‘I am very satisfied with the result of the Donor Conference in Norway’ – Hon. Dr. Barnaba Marial Benjamin, Foreigen Minister of South Sudan

    ‘I am very satisfied with the result of the Donor Conference in Norway’ – Hon. Dr. Barnaba Marial Benjamin, Foreigen Minister of South Sudan

    Hon. Dr. Barnaba Marial Benjamin, Foreign Minister of South Sudan (top right), Bol Wek Agoth, Ambassador of The Republic of South Sudan in Norway (bottom right), Hatef Mokhtar, Editor in Chief of The Oslo Times (top left), Matt Classen, Honorary Media Advisor of The Oslo Times (bottom left)

    Question 1:
    “Mister Foreign Minister of South Sudan, are you satisfied with the result of the South Sudan Donor Conference?”

    Hon. Dr. Barnaba Marial Benjamin:

    “First of all I would like to take this opportunity to thank The Oslo Times for giving this opportunity for us to share (our experience) about the special donor conference in Oslo, especially about my country, South Sudan. In the beginning, when we came, I had indicated that I was optimistic even before the conference started. So to answer your question, it has been successful and I am very satisfied. In light of the present crisis in the world today, you know, there are humanitarian disasters everywhere. You have Syria, you have Somalia, you have Eastern Congo, you have Central Africa. And I think many people were wondering that now it is South Sudan to whom we now need to donate money. So getting over $600 million when there is donor fatigue, I think it is a great victory. Not only to the Norwegian government and its people, but it also shows the great commitment that Norway’s government and the people of Norway have always attached with the people of South Sudan. So yes, I am satisfied because of the circumstances. I do not know if they were holding this conference on Central Africa, or DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) even on Syria, I do not know how much funding they would have got. So yes, I think it was successful and I am satisfied on the circumstances.”

    Question 2:
    “Mister Foreign Minister, we know that the immediate allocation of funds will go to the most urgent needs of the people – drinking water, security, sanitation, food etc. Is there a medium and long-term plan for the allocation of these funds?”

    Hon. Dr. Barnaba Marial Benjamin:

    “That is why I proposed in my statement of my government, and on behalf of my president (Salva Kiir Mayardit). I mentioned when I gave my 10-minute speech at the conference that it is important that we put down a mechanism, a sort of transparent and accountability mechanism, which would have to monitor how much money has come in, what is it being used for, the impact of that, the recipients of this assistance etc. We need to have that forum where we can direct the reasons you rightly said is for human services targeting those areas. And that is why we must target the things that have effected people – the distribution of food, the need for medicine etc. But that is not enough. There are families whose children need education, there is a need clinics for pregnant mothers, many of which have been destroyed. It needs to be taken care of..

    But as you said, we need also the long-term ones. And the medium-term. What is the medium-term? If you give someone food to eat for today and tomorrow, you must be thinking of resettling these people in their own environment, so that they can begin to produce for themselves. So you need to help them with the agricultural implements so that they can go home and farm. So that next year they can produce food for themselves. You need the children to go back to schools which have just been destroyed. So you need to rehabilitate the schools there quickly, and if you cannot do that you need to put up temporary schools in the form of tents so that the children can study. In the case of clean water you need to dig the well holes quickly for these people. So I agree with you. Now what we have to do is sort of a fire brigade activity – let’s put out the fire first. But that is not the end. I am sure that when that program goes that way, and succeeds, so we can go ahead and allocate some of the funds for the medium-term, which will actually supplement and help to resolve the crisis itself. So it should not all go into food and water and the rest. Give a little part of it to fix that school, to fix that clinic, to give people a few things like beds and materials so that can go to their houses again. They will need beds because everything is looted. They will need cooking materials. You have to think in that comprehensive manner. In the long-term, you need the peace and stability and the security. This is very important. And then you go to the element which is more important also – in the areas that are connected to investment so that (the development of) these resources will start to allow people to do things that will actually sustain peace itself. So this is what I see after this donor conference, and I hope this will be the last donor conference for us.

    This war is the saddest part of our country. Like all countries you have sad chapters in your history. This is a sad chapter that we will forget and leave behind us. That is why I said on behalf of our president yesterday, that our contribution is that we must bring peace. We will be committed to the cessation of hostilities, we will see that humanitarian aid will have access to all areas unhindered, will reach all areas. We will see in fact that a political settlement is reached through an all-inclusive dialogue which will involve all the stakeholders – civil society, political parties, the opposition, the detainees, the government, the ruling party, the women, the youth so that we have an inclusive peace agreement. Once we have agreed on this, then we form an all-inclusive transitional government of national unity to implement this program so that we may sustain peace itself. So we should begin to look on this donor conference as a beginning of bringing peace and stability and security and overall economic development. So we hope the next conference will be about investment.”

    Question #3
    “Speaking of economic development in South Sudan, what resources does your country have?”

    Hon. Dr. Barnaba Marial Benjamin:

    “It is a resource rich country because there are indeed resources. Look at the resources we have. Look at the agricultural land. There is tremendous fertile territory. You are talking about a country bigger than France where there is enormous fertile agricultural land. Enormous water resources. We have three types of climate – we have tropical rainforest, we have equatorial climate and we have the savannah type with enough rainfall – 8 months of rainfall in a year. We have got enormous fresh water, river water from the longest part of the Nile, the wide Nile, is in South Sudan with enormous tributaries which are not only seasonal but there throughout the year, as well as enormous underground water, which is fresh underground water by the way. We are not even using the water from the Nile for irrigation purposes, we are not even using the underground water. So we have an enormous volume of fresh water, and then there is the rainfall. You come to livestock and South Sudan is now a topmost country with 33 million heads of livestock. This is a huge amount of livestock that needs to be developed economically as we can generate a lot of economy from this. When you come to minerals, it is not only oil that South Sudan has but gold deposits, iron, copper, uranium, diamonds and all this has not yet been touched.

    People are just talking about oil and we are not even talking about other minerals. Also we have some of the biggest wildlife you have in Africa. The biggest wildlife migrations are in South Sudan. It is not the Maasai or the Serengeti. These are the natural resources we are talking about in a very small population of 12 million. Now, if these resources are developed, I believe the people of South Sudan will not only benefit, but will cherish peace and at the same time the region and international partners, I think everybody will have a win-win situation. So that’s why we say peace is critical. And we really thank the Norwegian government and people because since the liberation days Norway has always been there with Norwegian People’s Aid, Norwegian Church Aid, everyday Norwegian people, the Norwegian government, they have always been with us. That is why we say that even if there is donor fatigue at least there is the friendship the people of South Sudan have with Norway that cannot be fatigued. You need a friend not when things are good. You need a friend when things are bad. And I believe the presence we saw yesterday is huge presence of an old friend, and especially seeing the friends of TROIKA, as well as France, the United States, the EU, the UK. These governments and institutions contributed 75% of the funding received from the South Sudan Donor Conference in Oslo. This indicates solidarity and various countries have put in their chip. So even though we did not reach our target of $1,26 billion, reaching half is something one should appreciate.”

    Question #4
    “Concerning the subject of transparency, at this conference I spoke with two Afghani delegates who had first-hand knowledge of the highly inefficient use of funds that takes place when countries receive humanitarian/economic development aid. In their specific example, countries like the U.S., which alone allocated more than $600 billion to the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan, very little of the funding reached the intended purpose, which was reconstruction and developing the economy and country itself. This was due to a massive amount of corruption at both the international and local levels. They said if even $50 billion would have been used properly, they could have built another Dubai. My question is simple: what steps will South Sudan take to avoid corruption and cronyism from siphoning off most of the goodwill funding provided for your economic development?”

    Hon. Dr. Barnaba Marial Benjamin:

    “Cronyism, yes I agree with you. Since our independence this is our second donor conference and because of our fear that this funding could be diverted to purposes that are unintended it is important that we form a forum that should include, and rightly so, the United Nations, it should include NGO’s, it should include the South Sudanese government, it should include the intended recipients on the ground level, it should include the government of Norway, it should include civil society representation so that there is a regular briefing on how this money is being used. This will actually eliminate the element of cronyism, and I think this is vital.”

    Question #5
    “Is such a structure (to ensure transparency) in place already?”

    Hon. Dr. Barnaba Marial Benjamin:

    “Yes, I pushed it through and was assured by the Humanitarian Coordinator that they agreed with what I proposed and that when we go we will form this party, so that it monitors the process. It will include even media representation. So that when the donors who have given the funding to South Sudan, to help us out of our crisis, must see that the money they have given to our people is used for the intended purpose because the inefficient use of funding is shown everywhere. I am glad you mentioned the issue of Afghanistan, the issue of Iraq, you can go on and on with cases where funding has gone to purposes where it was not intended, with very little impact on the ground, and we do not want this same thing to happen in the case of the special donor conference for the Republic of South Sudan.”

    Question #6
    “I would assume you understand it is incredibly critical that transparency and a highly efficient use of the funding from this donor conference becomes the reality, just because you want to make sure that you gain credibility as an investment country, not just as a country where emergency aid is always needed, so it is great to hear that there is a very clear strategy for these funds.

    This next question might be a little harder. I think it is good that we can all agree that we are human. You mentioned that you want to include as many people as possible in the democratic construction of South Sudan and that we should have as much transparency as possible, and this is great. But we do know how humans react when they suffer a massive amount of pain, suffering, hurt and loss. We lose sight of the fact that we are human and conflicts can turn into protracted wars of attrition. Even people with the best intensions might carry this pain in the back of their mind and may not care, consciously or subconsciously, about the overall well-being of the people they may feel as the source of their pain and suffering. So the question is, how is it that the South Sudanese government, with many individuals who have probably suffered directly from the violence that has taken place recently, can tone things down a bit on all sides, so that we can put aside personal pain and anger for loss, and go on to creating a future of peace and stability for everybody?”

    Hon. Dr. Barnaba Marial Benjamin:

    “Yes indeed, we are all human with our pain and weaknesses. But I think as a government that we came into power from the decision of the people, through democratic process. The people of South Sudan freely voted for President Salva Kiir, where 93% of the people voted, including the now rebel leader, who actually voted for President Salva Kiir. So this is a democratically elected government and there is no way to refute that. And this is one of the cornerstones of this young country – to build democratic processes. So that the transfer of power, now and in the future, becomes clear. So we are building a foundation and I think this is something important that we must all support and work for.

    Now with this unfortunate incident that has happened, with people fighting among themselves, I would suggest that the first thing we need to do is to stop the fighting. That is the most important part of any protracted government – the cessation of hostilities. And I can assure you on behalf of my government that we must stop the fighting. This is the founding piece of the stone we are looking for. Once you stop the fighting, then you engage in the humanitarian issues that you collectively offer. Then we can move on to placing the displaced, give them something to eat, clean water, safe shelter. Give them the hope that they will not hear anymore gunfire going on so that the humanitarian delivery goes smoothly. The next step is to bring in the monitors and verification mechanism because of the human weakness you talk of. So that they can monitor who will violate the cease fire and prevent a merry-go-round effect. I can say that I know our troops. Since the 9th of May when there was the recommitment to the cessation of hostilities, President Silva Kiir and the Commander of the SPLA Forces, which is the national army and has a strong command and control structure, has remained with the cease fire. Now, the rebels do not have control of their forces. Because some of the rebels are children that have been recruited to the rebel cause. So I think the monitoring mechanism is very important, so that you will have monitors on the ground ensuring accountability or even reporting when someone is violating that law.

    Our government has a strong and disciplined command structure which ensures proper conduct, a constitution and democratically elected government. You cannot equate it with the rebel group that has no inner constitutional presence at all, that is disrupting security in South Sudan. So we need monitors to help us build. At the same time you have to protect these monitors. So that is when you come in with protection and stabilizing military forces, which come primarily from Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and Djibouti. These forces will be able to protect the monitors and ensure the cessation of hostilities. And if anyone violates it there will be no argument. Then you can begin the democratic rebuilding process, and an all-inclusive government of national unity.”

    Question #7
    “As you know, The Oslo Times is an online news publication dedicated exclusively to the cause of human rights. So if we are talking about building your country, how do human rights fit into your plan?”

    Hon. Dr. Barnaba Marial Benjamin:

    “Human rights is the most strategic cornerstone of any democratic society. We want to build it, where the citizen will feel secure in his or her nation state. Your rights must be protected, and the institution that protects your rights is your government, that you elect. Yes, many rights have been abused, but that is why the government has formed a committee, a legal committee, headed by the former Chief Justice. We investigate all allegations of human rights abuses and bring the perpetrators to book, so you know what they have done. This is the only civilized way of doing it. But because the international community may believe that the South Sudanese government might be biased, the African Union has actually formed a committee to investigate all cases of human rights abuses. This committee has already arrested some of the perpetrators. Because punishing people who violate human rights must feel there is a direct consequence to their actions. And I think the government is serious about this.”

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