By Juliana Bol
April 5, 2014 - It is becoming increasingly clear that the IGAD-led mediation process in Addis Ababa will not lead to a definitive resolution to the conflict in South Sudan in the near future. Three months after the cessation of hostilities agreement, there has been no progress on implementation modalities, tabling of an agenda and declaration of principles. And yet the talks have been adjourned (yet again) to April 31st 2014 ‘to give time for the mediators to consult with the heads of IGAD’.
We have fully prioritized this externally driven process of mediation as the sole response to the current crisis. This, despite misgivings about whether those currently at the negotiating table fully represent the needs and fears of the communities affected and impacted by the conflict. Indeed, there have been numerous calls for inclusion of various stakeholders in the Addis Ababa talks, but fewer calls for a parallel mediation process that engages the grassroots. This must change.
It will be important to recognize that the victims and perpetrators of this conflict are interchangeable to an extent, numbers involved are huge and in the case of the Nuer, impact entire age-set(s). Conversely, reasons for sustained violence continue to evolve; for some this is retaliation – albeit, seemingly no point at which they are sated - others would like to overthrow government, while for those in Addis, it is about political reform(s). It is presumptuous to believe that all these differing viewpoints will be addressed solely in Addis Ababa.
In addition, this conflict has impacted entire communities: over one million persons displaced, there is no valid estimate of the numbers of civilians dead but we do know that they are many and entire towns burned to the ground. This has intensified an environment of distrust amongst communities who will have to continue living side by side. There are also fears that this conflict, if left to escalate further, could lead to splits within the greater Nuer community, and that communities on the sidelines of the conflict will become embroiled in it. We must de-escalate this situation.
Community-led processes of dialogue, truth, justice and restitution can potentially tackle outstanding issues including how to re-establish law and order at the grassroots; disarming or rehabilitation of armed youths and processes for the return of the displaced persons – including perhaps compensation. They allow communities to identify their missing and dead, and redress grievances. Community-led peace agreements can inspire a lasting peace, leading perhaps to a new definition of CPA; Community-led Peace Agreements.
Numerous examples of community peace-building and conflict resolution processes exist in South Sudan. This article draws lessons from these past efforts (see appendix), in an attempt to offer modalities for engagement at the grassroots.
1. Outline the genesis of the conflict
Numerous parallels are drawn between current affairs to events after the 1991 split of the SPLA. The White army, mobilized in 1991, deployed against the SPLA and surrounding communities and has once again been mobilized. The 1991 split also led to a proliferation of militia groups and a series of intra-clan and inter-tribal fighting that devastated entire communities in Upper Nile, Greater Bahr el Ghazal and Jonglei.
Peace conferences, specifically Waat (1999) and Liliir (2000) conferences were organized in the 1990s to support community reconciliation and initiate dialogue with political and militia groups within South(ern) Sudan. Agreements from these conferences were never honored. The levels of conflict in Upper Nile and Jonglei (including those between the Lou Nuer, Murle and Dinka Bor) of the past few years and the speed at which the White Army has been mobilized, suggest that there remain outstanding/unresolved issues.
Neither the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005 nor the more recent policy of amnesty and accommodation redressed acts of violence perpetrated against the communities. Instead, these had the effect of positioning military authority above community models of hierarchy. In fact it might be true to state that the White Army was never (fully) demobilized and remained a standing army.
This might explain origin(s) of anger toward the government. However, there remains a need to (also) critically analyze and document events that immediately ignited the conflict. We need to determine the number of those who died in Juba at the beginning of the conflict, and establish a tally of those dead nationwide. The lack of credible figures also sustains this conflict.
2. Identify a neutral facilitator
A process of engagement requires a neutral facilitator; one respected by the communities and that is politically neutral. In the 1990s and early 2000s, it was the New Sudan Council of Churches (NSCC), an ecumenical body, which facilitated peace and reconciliation, and provided logistical and financial support for people-to-people dialogue - the most successful of these being Wunlit in 1999.
Currently, the Local Government Act (2009) Section 121, proscribes the role of a ‘Southern Sudan Council of Traditional Authority Leaders’ to ‘foster peace building and resolution of conflicts through mediation and other conciliatory mechanisms.’
It is not clear how effective this council has been and how wide it is in scope.
There remains a need to identify an impartial, recognized and respected body to facilitate (meaningful) community processes as outlined below, be it the NSCC or an alternative body.
3. Identify those in positions of authority and influence
It will be imperative to identify those in leadership and authority positions for effective mobilization of community support for dialogue, to represent community interests and ensure implementation of any agreements reached. For example, the Wunlit Peace Process (1999) was initiated after a meeting of 8 Dinka and Nuer chiefs in Lokichogio, Kenya in 1998, after 8 years of internecine conflict between the DInka (of Bahr el Ghazal) and Nuer (of Western Upper Nile). The chiefs then led a series of community meetings to mobilize support for a wider peace process, culminating in the construction of a temporary village to house over 1,200 participants at Wunlit.
Identifying those in positions of moral ascendency, ascertaining their levels of influence, finding neutral venue(s) for dialogue and convincing parties to meet will be difficult, but is critical. A necessary (first) step will be meeting with Nuer chiefs to foment broad support for dialogue. Given the mobilization of the White Army, and hierarchical organization of the Nuer, the spiritual, youth and age-set leaders must be involved - perhaps the chiefs can play a vital role as intermediaries.
4. Mobilize for community involvement and participation
Successful peace processes have involved significant levels of public participation and minimal external mediation. For example, the 1994 Ikotos peace conference involved approximately 7,000 participants, Wunlit had 360 delegates and more than 1200 participants. Uniquely, the 1994 Akobo Lou-Jikany Lou peace conference highlights the unique role women can play as part of a ‘truth commission’; women, considered to be maan naaths, ensured that those testifying did so truthfully. Thus all community stakeholders must participate.
Mobilizing for community support takes time and needs to begin sooner rather than later. It took NSCC over 8 months to attain widespread support for Wunlit.
A recommendation from the Waat and Liliir peace conferences that was never implemented was the reestablishment of the Fangak conferences. These were first convened in the 1940s in Western Upper Nile, and held every five years (until 1971) and were opportunities for dialogue amongst all major sections of the Nuer. The conferences resolved intra-communal issues, reviewed customary law and discussed authority and leadership, including that of the chiefs. Perhaps it is time to revitalize a similar discourse.
5. Retain independence from political and military actors
Grassroots conflict resolution and mediation must be independent of negotiations happening in Addis Ababa and the political climate in general. This is especially true because while the actors are politically instigated, not all of them are politically motivated. Community members will ultimately be responsible for engaging with those currently on the battlefields, in monitoring any agreements and involvement of these same political and military actors has the potential to derail the process. For example, leadership and military wrangles among participating military actors derailed the Waat convention of 1999. The Liliir conference of 2000, also became politicized and both peace initiatives failed to resolve conflicts on the Eastern bank of the Nile.
It is also assumed that the political issues will be discussed and finalized in the IGAD-led process or similar processes at the national level - what will remain outstanding are the concerns at the grassroots.
6. Gain support from political and military institutions
While community peace-building initiatives must remain independent of the political and military actors, agreements stemming from these will require widespread support for a successful implementation. Support must come from the political and military actors and therefore community members must be prepared to advocate for this. Community support for peaceful dialogue might apply pressure on military actors to cease hostilities and begin meaningful dialogue.
7. Develop institutions to implement agreements
Local level peace agreements will outline key recommendations to be implemented at grassroots and national level. In the past, these have included the reestablishment of local courts systems, restoring the authority of the chiefs where these have been eroded and rebuilding civic administration, compensation for wrongful deaths, demobilization and continuous cycles of dialogue, including calls for a national dialogue. Adequately funded institutions, capable of ensuring implementation of these recommendations must be developed at the local, state and national level. These institutions will also ensure that the priorities of the grassroots are represented at any national peace and reconciliation efforts.
The steps outlined above are neither sequential nor definitive, and can occur in tandem with [other] existing models for engagement at the grassroots level. In addition, weaknesses and critiques of community-level peace initiatives do abound. While this article does not outline these weaknesses, it will be important to critically examine and analyze them in order to develop a wholistic approach that leads to a greater peace and reconciliation.
This article stems from numerous informal conversations held in Juba, Nairobi and Addis and could have greatly benefited from input from the Greater Upper Nile, Jonglei and Bahr el Ghazal communities. It is written in the hope that we, as South Sudanese, begin to expand our thinking beyond the Addis process. A multifaceted conflict requires multifarious solutions.
Juliana Bol is a public health specialist, holding a Masters in Public Health from Columbia University, New York. Her key focus area is Population and Family health concentrating on Forced Migration and Health. She lives and works in Juba, South Sudan and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Appendix: Peace-processes of times past
Fangak conference: started in the 1940s and held in Western Upper Nile and amongst all major sections of the Nuer. Subsequent meetings were held every 5 years to review and modify customary law, with the last meeting convened in 1971. Later peace processes (e.g Waat and Liliir below) have called for a re-establishment of the Fangak conferences.
1994 Ikotos conference: convened amongst the Lotuko, Didinga, Boya and Toposa communities to address intercommmunal conflict, which had escalated after the 1991 SPLA split. It was facilitated by the Catholic Diocese of Torit and involved approximately 7,000 participants. The conference resolved the issue of escalating dowry prices (reducing these from 30 to 10 cows), established compensation for wrongful deaths at 22 cows, and banned travelling outside one’s village while armed.
1994 Akobo Lou-Jikany Lou peace conference: to address intra-tribal fighting between the Jikany and Lou Nuer. It was facilitated by the Presbyterian Church of Sudan and chaired by Nuer from Western Upper Nile, who also acted as judges in the civil court. It included 500 official delegates and about 1500 observers. Uniquely, women (maan naaths), played an effective role in ensuring that those testifying did so truthfully. Approximately 9000 people travelled on foot to Liech to learn about the agreement
1998 Lokochoggio Dinka-Nuer Chiefs meeting:
The Lokichogio peace workshop, organized by the New Sudan Council of Churches (NSCC) in June, brought together for the first time in 7 years, 8 Dinka and Nuer chiefs from the east and west banks of the Nile, address 8 years of internecine violence between the Dinka (of Bahr el Ghazal) and Nuer (of Western Upper Nile). The Loki peace accord led to an agreement to end hostilities, and to hold a series of meetings amongst communities to discuss modalities for peace. The led to the Wunlit Conference.
1999 Wunlit Conference
Facilitated by the NSCC, which mobilized communities, leaders, women, and youth over a period of 8 months. Immediately prior to the conference, exchange visits between Dinka and Nuer chiefs were held to aspire confidence in the process. The conference was attended by 360 delegates and also included 6 Nuer chiefs and 2 Murle chiefs from east of the Nile. It was facilitated by 6 rapporteurs from Nuer and Dinka. Recommendations fromWunlit included establishment of joint border police and courts, joint schools, veterinary centers, and establishment of a Dinka-Nuer peace council. It also called for a series of smaller people-to-people meetings leading to a larger conference involving all the peoples of South(ern) Sudan.
1999 Waat Convention
Facilitated by the NSCC immediately after Wunlit to bring peace and reconciliation amongst the Nuer on the eastern bank of the Nile. The Lou Nuer military commanders had signed a ceasefire in Akobo in August, and formed an Upper Nile Military Command Council (UMCC). The Lou Peace and Governance Convention in Waat in Nov 1999, was meant to build upon the Akobo military agreement, create a common system of governance by rebuilding the civil administration and reconcile the Lou Nuer. More than 3,000 people attended. However as the main delegates were military leaders- focus became Lou leadership and military issues and the Waat peace agreement was not lasting.
Liliir Conference May 2000
An East-Bank wide conference located in Liliir in Dinka Bor territory, perceived as neutral territory. While this was a multi-ethnic meeting, only half of invited delegates attended. In addition, military commanders were full participants, not observers and the conference became politicized. Liliir was also not successful in resolving the Eastern Bank conflicts.
1. Anon. Indigenous Conflict Management Mechanisms. 1995.
2. Bradbury, Mark; et al. Local Peace Processes in Sudan: A Baseline Study. Rift Valley Institute: 2006
3. Best Practices and Tools for Community-Based Peacebuilding in South Sudan - July 2002. The HOPE Project: July 2002.
4. “Leading from Behind.” A strategic review of the Southern Sudanese People to People Peace Process and the support role NSCC is undertaking. New Sudan Council of Churches, July August 2000