In a milestone since the outbreak of the conflict in 2013, South Sudan’s Governors’ Forum returned for its fifth iteration. All 10 state governors and 3 administrators attended the extended Forum, held in Juba from 22-29 November 2021. The Forum was chaired by the President of the Republic of South Sudan His Excellency Gen. Salva Kiir Mayardit and co-chaired by First Vice President His Excellency Dr. Riek Machar Teny.
Organized by the Ministry of Presidential Affairs with support from partners, under the theme “Role of States and Special Administrative Areas in the Implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement for a Peaceful, Stable and Prosperous South Sudan,” the Forum featured more than six days of intense presentations and discussions on the implementation of the R-ARCSS, state-level issues and challenges, and policy recommendations. The Forum’s list of resolutions was agreed upon by consensus, transmitted to the President, and shared onwards with media/public. This included 10 resolutions on peace and security, 13 on governance, 3 each on basic services and economy, in addition to 79 recommendations.
“I believe in the last six days you have had an ample time to deliberate on the theme of this forum: which centres on promoting dialogue and smooth communication between different levels of government. I also believe that in your deliberations, you have arrived at actionable resolutions that will guide you and our nation as we move on with the implementation of the revitalized Peace Agreement,” said His Excellency President Kiir.
Revived Peace, Revived Governors’ Forum
Since 2006, South Sudan’s Governors’ Forum has served as the highest policy forum in the country. The resolutions and recommendations arising from the Forum become a set of policy instruments upon which state governments and the cabinet can advance and lead. One of the resolutions of this year’s Forum was to convene quarterly for these types of deliberations, in order to foster greater unity amongst the government actors.
The United Nations Development Programme in South Sudan has supported the facilitation of the Governors’ Forum, even prior to independence, from 2006 until 2013. Following independence of South Sudan in 2011, the Governor’s Forum was re-named, “First Governors Forum” to confirm to the status of the newly independent country. A total of eight (8) Governors’ Forum were successful supported throughout the CPA period and after independence.
Outbreak of violent conflict in December 2013 disrupted the Forum’s legacy, followed by the collapse of the 2015 peace agreement for the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS) and consequently renewed wide scale violence in 2016 which inflicted further consequences on South Sudan’s economy and humanitarian situation. The formation of Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (RTGoNU) in Feb 2020 and appointment of state governors on 28 June 2020, provided the opportunity for national and the state governments to re-engage to address pervasive threats in many parts of the country, especially inter-communal conflicts.
In the 2021 edition, the Forum’s final communique thanked “UNDP/UNMISS for its logistical, technical and financial support to the whole process of hosting this Forum as well as other partners that provided support in one way or the other.”
The President also acknowledged UNDP in his keynote address on the final day of the Forum: “I must add that the UNDP has consistently provided firm support to us on many occasions. To UNDP, we value your partnership and I thank you on behalf of the people of South Sudan and the government I lead.”
Power to the People
During opening remarks on the Forum’s first day, UNDP Resident Representative Dr. Samuel G. Doe set the scene: “The fundamental question that this Fifth Governors’ Forum is asking is: how are the people in your states experiencing the implementation of the peace agreement? How is it affecting their lives?”
“This Forum provides opportunity to exchange words on how your leadership and governance is advancing the agreement and the people’s enjoyment of the peace,” continued Dr. Doe, adding the gathered dignitaries and attendees looked forward to hearing from each state and administrative area on their learnings, challenges, and concerns.
The Fifth Governors’ Forum consisted of presentations from each of the state governors and administrators, as well as thorough interactions with national cabinet ministers, the Governor of the Bank of South Sudan, the Commissioner of the National Revenue Authority, and more.
“This event offers a platform for South Sudan’s leaders to develop mutual priorities for an interconnected and purposeful government, one that is equipped to advance the search for lasting peace in South Sudan. It is encouraging to witness the appointed officials of the state governments putting aside their differences to objectively assess their priorities and responsibilities to advance the implementation of the peace agreement and the development priories of South Sudan,” said Mr. Nicholas Haysom, Special Representative of the Secretary-General.
The entirety of the Governors’ Forum was livestreamed for the public to interact and the co-chair First Vice President H.E. Dr. Riek Machar posed the questions submitted by the public to the Forum to address. More than 600,000 total minutes were watched by viewers in South Sudan and the diaspora.
“Development depends on peace and security. Also, the government should take steps to make citizens believe and take ownership in the government. It’s here that permanent peace will come because it’s a citizens-centered approach. The citizens will feel the government is their own, they will protect and safeguard it,” said one online commenter.
Actioning the Forum’s Resolutions and Recommendations
Reinvigorating the South Sudan Governors’ Forum provides an opportunity for institutional and technical support by partners to the state governments and for the Presidency to oversee and monitor development and implementation of key resolutions. The Fifth Governor’s Forum’s resolutions and recommendation that will be monitored by the Ministry of Presidential Affairs.
“The public will expect next year's Governors’ Forum to report on the implementation of the resolutions that have been agreed upon at this Forum. It is my hope that we will use this Forum to remind ourselves of South Sudan's 2040 vision to build a nation that is united, educated, informed, prosperous, productive, innovative, free, just, peaceful, democratic, accountable, safe, secure, proud, compassionate, and tolerant,” said UNDP Resident Representative Dr. Doe.
As the country is currently engaged in a constitutional review process, a reconstituted Committee on Reconciliation, Truth and Healing (CTRH), and planned electoral process, these conversations are timely to bring in the opinion and views of leaders (traditional, religious, civil society, elders, women, youth, commissioners, and other key actors) into the national arena.
Development partners are important for visioning and strategic planning for service delivery policies and funding streams, in collaboration with local authorities on programme, resource mobilization, transparency, and management. UNDP/UN and partners role are critical for capacity development of states through trainings on planning processes, including budgeting, urban management, and funding local infrastructure.