Securing long-term peace in South Sudan requires much more than deals between political leaders, according to a new study of the deeply troubled young country whose seventh anniversary of independence falls today.
As the world waits to see whether the latest peace agreement will help halt South Sudan’s decline, the new report argues that work towards such national-level political agreements must be complemented by local and regional peacebuilding and owned by the people of South Sudan.
“It’s understandable that diplomats, donor governments, and the international community focus their efforts and hopes on securing a deal between powerful men around the negotiating table. But history shows that focusing on high-level processes has failed to bring peace for people in South Sudan,” said Natalia Chan, Christian Aid’s Senior Adviser on South Sudan.
“After four-and-a-half years of civil war that have touched the extreme bounds of violence, the situation in South Sudan remains gravely concerning. There are multiple conflicts over resources, power and identity. Tens of thousands of people have lost their lives, half the population are at risk of food insecurity, and a third have been forced to flee their homes. It’s easy to despair or be desperate for a quick-fix to the horror,” she added.
“What we’re suggesting is needed is a more sophisticated recognition of the conditions for peace. These include the critical roles played by leaders and peace activists at regional and local levels. The local really matters. So do the many cultural and religious practices that can help defuse potential explosions and heal relationships after decades of trauma and deep grievance.”
The report, In It For The Long Haul? Lessons on peacebuilding in South Sudan, states: “Peace is made and broken every day in South Sudan by chiefs, youth, women and commanders, under trees, in offices, in person or by mobile phone. It is occasionally still facilitated by letter, carried across a boundary by willing hands.
“Yet, the countless peacemakers at the local level are obscured by the tendency of international and higher-level actors to put themselves towards the centre of analysis.” As a result, chances are missed to resolve some of the problems caused by competition for power at national level.
The new report is based on interviews with 50 long-term peacebuilders with experience from across the country, and with members of communities affected by violence. Quotations from them are used throughout the document. The report also draws on a review of literature about violence and peace in the nation.
The interviews were used to generate 10 principles on which there was a broad consensus, including that elites alone cannot deliver peace and people should not wait for them to do so; that there is little binding diverse communities together as a nation and that peacebuilders cannot ignore what happens locally.
In It For The Long Haul? calls on donors to do more to support sub-national peacebuilding. “This should focus on promoting sustained local capacity to manage conflict and security and open opportunities for social interaction, transitional justice and economic development, whether a functioning high-level peace process exists or not,” it says.
Such sub-national and local peacebuilding has at least five advantages, it argues:
- It can help mitigate the divisive effects of competition between elites
- It can improve people’s lives in the short term and build relationships which reduce opportunities for violence in the future
- It can forge positive accountability between communities and leaders and help connect disparate communities with one another
- It can reduce the military options available to elites and promote the economic benefits of peace
- It can help inform national-level processes with customary and cultural values and practices, so that they also reflect, for example, truth-telling, cultural ritual and performance and public dissemination into their design. This could add meaning for both high-level participants and the wider population.
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