Peacebuilding from Below: The Role of Local Civil Society in South Sudan
Geneva, Maison de la Paix (Auditorium Ivan Pictet B) - 28 September, 18:30-20:00
In 2013, South Sudan, which gained independence in 2011 after enduring 30 years of civil war as part of Sudan, plunged into conflict again. Over one million South Sudanese people have since fled to neighbouring countries. In July 2016, hopes for peace were dimmed, as the peace agreement of 2015 was broken when violence re-erupted in Juba.
On 28 September 2016, the Inclusive Peace & Transition Initiative (IPTI) co-hosted an event together with the Lutheran World Federation, the World Council of Churches and Finn Church Aid on the role of civil society in support of peace in South Sudan.
Taking an inclusive approach to peacebuilding
Although the impetus for peacebuilding primarily stems from political actors and conflict parties, comparative research has shown that civil society has the potential to play a central role in support of peace processes. This finding was echoed in the discussion: the speakers agreed that peace would only happen through an inclusive approach, involving both local and national actors. Thania Paffenholz explained that inclusion was not just about urban, elite civil society but also about grassroots actors, and that it was important to keep up the positive engagement with regional actors. The idea of reviving the peace process through a National Dialogue, an inclusive multi-stakeholder negotiation format, was also raised.
Creating a safe space for civil society organizations
During phases of war, the space for civil society to act is drastically reduced. The panel agreed that the priority in South Sudan was to lessen violence, in order to create a safe space for civil society to operate. John Ashworth highlighted that a ceasefire is prerequisite to stop the killing and open a window of opportunity to work on long-term peace. Teohna Williams pointed out that in contexts with high levels of violence, local communities face constant dilemmas as their solutions to end the fighting could be exploited to the advantage of armed actors
Civil society’s peace-supporting role
The “Civil Society and Peacebuilding” research project, led by Dr Thania Paffenholz, identified seven specific functions which civil society can potentially fulfil in support of peacebuilding. One of these functions is particularly relevant in the context of South Sudan: socialization in the values of peace and in-group identity. This function, which is best performed by institutions that are already on the ground, has often been taken up by churches in South Sudan. Father James Oyet Latansio underlined the uniting power of faith and called for churches to stand above ethnic tensions, and use their potential to give people hope for sustainable peace. Teohna Williams gave the example of community leaders managing to convince people not to seek revenge, explaining to them that violence would only backfire. Matthias Wevelsiep also mentioned that “faith-oriented insider mediators” could be a way forward, taking the peace process in Liberia as an example.
Words of introduction
- Rev. Dr. Martin Junge, General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation
- Dr. Thania Paffenholz, Director of the Inclusive Peace and Transition Initiative at The Graduate Institute
- Fr. James Oyet Latansio, General Secretary of South Sudan Council of Churches, FBOs representative at Addis Ababa Peace talk
- Ms. Teohna Williams, Conflict Advisor on South Sudan
- Mr. John Ashworth, Advisor to the South Sudan Council of Churches
- Mr. Matthias Wevelsiep, Right to Peace Senior Advisor of Finn Church Aid