Friday, August 21, 2015

Amidst political uncertainty, ongoing conflict, a humanitarian crisis and a burgeoning financial crisis, 55 Peace Mobilisers have begun work in Warrap State, South Sudan, on the pilot phase of a national consultation process toward reconciliation. IofC volunteers Rob Lancaster from Canberra and David Vincent, a former child soldier and refugee from South Sudan based in Melbourne, coordinated the training that began in April 2015. Rob tells the story:

“Fifty-five participants took part in this training in the city of Kuajok, the capital of Warrap State.

Inside Change and local IofC network Youth in Solidarity delivered the two-week training, using a methodology inspired by Initiatives of Change. The training blended a strong emphasis in the personal foundations of reconciliation and peace building with the skills to conduct consultations across the state at Payam (district) level. The training took place under the auspices of the South Sudan Committee for National Healing, Peace and Reconciliation (CNHPR), an independent body appointed by the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, to build bridges across political and social divides, and to promote healing among the people of South Sudan after their many conflicts.

Joseph Karanja of IofC Kenya speaks at the training of Peace Mobilizers in Yei, South Sudan.Working in teams of four or five, the newly trained ‘peace mobilisers’ have now spent several days in each of Warrap’s 42 Payam, listening to the communities’ internal and external conflict issues, as well as exploring possible solutions that could be owned by the community. Audio recordings and written notes of the discussions will later be presented at county-level conferences, to be followed by state-level conferences and finally a national conference that will outline a national agenda for reconciliation.

The programme is an ambitious one, considered by some as imprudent in the current climate. Proponents, however, support the need for positive initiatives that fuel narratives of peace and forgiveness.

The pilot programme in Warrap bears evidence of the positive side effects of the training in peace building. Following sessions on themes of forgiveness and honesty, participants spoke of decisions to mend relationships within the family, with friends, and with neighbouring communities. These changes feed into the broader peace-building imperative.

The next state to roll out training of peace mobilizers will be Eastern Equatoria, as soon as lessons have been distilled from the pilot programme.”

On the fourth anniversary of South Sudan’s independence in July 2015, David Vincent reflected: “All along I was wondering whether saying ’sorry’ would be enough….Would anything I say make things worse? In Australia, thousands of people crossed the country’s largest bridge and said ‘sorry’ for the inhumane things that were done to the Stolen Generations…That action carried out by masses of people paved the way for a genuine roadmap for healing. Is it possible for South Sudan to do the same?”

In support of the peace-building effort, the South Sudan Australia Peace Initiative (SSAPI), a community initiative supported by IofC Australia, briefed the House of Representatives in Canberra on 25 March. Greens MP Adam Bandt, Labour MP Anna Burke and Liberal MP Kelly O’Dwyer co-chaired the meeting, which was reported in the April issue of Newsbriefs. Twenty members of the South Sudanese diaspora from five states in Australia travelled to Canberra at their own cost to take part in the briefing.

A newly trained Peace Mobilizer in Kuajok, Warrap State.Four recommendations from the SSAPI were presented to the MPs at the 25 March briefing: support NGOs in Australia to facilitate healing and trust-building dialogue among the diaspora; increase humanitarian aid to South Sudan; appoint an Australian Special Envoy to assist the peace process; and form a Parliamentary Friendship Committee, which Bandt and Burke have already agreed to chair.

Nyok and Kathryn Gor of IofC Australia revisited Canberra in August, meeting with MPs on both sides of the House, as well as the head of the Africa Desk at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). The response has been warm all round, and the initiative continues to gain momentum.