Across South Sudan’s Jonglei state and neighbouring Greater Pibor Administrative Area, intercommunal violence fueled by cattle raids, especially among armed youth, has been a recurrent leitmotif in this young nation’s conflict landscape.
Over the years, as part of its mandate to protect civilians, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), together with partners, including local authorities and communities, have consistently rolled out dialogue-based initiatives to bring lasting harmony and peaceful coexistence.
The latest such intervention by the UN Peacekeeping mission’s Community Outreach and Advocacy Unit took the form of a largescale peace rally in Akobo county, where some 2,000 people came together to call for an end to cyclical clashes.
“Revenge attacks and continuous fighting with communities from the Greater Pibor Administrative Area have become unbearable. Our focus now is on saving lives,” averred Reath Koang, leader of the ‘white army,’ a coalition of civilian youth who loosely define themselves as a defense force protecting communities and their resources from potential threats. Unfortunately, in the past this vision has translated into revenge attacks that come at a massive cost to community members.
“We want UNMISS to facilitate earnest discussions between young people from different communities to pave the way for forgiveness and reconciliation,” he added.
The focus of this gathering, according to Reuben Inaju, Head of UNMISS Community Outreach, was to proactively engage divided community members in peacebuilding in a bid to break the pattern of escalations that take place during the upcoming dry season.
“The brunt of conflict is felt by women and children. Cattle rustling in this region is accompanied by retaliatory raids where children are abducted, and women fall prey to sexual violence. Our hope, as we host this interactive forum, is to bring feuding communities, especially young people, to the discussion table to arrive at dialogue-based solutions to ending longstanding differences,” stated Mr Inaju.
His views were echoed by Peter Pal Poul, Akobo Director for Culture, Youth and Sport.
“Fighting each other is never a sustainable solution to issues. Our young people across Jonglei and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area deserve to have their voices heard in conversations where they can arrive at amicable ways to resolve outstanding drivers of conflict. Such constructive behaviors will go a long way in bringing about lasting social change as well as ensuring youth can shape a more prosperous future for themselves. For this, youth must commit to stop carrying arms and embrace their role in peacekeeping, peacebuilding, and peacemaking,” stated Director Poul passionately.
For her part, Mary Nyathum Kher, Deputy Chairperson of Akobo Women’s Association, highlighted the importance of women as peacemakers in their homes and communities.
“It is a fact that peace processes and dialogues across the world have proven to be more durable when women are fully included. I urge all women from Akobo and Greater Pibor to use their natural mediation skills to teach peace to their children, their husbands, and their neighbours. Do not call for revenge. After all, peace begins at home,” she opined.
Local authorities were appreciative of this initiative.
“Our heartfelt gratitude goes to UNMISS for supporting our peace journey. It has not been easy but with help from international friends we are confident that the people, especially youth, of Jonglei and Greater Pibor will fully commit to eschewing violence, once and for all. We are all South Sudanese at the end of the day, and everybody stands to benefit from harmony and development,” expressed Simon Kulang Bol, Akobo county’s Executive Director.
As the country’s first-ever national elections are slated to take place in December 2024, intercommunal harmony is critical to ensuring a conducive environment for a free, fair and credible electoral process, where every citizen can express their will at the ballot boxes without fear, an issue spotlighted by Geetha Pious, Head of the UN Peacekeeping mission’s Field Office in the region.
“Next year will mark the history of South Sudan by giving citizens the opportunity to vote and participate in crafting the future they want. Peace is not only key in ensuring electoral success but is fundamental in ushering sustainable development,” stated Ms. Pious.
Clarion calls were also made for swift enactment of the permanent constitution, fully graduating and deploying the Necessary Unified Forces and greater emphasis on strengthening rule of law institutions before people head to the polls.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).