SOUTH SUDAN: ‘This is not just an ordinary routine election,’ Catholic Bishops Criticize Government’s Lack of Readiness for Upcoming Elections

By Linet Maina

JUBA, JULY 2, 2024 (CISA)-Catholic bishops in South Sudan have faulted the government for being ill-prepared for the upcoming December General Elections while also condemning the ongoing power struggles between the different political factions “working for their own vested interests rather than the good of the nation and the ordinary people.”

“Like all South Sudanese, we look forward with hope to the day when free and fair elections can be held in our country, but we are disappointed at the government’s lack of preparation,” said the Catholic bishops in a statement issued on June 29, at the end of their meeting as an Ecclesiastical Province of South Sudan from June 27 to 29.

The bishops also slammed the government for failure to create a safe and enabling environment that ensures free and fair elections while also citing insecurity and floods in several parts of the country that could limit people’s capacity to take part in the voting.

“An election is not a single event, it is a whole process spread over time. This involves many elements, including the establishment of an independent electoral commission; demarcation of constituencies; registration of voters; political parties and candidates; training of electoral officers; civic education; the logistics of voting in our vast land which has poor infrastructure and communications; security; and a peaceful environment conducive to voting,” lamented the bishops.

The prelates drawn from all the seven dioceses in South Sudan reiterated that the December elections are “not just an ordinary routine election.” Still, it is also a fulfilment of the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS), which was finalized in September 2018, and marked an attempt to quell violent conflict in South Sudan, and ushered in a ‘transitional period’ that would lead to elections in 2024.

“This election is actually part of the R-ARCSS, a peace agreement signed by most of the parties to the 2013 civil war. In fact, the election forms the final step of the agreement, the culmination which takes place only after all the other parts of the R-ARCSS have been fulfilled and which officially ends the mandate of the R-ARCSS,” noted the bishops, adding “These include the permanent constitution, security sector reform, transitional justice, reconciliation and other elements. Most of these have not been fulfilled, thus it is difficult to see how the final element can legitimately be implemented without implementing all the others.”

The prelates noted that some parties want the elections while others are reluctant. Aware of this impasse, they urged the political leaders to capitalize on the Tumaini Initiative hosted in Kenya by President William Ruto, an extension of the Catholic Rome-based initiative spearheaded by Sant’Egidio, which brings together both signatories and non-signatories of the R-ARCSS to seek a way forward.

“We urge all parties to put aside their differences and to work together for the good of the people. We therefore support the aims of the Tumaini. Any solution must be based not on sharing power between elites but on constitutionality, good governance and the rule of law,” stated the bishops.

They urged “The government and other parties to take these negotiations seriously. Whatever happens, they should remain in dialogue and refrain from words and actions which might contribute to violence. We also urge our people to remain calm and patient during this period, and the international community to support this process.”

The South Sudan bishops maintained that in as much as the R-ARCSS had halted large-scale clashes between major armed groups, the agreement had failed to address the root causes of the conflicts in the country, “which include but are not limited to lack of constitutional government, nepotism, corruption, land disputes, and the failure of good governance and the rule of law.”

They explained, “It has provided a welcome breathing space, but in itself, it does not resolve the conflicts. We believe that the nation needs to look beyond the R-ARCSS and elections, to move beyond power struggles between different parties and factions, and to begin a true national dialogue on “the South Sudan we want”, a dialogue which is independent of political and military elites and which listens to all voices, particularly faith communities, civil society, traditional chiefs and elders, women and youth.”

The bishops stressed, “We remain convinced that the military should have no place in government in either Sudan or South Sudan, and thus we warn against quasi-military power-sharing arrangements as anything but a temporary short-term measure leading to a true civilian government.”