JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN, 25 MAY: Workshop on Constitution making process in south Sudan. Photos by Gregorio Cunha/UNMISS.

After a long and bloody war, South Sudan won its independence from its northern neighbour, Sudan, in 2011.

Almost a decade later, it has a ceasefire and peace deal in place and is now beginning the journey towards a new constitution that will ultimately pave the way for free and fair elections.

A two-day workshop, sponsored by regional and international partners, was launched in the capital Juba by the country’s President and political parties.

“Since this workshop is to develop a roadmap for the first permanent constitution of the Republic of the independent South Sudan, it is absolutely critical that it reflects the aspirations of our people for freedom, equality, justice and prosperity for all,” said President Salva Kiir at the opening event.

The Prime Minister of Sudan and Chair of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Abdalla Hamdok, expressed his support and acknowledged the complexity of the process ahead.

“Transitions are messy, not linear. They never travel in a straight line. You achieve your successes today but are driven back – two steps forward, one step backward,” he said. “But I think we take pride in the fact that we are definitely moving in the right direction, building a modern state that all South Sudanese will be proud of.”

The United Nations is providing technical and logistical support to ensure the constitution-making process is led and owned by South Sudanese.

“A constitution expresses the highest social aspirations of the nation and its most cherished values,” said the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, Nicholas Haysom.

“It’s making should be treated, not as a burden, but a privilege. The constitution has come to be regarded as a social contract between its citizens and its rulers. It sets out the arrangement by which all can live together in peace and harmony.”

Members of civil society are eager to participate but want the process to be inclusive so that all voices are heard.

“Let us use this process to assert equality and craft a politically balanced republic,” said Women’s Coalition for Peace representative, Rita Martin. “Today, we raise our voice for inclusivity, rule of law, human rights, good governance, women’s rights, gender equity and affirmative action for women and youth.”

For women, this process is a chance to advocate for political parties to live up to their promise in the Revitalized Peace Agreement that there will be 35% representation for women in all political, governance and security institutions.

“We appeal to the parties to implement the peace agreement in full and to put the people of South Sudan first and their own interests aside,” said Mary Akech Bior from the Women’s Bloc of South Sudan. “Enough is enough. Yes, is for peace. No, is for war.”

The country’s leaders are promising their people that they will have the unfettered right to participate and speak without fear.

“I have many times promised that I will not return South Sudan to war again. I want to reiterate that commitment here in front of all of you,” said President Salva Kiir.

The stakes are high for political parties and the people of South Sudan as they embark on the process of making a new constitution that will provide the opportunity for the world’s newest nation to finally determine its own future.