Peace Requires Everyone’s Participation
Juba, South Sudan, July 12, 2016
Without intervention from neutral body or strong leadership in the feuding communities, the members of the communities will never be interested in sitting together and resolving their conflicts in an amicable manner and live in peace once again after the conflict. And the consequences of this are continued killings and violence in the communities.
For decades, the people of Rumbek, in the current Western Lakes State, have been fighting and killing each other in cycles of confrontational attacks and revenge killings, and many lives have been lost as a consequence. This is because the one strong respectful communal leaderships have broken down at all levels and youth have been left free to do anything that suits their interests in spite of potential violence their actions may cause. On the hand, the availability of firearms in the hands of civilians and failure of the national, state and local governments to hold people accountable for their actions and punish the wrongdoers have contributed greatly to fortifying crimes in Rumbek.
As peace requires everyone’s participation, the citizens of Western Lakes State and their international partners including NGOs have stepped in and tried to help bring together the community leaderships from the warring communities to dialogue and resolve their differences peacefully and avert the loss of lives.
In early 2015, I was hired as Grant Specialist under USAID funded AECOM’s South Sudan Program on Transition and Conflict Mitigation known as Viable Support to Transition and Stability (VISTAS) and posted to Rumbek. As peace and reconciliation had been one of my interests since 2009 after an outbreak of violence at Barpakeny between Duorcek and Duorbar and Hope and Resurrection Secondary School was closed for the rest of the year as a result, I was able to work with my team and develop a number of grants for peace dialogues in many communities across Rumbek. We were also able to develop grants for students’ debates designed to address communal violence and encouraged peace and stability in the communities.
Over the past years, many male high school students dropped out of school and joined Gelweng (armed youth) in the event that their brothers or relatives in the cattle camps were killed in cycles of revenge killings and the ended up being killed themselves or killed others. So, it was also our interest to enlighten the male students to stay in schools and refrain from taking part in sectional violence that had claimed many innocent lives. We supported a number of local schools including Hope and Resurrection and Loreto Girls Secondary Schools. Peace clubs were formed to work for peace amongst the students through campaign for peace under the theme, “I break the silence, Stop Violence in Our Communities” written on the front and back of the t-shirts. This means that students, females in particular, were never considered part of peace process in their community. They were never involved or even asked to be part of it however recently they have decided to speak up about peace in schools and in their communities.
These students’ debates which included drama, poetry and spoken words were usually broadcasted over the radio so that wider community in Rumbek who did not have a chance to participate in the events during the day could listen and call in for comments.
Over a year and a half of protracted peace dialogues in Rumbek, many communities were able to reconcile after years of deadly conflicts. The enemies now share one cattle camp, intermarry, and move freely with no fear of attack from his former enemies. The conflicts in Rumbek were widespread and pitted payam against payam (Second lowest administrative division, below county) and the people of the same blood.
The people of South Sudan need to be supported in their attempt to reconcile. There is high distrust among the people and these misgivings always result in intra/inter communal or tribal violence. After my experience in Rumbek and in Juba, I believe that peace requires everyone’s participation. South Sudanese and their friends from inside and outside the country must work together for peace and stability. South Sudan will not be a country without local or international intervention. Intra/inter communal or tribal hatred, generated by years of conflict and power struggle, is high among South Sudanese. And this is always a recipe for a bitter conflict and armed violence which most of the time claim many lives and create volatility.