South Sudan's referendum has come and gone. What lies ahead post-independence in terms of peace, development and security is however still to be determined. The 15 years of war left over one million people dead and more than three million displaced. Negotiations led to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, which included provision for a referendum on independence for the Southerners.  The referendum was held in January, with overwhelming support for succession. But serious challenges face South Sudan as it prepares for independence on 9 July 2011.

The challenges facing a new nation

A range of challenges are present themselves with this new nation attempting to stand on its own. Aside from the issues of governance and poor service delivery, the most serious is the seemingly unending internal conflicts. Hence, the government of the new South Sudan should consider:

  1. Embracing pluralism by allowing political participation of the citizenry. To do otherwise could pave the way for more conflicts through insurgencies, militia activities, army defections, and latent grievances within the security sector.
  2. Post-referendum negotiations between the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and National Party Congress (NCP) should focus on ensuring a peaceful separation and a constructive North-South relationship based on mutual benefit from the oil resources, averting the 'resource curse'.
  3. South Sudan has to cooperate with its neighbours to overcome security threats by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and other militia, as well as cross border conflicts. The state of Western Equatoria is particularly suffering under rampaging LRA troops, displacing farmers, and potentially leading to a humanitarian crisis due to heightened food insecurity. Communities will increasingly turn to militia groups for protection if government security is absent.
  4. At the national level, the significant role of opposition parties and civil society in the forthcoming transition needs to be acknowledged. There is thus a need for an inclusive constitutional review committee adhering to the agreements of the CPA.

The gravity of violence needs further deliberate and integrated efforts. The 2010 Human Rights Report: South Sudan noted the abuses and internal conflicts South Sudan faces at independence. Inter-ethnic fighting, post-election militia attacks, cattle rustling, and LRA attacks, all resulted in deaths and displacement in the South since the referendum.

Coupled with the violence, 2 million Internally Displace Persons (IDPs) and 350,000 refugees have returned to the South since 2005. Given the lessons learnt from the returnees of Liberia, there is a need to find ways of enhancing co-existence between host communities and returnees.

What role can grassroots peacebuilding play here?

Enhancing grassroots peacebuilding

Grassroots peacebuilding encompasses efforts of enhancing localised structures and mechanisms of constructively responding to violence, aiding relief, and conflict transformation. This vital approach is the social fabric that builds durable peace. It is the people at the grassroots who have suffered most from the war, and continue to suffer through displacement, grief, trauma and day-to-day community clashes. Peace is a common good that we must promote and guard.

March was characterised by community clashes in Mvolo between the Jur and the Dingas in Western Equatoria. Over 60 died and many more internally displaced. With a history of tribal clashes, cattle rustling, and growing insecurity, one would ask: what can be done at a grassroots level to enhance peacebuilding?

Improving accountability of security forces

One option for grassroots level work is the improvement of security forces. There are several cases where security forces were blamed for instigating or participating in violence. As illustrated by these incidents, it becomes imperative for a new country to respect the rights and rule of law. It is through the promotion and protection of human rights that peace among the people is enhanced across all sectors and levels.

When looking at peacebuilding and security reforms in prior post-conflict zones, three lessons are obvious:

  1. A lack of governance of the security sector is often a source of conflict and forms a key obstacle to peacebuilding.
  2. Security institutions can play an effective, legitimate and democratically accountable role in society.
  3. If law-breakers face prosecution and social disapproval, people will be discouraged from engaging in armed violence. This is underlined by the 2011 Word Development Report, with the call for citizen security and justice in order to break the cycle of violence. Indeed, there is need to improve accountability among the security forces and fostering restorative justice in South Sudan so as to prevent and manage a relapse into violence.

Realise the role of religion

A second option for grassroots engagement is to work with and through religious communities and structures. In many cases the Church seems to have greater leverage than almost anybody else in brokering peace talks between warring factions. The historical, cultural and traditional embeddedness of the Church has credibility and relevance to the community. It’s extensive network reaches even into the most remote areas. Further, the Church has an integration of social and pastoral work focusing on the psycho-social and spiritual dimension of conflict transformation, although the church is at times blamed for exlusionist tendencies. As an indicator for church influence, around 40% of the population of South Sudan regard themselves Catholics and 30% Anglicans.

Quiet diplomacy

A third grassroots option is quiet diplomacy. Influential civil society leaders, among them high profile religious leaders, have the potential of applying preventative diplomacy mechanisms in cooperation with the government.

This back door approach is suggested because the state is still young. It is further backed up by the cultural background, suggesting that a leader should not be degraded in public. Instead of undermining transparency, this approach acknowledges the huge expectations of a new nation. Normal and open confrontation may be acceptable to the public, but may not bring about the desired democratic state.

Conclusion and recommendations

Grassroots peacebuilding has to be enhanced across South Sudan. This can be done through holding the security forces and leaders accountable; realising the essential (commending, condemning, correcting and coalescing) role of the Church, and the application of quiet diplomacy. It is hoped that localised and indigenous peacebuilding efforts can consolidate peace, stability, security and development. Therefore, I would like to make the  following recommendations:

  1. People, parties and civil society to:
    • strengthen women, youth, and community participation in peacebuilding;
    • empower local government structures;
    • invest in education and especially adult literacy;
    • adopt a comprehensive security framework of human security;
    • continue applying corrective and commending public figures through quiet diplomacy.
  2. The government of South Sudan to:
    • build supporting impartial partnerships towards grassroots peacebuilding;
    • enhance trauma healing across all sectors and levels of the country;
    • establish and empower local government structures so as to enhance accountability among county and state executives;
    • deploy security personnel, especially the police, to actively protect the citizenry from community clashes, militia attacks, and the LRA;
    • invest in education in every village;
    • retain and emphasise the rule of law across the country.
  3. The international community:
    • to support grassroots peacebuilding through partnerships;
    • to encourage and facilitate continued dialogue and cooperation between the governments of Sudan and South Sudan.
    • to build impartial supportive partnership with the people of South Sudan and its government, while drawing a clear line between the government and the SPLM.
Hope Chichaya, May 2011