A year after its historic vote to become the world’s newest nation, South Sudan continues to tackle issues wrought by decades of warfare such as lack of infrastructure, limited job opportunities and ongoing inter-communal conflict. With the understanding that true development cannot take place without addressing the root sources of conflict Catholic Relief Services has been actively marrying its development work with a vital peacebuilding component.
We check in with Peacebuilding and Governance Program Manager, Chris Wake, to explain the crucial role peacebuilding plays in South Sudan’s future.
People discuss the need for developing infrastructure and creating jobs in South Sudan. What role if any does peacebuilding play in building this new nation?
Chris Wake: In many fragile states, violent conflict causes poverty and poverty causes violent conflict. Peace and development are therefore two sides of the same coin.
South Sudan has suffered from violent conflict for several decades. One obvious consequence is that today it is one of the poorest nations in the world – with undeveloped infrastructure such as roads, low levels of access to basic services, low per capita incomes and high rates of preventable deaths. At the same time, poverty remains one of the underlying causes of violent conflict in South Sudan. The poorest areas of the country with the most limited resources and economic opportunities are often those most susceptible to conflict.
Where peace and stability are established, however, infrastructure can be developed, basic services can be delivered, and people can plan for their futures and engage in business activities without being disrupted by war. All these developments will be crucial to allow South Sudan to build up its economy and nation over the coming years.
What role do youth play in the peacebuilding process? Why are they important?
CW: In South Sudan the youth are an essential part of the solution to resolving violent conflict. First, as has been seen recently in Jonglei state, they tend to be directly involved in the fighting itself. Responsibility for providing security for their communities is often perceived to fall to them – and they can be particularly susceptible to exploitation by militia groups. The youth also tend to be the ones carrying out cattle raiding, which has been a well established practice across South Sudan for generations. Today, rising dowry prices have raised the stakes of the raids – and the high prevalence of small arms in a state like Jonglei has made cattle raids far more deadly than they were before the civil war.
Second, we have seen that the youth are often the community members most open to engaging in peacebuilding activities such as dialogue between different groups, sports for peace projects, and music and cultural initiatives. So they tend to be one of the key groups to engage with in order to promote effective peacebuilding in South Sudan.
South Sudan has a very complex history with different tribes fighting over scarce resources or being pitted against one another for political reasons. How does this play out in terms of the work we’re trying to do now?
CW: A large part of our work is focused on facilitating dialogue between different groups who are in violent conflict. In South Sudan that is a particularly challenging task because there is such a large number of groups, with complex dynamics between them, who are often geographically very distant from one another. In certain parts of the country the movement of herding groups during the dry season into areas where other groups predominate can also complicate relationships, causing tensions to flare up if not managed well.
One of the main approaches to our peacebuilding work is therefore to work with trusted partners, particularly the Church, to bring together antagonistic groups so that they can come to agreements and restore relationships.
You mention the Church – what role does it play in promoting peace in South Sudan?
CW: The Church plays three main roles in peacebuilding. First, it acts as a neutral and respected mediator to bring together different groups in violent conflict.
Second, it can draw on its vast networks throughout the country to positively reach and influence members of communities most susceptible to violence. The Church’s presence in South Sudan is such that it can reach out to all strata in society from top officials to women and children in the most remote villages.
Third, it plays a crucial role in holding government and private companies accountable for their actions. This year we expect to see the Church engage with the government on South Sudan’s permanent constitution, and with international oil companies on how their activities can most benefit communities. So the Church can represent the views of its constituencies in important ways in order to benefit communities and build up South Sudan as a nation.
In the past few months CRS has been actively working with Church partners in the state of Jonglei, an area that recently saw heightened conflict along tribal lines. What were we trying to accomplish and how do recent events impact our work?
CW: CRS has been supporting the Sudan Council of Churches (SCC) in its pursuits to secure a peace deal between the Lou Nuer and the Murle groups in Jonglei state, under the leadership of Episcopal Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul. The recent violence there has been a major setback to the peace process, which has highlighted the importance of effectively engaging with the youth on both sides as an integral part of the process. Going forward CRS will continue to work with the SCC and the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) in pushing forward an inclusive, effective peace process.
We will also work to ensure that our future humanitarian and development programming in Jonglei assists in addressing root causes of conflict and supporting the implementation of any peace deal. It is crucial for any aid agency operating in South Sudan to actively analyze the areas where they are working – so they can ensure that their interventions do not exacerbate imbalances within communities or tensions between different groups.
What can agencies like CRS and the larger international community do to continue to invest in a culture of peace in South Sudan?
CW: One important area I haven’t mentioned so far is the need to develop South Sudan’s own capacity to detect and address violent conflict through an effective conflict early warning system. CRS is actively working with the Government’s Peace and Reconciliation Commission to implement the Conflict Early Warning and Early Response System (CEWERS) in states across the country. CEWERS is designed to anticipate and identify violent conflict at an early stage of development, and to enhance local capacities to address it before escalation takes place.
Another is to support and invest in tangible ‘peace dividends’ for conflict-affected communities. As I mentioned previously, violent conflict can cause poverty and poverty can cause violent conflict. Peace dividends can therefore assist in the implementation of a peace deal through demonstrating to communities that it is worth supporting. This could include both rapid ‘quick impact projects’ like drilling boreholes to provide accessible clean water as well as longer-term development activities such as creating sustainable jobs and developing road networks.
Chris Wake is the CRS South Sudan Peacebuilding and Governance Program Manager.