Negotiations in a Cultural Context

Author: Francis Mading Deng

Organization: The Sudd Institute

Type: Dialogue briefs

Date: 18/09/2017


Publication Summary

This article was initially prepared for a seminar on Negotiations at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of John's Hopkins University in Washington, DC., which was conducted by Professor I. William Zartman. The principles, as referred to then, were subsequently presented at the peace negotiations in Naivasha, Kenya, that eventually resulted in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). They were also included in a chapter that appeared in two separate books edited by Dr. Kevin Cahill of Fordham University in New York.


The principles are reproduced here because I believe that they are relevant to the current debate on the National Dialogue which was initiated by President Salva Kiir Mayardit in December, 2016, and officially launched in May 2017. The Dialogue is being conducted by a broadly representative Steering Committee of over one hundred people, with a nine-person leadership comprising two co-chairs, a deputy co-chair, a rapporteur, two deputy rapporteurs, and three members.


The Dialogue is envisaged as a bottom-up and top-down process that will conduct consultations at the grassroots, regional and national levels, culminating in a National Conference that will prepare recommendations for the resolution of the multi-faceted conflicts that have devastated the country. So far, the Dialogue has demonstrated an impressive level of inclusivity, openness, credibility, transparency and freedom of expression, principles that are widely acknowledged as essential to the success of any dialogue. After a month of open debate, the Steering Committee benefitted from a series of seminars which underscored these principles and presented experiences from other dialogue situations from which useful lessons can be drawn.


The Steering Committee has organized itself into 15 Sub-Committees that will conduct consultations in the former ten states chosen for logistical convenience in addition to Abyei and Pibor as special administrative areas. The remaining three committees cover the security sector, the National Capital and refugees and international outreach. Delegations from the Steering Committee have also carried out consultations that have engaged opposition leaders in specific locations abroad and plan to conduct more consultations in other areas with those who do not want to participate in the Dialogue inside the country. The objective is to engage inclusively with all South Sudanese.


If the Dialogue process continues to observe the normative principles that are necessary conditions for success, then there is reason to believe that it stands a good chance of achieving its stated objectives. Furthermore, although the Dialogue is by definition National and owned by South Sudanese, the support of the international community is essential to its success. In that regard, constructive criticism that can improve and strengthen the process should be welcomed. A negative attitude that undermines and weakens the process should be avoided and discouraged. It indeed has the effect of playing into plans of the enemies of peace and reconciliation in the country.


Although National Dialogue is not negotiation in the narrow sense, in the broad scheme, it involves reconciling differences in the society which inherently implies negotiating over the issues behind the conflicts. Whether this is an inter-personal dynamic or a process of mediating differences between and among groups, the principles involved are essentially similar. It is in this context that the IGAD initiative to revitalize the 2015 agreement to resolve the conflict in South Sudan should be welcomed. Revitalization and the National Dialogue are therefore complementary and mutually reinforcing. Indeed, one of the opposition leaders argued that while he welcomed the National Dialogue as a means for South Sudanese to discuss their differences, his priority was for a mediated negotiation. But as the Steering Committee has explained, whether the method involved is conceptualized as a Dialogue or mediated negotiations, the shared objective is to bring peace, security, reconciliation and stability to the country. It is in that sense that the principles reproduced here are pertinent to the National Dialogue and the overall objective of bringing peace, security, and stability to the country.


Francis Mading Deng's Biography

Francis M. Deng has recently been assigned the position of South Sudan's Roving Ambassador after having been the country's first Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Prior to that, he served for five years as the United Nations Secretary-General's Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide at the level of Under-Secretary-General. From 1992 to 2004, he served as Representative of the Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons.  His first position in the United Nations was that of Human Rights Officer in the Secretariat from 1967 to 1972 when he was appointed Sudan's Ambassador to the Nordic Countries. He was also Sudan's Ambassador to Canada and the United States of America and was also Minister of State for Foreign Affairs for five years. After leaving his Government's service, he held a series of positions in leading think tanks and universities in the United States. Dr. Deng graduated with an LLB (honors) from the University of Khartoum to which he was appointed a member of the Law Faculty and then sent abroad for post-graduate studies.  He holds an LLM and a JSD from Yale University Law School. Dr. Deng has authored and edited over thirty books in a wide variety of fields and has written two novels on the crisis of national identity in the Sudan.


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