Did the recently concluded South Sudan’s fifth Governors’ forum address the elephants in the room?

Joseph-Geng-AkechAuthor: Joseph Geng Akech
South Sudanese human rights lawyer and PhD candidate, University of Pretoria, South Africa

Garang-Yach-JamesAuthor: Garang Yach James
South Sudanese Political and security analyst and PhD Student, University of Juba, South Sudan



The government of the Republic of South Sudan recently organised a week-long conference of its 10 State Governors and Chief Administrators representing the three Administrative Areas. The aim was to discuss the role of States and local governments in the implementation of the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS). After a week of intense deliberations, the Forum released resolutions and recommendations on various aspects of peace, governance, social services and economic reforms. This paper critiques the Forum’s outcome arguing that the Forum failed to address the ‘elephants in the room’. For instance, the resolutions and recommendations did not articulate and in some instances, failed to mention, as priorities, aspects of the transitional security arrangements, transitional justice, permanent constitution building, humanitarian assistance and the return of internally displaced people and refugees as well as institutional and law reforms.

To enhance the Forum’s relevance and legitimacy, we suggest four recommendations. First, ensure that the Forum’s resolutions truly inform State policymaking as one of the practical ways to implement them. Second, ensure that resolutions and recommendations are actionable and can be monitored because that which is not measurable is meaningless. Third, we recommend that the state governments and Administrative Areas take practical measures, in line with R-ARCSS, to address insecurities, especially human security. Fourth and last, we recommend the Forum to engage the public in its future deliberations and sessions as a means through which policy decisions may be directly influenced by the citizens.


The Governors’ Forum (Forum) is an initiative of the government of the Republic of South Sudan that brings together State Governors and the Administrators of certain areas referred to as Administrative Areas. They come together to share ideas, challenges and achievements in their respective local government spheres. The Forum has been held since 2006 but was interrupted by the conflicts of 2013 and 2016, respectively. Thanks to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) for supporting this year’s Forum which was held under the auspices of the Presidency and operationally managed by the First Vice President, Dr Riek Machar. Like previous forums, this year’s session, held between 22-29 of November 2021 in Juba, aimed at interfacing local governments to share experiences, learn from one another and make resolutions to address critical issues affecting populace in their jurisdictions. This year’s Forum focused on the role of local governments in the implementation of the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS). Whenever we refer to ‘local governments’ we mean States and Administrative Areas as distinguished from national governments.

This paper critiques resolutions and recommendations of the Forum by analysing the question: did the fifth Forum address the elephants in the room? In other words, are resolutions and recommendations central to the achievement of the aims of the Forum? We address this question by analysing the resolutions and recommendations of the Forum as well as other secondary literature on the R-ARCSS. In three sections, the paper begins with the background to the Governors’ Forum in section one. It then outlines and briefly discusses the resolutions and recommendations in section two focusing on the elephants in the room. The last section concludes the paper with the way forward.

Resolutions failed to address the ‘elephants in the room’

After a week of presentations and deliberations, the Forum emerged with four resolutions and several recommendations. It appears the Forum separates resolutions from recommendations to demonstrate its seriousness with which it intends to take forward agreed deliverables. We have thus decided to focus on resolutions in this article given that a host of recommendations appear to be mere wishes requiring further nuancing before implementation. The resolutions and recommendations are clustered into four strands, namely; (a) peace and security; (b) governance [and rule of law]; (c) basic [social] services; and (d) economic [reform and development]. Glancing at these strands, one notices critical ‘big misses’ as contrasted with R-ARCSS and which we refer to in this article as ‘elephants in the room’. We refer to them as such because of their centrality to reforms in peacebuilding, democratic consolidation and entrenchment of the rule of law as envisaged under the R-ARCSS. So, what are these ‘elephants in the room’?

Transitional security arrangements

Chapter II of the R-ARCSS outlines procedures for achieving the Permanent Ceasefire and modalities to execute the Transitional Security Arrangements (TSA). The TSAs are certain arrangements that seek to transform the existing security sector during the Transitional Period. It is designed to unify and train forces whose parties signed the R-ARCSS to come under central command. It is this unified force that is envisaged to be transformed into a national army that is professional, neutral on political matters and subordinate to a civilian government. To-date, only a handful of the Necessary Unified Forces (NUF) have completed their training and are awaiting graduation. Once graduated and deployed, the NUF would not only bolster security and stability in States and at national level, but it would also enhance political stability across South Sudan.


We argue that the TSA is one of the elephants in the room that the Forum’s recommendations fell short of addressing in a concrete way. For instance, the Forum did not formulate any resolutions to tackle the prevailing insecurity and permeating mistrust among communities. In their recommendations, the governors instead ‘encouraged the president to expedite the training, graduation and deployment of the unified forces’. They further urged the ‘national government to provide food and other services to the cantonment centres’.[1] We argue that the Forum should have urged the Revitalised Transitional Government of National Unity (RTGoNU) to take practical steps towards stabilising security at subnational levels.

Transitional justice mechanisms

Chapter five of the R-ARCSS provides that three complementary mechanisms of transitional justice be established to dispense judicial and non-judicial accountability to the victims and survivors of the conflict that sparked in December 2013 to the end of the Transitional Period. These mechanisms are the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing (CTRH), the Hybrid Court of South Sudan (HCSS) and the Compensation and Reparation Authority (CRA). Although it is the role of the national government in collaboration with the African Union Commission (AUC) to trigger these processes, States and Administrative Areas have a role to play in ensuring that at least the reconciliation and reparation processes take hold. The silence of Forum’s resolutions and recommendations in this area is thus arguably a big miss. We make this observation because transitional justice is one of the elephants in the room insofar as reconciliation, prosecution and reparation are consequential to peace, security and stability of the Republic of South Sudan.

Permanent’ constitution building

Chapter six of the R-ARCSS also stipulates mechanisms by which South Sudan is to adopt what it terms as ‘permanent’ or final Constitution owing to the transitionary nature of the current Constitution. The Forum should have discussed and provided resolutions on how to engage South Sudanese citizens in this process including committing to creating an environment for effective people’s and political parties’ engagement in the process. Whilst constitution building is a critical aspect of democratic reform under the R-ARCSS in which local governments are enjoined or have a role, no explicit resolution was provided in this area. The conspicuous omission, in the resolutions and recommendations, of this aspect is concerning given that grassroots mobilisation and participation of the citizenry are paramount to the making of the ‘permanent’ constitution.

Humanitarian relief, return and resentment of the displaced and refugees

South Sudan faces food shortages, and most counties are under Integrated Phase Classification, (IPC) 4 while others are under IPC 5 (catastrophic or famine-like conditions) which means urgent food assistance is required to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Seen from that perspective, one would have thought that relief assistance would come out clearly as a resolution with clear financial commitment from the government. Similarly, the return and resettlement of the displaced persons and refugees is critical yet the Forum only recommends that the government ‘protect and provide services to the refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), returnees and the host communities’.1 It is to be noted that these aspects are the purview of chapter three of the R-ARCSS under which States and Administrative Areas have a role to play.

Key institutional and law reforms

The principal aim of the R-ARCSS, as stipulated under the preamble to the main text, is to usher in some semblance of sustainable peace, democratic governance and constitutionalism. To that end, several reforms are earmarked under the R-ARCSS in order to achieve such a goal. Key among these are certain institutional and law reforms as largely specified under chapters one and four of the R-ARCSS. To that end, scholars have raised alarms on the critical and consequential role and implications of reforms on the democratic aspirations of the country. Inasmuch as it may be the mandate of the national government to initiate reforms, the role of local governments in the implementation is instructive and should not have been missed.

Way forward

The Forum is a commendable platform for exchange of ideas, challenges and achievements. It is also a place to cross learn and extrapolate initiatives that may have worked elsewhere. We make the following recommendations to make it even more effective and action oriented.

First, let the Forum be a platform that shapes national agenda which is informed by States’ priorities and aspirations. It has the potential to address intergovernmental challenges of borders, resource sharing, land and pastures and as an effective bottom-up governance framework. It therefore should be maintained even if the country goes truly federal so as to keep the communication lines between national and ‘federal’ states open and transparent.

Second, let the recommendations and resolutions be actionable and measurable. This means, the Forum led must develop action trackers to monitor and assess implementation. In that regard, forum resolutions and recommendations should relate with and influence the national and state policy structure

Third, we recommend that the state governments and Administrative Areas take practical measures, in line with R-ARCSS, to address insecurities, especially human security.

Fourth and last, let the Forum be open to the public so as to contribute to and enrich deliberations. To make this proposal even more practical, we propose a session, during future forums, to be called a ‘day with the public’ in which citizens can engage their governors and Chief Administrators on deliberations at hand.

[1] See recommendations 1& 2.


About the Author:

Joseph Geng Akech is a South Sudanese human rights lawyer and doctoral researcher in constitution building. His doctoral thesis is entitled ‘foreign influence and the legitimacy of constitution building in South Sudan’. He is an alumnus of the LLM in Human Rights and Democratisation at the Faculty of Law, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. He can be reached on e-mail: josephgakech@gmail.com

Garang Yach James is a South Sudanese Political and Security analyst and a PhD Student at the University of Juba. The title of his PhD thesis is “Human security transcends national security in the horn of Africa: A comprehensive analysis of state’s manning safety infrastructure in South Sudan” He can be reached on email: yachgarang1978@gmail.com

One Comment on “Did the recently concluded South Sudan’s fifth Governors’ forum address the elephants in the room?”

  1. Ngor Deng says:

    The recommendations and observations are meaningful.

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