johnson, the distinguished historian of South Sudan, began the session on the 1972 Addis accord with an account of the twelve days of talks between the Sudan Liberation Movement (SSLM) and the Government of Sudan based on the minutes of the negotiations. The political implications of the agreement were discussed by Dr Lam Akol and RVI Fellow Dr Alfred Sebit Lokuji, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University. Oliver Batali Albino described the atmosphere in Addis Ababa and his own role in the negotiations. (He described himself modestly as “having been picked from nowhere because others dropped out.”)

The second evening of the lecture series examined the Wunlit Peace and Reconciliation Conference of 1999. The Wunlit meeting brought together customary leaders from the Nuer of Western Upper Nile and the Dinka of the Lakes region, with observers from other areas of the South, signalling an end to eight years of South-on-South violence. The opening speakers were John Ashworth, advisor to the Sudanese Council of Churches (SCC), whose three decades of experience go back to the years before the second civil war, and Naomi Pendle, a British researcher working on the history of inter-tribal peace meetings and customary law. 

The chair of the session on Wunlit, RVI Fellow Dr Leben Moro, Dean of External Affairs at the University, introduced contributions from three other speakers: First, Bishop Paride Taban; then Dr Judith McCallum, head of Saferworld’s Horn of Africa Programme, whose research has focused on the impact of the civil war in South Sudan on community identity; and finally Dr Julia Duany, Vice Chancellor of the John Garang Memorial University, who together with her late husband, Dr Michael Wal Duany, was one of the organising secretariat of the Wunlit conference.

The panellists detailed the logistical difficulties associated with the organisation of a people-to-people peace process and the importance of preparation and implementation. Despite the destructive effect of war on social relations, as detailed by Dr Duany, the success of the community-led dialogue at Wunlit, demonstrated the strength of the metaphor employed by Bishop Paride Taban: “the politicians are the fish, the civil population the water.”

The discussion on the final evening, chaired by RVI Executive Director John Ryle, focused on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005. The lead speaker was David Deng, Research Director of the South Sudan Law Society, who addressed the question of the limits of the transitional process following the CPA and the unfinished business of peace. The other speakers were Don Bosco Malish, programme officer in Juba for the Open Society Initiative in Eastern Africa (OSIEA); Census Kabang Lo-liyong, an environmental management specialist; and Dr Douglas Johnson.

The discussion pointed to lack of implementation of key elements of the CPA as the root cause of the current social and political breakdown in South Sudan. In particular, David Deng drew attention to the failure of the government in the transitional period to implement a process of national reconciliation and healing. The presentations inspired an energetic floor debate, revealing the strength of feeling evoked by the CPA in the context of the present conflict.

The first of many speakers from the floor, the South Sudanese writer Taban Lo-liyong, posed the central question of the current situation: “After our independence, how do we live together as a nation?” 

As South Sudan struggles to find an answer to the current internal conflict, the lectures made it clear that it is necessary to look backwards as well as forwards.  The three historic peace agreements examined in the lecture series represent a range of different ways of reaching a political settlement, each with its successes and failures—and each with implications for the current negotiations in Addis Ababa.

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