International Day of Peace: the role of local-level peacebuilding to sustain peace in South Sudan

 

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Women representatives of United Church Women’s Association in Maar celebrate the success of their peacebuilding and agricultural training projects in 2017. Photo Credit:Tom Price/Tearfund

 

On International Day of Peace, Sini Maria Heikkila (Tearfund’s Humanitarian Policy Officer) discusses the role of local-level peacebuilding for delivering sustained peace in South Sudan.  

On Wednesday 12th September, parties to the conflict in South Sudan signed a peace agreement in Addis Ababa. The agreement provides a new opportunity to end an armed conflict which has devastated the lives of millions since its eruption in December 2013.

In addition to the implementation of the high-level peace agreement, grassroot peacebuilding remains critical; it can create political and social space within communities which helps to create fertile ground for lasting peace. Despite this, support for grassroots peacebuilding is often lacking and much of the funding allocated to support local level peacebuilding initiatives tends to be short-term.

 

From conflict and cattle-raiding to release of abducted children

African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM), a Tearfund partner in South Sudan, has engaged in peacebuilding activities in five locations in South Sudan. I met their Program Coordinator for Peace-building, Justice & Reconciliation, a 32-year old Juma Mabor Marial during his recent visit to the UK.

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Juma Mabor Marial from ALARM (African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries) has seen many peacebuilding initiatives across South Sudan. ”Local peacebuilding work complements the national peace process as it strengthens the peaceful co-existence between communities”, Juma tells. Photo Credit: Sini Maria Heikkila/Tearfund

Local level peacebuilding is critical to make peace last at national level as it is important to ensure that people become agents of peace,” he told me.

“At local level, the causes of violence are mostly either structural or about the resources which can lead to to cattle raiding, child abduction, land disputes, fights over grazing land and access to water points. These differences cannot be resolved through a higher-level peace agreement, they need to be critically and independently addressed”, Juma continues.

ALARM promotes peace by organising peace trainings and community dialogue on non-violent conflict resolution. They also provide trauma healing and psychosocial support. Their local-level peacebuilding work provides concrete outcomes bridging divisions and restoring relationships between communities in conflict. For example, in July this year, cattle raiding and the abduction of children had strained the relationships between two communities. Following ALARM’s mediation, a number of children abducted by opposite communities were returned back to their families.

Peacebuilding happens also between family members

 Earlier this year, I met a group of women volunteers affected by HIV/AIDS in Juba. Women from different ethnic and religious backgrounds had formed a women’s group consisting of volunteers who worked together on various issues – raising awareness of HIV/AIDS, tackling sexual and gender based violence, education. They had also received training in peace dialogue and trauma healing which they now use to mediate conflicts between different communities and between family members. The women’s group has helped many women to unite with their family after they were chased away due to stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.

“There is lot of anger and bitterness in our community. But we remind people that ‘we are all one’. The peace has to start from home”, one of the volunteers tells me.  

Another volunteer tells about her own prejudices before joining the women’s group.  

“I would have not felt comfortable eating with a woman from a different religion or ethnic group. We looked at each other as enemies. But now we work together, laugh and eat together and live peacefully in the neighbourhood.”

More support needed for local peacebuilding

A new Christian Aid report – based on interviews with 50 long-term peacebuilding practitioners – highlights how local peace work can support nationwide political transformation. It can  mitigate the effects of elite competition, reduce opportunities for violence in the future and forge a positive accountability between communities and leaders. The report states:

“Working on grassroots peacebuilding and the interlinkages between national and local interests provides openings for the more transformational change that needs to happen in the long run, allowing citizens to move beyond decades of deeply entrenched grievance, and may help weave together intercommunity fabrics from which a national peace can be more sustainably stitched.”

Local level peacebuilding may not receive as much attention as high-level peace negotiations. Yet it is important to invest in long-term community-level peacebuilding initiatives and to support the longer-term mentoring and nurturing of local peacebuilders.Building sustainable peace is a long-term process and local-level peacebuilding is integral, if not a key part of this process. Tearfund has recently launched a long-term programme with a group of dynamic peacebuilders who can connect with each other to form a movement of peacebuilders across the country.

To mark the International Day of Peace (21st September) and to draw attention to the importance of peace, local level peacebuilding and urgent need to end to violence in South Sudan, Tearfund together with CAFOD, Christian Aid, Conciliation Resources, Mercy Corps, Saferworld and Oxfam published a joint statement on South Sudan. You can access the statement here.

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