- Mariana Goetz
Countering hate-based violence in South Sudan
Updated: Apr 19, 2021
In October 2019, Rights for Peace co-facilitated a week-long training for youth leaders on countering violence in their communities with the youth organisation SSYPADO. The project, funded by DFID's Jo Cox Memorial Fund and Lush Charity Pot, is strengthening leadership and practical skills for 25 youth leaders from opposing ethnic groups. The project will fund selected initiatives designed by the youth to counter hatred and divisions in their localities around South Sudan. The youth also advised on materials that could be developed to train and engage other youth.
Many of the young people participating in SSYPADO's "Countering Identity Violence Project" were born in camps during the independence war. They experienced a brief few years of peace in their childhood and were displaced again, many losing family members on the way. In spite of all the challenges, young people can have extraordinary resilience, holding onto their hopes and dreams. "I want to create a national theatre" said one activist, "I dream of setting up the first cinema in South Sudan" said another. "I want to see the establishment of a national netball team. I'm good at netball and there are not enough opportunities for women in sports here."
South Sudan is the world's youngest country - established in 2011, following 23 years of ravaging conflict against Khartoum's Islamic Sudan to the North. Unfortunately the military leaders that fought for independence fell out over power sharing in 2014, again turning the country into a war zone, seeing hundreds of thousands displaced. Today 3.7 million of South Sudan's population live in Protection of Civilian Camps or in Refugee camps in neighbouring countries.
There is a relative peace in the country since the signing of the 2018 Peace Agreement. The risk of mass atrocities has been marked down from "imminent risk" to "serious concern".  However, flare ups continue and are characterised by negative feedback loops that link the dynamics at political level between opposing leaders with local level inter-ethnic divisions, hatred and mistrust based on allegiances and access to resources. During the week of training, through interactive exercises, the youth explored their own identities both individual and shared, discovering that often the most interesting things about the others in the group, were quite personal and had nothing to do with tribal identities. They mapped out root causes, drivers and consequences of the conflict.
Most importantly, they explored entry points to peace building and potential inter-community initiatives that could provoke attitude and behaviour change. Land disputes were regularly identified by the youth leaders as a common trigger. When people were displaced, others occupied their land which had never been registered as theirs. Old feuds over land also exist. New resources discovered in some areas also are causing disputes. While some dispute mechanisms exist, the youth identified lack of visibility about available mechanisms, mistrust and the lack of community leadership as fueling violence, exacerbated by inadequate national land policies.
Gender violence was also systematically raised by the young women who instinctively classified this as identity-based violence. They explained that the requirement for girls to forego school and marry early, even if they feel young, is a violence against their identity.
Having gained new skills on project design (e.g. defining the problem, identifying specific objectives and actions, a theory of change, how to measure impact and write a budget), the next step in the project is for the young people to go back to their locations and submit proposals for initiatives drawn up and budgeted with their peers. A selection of the initiatives will be funded and supported over the next 18 months. The group will continue to meet to reflect on progress, sharing strategies and lessons learned about what works. The 25 young people were identified through SSYPADO's Youth Dialogues programme - and come from different parts of South Sudan: from Malakal far in the North, Wau in the West, Torit in the South of Equatoria Province near the Ugandan border as well as Juba the capital. A couple also came up from refugee camps in Northern Uganda such as Adjumani.
(1) Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, R2P Monitor: http://www.globalr2p.org/regions/south_sudan