A little genesis of the violent past of the Sudan (now including South Sudan) will help us to understand the continuous war and conflict situation that prevails in the land. Now the war has become complex, needing a complex and drastic solution which are often difficult to find or invent.
Tribal politics is the order of the day in most African countries. Many popular politicians take solace in their tribal affiliations and go through elections backed by their tribes. They often feel obliged to support their tribes so as to retain their positions in the government and safeguard their ill-gotten wealth. South Sudan can be a best example of tribal politics and most of the wars fought since 1955 have had this root cause.
Given this background, the people of South Sudan are pushed into mistrust and suspicion of each other. They carry with them feelings of insecurity, low esteem and apathy. It is reflected in their day-to-day life and every decision they make. The battles and the mood for conflicts are heightened due to the fact that in between the wars no community dialogue was encouraged; often the peace talks involved only political leaders who held “synthetic” peace deals. All-out wars had roots in communities at their grassroots. Until peace is restored at grassroots there can be no meaningful peace at the national level. This can rightly be called “Comprehensive Peace”.
Until this kind of comprehensive peace is achieved any small incidents such as a little misunderstanding at water-points, playfields, and markets can be blown into full-pledged war. Suspicion and mistrust mingled with prejudice can cause little moments of irritation and annoyance can trigger into war, thus causing enormous damage even lasting for years.
Recently, there was a sting of violence in the Palabek Refugee Settlement which houses about 55,000 refugees from South Sudan. This violence can also be attributed to stress and redundancy among young people caused by the Covid-19-induced lockdown.
In situations like this, there is a need for capacity-building among leaders in conflict and post-conflict management. Leaders and other stakeholders need to learn about the right attitude to tribal and ethnic differences. Tribes and clans should be used for learning and building culture rather than becoming the source of conflict. Often most people tend to have only a superficial knowledge of their cultures and traditions. Learning deeper the meaning of culture, tradition, and their history in the right way will also help everyone to have the right attitude to the institution of tribes and cultures. Tribes which can be a good medium to learn cultures, languages and traditions that should not be misused to fuel hatred and discord.
Political and civil leaders having been brought up in the same situation are unable to go beyond the existing prejudice and bias regarding tribes. They should be educated to be neutral and balanced. In Africa, cultural leaders are more listened to and they have a big influence on their people. They need to learn to be open-minded and take up leadership roles beyond their tribes and myopic ideas.
The Church needs to be the moral voice of the society. The Church should be an umbrella embracing under her shade people of all tribes and differences. When they remain neutral, they remain true voice of God. Other humanitarian partners can play an educative role combining their much needed humanitarian and developmental engagements.
The Salesians of Don Bosco share the lives and struggles of the refugees in Palabek by living in their midst. Now they feel concerned about the violence among groups which were non-existent in Palabek. They are taking steps to be close to the people, especially those affected by violence, by way of reaching out to them with food and a few other necessities. Their participation in the peace meetings, counselling and casual visits to the families are much appreciated. They have assured the Settlement authorities and the security forces of their support and assistance. Our peace efforts are hampered by the coronavirus-related lockdown. In the coming weeks, more strategic actions are planned for execution. May God continue to help us to build bridges of peace and help us to be bridges of peace and harmony.
Fr. Lazar Arasu, SDB,
Director of Palabek Salesian Mission