For the people
We dedicate this work to our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers, to the people of South Sudan.
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Millions of South Sudanese have fled the war. Millions suffer. Today we pause to hear some of their stories, to remember, and to reflect on what real peace might look like in South Sudan.
Ramadan found himself suddenly alone after intense fighting broke out in Juba in July 2016. He ended up in a church with hundreds of other displaced people who took take care of him until his parents were found elsewhere and he was reunited with them two weeks later. He still suffers stress from his experience and he barely eats and talks.
Adakien Nuor has moved from camp to camp over the past two years after fleeing fighting in her native area. Her children have missed school and are growing up without a father.
“I don’t know if my husband is alive and I have no means of contacting him. We left with nothing and we still don’t have anything. I can barely provide food for my children, and I can’t buy them clothes. My children have never been to school and they live in constant fear.”
“We never know when and where fighting might break out again. We eat bread and besides that, these leaves. I have seen suffering and fighting, but I am still proud. We have our own country and I wouldn’t want to change this for anything.”
When the conflict erupted in 2013, Kai had no choice but to leave everything behind. Almost three years on, he still hasn’t processed the loss of his father.
“I hate that I lost my father. The guns were close to my house, and they hit him. My grandmother died too,” says the 9-year old. Today he is settled in a displacement camp, but his situation is far from stable. “I want to stop running,” he says.
Nyakier Kuong, who lives in a protection site in Bentiu, was given this Santa Claus hat by her daughter from Juba last Christmas. She says she wants to always wear it, even in the heat. “I want to remember my daughter all the time,” she says.
Liah Gai, from Bentiu, came to Juba for medical treatment in 2013 after losing his eyesight. He says he couldn’t be treated, because doctors fled the city due to the current conflict.
Now, he spends his time lying down on his bed in his shelter at the Juba protection camp, hoping to be healed.
Nyakim, Nyaka, Buk and Chol, left to right, were all raped by unidentified soldiers, most likely from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). Thousands of women have been raped since the start of the civil war.
Ayen, eight years old, says that she was separated from her family when her village was attacked:
“It was dark and I was asleep when the fighting broke out in my village a few years ago. There were lights everywhere and I could hear gunshots. My family ran in different directions; that’s all I remember. I hid all night, and in the morning I wasn’t able to find my family anymore. I was scared and cried. I didn’t know what had happened. My aunt took me with her and we left my state by lorry.”
“When the fighting started, we had to run away and leave everything behind. I had a few toys: a tire and a stick and a doll. But we didn’t have anything when we came here.”
“My older brother and my mum helped me make a car and it’s my only toy now. I take it everywhere. I like it because it’s so colourful. I hope we don’t have to run away anymore. I want to go back home.”
Nyahok Peter, 17 years old, and Nyabuong Gabriel, 16, have been living in a protection site in Juba since 2013 when they fled their homes. Both have missed academic courses but are trying to catch up by attending a temporary school.
One year old Nyakandai suffers from severe acute malnutrition. Such cases have increased due to the fighting in the country.
Stephen Gatchang Chan was shot in Bentiu in 2014 and his left leg was amputated. He is now being provided with a prosthesis.
Theresa Naial (right), a mother of six children, lost her five year old son Michael during an attack on the protection camp where she lives on 10 July 2016. A bullet went into the boy’s neck. He was killed instantly and later buried inside the camp.
Angelo stands on the barren piece of ground in Malakal where his home in a displacement camp once stood. Angelo’s home was burned during an attack on the camp and his family were left to sleep under the shade of a large truck, homeless once again.
“It’s amazing really. It is hopeless. This is what many of us feel while living here: hopelessness. We are all ready to go back to where we lost our homes, but there is simply no guarantee of safety anymore.”
The people of South Sudan want peace. But how to bring it about? We asked a diverse group of thinkers, artists, religious leaders and civil society to reflect on what real peace would look like in South Sudan.
In the following chapters you can see what they had to say.
A peace that heals, transforms - By Jacob Lagu
The peace that we dream of - By Dr. Stella Gaitano
Finding solutions to unprecedented challenges - By Rev. Dr. Bernard Suwa
A real, sustainable peace - By Bangasi Joseph Bakosoro
‘Sawa Shabab’: Youth together for peace - By Theo Dolan
Social hatred must be addressed to achieve real peace - By Dr. Remember Miamingi
A peace that heals, transforms
We’re now at the third anniversary of the civil war and must come to terms with a catastrophic deterioration of the crisis in South Sudan.
Confrontation has taken precedence over dialogue. The international community remains divided and is paralyzed by a complex crisis for which it has no simple answers. South Sudanese are bracing themselves for a violent dry season.
South Sudan is more polarised than ever. Nevertheless, nearly all South Sudanese, irrespective of tribe or political affiliation, desperately want peace. All that remains for us to resolve is the nature of that peace and the means by which we may achieve it.
Many war weary South Sudanese believe peace is simply the absence of war. I go a little further. I define peace as the environment in which conflict is resolved without recourse to violence. There’s an important qualifier between the two definitions of peace. You can still have social and political violence without being in a state of war.
Tensions remain unresolved without justice
So many injustices have been committed, it’s difficult to believe that the suffering endured by so many, for so long, can be brushed under the carpet. But this is just what those implicated in the most egregious of crimes expect the people of South Sudan to do – in the interests of peace.
How do you convince a person to lay down their arms when doing so leaves them exposed to retributive justice? Prioritising reconciliation may appear a pragmatic answer to this seemingly intractable problem.
But as the tragedy of 1991 Bor massacre has shown, reconciliation without accountability leaves tensions unresolved. It also leaves a superficially reconciled society dangerously susceptible to the manipulations of leaders keen to exploit grievances for political gain.
In order to truly reconcile South Sudan’s fractured society, justice needs to be seen to be done. An independent court may prove challenging to set up. Nevertheless, it is the only way South Sudanese can find the closure needed to break free of grievances deleterious to a sustainable peace. Just as important, the South Sudanese people will only begin to feel safe when impunity is finally exposed as myth.
Justice without reconciliation is a tragedy
The civil war has been brutal. None can lay absolute claim to the moral high ground. Civilians have been targeted by all sides. And so we all believe ourselves to be the victims of injustice. We believe the other is the aggressor. We find ourselves locked into conflicting and irreconcilable victimhood narratives.
Tribalism exacerbates the situation. It causes us to associate a person with their community. It sharpens the distinction between “them” and “us”. It leads us to the horror of collective punishment, characterised by the dehumanisation of a group of people, such that one can be easily substituted for another, irrespective of age, gender, occupation or political orientation.
Opening up the space for dialogue between communities is critical. Traditional community and religious leaders can guide and mediate these conversations. They can debunk the prejudices and the pernicious misinformation that have widened the divide between our communities. Whereas peace without justice is a fallacy, justice without reconciliation is a tragedy.
Without the disruptive influences of political leaders, motivated as they are by a powerful drive for self-preservation, our traditional and religious leaders may succeed in steering us down the difficult path to healing and reconciliation.
Our multi-nation state
A nation is a group of people who share the same culture or ethnicity, whilst a state is a self-governing political entity. Ours is not a nation state because South Sudan isn’t derived or reflective of a single nation. South Sudan is instead a “multi-nation” state because it has 64 distinct nationalities. We risk further paralysis of the state should we continue to ignore the influence of nationalism within the context of a multi-nation state.
The organs of state, at all levels, do not adequately reflect the multi-national diversity of South Sudan. Token gestures aimed at diffusing discontent over marginalisation, without a deeper commitment to multi-nationalism, are only bound to exacerbate discontent.
South Sudan’s diverse communities want to see themselves represented at all levels of the security services, the civil service, parastatal organisations, commerce and in government. Multi-nation states are more stable when equal opportunities policies are enshrined in law and enforced to balance the representation of all communities at all levels of government and state institutions.
An equal opportunities policy that facilitates positive discrimination towards citizens from under-represented communities is key to addressing destabilising perceptions of tribal imbalances and parochialism.
A political settlement all can accept
Our system of governance has not delivered the services and infrastructure development that the majority rural population of South Sudan desperately need. It puts emphasis on the centre whilst neglecting the periphery. It encourages intense competition for the Presidency, by making it the single most significant source of resources and patronage. The outcome is widespread discontent and political instability.
South Sudan aspires to be a free and democratic country. The reality is far removed from this ideal. Citizen participation in the political process is habitually undermined. Coercion, not persuasion, is often the means by which central authorities engage with citizens at the periphery.
The imposition of top down micro-management, especially when done without consultation, is a key driver of discontent. When coupled with insufficient avenues for popular participation in the political process, this discontent can lead to instability and violence.
Local authorities, given access to adequate resources, and directly accountable to their communities, are more responsive to the needs of their constituents. A political settlement that devolves more power from the centre will go a long way to addressing grievances of marginalisation and neglect.
Devolution doesn’t end at the boundary between the national and state level. State authorities must themselves devolve power and resources to county authorities, and counties down to payam level, so as to respond to accusations of discrimination within states.
Tackling the oil curse
Any political system can be made to work well, if the interests of those who govern are sufficiently aligned with the interests of those who are governed. Until we address the oil curse, those interests can sadly never be aligned.
Authorities in South Sudan rely almost exclusively on crude oil. This sector, which employs less than one percent of South Sudan’s population accounts for around 95 percent of government revenue. The remaining 99 percent of South Sudan’s citizens are effectively surplus to requirements.
The fundamentals of our economy predispose South Sudan to an exclusionary political and economic system. Policies can be pursued that are highly disruptive to the lives and livelihoods of the 99 percent without any appreciable impact on government revenue. Likewise, there is little incentive for authorities to embark on costly initiatives that would improve the productivity of the South Sudanese people, and coincidently their standard of living. Such expenditure adds no value to the core money-generating activity of sucking oil from the ground and taking it to market.
In such a setting, acquiring and maintaining ones hold on lucrative political offices becomes a central preoccupation that takes precedence over the interests of citizens. Those who have political power will fight to hold on to it. Those who don’t will fight to pry it from the incumbent’s hands. This pernicious tussle can carry on indefinitely. And while the elephants fight, the grass is trampled underfoot.
Moving away from an overwhelming dependency on oil revenue to a dependency on taxation is perhaps the single most import means by which South Sudan can achieve a lasting peace. When the wellbeing of the governed matters greatly to those who govern, then sustaining peace and stability will become the overriding priority of successive governments.
So what does real peace look like?
I now look forward to a possible future where our country has finally achieved a sustainable peace.
The perpetrators of crimes against their fellow citizens have been held to account for their actions by a court that was empowered to do its work without fear or favour. Justice wasn’t perfect. Not everyone was satisfied. But seeing those who had once enjoyed immunity have their day in court helped many to find a measure of closure over a hideous chapter in their lives.
A group of political and military figures, from all sides of the conflict, found themselves excluded from public office. Some met justice. Others were barred due to their complicity, whether through action or inaction, in questionable activities. Many more quietly retired from public life making way for fresh leadership, untarnished by the errors of a terrible past.
Traditional and religious leaders stepped in to guide a traumatised people through the difficult process of reconciliation. They helped South Sudanese to engage in frank dialogue, first within communities and then between all communities. Some could never find it in their hearts to forgive. But they were crowded out by a louder, conciliatory spirit.
A programme to rebalance the representation of our communities in the organs of state has helped us to regain a sense of collective ownership over government, the civil service and the security services.
The devolution of power to local authorities allows citizens to engage with the political process more intimately than ever before. Resources are shared out equitably and communities have a sense of ownership over the decisions of their elected representatives. Some areas thrive whilst others struggle to make the most of their newfound capabilities. But on balance, there is an appreciable increase in stability.
The competition for political power in the centre is no longer the zero-sum game it once was. Capable leaders find greater reward in local rather than national politics, dispersing energies that had previously been concentrated to toxic levels in Juba.
The diversification of South Sudan’s economy is now the priority. We have emerged from a painful period of austerity. The civil service and the security services are substantially reduced. The private sector has come to prominence as the country’s largest employer. Our youth have given up on militarisation as job opportunities become increasingly available, draining the pond for potentially destabilising agitators.
Our oil wealth can now only be spent on infrastructure projects and service delivery initiatives that demonstrate a return on investment. For all other expenditure, the national and state governments have to rely on taxation. They do all they can to stimulate private enterprise, job creation and productivity, whilst tackling sources of inefficiency, such as corruption and nepotism. A fairer society takes shape.
This fiction is by no means complete. It won’t be to everyone’s liking either. Nevertheless, it illustrates a vision of what South Sudan could be. Knowing where we are, and knowing where we would like to be, helps us to chart a course between here and there.
We all want peace. Peacebuilding invariably starts with the laying down of arms. But this is only the beginning. We must have a firm understanding of the type of peace we want to build if we wish for it to be meaningful and lasting. And so I urge you all to ask yourselves: What does real peace look like in South Sudan?
Jacob Lagu, the author, is a long standing and active member of the South Sudanese Diaspora community in the United Kingdom. He is involved with several South Sudanese charities and Diaspora organisations and maintains a blog covering South Sudan’s current affairs.
When someone lives in wars throughout one’s entire life until war turns into a habit, until peace becomes just a small event, then silencing the sounds of guns becomes a dream to realize at any cost —
When un-guaranteed agreements become just a short-term truce through which one can fall asleep, and experience a false reassurance, just a taste what it is to live in peace —
— and when one is asked about the meaning of peace in this uncertain atmosphere, the answer that comes to mind, to heart and to tongue, are the near and necessary hopes, which are part of my appeals and prayers every day:
that the war should stop, the sounds of guns should be silenced, the bloodshed should stop.
I can say that we’ve seen barely a glimpse of what it means to have real peace, a peace that guarantees the present and makes the future bright, prosperous and possible, and throws away the spectre of war and violence.
There are root causes and immediate causes of war and most of the people are deceived by the immediate causes — they try to solve them quickly so that things return to normal quickly.
Afterward, they feel relieved and comfortable temporarily. But did we ask ourselves about the root causes of war? True, war erupts suddenly and it needs to be contained quickly, but neglecting the root causes means also forgetting the long period of time spent in mobilization before that war erupted suddenly!
What I want to say here is that the war did not break out suddenly, it built up over time. Likewise, we should not expect that peace will come soon - it is a long process that must be built collectively without amputating any kind of differences, but rather these differences need to be used and represented positively for the sake of peaceful co-existence and practice of non-violence in problem-solving.
The peace that I dream of in South Sudan, the country which has been wounded by its own sons, is that the tribe should not to be involved in political ambitions, because each tribe has its uniqueness and importance. So this unwise confusion has led to these distortions and failures that have caused us a lot of pain.
The peace that I dream of is that all qualified cadres be employed to serve the nation, and not through political loyalty and tribal affiliations.
The peace that I dream of is that there should be accountability and transparency at all levels in government institutions.
Peace to me is when the political system is based on democratic processes.
Peace to me is when a president doesn’t stay in power for more than five years.
Peace to me means freedom of expression, free nominations and free elections.
Peace to me is when I exercise my rights of citizenship to be a productive, creative and responsible citizen according to the law and the constitution.
Peace to me is when the mirror of the nation reflects my image, mine and that of others.
Peace to me is when I see a large number of children going to qualified schools every morning, learning about the future, and a curriculum consolidating a culture of peace, coexistence and diversity.
Peace to me is when we are not infected by cholera every year and other diseases that could be prevented.
Peace to me is when I am not threatened by anybody in my life, in my social status, my family, my work, my opinion or my participation in anything small or big.
Peace to me is when we cultivate and harvest without landmines.
Peace to me is when we extract resources that we enjoy now and also in the coming generation.
Peace to me means good neighbourliness with countries around us based on economic, trade, political and diplomatic cooperation.
Peace to me is when I have confidence in my brother and I shouldn’t let him down, and I encourage him in his success and correct him when he makes a mistake.
Peace to me is when I am not threatened by unexpected wars, when I am not surprised by leaders who encroach on my dreams, crushing them without mercy.
Peace to me means paved roads connecting Juba to Nimule to Bor to Malakal to Wau to Renk, etc.
Peace to me means preservation of the environment and livestock.
Peace to me means health, education, security and freedom.
Peace to me is when I enjoy protection from the government in all institutions and I work with respect and dignity.
Peace to me is when displacement and refugee camps disappear and people return to their places safely.
Peace to me is when corruption stops now.
Peace to me means taking towns to villages.
Peace to me is when my country embraces me, and does not force me to run away in search of shelter - it is my right to live in my homeland.
Peace to me means rights, life and participation.
Peace to me is about all meanings of peace — I would only accept a full package of peace, not just focusing on ceasefire, which usually means plans for a new war.
Be part of peace: think about peace and all its dimensions, participate in the upcoming peace, every part of it and all values and tasks must be implemented collectively. Peace is a collective process so it must be implement patiently so our children can enjoy peace.
Let peace prevail in South Sudan.
Dr. Stella Gaitano is a South Sudanese short-story writer and pharmacist. Born in Khartoum in 1979, Stella is the author of acclaimed story “I kill myself and rejoice!”, the story collection “Wilted Flowers,” and other works. She is the winner of the Professor Ali El-Mek Award for the short stories.
This piece has been translated from the original Arabic.
As a newly-independent country, South Sudan is at a very early stage of state and nation building.
However, there are myriad historical and current unresolved grievances and ethnic tensions that are inhibiting the prospect of an inclusive political settlement. With over 60 ethnic groups, managing intra and inter-ethnic tensions will remain an ongoing challenge for the government and the people of South Sudan for many years to come.
Recent history shows that South Sudan has a high inclination to violent conflict, as demonstrated by the politically-driven ethnic clashes in 2013 and 2016. Unfortunately, state-centric and traditionally based mechanisms for resolving disputes and conflicts in a non-violent manner are weak and severely strained.
South Sudan is now facing challenges unprecedented in its history of only five years. The challenges are now nationwide, and ethnicity, lack of rule of law, armed confrontations and the breakdowns of social institutions occupy the apex of many of these challenges.
These nationwide challenges call for national solutions requiring cooperation on a scale unparalleled in our short history. This is because the sources of many of these challenges are multidimensional, increasingly complex and span ethnic boundaries.
For this reason, finding solutions fundamentally requires new thinking from all of us. And that new thinking must revolve around peace, an essential prerequisite. Without peace it will not be possible to achieve the levels of trust, cooperation or inclusiveness necessary to solve these challenges, let alone empower the international institutions and organisations that are willing to help address them.
‘Ambition without peace is daydreaming’
A few months ago, I had a rare opportunity to speak with the current governor of Jonglei State, Col. Philip Aguer. I asked him about his vision for his state. Here’s what he told me: “I am an ambitious man, but ambition without peace is day dreaming.”
The definition of peace will depend on the context in which it is used. But generally, peace is often defined as the absence of war. This is a simple and very limited definition. The analysis in this article is based on two simple definitions: negative peace and positive peace. So what is the difference? The Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP) says:
“Negative peace is the absence of violence or fear of violence. Positive peace is the attitudes, institutions and structures, which create and sustain peaceful societies.”
Positive peace is transformational because it is a cross-cutting facilitator, making it easier for individuals to go about their duties as citizens. In fact, the ‘people’s peace’ factors associated with the absence of violence are also associated with better economic outcomes, measures of well-being, levels of gender equality and environmental performance. Therefore, the ‘people’s peace’ can be thought of as creating an optimal environment for human potential to flourish.
Unfortunately South Sudan is currently not defined by strong and robust institutions and structures that support this ‘people’s peace’. Instead, individual characters within the political and military leadership define South Sudan as we know it today.
Portraits of a people’s peace
IEP describes eight pillars of positive peace – where attitudes make violence less tolerated, institutions are more responsive to society’s needs and social structures underpin the nonviolent resolution of grievances.
- Well-functioning government: A well-functioning government is expected to deliver high-quality public and civil services, engender trust and participation, demonstrate political stability
and uphold the rule of law. In its efforts to maintain peace and order, the government must be seen to be a source of security for its citizenry and not violence.
- Sound business environment: Where economies are weak or failing, people may turn to corruption and violence to acquire resources. But where markets are operating safely and effectively, the cost of violence becomes very high, making people less likely to engage in violent behaviour. In South Sudan, recent violence has led to the shutting down of businesses, a devaluation of currency and eroded people’s buying power.
- Equitable distribution of resources: Peaceful countries tend to ensure equity in access to resources like education and health and, to a lesser extent, income distribution. The primary challenges are the tensions between competing groups within societies and how to accommodate their demands. Political instability, for example, impacts the priorities of government, with greater focus placed on short-term stabilisation of power rather than distributing resources, as it is the case in our country at the moment.
- Acceptance of the rights of others: Homogenous societies are far less prone to conflict and violence, although this observation has problematic implications for a country like South Sudan with its variety of ethnic groups. But it is possible to cultivate societies that value diversity and thrive by drawing out the best features of each group.
- Good relations with neighbours: Critically important to good relations with neighbours is common understanding and some level of trust. Two ethnic communities can deeply dislike one another, but as long as they both trust that the other will behave in a credible manner for a specific set of issues, they will have functional relations.
- Free flow of information: Access to quality and reliable information is essential to
a well-informed society, capable of making considered decisions. The open and unbiased dissemination of information plays a key role in keeping governments accountable, driving economic efficiency and enabling civil society to better participate in political processes and express opinions without fear or prejudice. Media is also an important driver of community perceptions, with research suggesting that the way in which information is presented can have a powerful impact on community perceptions of reality.
- High levels of human capital: Education is a fundamental building block through which societies can build resilience and develop mechanisms to learn and adapt. Increased levels of human capital can also assist the development of new innovative sectors and build the institutions that foster peace. For human capital to reach its potential, many factors need to come together, such as a healthy diet, which is necessary to provide the best physical and mental capacity to learn and perform.
- Low levels of corruption: In societies where high levels of corruption are the norm, resources are inefficiently allocated, often leading to a lack of funding for essential services. The resulting inequities can lead to civil unrest and in extreme situations can be the catalyst for more serious violence. As corruption increases, the incentives to engage in corrupt practices may get worse as mechanisms for transparency and accountability deteriorates. Sadly, corruption moves resources away from legitimate investment, further increasing the need and the opportunity for individuals to engage in corrupt behaviours. Meanwhile, those who are benefiting from a corrupt system have an incentive to resist or undermine genuine transformation.
The ‘people’s peace’ is a concept that not only involves how a society sustains peace within its own sphere of influence but also how it can deal with unforeseen shocks, such as economic crises, natural disasters or epidemics. In 2011, the UN Development Program (UNDP) defined resilience as the ability of a country to quickly recover from or withstand and absorb the impact of a shock. In other words, should South Sudanese adopt the right attitude, create functional institutions and develop robust social structures, they will have the ability and the resilience to quickly recover from some of the worst crisis the country has seen in the recent past.
Trained as a journalist, theologian and researcher, Bernard Suwa is a Senior Pastor at the Juba Riverview Community Church and a consultant in the area of peace building and reconciliation concepts and communication for development.
The people of South Sudan, who voted in 2011 overwhelmingly to establish a country of their own, are regretting that they voted for separation from their old masters the Arabs.
When Moses drove the Israelites out of Egypt into the wilderness they cried: “Why did you bring us to the desert to die? It would have been better that we remain in Egypt under slavery in the hand of the Egyptians.”
This is a similar cry heard today in South Sudan. But I say the South Sudanese people should not regret the decision they made during the last referendum. It was in good faith but just spoiled by our leaders.
The war was no surprise to me. Since the beginning of the liberation struggle in 1983, the signs were already there of trouble ahead when key leaders were killed by their own comrades. To protect themselves from assassinations by colleagues, each commander appointed several bodyguards from among their relatives. This situation triggered what we see today. The SPLA/M lost its vision, and the problems within its ranks were not quickly addressed. Leadership was a one-man show, and observers knew that such behavior was not normal in other liberation struggles around the world.
As soon as South Sudan got its independence, corruption took root. No one was punished. Instead they were promoted to other levels of government. South Sudan rebels turned into warlords, hence there was no reorganisation of the SPLA forces, nor any structural reform in other sectors. The SPLM lost its vision, and there was total anarchy.
I remember in 1972, when the Addis Ababa Agreement was signed, the Anyanya were reorganised. Those who were fit to remain in the military joined the Sudan armed forces, while some were taken into other state institutions. The rest were told to go home and start a new life. Most people were satisfied. Recruitment to the civil service was based on merit, and there was an absence of kleptocracy.
Leaders turned blind eyes to reforms
But as oil became a curse instead of a blessing, leaders in South Sudan turned blind eyes to reforms, despite the entire international community converging on Juba to help South Sudan’s leaders move the country forward. The UN deployed technical staff, and many neighbouring countries came in to help develop good governance systems.
For one reason or another, our leaders refused to accept reform. They even refused to accept putting systems of governance in place. Anyone who wanted reform was seen as obstructing the short-cut approaches adopted by our leaders. Officials scrambled to gain enough resources for themselves. The pay list was, and has remained, the biggest in Africa and in the world. Every official who had just came out of a bush war claimed to know how to run a government and be a leader.
As a result, our friends who came to help in reform were defeated and withdraw their support. Instead of demilitarisation, there was militarisation of the population. Crime increased.
Liberators become predators
Potential conflict began to appear soon after the 2010 general elections when South Sudan started to experience a political turning point. Some candidates were intimidated, and others took up arms. Liberators became predators. The SPLM became divided, and power struggles began to surface. Democracy was shelved, and autocracy took root.
Worse came 2013 when politics divided our leaders. Opposing camps began to grow, and the economy slowed down. The UN tried to help to bring the leaders together at the negotiating table but was defeated. Actual conflict emerged. Thousands were killed and millions displaced. Armed and opposition groups began to emerge. Insecurity was on the increase, and food became a problem for the whole South Sudan population.
The AU/IGAD and the Troika initiated peace negotiations. Negotiations were tough, but at the end a peace deal was signed. Though it was not a perfect agreement, it was better than nothing. But a few months later, in July 2016, the whole peace agreement was abandoned or abrogated.
Hope for lasting peace
But it is not too late. I still have hope that a new approach can be forged for the people of South Sudan who are yearning for a permanent, lasting peace to prevail.
The following could be the road map for a sustainable peace in South Sudan:
- Hold a consultative conference involving representatives of South Sudanese political and civil society organisations in opposition. They would be asked to consider strategies for taking the country back to the negotiating table and how best to conclude a peace agreement to which all parties will be committed.
- Hold an all-South Sudanese conference. This would bring the current government and opposition together to discuss the ways and means of peace in a sincere manner where members feel free to say what is best for the country. This conference should be witnessed and observed by our partners who would ensure no one who should be there is excluded.
- However, the conference should exclude bad actors or obstructionists who are already within the government. This would avoid individuals who are gaining from the conflict dragging the conference in the wrong direction.
- A new transitional administration should be created, minus the bad actors, to give confidence to the population who are traumatised and have lost confidence in the current leadership. The new administration should run the country until a general election is conducted that will determine who will lead the people under a new people’s-driven constitution.
- A Truth and Reconciliation Committee should be established to begin educating and sensitising all South Sudanese about the way forward for a sustainable peace for all and to live in diversity.
- A hybrid court should be established as soon as possible as recommended by the 2013 Obasanjo report on the conflict to try those who were involved in the massacre of 2013 and crimes against humanity.
- International and regional bodies should prevail on the South Sudan government to create an environment conducive to discussing the country’s problems openly, without harassment or intimidation.
- International and regional bodies should prevail on the South Sudan government to open full access for the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the needy without preconditions.
- The UN, Troika and AU/IGAD should avoid wavering and indecisive messages and actions, take a strong and courageous stand in support of the South Sudan people and put pressure on the government to implement any agreement reached.
Bangasi Joseph Bakosoro is the former governor of Western Equatoria State. He is involved in ongoing discussions with policy makers in the United States, UN representatives and Troika members about forging a new political approach that could bring lasting peace to South Sudan.
Francis first heard an episode of Sawa Shabab (Together Youth), the peace building radio drama, in 2014 when he was studying at the university in Wau, in Western Bahr el Ghazal.
The drama resonated with him. It was highly entertaining and presented the lives of South Sudanese youth he could identify with. Following the political violence that erupted in December 2013, he recognised that the programme was also about youth who were taking responsibility to resolve conflict themselves within their own communities.
Francis didn’t simply listen, he responded to the question posed to the audience at the end of the show by calling in and having a conversation with the Sawa Shabab team. He also texted a message after the next episode and again the following week. He was hooked.
Francis knew there was a role that he could play in building peace but didn’t know exactly what that was. That’s where the Sawa Shabab team came in. In 2015, they recognised Francis as a “super fan” and, along with a small group of other dedicated listeners, trained them in conflict resolution, leadership, project management and technology tools to become “youth mobilisers” in Juba, Bor and Wau.
These youth mobilizers worked with the Sawa Shabab team to lead community-based peace building activities like theatre, music and sports. Francis organised radio listening groups and peace discussions that included 600 secondary school students in Wau. He also received a smart phone to coordinate with different youth groups and youth mobilisers in Juba and Bor, creating a network of youth leaders working toward peace.
Over 8,000 people were involved in these local peace building projects.
Unfortunately, Francis didn’t have more time to work with local youth directly. Violence, which had been mostly confined to the Greater Upper Nile, spread to Wau and other parts of Western Bahr el Ghazal. He was forced to move to Juba in early 2016. During his time in Juba, Francis learned more about the educational goals of Sawa Shabab and began volunteering to reach out to youth through Facebook and Twitter – allowing him to interact virtually with other young people interested in peace.
During that same time, Francis applied for a fellowship at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). The Sudanese and South Sudanese Youth Leaders programme at USIP offered Francis the chance to gain new skills and experience in conflict resolution during four months of study in the United States.
While he awaited word on his application, violent conflict again broke out in Juba in early July 2016, resulting in an expansion of armed conflict and a massive humanitarian crisis. When Francis received word in August that he had been selected for the Youth Leaders programme, violence had already spread to Equatorian states, and the economy was rapidly deteriorating.
Francis once again found himself on the move, this time fleeing to Khartoum. After three months, Francis arrived in Nairobi to prepare for his trip to the US.
He spoke passionately about his desire to apply the lessons learned from his fellowship to build peace in South Sudan. He expressed his determination to return, saying: “the heart is there.”
Although he noted that his journey is different from most other young people in South Sudan, he emphasised the importance of youth in diaspora communities around the world returning (when possible) to build peace.
It’s this lesson of collective action, bringing young people together for peace, that Francis is already well qualified to pass on to other youth.
About Sawa Shabab
Sawa Shabab is a curriculum-based radio drama series designed to raise youth awareness of their role in building peace. Produced in South Sudan by Free Voice in partnership with PeaceTech Lab and the United States Institute of Peace, the third season of the series is set to broadcast on over 30 local stations across South Sudan in December 2016. The programme is also intended to reach at-risk communities in IDP camps, in refugee camps such as Kakuma and in conflict-affected areas. The first three seasons consist of 20 episodes (15 minutes each) in Arabic and English. One full season in Dinka and Nuer was produced and aired in early 2015.
The curriculum, developed in close consultation with local partners, has been tailored to address specific drivers of conflict in South Sudan such as gender inequities, generational divides, tribal violence, cattle raiding and lack of access to resources. The series is designed to promote peace and stability by empowering youth to be confident, open minded and participatory citizens.
Theo Dolan is the director of the PeaceMedia and PeaceTech Lab Africa at the PeaceTech Lab, an organization created by the United States Institute of Peace.
Peace prevails in the absence of war, but real peace is more than just the absence of war. That is why there can be no real peace in a society where poverty abounds, wherein tribal hatred thrives and injustice flourishes. Real peace is only possible in a society that reduces poverty and offers economic justice. A society that swiftly and fairly addresses social hatred and does not condone impunity or injustice. This is not the situation in South Sudan at the moment. People in South Sudan have, for a long time, been denied peace, social and economic justice — first by colonial masters, then by the ruling clique in the Sudan and now by their own brothers and sisters.
Certainly, no peace can bring about a total absence of conflicts. In the course of human interactions, misunderstandings and disagreements are inevitable. But war is not! Taking a country to war should be the most serious ethical decision any leader can ever take. War takes away peace, it destroys lives and livelihoods, it tears apart families, it ruins friendships, it destroys dreams and the social fabric. War is even more tragic when it is purposeless and unjust. Many people including those leading the current war in South Sudan have described the war as unnecessary and avoidable.
The only way to stop this war is to stop talking through the barrel of guns and start dialoguing. More wars have been stopped through dialogue than through decisive military victories on the field. Because war divides a country into ‘them’ and ‘us’, efforts to stop the war in order to be sustainable must be led by South Sudanese, and must also be inclusive of individuals and communities in the country.
In war, there are no good guys and bad guys. Everyone involved in the war must be consulted and included in the solution to the war. Including everyone in the search for a solution does not and should mean including these individuals in the governance of the country that sought to destroy. Their crimes should not be ignored. My point is that the process for excluding anyone should be fair and just and above all in the interest of peace and the country.
Real peace is when a society’s wellbeing is guaranteed. There is no real peace when a mother watches her children die from starvation, when a father cannot provide bread for his household, when we watch our loved ones die from easily preventable causes and there are no hospitals to take them to, and our children grow up unable to read or write. War thrives where poverty and ignorance abound. Unless and until the riches of South Sudan start to work for the majority of its people, real peace will continue to be illusive. When the country works for all of us, all of us will work for the country. So any solution that addresses political grievances without addressing economic grievances is destined to fail in South Sudan. Peoples’ rights to their ancestral lands, to use and benefit from their resources, cultures and ways of life must be safeguarded to ensure real peace in South Sudan.
There will be no real peace in South Sudan in the absence of social cohesion and moral regeneration. South Sudan is still not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression. We are a country akin to a marriage of strangers who are yet to know and agree on the terms and conditions of their marriage. The longer this marriage continues without a nuptial contract, a disastrous divorce is most likely.
South Sudan will not know real peace until the different nationalities in the country come to live at peace with each other. Inter-communal peace is dependent on a recognition and respect by all of the equal ownership of, equal rights to and equal entailments of all communities to the burdens and blessings of South Sudan. The country must not only belong to all that live in it, but must be seen so by all who live in for real peace to prevail.
Social cohesion is a process and an outcome. This process in the context of South Sudan has been stalled by unaddressed past and present atrocities committed by different communities against other communities in South Sudan. These barriers continue to present formidable challenges to real peace in the country. Inter-communal peace, which is a prerequisite for real peace in South Sudan, is dependent on inter-communal justice.
We lack real peace in South Sudan mainly because, over the years we have brutalized each other only to sweep the agonizing pains under the carpet in the name of peace. Peace devoid of justice is merely a rehearsal for another war. Therefore, South Sudan will know real peace only when past impunities have been meaningfully addressed and culturally acceptable justice received by the victims.
So my answer to what real peace would look like in South Sudan is multiple fold.
- First, the senseless war in South Sudan must stop forthwith. Once the guns are silent, we must embark on addressing people-to-people grievances through a genuine and an all-inclusive process of national healing and reconciliation. South Sudanese must lead this process with the support of their friends.
- Second, impunity by individuals and communities must be addressed through formal and informal justice mechanisms. The process of justice must not be left to South Sudanese alone.
- Third, the sense of political and economic exclusion by some communities — and the sense of political and economic entitlement by others — must be addressed. This could be done through fair political and economic systems.
Finally, real peace in South Sudan requires real leadership. Real peace requires leadership that prioritizes the interests of a country and is ready to make the necessary sacrifices and compromises to attain genuine peace. Until we have such leadership, real peace will continue to elude us.
Dr. Remember Miamingi is a South Sudanese academic based in South Africa. He has worked with SIRD, a South Sudanese NGO committed to fostering human rights in South Sudan, and with the South African Human Rights Commission.
Born are the beautiful children, hour by hour
with brightest eyes,
and loving hearts you have bestowed upon
fatherland, they will come,
for bullets aren’t the seeds of life.
“I don’t know if my husband is alive.” Photo by World Vision / Stefanie Glinski.
“I went hungry.” Photo by Sebastian Rich for UNICEF, August 2016: Nyakandai, 1, photographed in Juba, South Sudan.
“I lost hope.” Photo and interview by the International Organization for Migration, Malakal, March 2016.
Portrait of the author Stella Gaitano accompanying “The peace that we dream of”: Lynsey Addario for The New York Times, 2015.
“Peace is safety,” “Peace is love,” “Peace is staying in my village,” “Peace is trust, not hatred.” Photos by Stefanie Glinski for World Vision.
Accompanying the article “A peace that heals, transforms”: Voice of America, June 2016: Disabled war and polio victims relax at a game of wheelchair basketball in Juba.
Accompany “Finding solutions to unprecedented challenges”: Photo by Diana Gorter for Medair, Aweil, October 2016: Children enjoying a therapeutic paste at a Medair nutrition treatment site.
Accompanying the poem “Born are the beautiful children”: Photo by Sebastian Rich for UNICEF, 2016: Jal Puok, 1, who suffers from severe acute malnutrition, is embraced by his mother Eliza, 28. Jal died soon after this photo was taken.
All other photos ©Radio Tamazuj unless otherwise indicated.
Translation credit for “Bullets aren’t the seeds of life”: Reproduced from “Africa Watch,” 1990.
This website is accompanied by a 15-minute soundtrack featuring voice clips of South Sudanese citizens recorded in several parts of South Sudan. The interviews conducted mostly in Arabic touch on questions of peace, trauma, healing, forgiveness and reconciliation. Also featured are two brief recordings of a speech by the Bishop of Yei Hillary Luate.
The soundtrack can be muted using the sound icon that you will see at the top right of this webpage.
The full soundtrack can also be replayed here:
Jason Shaw, “Running Waters.”
Josh Woodward, “Thanks for coming.”
John Field, Nocturne No. 10 in E minor, H 46
Mustafa Sidahmed, “Noura.”
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