November 15, 2023
I appreciate the invitation to address today’s event. This is my first opportunity to attend a session of the Political Parties Forum.
The invitation suggested that I speak about federalism in the United States as well as provide advice based on our own historical experience that may be relevant for South Sudan. However, in the interest of time, I would like to focus not on America, but on South Sudan, and specifically South Sudan’s future.
When I say, “in the interest of time,” I mean that of all of us meeting here today, including the other speakers, but more importantly, I mean the limited time left for South Sudan to take the steps necessary for there to be credible, free, fair, and peaceful elections by the end of December 2024.
With the transitional government almost a year behind in meeting commitments in the peace agreement, it is imperative to spend the time left between now and December 2024 to focus on what is absolutely essential for free, fair, credible, and peaceful elections.
I speak with a sense of urgency that I sincerely hope all here also share. This sense of urgency is consistent with my deep wish that the South Sudanese people have the future of peace and prosperity that they deserve.
Let me be clear, the United States and our international partners have always stood for peace and a better future for the people of South Sudan.
This is the future that the United States and other countries have sought for decades to help the people of this country achieve. Our effort to do so began long before South Sudan’s independence.
It is a matter of urgency that the transitional government proceed to take those actions that are essential for there to be free, fair, credible, and peaceful elections, specifically steps that will create (1) civic and political space and (2) politically neutral security forces, including police.
Accomplishing this will create an environment in which the South Sudanese people can freely choose their leaders and exercise their rightful voice in determining their country’s future, without fear.
It is also a matter of urgency that the transitional government use public revenue transparently for public purposes, including support for electoral institutions, as well as salaries for security and civil service personnel, who will have an important role to play in creating an environment conducive to peaceful elections.
This urgency must inform the approach taken by this forum to the discussion of federalism as well as of all other issues related to the future.
We seek to see the South Sudanese people achieve a political system consistent with the foundational values that decades ago launched U.S. engagement in what is today South Sudan. These values include human rights, democracy, freedom of expression, and people’s right to a government that uses public resources to address public needs.
For the future of this country, these principles must be adhered to. They must be adhered to at all levels – the national, state, county, and boma levels.
Decisions about the future constitutional system in South Sudan are for the South Sudanese people to make. These decisions need to be reached on a consultative basis. They should not be imposed unilaterally.
Whatever else you discuss during this conference, the key questions I would urge you to consider about federalism are as follows: Will it matter? If so, for whom will it matter? Will it serve the interests of all South Sudanese people, not just elites in power? Will it serve the interests of peace?
Federalism can be established through a variety of structures and mechanisms. However, South Sudanese federalism will only matter and serve the interests of peace and all the South Sudanese people if it is used to uphold principles of democracy, human rights, accountability, rule of law, freedom of expression, and good governance.
South Sudanese federalism will not matter or serve the interests of peace and all the South Sudanese people if it is instead merely used to provide an obfuscating veneer of democratic legitimacy.
The structures and mechanisms of federalism will only function if leaders reject the use of violence as a tool for political competition and resolution of differences and commit to a code of conduct that is based on democracy and the right to peaceful participation in the political process for all.
The structures and mechanisms of federalism in South Sudan will not serve the interests of peace and all the South Sudanese people if county commissioners, governors, or other officials at the national and the sub-national level are not answerable to their constituencies and held accountable for violations of human rights, corruption, or poor governance. At present, we are deeply concerned to see national political leaders leaving those from their parties with clear links to gross violations of human rights and corruption in positions of authority at the state and county levels.
Federalism in South Sudan will not serve the interests of peace and the South Sudanese people if county commissioners, governors, or other officials at the national and the sub-national level do not use public revenue for public purposes.
Finally, discussion of federalism or other issues pertaining to the constitutional future of South Sudan will not serve the interests of peace and the South Sudanese people if such deliberations serve to delay accomplishment of those steps necessary to hold free, fair, credible, and peaceful elections.
The discussion that is of value is one that leads to commitment on the part of all political leaders to principles of peace, human rights, democracy, transparency, and service to the South Sudanese people.
That is the discussion that will serve the interests of peace and the South Sudanese people. May that be the type of discussion you launch today.