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To Cynics, Leaders Will Have To Do More Than Just Seeking Forgiveness

The Vice President, H.E. James Wani Igga’s recent trip to Kenya to meet the South Sudanese community will for long stay in the memory of the 90% youth (mostly students) who attended the event at Kenyatta International Conference Center (KICC) in the heart of the capital city Nairobi. The occasion which took place on Sunday May 15, 2016 brought together more than three thousand participants (my own estimate) who reacted positively to every strong and positive statement from VP James Wani Igga, Cde. Taban Deng Gai, Cde. Akol Paul Kordit, and Amb. Jimmy Deng Makuac.

Considering the fact that the IGAD-led peace negotiations in Addis Ababa had almost entirely focused on power-sharing arrangements and allocations of national Ministerial portfolios among the SPLM in Government, SPLM-IO, and SPLM-FDs, the plight of the people of South Sudan who are the true victims of the civil war was not sufficiently considered. Apart from the few delegates from Civil Society Organizations and mentioning of PoCs and IDPs, know honest leader could say that “the people’s plight” was thoroughly discussed even in the margins of the IGAD-led talks. 

Of course, the public perception in South Sudan is that, since percentages have been allocated to the disputants, troops are being cantoned, and ‘everyone’ is now in Juba looking for his or her V8, the people have finally been remembered. Well, that could be partially, rather mostly true. But to be fair, at least to VP Igga who visited many towns in 2014 as part of the National Dialogue for Peace and Reconciliation, at least the ground work is there from which to start again. In his statement, VP Igga briefed the participants about the current peace agreement and the hopes for a peaceful and developing country therein inscribed. He talked on issues like building trust between the different factions in TGoNU, restoration of security all over the country and extensive disarmament, restoration of unity among the people and mending our shattered social fabric, economic recovery and avoiding economic isolationism (joining the East African Community), extensive and intensive agricultural production, improving the rule of law, and encouraging intermarriages between tribes. 

The message from the VP was well received, and the hallmark of his statement was not actually what he said by what he did. The strongest statement which assured South Sudanese in Kenya along their tribal divides that the leadership in South Sudan are genuinely seeking forgiveness ( for the unexpected carnage unleashed upon the people) was when VP held the hands and Taban Deng and Akol Paul and pulled them down to kneel with him. As their knees slowly came down on the stage, a few women wept while everyone stood up and applauded the genuine gesture. It was followed by VP asking everyone to hold their neighbors’ hands and ask for forgiveness. For a moment, it looked and felt like being in the church. 

For the skeptics and cynics who only believe by seeing and touching development on the ground in terms of roads, schools, clean drinking water, and electricity, the leaders of South Sudan will now have to do more than just seeking forgiveness and asking people to reconcile. Much as it is a plausible gesture from the VP and his delegation to do what they did and say what they said, the greater scheme of things requires that the rest of TGoNU, including state Governors and County Commissioners ought to start disseminating the same message of peace to their constituents. These are just the first step in a journey of more than a thousand miles.


The author is Press Secretary in the Office of the Vice President


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