New York: The peace process in South Sudan remains extremely fragile despite some progress in the past four years, said David Shearer, the outgoing top UN envoy for South Sudan, on Wednesday.
Shearer, who will leave his post next month as the special representative of the UN secretary-general and head of the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, said the country has made progress both in terms of security and political stability.
“At the end of my four years in South Sudan, I look back with a certain level of comfort about how far the country has come,” he told the Security Council in a briefing.
There is a cease-fire, a peace deal, and a transitional government. And local leadership is slowly being installed. The majority of people who flocked to point-of-care sites have either left or now live in newly transitioned camps for internally displaced persons — a result of improved political security, he noted.
However, he warned that the peace process remains extremely fragile.
Many citizens are wary that the political will may falter. They fear the positive progress may collapse, he said. “It is for those people that we, the international community, must remain united and committed to pushing the peace process forward. We can’t sit on the sidelines as spectators. Look back four years. That’s what failure looks like and it’s in no one’s interests to return there.”
Last week marked the first anniversary of the transitional government in South Sudan. There have been some positive steps forward. But after a year, progress has been slow, he said.
The Transitional National Legislature still waits to be reconstituted and there has been minimal progress on constitution-making, transitional justice, and economic reform. Most significantly, unifying forces are yet to occur despite multiple self-imposed government deadlines. Thousands of troops fester in cantonment sites without adequate shelter, health care and food, he noted.
Slow implementation comes at a cost. The power vacuum at a local level has opened opportunities for spoilers and national actors who have exploited local tensions and fueled violence. The cost is also humanitarian. It is estimated that most of the country requires food aid, he said.
Shearer called for the attention of the Security Council to two broader issues: the lack of a viable financial system for South Sudan and the need for respect for South Sudan’s ownership of the peace process.
The massive UN presence will inevitably bump up against the nation’s hard-won sovereignty. True sovereignty means responsibility for all the nation’s 12 million citizens. It also means independence. Yet, South Sudan is perhaps one of the most dependent nations in history, he said.
South Sudan’s education and health systems, its roads and infrastructure are provided by outsiders, the UN envoy added.
“We have too eagerly stepped in and shouldered responsibilities that should be the job of the South Sudanese — and have added to their dependency — and, in doing so, undermined their dignity,” Shearer said.
Shearer became emotional at the end of his statement when he was speaking to the South Sudanese: “My last word is to the people of South Sudan who inspire me with their seemingly endless patience and hope as they fight against huge odds to achieve a much brighter future they deserve. My thoughts and best wishes are with you always.”
Shearer, a New Zealander, will be replaced by Nicholas Haysom of South Africa.