2nd Feb 2018-East Africa has seen a wave of activism this week as the people of South Sudan came together in various forums and locations to organise, strategize and ensure their voices and priorities are heard in the upcoming peace talks in Addis-Ababa.
Individuals and groups as diverse as activist groups, clergy, civil society, women’s organisations, refugees and others, are setting out to ensure that the decisions about their future will not solely be made by a group of political elites behind closed doors.
In Entebbe, the Coalition of South Sudanese Women Organizations met to establish green and red lines – or what they would – and wouldn’t – support on behalf of South Sudanese women.
Green lines included a demand for 50% of all positions in government to be given to women, in line with the African Union gender parity principle. They also demanded that term limits be imposed and separation of powers between the presidency, judiciary and parliament be enforced. Red lines include that no one suspected of war crimes can serve in the government; no one gender can dominate the top of all three branches of government; and that “no tribe or community” should hold more than 20% of all positions in government.
“The women of South Sudan expect nothing less than a win-win agreement this week that can put South Sudan on the track to recovery, stability and democracy,” said Rita Martin, Executive Director of Eve Organization. “We commit ourselves to work together with the wider civil society coalitions to ensure that our efforts towards lasting peace for the people of South Sudan are realized. The women of South Sudan are watching.”
The people of South Sudan have been subjected to war for generations that have caused untold suffering. Four million people — one-third of the population — have been forced to flee their homes in terror and half of those have fled the country entirely. Women and children have borne the brunt of the conflict. In addition to widespread sexual violence, South Sudan has the highest proportion of children out of school and the highest proportion of children refugees in the world. The economy is at the brink of collapse.
Despite a cessation of hostilities agreement signed during the first round of peace talks in Addis Ababa in December, the violence continues – and worse, new rebel groups are beginning to emerge, and recently it was reported that President Kiir’s former chief of staff may be planning a rebellion. The culture of impunity in South Sudan fuels atrocities and is a major barrier to peace and reconciliation. Across the country armed actors on all sides have committed gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.
At another meeting, the South Sudanese Civil Society Forum (SSCSF), a partnership of more than 40 civil society organizations in South Sudan and the diaspora, that represent the full diversity of South Sudan (ethnicity, gender, age, special needs and refugee status), gathered in Kampala.
Attendees developed a statement calling on the conveners of the talks (the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, or IGAD) to do more to ensure that warring forces strictly abide by the terms of the cessation of hostilities, and that any individuals who violate it are held accountable.
In addition, the group called for:
- The immediate release of political prisoners, prisoners of war, child soldiers, abducted women and children as per the terms of the agreement.
- Support for NGOs in monitoring and reporting on ceasefire violations and engaging citizens on what is needed to achieve sustainable peace and to raise awareness on the political process.
- Suspend current practice of requiring civil society organizations to obtain approvals from the National Security Services prior to conducting meetings or events in South Sudan.
Expressing the frustration felt by many at the drawn-out nature of the process, Sarah Nyanath, Executive Director of the Gender Empowerment for South Sudan Organization (GESSO), said: “We are tired of so-called agreements that are violated before the ink is dry on the paper. It is time for the region and the international community to expose violations of the agreement and impose punitive measures on the offending parties. The international community’s failure to act decisively has given spoilers opportunity to blatantly violate the agreement with impunity. This is unacceptable.”
Common to the meetings was the strong call for warring parties and regional mediators to realize that no political process can succeed without the support of the people of South Sudan. Closed door meetings in foreign capitals will never deliver peace if the South Sudanese people are not aware of what’s being discussed and have no role in shaping its outcome.
Many of these groups will be in attendance in Addis as the talks kick off next week. The women attendees, for their part, will all be wearing white to remind attendees of the peace that needs to be at the heart of this process. A group of young artists and musicians called Ana Taban, meaning ‘I am tired [of war]’ in Juba Arabic, are holding a concert to bring attention to the suffering of the South Sudanese people.
Rajab Mohandis, the Executive Director of the South Sudan Network for Democracy and Elections (SSUNDE), said, “All attendees must place the people of South Sudan at the heart of proceedings. They must think of the mother whose child has been forced to fight; the son who saw his mother raped; the citizens who fought for independence for decades only to die in a senseless war.”
He added, “To resolve this crisis, we call on those attending the peace talks to open their hearts, seek compromise and prioritize the interest of the people of South Sudan.”