AMID the failure of the country’s warring leaders to reach a political settlement, local peace activists in South Sudan are taking matters into their own hands.
This week, after the sixth anniversary of a civil war during which 400,000 people have been killed and more than four million displaced, Tearfund published the testimonies of some of the 23 participants who attended a peace-building workshop it held in September.
The charity’s country director, Jeff Mills, called this week for “inclusive local level peace-building; in particular, support to empower women, youth, and people with disabilities to manage their own responses to peace and conflict”.
Despite the signing of a peace agreement in September 2018, two deadlines for naming a government of national unity have been missed by the country’s leaders, most recently last month (News, 15 November). The new deadline is February 2020. This week the World Food Programme warned of a “race against time” to prevent a famine in the country. It is projected that 5.5 million will go hungry next year, with the number likely to increase due to the destruction caused by floods after a drought earlier this year (News, 13 December).
On Monday, the United States government imposed sanctions on two South Sudanese ministers, warning that it intended to target leaders who had “perpetuated the conflict for their own personal enrichment, leading to much suffering for the South Sudanese people.”
The country secured independence in 2011.
Flora Lukudu Justin, 31, peace activist
TEARFUNDFlora Lukudu Justin
For us as young people, it’s about trying to ask ourselves what environment we want to create for our children. Yes, we were born into war, and we grew up in war, but how do I want to prepare the future for my children?
Women have a crucial role. I look at a woman as a tree covering everyone in the community because women are the ones taking care of it. They are the wives and the ones taking care of young people whether they have their own children or not. We’re in a position to influence the youth and ask ourselves: ‘Why do we need to kill ourselves?’ I think if we ask ourselves these questions, we will be able to put guns aside.
Nhial Malou Alang, 34, lawyer, Christian Lawyers Association of South Sudan
How do we put our voices together and contribute to be part of a peaceful South Sudan? Most importantly, don’t pick sides of this conflict. Let your support be on the basis that you want to see a better South Sudan.
If we could obtain our independence after so much struggle, that cost about 2.5 million lives and then so much displacement and all that, but eventually we had our independence, it gives me hope that, at the end of all the war we are in, we’ll eventually come back to normalcy. . .
For those of us who witnessed people dying in front of us in 2013, and then again in 2016, and who saw the little infrastructure that we had put in place between 2005 to 2011 completely shut down, the alternative will never be war.
On an individual level, I would want to be prayed for, probably for endurance, patience, as I embark on this journey of advocating for peace in South Sudan.
Juma Mabor Murial, 32, lawyer, African Leadership And Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM)
TEARFUNDJuma Mabor Murial
As a lawyer, I felt that there were a lot of injustices that were taking place. People were dying, and there is no accountability, and then there is also a lot of communal violence that is going on across the country. So I felt like, OK, let me try and see how maybe I can be able to contribute to help reconcile the communities and resolve some of these conflicts. That is what motivated me.
What makes me angry? Seeing people die; seeing children not going to school; seeing people sleeping hungry without food, yet there are abundant resources in the country; seeing graduates not having jobs: a lot of things make me angry. It makes me feel bad.
ALARM is training leaders and different stakeholders on conflict resolution, peace building, or giving reconciliation. And we also organise workshops and round-table discussions on peace building. And we give all of these things to empower and equip different stakeholders to be peace ambassadors within their communities.
The challenges are enormous. There is a challenge of insecurity across the country. Another challenge is lack of funding. If it is about communal violence, you are supposed to organise community dialogue between warring communities, and that needs a lot of money for it to be facilitated.
Then the other challenges are the cultural perceptions. There are some cultures that would not even allow you to interact with the different groups, like women, like children.
Our partners, like Tearfund, continue to encourage us. South Sudanese are the ones who hold the key. It is not politicians, it is not the international community, it is not the government, it is not the rebels, but South Sudanese. If each one of us accepts that I have to use these keys to open the doors of peace, then peace will ultimately come.
We all love South Sudan, and South Sudan is the only country we have; we don’t have another country. No matter how safe we can be in other countries, home is always the best. So we must make South Sudan the best place where we can be able to thump our chest and say, ‘We are proud to be South Sudanese.’ Because now, globally, you cannot be proud to call yourself South Sudanese because we’re known for violence.
Bishop Nikola Oling Andrea, 82
TEARFUNDBishop Nikola Oling Andrea
It was during the first fighting in South Sudan, in 1955, that I became a refugee in the Congo. And as a refugee in the Congo, it was there that I heard the call of God to full-time ministry in the Church. In 2004, I was consecrated a bishop in the Christian Brotherhood Church.
My work in the Church is the first motivation to work for peace, because church work is mainly about reconciling people to God first, and then to one another. Jesus said: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.’
During the recent fighting, there was a problem between the army, the soldiers, and civilians, especially in my home area. So, we in South Sudan Council of Churches formed a peace committee, to advocate for reconciliation between the army and the civilians, because there was misunderstanding between the army and the civilians.
The other is when the civilians, farmers, and cattle keepers clashed. So we also sent a delegation: we went there as peacemakers to reconcile the cattle-keepers and the farmers, so that they should not fight over grazing land and cattle destroying the farms of agriculturalists.
What makes me angry is the fact that now South Sudanese are independent, they have their own country, and then they have gone back to fighting one another for no reason, maybe except for political power or any other thing like that.
This is my first time to attend the Tearfund training, and I have learned a lot. The first thing which I have learned is that there are people in South Sudan who are engaged in peacemaking. This is what makes me happy, because I am an old man, but there are other young people there and other civil-society organisations like CEPO [Community Empowerment for Progress Organization] and others — they are doing a great job for peacemaking.
My advice to the younger South Sudanese, both men and women, is now, as young people, South Sudan belongs to them. They should forget about tribalism. They should know that they are one people, and they should work together to build up this new nation to become a peaceful and prosperous country.
The number one request that we always have is for peace to come to South Sudan. So pray for peace.