By Megan Mineiro, Communications Department
South Sudan has witnessed large-scale conflicts along ethnic lines since 2013, when violence first erupted in the country’s capital of Juba. While the reasons behind the violent attacks triggered in December 2013 are complex, political and military realities influencing the young nation are two main contributors. Even the power-sharing agreement signed in two years later in 2015 did not stop the armed conflict; on the contrary, the violent clashes continue to date, resulting in more than 50,000 South Sudanese losing their lives due to the conflict’s violence.
On Ethnic Lines
South Sudan is home to more than 60 ethnic groups, who, despite their differences, united together through decades of civil war to stand against their northern neighbours. From 1956 to 2005, ethnic and religious differences fueled violence between the Muslim Arabs in the North and the Christian and indigenous Black Africans of the South, amounting to the longest-running civil war in Africa’s history.
Six years after being granted the right to rule as an autonomous region in 2005, an astounding 99% of Sudanese in the south voted for the creation of an independent nation in 2011.
A mere two years later, the conflict which has started in the political sphere spilled into the military forces stationed in the country’ capital, soon spreading into the streets of the city. While the violence triggered then and the conflict occurring today are largely carried out by the various military factions, ordinary citizens carried out violence as well. The sustained ethnic conflict between the Dinka (35.8% of the South Sudanese population) and the Nuer (the country’s second-largest ethnic population) has established relations built on the frailty of distrust, uncertainty, and, indeed, hatred.
The complexity of tribal relations—heightened by mistrust in the wake of violence—frustrates interactions between Dinka and Nuer youth. Generations For Peace (GFP) seeks to address the social tension underlying the limited contact and communication among these youth, to foster positive relations by providing a common ground to engage and build trust.
The complexity of tribal relations frustrates interactions between Dinka and Nuer youth. Generations For Peace’s (GFP) local volunteers seek to address the social tension underlying the limited contact and communication among these youth, to foster positive relations by providing a common ground to engage and build trust despite the ongoing spurs of violence and fading interest of the international community
The Programme launched with an Advocacy For Peace event in January 2016 to reach the children, youth, and adults, as well as key local stakeholders in Juba. The training that followed helped equip a team of 30 GFP volunteers with the knowledge and skills needed to effectively run the programme and network within the broader community. Throughout the following year, the volunteers implemented a series of sport sessions engaging youth from both tribes.
On the Ground
Creating spaces for youth engagement is critical in regions where citizens continue to be displaced in mass numbers. Currently, more than 230,000 South Sudanese who abandoned their homes to escape violence now seek refuge in one of the six shelters operated by the UN for IDPs.
The South Sudanese are also battling malnutrition and often face death by starvation. More than half of country is food insecure and reliant upon humanitarian aid for survival, while more than a third of the country’s 12 million residents have been displaced by ongoing violence. Direct attacks on aid workers and ambushes of critical supplies increasingly inhibit the international community’s ability to counter the catastrophic conditions in South Sudan, where peace-keeping operations are frequently impeded and access to areas in urgent need of support are commonly denied.
However, the GFP team of local volunteers successfully overcame a variety of challenges – including underdeveloped infrastructure, limited internet availability, poor accessibility to transportation, fluctuating cost of operations, and even breakouts of violence mid-programme – and has now impacted hundreds of Dinka and Nuer youth taking part in the activities.
Sport-based content embedded into peace-building education helped create safe spaces for not only programme participants, but also members of their families who would regularly observe the sessions, encourage and support participants, and over time, meet parents and guardians of the youth from the ‘other tribe.’ In an area where virtually no services are provided to unite children and youth, the activities by GFP volunteers represent a welcomed novelty and source of inspiration for the community that has been left to take care of itself. As the pace of the sessions progressed and bonding among participants increased, so did the exchanges between the members of the broader community.
On the Horizon
In 2017, international actors warned that the stage is being set in South Sudan for a repeat of the events categorised as ‘crimes against humanity,’ the likes of which the global community has been committed to preventing ever since Rwanda, Bosnia, and now Myanmar.
As this warning emerged, GFP volunteers were delivering a 3×3 basketball tournament to conclude the first year of the Juba-based programme. Thanks to the support of the International Basketball Foundation, throughout the year, the volunteers were merging peace-building approaches with basic sport-based games and more advanced sport skills to deliver sessions in smaller, ethnically-mixed groups. The tournament was the first time that all programme participants have come together, using sport to share experience, and simply have fun. With an impressive crowd of onlookers from all across the community, the tournament utilised activities combining street basketball, urban culture, and peace building to encourage the inclusion and social cohesion.
Four years into a conflict that has paralysed the young nation, South Sudan continues to witness an emphasis on military victory over political stability. The ongoing targeting of civilians on ethnic grounds bares the potential for violence to transform into full genocide, heightening the critical need for grassroots peace-building programmes to eliminate hostilities and build trust among youth. GFP volunteers, on the other side have finalised plans for the second year of programming: in addition to continuing activities with the Dinka and Nuer youth, they will now integrate youth from other ethnic groups such as Shilluk, Kuku, and Kakwa.
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