Before gaining independence from Sudan, South Sudan experienced two major civil wars 1955-1972, 1983-2005. In December 2013 the country relapsed into a deadly conflicts which was responsible for the death of about 400,000 lives, as well as causing mass displacement of over 2.2 million civilians to the neighbouring countries, hunger and economic meltdown. In South Sudan, thousands of lives were also lost in inter-communal revenge killings, and the loss of several hundreds and sometimes thousands heads of cattle.
In the midst of this violence, civil society actors engaged with the communities and the police to reduce gun violence, and to restore peace and stability. This paper discusses how South Sudanese have resisted and continue to resist violence and militarism and promote nonviolent alternatives to violence.
South Sudan: country profile and background
After more than 50 years of armed struggle with Sudan, South Sudan won it’s independence on July 9, 2011, and this history has left a serious burden on the country’s psyche. Much of the violence that has now come to engulf the world’s newest country is unquestionably rooted in that history, as well as in the lack of post-independence statecraft and nation-building. South Sudan’s society is highly militarized and so is the country’s politics, a product of the decades of armed struggle. The political history of many countries is often associated with armed struggle for freedom and independence, and these narratives support the common belief that violence is the indispensable weapon to win freedom from foreign subjugation. The strength of these narratives means that the power and historical role of nonviolent civilian-led resistance has played in many national quests for liberation is ignored. The narratives of violence have overshadowed the history and potential of nonviolent action in South Sudan. This paper aims to uncover this potential by highlighting how civil society actors employ nonviolent action and peacebuilding techniques such as dialogue, negotiations and mediation to demilitarize the police and the whole society.
The long history of armed struggle with Sudan and the subsequent internal armed resistance created opportunities for the proliferation of weapons and for military and militia recruitment.
Militia groups have recruited thousands of young people who are not in work or school, allegedly to protect lives, livestock and political leadership from danger. They use machine guns not only in war with the state but in intra- and inter-communal conflicts often triggered by cattle raiding, theft and abduction of children and women. Armed and militia groups are often tolerated by political elites, and co-opted when needed to realize military and political objectives of those striving for power. The state military and armed opposition groups have also recruited young people under 18 years of age since December 2013.
Response: demilitarizing the police and society
Civil society actors like ONAD create space for the community to engage with the police, to discuss concerns that affect their lives. Similarly, we have brought pastoralists and farmers together to build opportunities for common understanding of their needs, to prevent conflicts and revenge killings. The continuous engagement, awareness raising campaigns on crime and gender based violence prevention, also through radio talk shows, trainings on community security and police dialogues mean that gun violence in Juba has started to fall. We have educated community leaders on their roles and responsibilities to provide oversight to security service providers and hold them to account for their actions. The police were also educated to know that their roles and responsibilities are that of service provision, crimes prevention and to provide safety to citizens and to safe guard their properties. These approaches mean that communities were able to take part in decision making on peace and security matters.
In 2012, ONAD initiated peace clubs in primary and secondary schools in Juba. The concept of peace clubs is part of a sustainable peace infrastructure and peace education. The clubs are used to educate students (boys and girls) on the principles and methods of nonviolent actions. These activities are followed with nonviolent campaigns, using tactics such as protests, peaceful demonstrations, vigils, poetry, fine arts, petitioning, peace implementation monitoring, research and use of collective social media. For instance ONAD launched a campaign; ‘I stand for nonviolence in South Sudan, what do you stand for?’ The campaign used a debate approach, with t-shirts promoting nonviolence as opposed to the military response which has caused hundreds of thousands of lives. Peace club members have resolved conflicts nonviolently and in 2018 marched to the national parliament protesting environmental pollution in the oil rich Upper Nile region, where a number of children and animals had died.
Other nonviolent campaigns
As the civic space shrinks, alternative means of campaigning - such as street theatre and fine arts - are being used to communicate opposition to militarisation of children and young people. Arts-based peace movement #AnaTaban (Juba Arabic for #IamTired) has widely painted on fences in Juba pictures of a father helping his child to read a school textbook, and another of a father teaching his child how to use and fire an AK47 rifle with “NO” written across it. In December 2017 more than one thousand women and men marched in the streets of Juba protesting ongoing war. They carried placards with messages such as ‘Stop war, bring back our men’; ‘War don’t solve problems - silence guns’; ‘Give pens NOT pistols to your children’ - to mention but a few. These campaigns are debated, and sung about during peace concerts and traditional dances.
Similarly, the South Sudan Action Network on Small Arms (SSANSA) campaigns against armed violence, civilians’ prevention and combating the proliferation and misuse of small arms and light weapons in South Sudan. The campaigns involve dialogue with communities, the police and the army, as well as lawmakers. SSANSA is a network of civil society organizations from across the country.
War and militarization of society cannot end on its own. It needs to be confronted through dialogue and nonviolent collective actions. The resistance should aim beyond denouncing war as morally and unacceptable - we need to focus on addressing the underlying causes or war, wasteful and corrupt military spending, and building alternative means to realizing peace, justice and prosperity to all. Peace is never free. We need to use multiple strategies to confront militarization including community dialogue with the police, peace club education on nonviolent action and peacebuilding with civic and faith based groups.
We believe that the context in South Sudan is unique and that it requires a careful study to better understand the root causes of violent conflicts to inform designing the best conflict mitigation and management strategies to realize lasting peace and human security for all. South Sudanese non-state actors have resisted violence using nonviolent campaigns to demilitarize the police and their society.
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- SSANSA. http:// www.ssansa.net/
- ONAD. http://.www.onadev.org