Monday, December 10, 2012

Alex Martins (Photo: Paul Briggs)Edward Peters, Amina Dikedi-Ajakaiye and Alex Martins visited Juba, the capital of South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, at the end of November to discover more about the Common Action adopted at this year’s Global Assembly and seek ways in which the global network of IofC can best support the initiative. Alex Martins writes:

As we touched down in Juba, intense sunlight and heat greeted us as we walked across the sizzling tarmac to the airport terminal, a stark contrast from the cold of Sweden and the UK. We had arrived on a mission to meet with our South Sudanese friends and discuss the role Initiatives of Change International can play in supporting and accompanying them on a journey of promoting national reconciliation across the young country. The heat stayed with us throughout the week, as did a growing sense of excitement and humility as we embark on this challenging but vital work.

Since this initiative was adopted as a Common Action during the Global Assembly this year at Caux, many exciting developments have occurred. The top leadership of the government of South Sudan has become the main engine driving the initiative, titled ‘A journey of healing for national reconciliation’. The Vice President in particular has expressed a desire for South Sudan to resolve its inter-communal conflicts and find a common, unified national identity, starting with the leadership setting the example. In his words, ‘the reconcilers must first be reconciled’.

Another exciting development has been the establishment of our newest national body, IofC South Sudan, which has been officially registered as an NGO and will begin to operate early in 2013. Madame Angelina Teny, George Achor, several other women and a few young South Sudanese are a part of this new body, and we hope for representation from civil society and religious bodies as well. Ultimately, we aim to put our energies into supporting the creation of a strong, local team that can carry the work of reconciliation and trustbuilding forward in the future.

So what is the initiative about?

Many South Sudanese have taken part in IofC conferences both at Caux and Asia Plateau, including several senior government officials. Most recently, the government sent a delegation of 13 officials to the fifth Caux Forum for Human Security, where they celebrated the first anniversary of their independence and noted the need for a process of deep and sincere healing across the country. The culmination of all of these visits has been a request from the government of South Sudan for an experience of ‘Caux in Juba.’ They have asked for the support of IofC International and several of its successful programmes in making this vision a reality next year.

The initiative will take place over two phases. The first is a conference and campaign at the end of April, with evaluation and follow-up work until June, while the second will concentrate on spreading the momentum of the campaign across the country over the following three to five years. The support of IofC International and other national bodies and programmes is particularly needed during the first phase.

The conference will take place over three days from April 18 to 20, and will bring together government ministries, members of Parliament, civil society representatives, members of the South Sudanese diaspora and international guests with experiences of reconciliation to share. Among those invited are Nigerian peace-builders Imam Mohammed Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd with a senior Aboriginal leader, and Ginn Fourie and Letlapa Mphahlele from South Africa.

Several of IofC’s programmes will also provide support and conduct workshops in Juba and in several of the 10 states, including Creators of Peace, Workshop for Africa, Farmers’ Dialogue and the IC Centre for Governance in India.

In all of this, we must not forget to honour South Sudanese approaches to reconciliation and build upon previous experiences in this area. Examples from other countries can serve a hugely beneficial role in providing vision and inspiration, while local approaches more easily account for local realities and provide long-term sustainability.

The challenges

On 9 July 2011, South Sudan became an independent nation following a bitter war with the government in Khartoum that lasted two decades which officially ended with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. But while there is an absence of war, a feeling of real peace is still illusive. ‘We are in a situation of no war, no peace’, as Angelina Teny, Chairperson of IofC South Sudan, puts it.

Although the war with the north has officially ended, several challenges remain. There is ongoing conflict at the border between Sudan and South Sudan, particularly over a disputed area, Abyei, and border regions where oil reserves are concentrated. Once the unifying force behind the referendum for independence dissipated, ethnic and inter-communal violence has also been on the rise.

What struck us most during our visit was the enormity of the challenge of promoting national reconciliation, a challenge not unique to South Sudan. We heard many South Sudanese speak of the trauma caused by decades of war with the north and by more recent inter-communal violence. Even where there is supposed peace in the country, the war continues in people’s minds.

Need for funds

While a range of international funding agencies are being approached, and the government of the Republic of South Sudan are underwriting the project, funds are urgently needed to bring the speakers and team of facilitators to South Sudan. Donations for the South Sudan Initiative can be received via: