South Sudan cannot develop without rule of law: EU Ambassador

Timo Olkkonen, the new Ambassador of the European Union (EU) to South Sudan, has said that the country cannot develop without security and the rule of law and that the importation of arms is not a priority.

Radio Tamazuj caught up with him and sounded him out on a broad range of issues.

Below are edited excerpts:

Q: Ambassador Timo, what is your impression of South Sudan as the new EU ambassador?

A: I have been here since September, and I find South Sudan a very interesting country. I have met with a lot of people since I came, and it has been a very welcoming and very warm reception. I have been meeting with people from different walks of life, both international partners and also South Sudanese partners, government officials, people from civil society, administration, and so forth. It has been warm, and I have met a lot of people who are passionate about their own country and how to develop South Sudan and take it forward.

Q: The EU has spent colossal sums of money in South Sudan since the country got its independence. What do you think is hindering the country’s growth?

A: I think there is no doubt about it that the main issue in South Sudan is still the issue of security. Of course, South Sudan has a very troublesome history with conflict and the war against the north and then, of course, civil wars and communal violence.

When the security situation is problematic, and of course, it varies from one part of the country to another, but what we are particularly hearing from Upper Nile is very worrying news. When you have a security situation like it is and you have issues with enforcing the rule of law, then that is a big obstacle to the development of this country. I see security and the rule of law as the main issues that need to be tackled in South Sudan.

Q: The EU has been involved in a broad range of humanitarian, governance and human rights interventions. What is the main area you are focused on momentarily?

A: Well, we are in a very exciting situation from an EU perspective in our cooperation with South Sudan. Our overall support to South Sudan over the past years has amounted to approximately one billion dollars. It is divided into humanitarian activities where we are giving lifesaving support through the UN family and to international and local NGOs.

In development cooperation, we have been working in various sectors like education and health care, and we have also been working in the governance sector where we have been supporting, through technical assistance, the judicial sector. Many of these activities are ongoing, and we have the old programs that are still running.

Why I said we are in an exciting time now is that we have, for the first time, at the end of last year, agreed on a multi-annual financial framework for South Sudan amounting to Euro 208 million running from 2021 to 2025 to engage in various sectors.

In governance, we are looking at support to access to justice, the rule of law, and also the implementation of the roadmap of the peace accord.

We are also looking at support to agriculture and biodiversity and we are still going to be engaged in the social sector by supporting health services and education. It is exciting because we are in the planning phase of putting in place our cooperation plan for the next coming years.

Q: As one of the leading entities that support South Sudan, did you bless the extension of the transition period, and do you think there will be free and fair elections at the end?

A: We hope and trust that the South Sudanese will take this transition period forward and we hope the roadmap will be implemented and that there will be a commitment to stick to it so that the country moves forward in democratic terms and in terms of addressing issues such as governance, the rule of law and upholding the peace.

We hope that they will be implemented according to the letter and we are a willing partner and are supporting some of the institutions that are monitoring and providing oversight for the peace agreement.

The security concerns need to be addressed but there should also be political and civic space to have democratic discourse in preparing the elections and the constitution.

Q: What is your take on the government’s stance that the arms embargo is negatively affecting and delaying the implementation of the peace agreement?

A: Well, there is a question that the arms embargo has been put in place for a reason, and when looking at it from the history of South Sudan. These are the reasons why the international community agreed to put this arms embargo in place. I do not personally see from my experience that the solution to, or the issues that South Sudan is struggling with, would be the importation of more arms. I think there are more pressing needs that need to be addressed.

In terms of establishing security and the rule of law in the country, there is a need to address the capacities in this respect and one can always take those issues to the UN and when there is a need for exceptions in certain cases, they are possible.

So, I think there is a need for a much more detailed discussion about what are the bottlenecks in terms of security sector arrangements that will necessitate these demands. I think other pressing needs need financing in South Sudan than the importation of guns.

Q: The civic space in South Sudan is constrained, the civil society can hardly do their work, and media freedoms are restricted. What is the EU doing to ensure that South Sudanese have freedom of expression?

A: We are cooperating with civil society and are also supporting their advocacy activities. As I mentioned, we have also been supporting, through technical assistance, the judicial sector and access to the rule of law, and we hope that these investments will be bearing fruits.

We are dialoguing with the government about these issues as well and like I said, one of the things we are saying is that we need a transition towards elections and towards constitution-making so that there is an atmosphere where people will be able to dialogue and discuss these issues freely. That is a precondition for the transition to generally take place.

Q: Ambassador Timo, what is your message to the government of South Sudan and the people?

A: For the decision makers, the issue of addressing these persistent sub-national conflicts and intercommunal violence should be a priority in the country. The other issue there is the rule of law and the implementation of the roadmap so that the country can move forward.

My message to the South Sudanese people is that despite all the hardships, I see tremendous potential in South Sudan, particularly in agriculture, but there are other sectors such as water resources, fisheries and opportunities in wildlife and tourism, that I hope will materialize. If there is security and the rule of law, South Sudan can go far.

Source: Radio Tamazuj