We know there is a peace process, publicly backed by the region and by the international community. We know there have been numerous attempts to reach comprehensive agreement, all of which have either failed or so far been inconclusive. We have little confidence in the quick political fix being pursued.
The silence of the IGAD mediation is worrisome. What are your plans? What is your strategy? Why do you not directly involve us in the peace process, the citizens it is meant to serve?
This is more than about the right of citizens to know, which we hope is obvious and self-evident. It is about the right to be involved, and to hear more than the propaganda of the warring groups, which strengthens the parties and prolongs the conflict. We never know what is true.
Factual information will enable us to leverage our leaders. We are the constituency for peace. It is our peace process, the peace process of South Sudanese, not the peace process of IGAD, nor of Salva Kiir, nor of Riek Machar.
Clearly, there are matters where discretion and confidentiality are necessary. But these are limited and few. When the future of our country is at stake, IGAD, we expect to hear more than the occasional press release or public statement from you on the milestones or the stalemates.
Mediators Seyoum Mesfin and Lazaro Sumbeiywo, you have decades of experience in peace processes, and have lived through the conflicts of the region. If this was a process directly concerning your own countries, Ethiopia or Kenya, if the politics of Addis or Nairobi were being discussed now, you would have every expectation that your compatriots would be involved, be informed and be included in events. South Sudanese deserve no less.
We understand that the next round of talks, due to convene on February 19, may be the last. This is welcome news if it means peace and prosperity is at hand. But we have our doubts.
We must be reassured. We need honesty and explanation. The broader the community engagement, the greater the potential for durable peace is. A more open and transparent process means we are aware of the elements of the agreements and can better hold our leaders to their word and deed.
For peace to be sustained the citizens must believe in it, must be included, must have our voices heard. This peace process cannot be the preserve of the elite. Too many processes, too many agreements in the past have used that logic. None have succeeded and almost all have contributed to this conflict.
Mediators, South Sudan is more than Juba. Please, tour our country. Tell us the news. We may be sceptical but we must hear you, in every town and many villages across this land.
Send your delegates. Translate your messages and information into our languages – English alone will not reach the masses. Be tireless in your attempts to speak to us. Do not only visit the offices of ministers and generals, of the president and other politicians. They matter, but they are not the only South Sudanese who matter.
Yes, it is tiring and time consuming and it may be tedious. But it is necessary. It is vital. After more than a year of suffering, this plea should not even be required. That it has become necessary is most unfortunate. But there is still opportunity for you to correct this situation. We are waiting.
Anyieth D’Awol is a human rights activist and Founder and Director of the ROOTS Project, a civil society organization based in Juba, South Sudan.