Civic awareness for peaceful coexistence
By Peter Adwok Nyaba
South Sudan is on the eve of a peace agreement between the Government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army [SPLM/A]. The twin issues if of peace making and peace building are every body’s lips.
The people-to-people peace and reconciliation process initiated and facilitated by the New Sudan Council of Churches [NSCC] since 1999 is a paradigm shift in making peace. It combines modern and traditional mechanisms of conflict transformation, prevention and resolution. Several peace conferences and meetings were conducted and peace agreements sealed between different conflicting communities. Some of these agreements have endured while others collapsed under the pressures of competing socio-economic and political interests.
In May 2003, Pax Christi Netherlands and Larjour Consultancy facilitated a peace conference between the Murle of Pibor County, predominantly under the administration of the GoS, and the Anyuak of Pochalla County under the SPLM/A. After a process lasting about a month the Otallo Anyuak – Murle Peace Agreement was finally sealed on May 18th, 2003 ending the two-decades-old Anyuak-Murle conflicts triggered by cattle rustling, child abduction and mutual murders of innocent people in the border areas.
For the first time in their history, the Murle returned stolen Anyuak cattle. Both communities pledged not to attack each other again, not to abduct children and live peacefully henceforth. It is worth mentioning that the Murle also had a conflict with the Jiye (Kathangor Payam of Pibor County) and the Toposa (Kapoeta County) over cattle rustling and child abduction.
To prevent its collapse a series of follow-up meetings and workshops in both counties was built into the Anyuak-Murle peace process. In our perception, sustainable community peace takes a wider perspective than just a peace agreement between community leaders. Most of the conflicts in eastern Upper Nile are resource based and require change of people’s attitudes and perceptions of reality more than the peace agreements.
It was in the context of attitudinal change that Pax Christi Netherlands and Larjour Consultancy designed and conducted a workshop on civic education and learning process in Boma, Pibor County between 24th and 30th November, 2003.
The objective of the civic education workshop, which drew county level as well as community level participation from the Toposa (Kapoeta County), Jiye, Kachipo, Murle (Pibor County), Anyuak (Pochalla) and two persons from the internally displaced persons camp in Boma, was to support the Otallo Peace Agreement.
The workshop, apart from identifying the genesis of the conflicts and their wider regional and international linkages, addressed their transformation and resolution in the general interest of the communities. The participants demonstrated serious concern over the manner these conflicts have escalated, leading to lose of life.
The proliferation of small arms and light weapons was identified as the main cause of conflict escalation and the SPLM authorities were called upon to collect these weapons as a means of minimising the damage they inflict on the communities and their use in cattle rustling.
It was the first time a civic education and learning workshop had been conducted in Boma. It was therefore reassuring that, inspite of the destruction they have inflicted on themselves, the people of South Sudan have big heart and can easily forgive each other and reconstruct their lives in peace and harmony eventually contributing to their socio-economic transformation and development.
The significance of civic awareness can’t be over emphasised. This is simply because the conflicts between the communities and divisions within the political elite in South Sudan have been the only weapons the northern political elite invariably employed to defeat or scuttle the South Sudanese people’s aspiration for independence.
After seven days of dialogue and perceiving the reality together, the participants were able to understand that their differences are artificial, created by the oppressive regimes in Khartoum and Juba. They realised that they had more attributes in common than they had perceived earlier.
The workshop was useful in the light of emerging reality that in the exercise of their inalienable right of self-determination, the people of South Sudan require a high level of social awareness and political consciousness. This can be achieved only through such civic education exercises to unblock centuries old prejudices and ethnic animosities that perpetuated and sustained inter-ethnic conflicts.
Observers of the South Sudan context may find it rather puzzling that civic awareness and political education have not been part of the armed struggle. Yet a liberation war can only be won by winning the minds and hearts of the people.
It is only a hardened authoritarian regime, not a national revolutionary armed struggle, that would resist civic awareness among the people because it definitely leads to their political empowerment.
The splits and divisions that afflicted the SPLM/A since 1983 must therefore be viewed in the context of low levels of social and political consciousness. This allowed the false interpretation of contradictions at the political level in terms of ethnicity and eventual translation into ethnic conflicts.
However, awareness alone can’t translate into social and political change although it might influence the situation. In the realm of revolutionary politics, oppression and domination can be changed only when civic awareness and political consciousness are accompanied by political organisation.
The voting in the referendum at the end of the interim period is a kind of mass political action to determine their political destiny. This must be preceded by intensive awareness raising. Civic education workshops are more appropriate to rural environments. It is in this context that we view our experience in Boma as a success which must be emulated throughout South Sudan.