Activists are criticizing a South Sudan peace initiative for leaving a major group out of the discussions.
The initiative, known as the High Level Revitalization Forum, is aimed at reviving South Sudan's stalled 2015 peace agreement, and it is supposed to draw together a wide range of voices, experiences and positions.
Reuben Garang, a Canadian-South Sudanese and president of the Coalition of Advocates for South Sudan (CASS), said the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a regional trade group that endorsed creation of the forum, should include a representative from the South Sudanese diaspora in the next phase of the discussions in Addis Ababa.
"We need to be at the table. We have never been represented since the negotiations started," said Garang.
The diaspora is the "sixth region" of the African Union, and its significance is written in the framework of the AU, which also endorsed the forum. The AU describes the diaspora as "peoples of African descent who live outside the African continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality, and who are willing to contribute to the development."
That's the idea that William Pay, a South Sudanese-American living in Minnesota, wants to foster at the forum on South Sudan. He said the diaspora's contributions matter and its members' pain is real.
"About 90 percent of my family are still in South Sudan or are pushed out of South Sudan because of this current conflict," said Pay. "So directly I am affected. So there is no way that someone will say [to the diaspora] that your voice will not matter."
Pay added that including members of the diaspora in talks could also help close the gap and foster dialogue among South Sudanese around the world who have often been criticized for furthering hate speech.
CASS, an umbrella group of South Sudan-focused nonprofits in the U.S. and Canada, sent letters to Workneh Gebeyehu, chairman of the IGAD Council of Ministers, and Ismail Wais, IGAD's special envoy for South Sudan, seeking to make the case that the diaspora has a large influence and can positively influence the peace process.
Garang said he had received no reply to those letters.
The next round of the forum will be dominated by security concerns, Garang said. It is scheduled to begin February 5.
"That is going to be very contentious," Garang said. Representatives of the diaspora will be "fighting to get positions."
Source: Voice of America