In March 2017, a drought in east Africa, combined with terrible violence between the government and rebels, had created a famine in South Sudan. One of CAFOD’s staff based in the country, Emergency Programme Manager Michael O’Riordan, visited people in March to give out food. At that time he reflected on the emotion and power of the experience.
A haunting refrain
When I was leaving Yirol in central South Sudan following a food distribution, an elderly gentleman in his late 60s kept asking why he wasn’t on the list to receive food. He couldn’t work and therefore couldn’t earn a living. Clearly disabled and using a walking stick, he kept pleading “why am I not deserving?”.
This haunting refrain has echoed in my ears ever since. It is not that he is not deserving; we just don’t have enough for everyone.
Having returned to this community after just a few months since the last food distribution, we found a bad situation far worse than we could have imagined. Although we are responding as best we can, it is beyond our ability to meet all needs.
I met Mary in the small village of Billing in South Sudan. It took a long time to get here – we travelled for over a day, through several towns and along dusty earth roads. You have to take a UN flight to Bor where you wait for a helicopter to take you across the Nile.
By John Ashworth, adviser to the Sudan and South Sudan churches
South Sudan sank into civil war in December 2013, less than three years after gaining independence. This latest civil war is often described as a political power struggle which soon morphed into ethnic conflict.
However, it might be more accurate to say ‘revenge-driven’ rather than ‘ethnic’. The lack of a reconciliation process to address the hurts of earlier conflicts has only exacerbated the thirst for revenge. The peace talks led by the regional grouping IGAD in Ethiopia’s capital Addis are attempting to address the political component; but who will address the cycle of revenge?
‘People to People’ – bringing communities together
In the 1990s, during an earlier conflict which also exhibited ethnic revenge dynamics, the churches created an innovative People to People Peace Process which brought warring communities together again. Aid agencies such as CAFOD played a major role as partners in supporting the original People to People Peace process, working with and through the Church at the grassroots to build peace at a local level in communities. The lessons learnt from this process can contribute to resolving the current conflict.
These days the term ‘People to People’ seems to be bandied about by anyone who wants to raise funds for their own particular peace and reconciliation conference. However, People to People was not primarily about conferences; it was about months and indeed years of patient preparation, mobilisation, awareness-raising, consultation and trust-building on the ground before the high-profile conferences took place. Bringing a few chiefs and elders together for a highly-visible quick-fix conference is not ‘People to People’. Continue reading “Forging peace in South Sudan”