JUBA, South Sudan, October 3, 2019/ — At a hotel in the South Sudanese capital, Juba, small groups of men and women – in dozens – gather around conference tables.
“The people know that the peace agreement has been signed, but they do not know what the peace agreement is all about, and they want services,” says Hakim Paride from Torit to his tablemates.
Hakim is one of the participants – about 60 of them – at a three-day forum which kicked off on Tuesday, drawing people from across the country.
Prominent among them are political, traditional and religious leaders. But the civil society, displaced communities, women and youth are there, too, completing a cocktail of representation from the grassroots and national levels – exactly what participants at this “Our Peace” forum are trying to achieve: inclusive and active participation of all these actors in peacebuilding in Africa’s youngest state.
“I feel the workshop allows us to own the peace,” says Rachel Mayik, a women’s leader from Malakal’s UN Protection of Civilians site.
The rest keenly listen or take notes, while others nod in agreement as they eagerly await their turn to contribute to the ongoing discussion.
The displaced have suffered the loss of their loved ones and their homes, and the forum is a platform to get their voices heard.
“When people were not engaged, they felt that peace was only for those who signed – like the government, the IO (Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition) and the other parties – but now bringing the grassroots, they feel they are part and parcel of this Revitalized Peace Agreement,” adds Mayik.
Supported by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), the United Nations Development Programme and various partners, participants at the forum are discussing how they can use their experience to influence and drive forward the implementation of the all-important peace agreement signed in Addis Ababa in September 2018.
They delve into a detailed scrutiny of the chapters of the agreement: formation of a Transitional Government of National Unity, security arrangements, resource, economic and financial management, as well as transitional justice, reconciliation and healing.
“We very strongly believe that it is crucial that communities come together across the country and participate in the peace process,” says David Shearer, Head of UNMISS, at the start of the forum.
“There needs to be a strong connection being made between the grassroots peace initiatives and initiatives that are taking place at the national level,” he adds, noting that the pace of the reconciliation and peacebuilding in local communities had inspired the forum and the possibility of community leaders to communicate directly with the national leaders so they can learn from one another.
“This forum clearly indicates our acceptance, and that we are beginning to build confidence in order to have peace in South Sudan. I am very optimistic about this,” says Teresa Sirisio, the Chairperson of Sudan African National Union, before concluding:
“I am very confident; the way we are working together as one family for one purpose, that is peace.”
The forum, participants say, has allowed them to highlight and share some of the challenges they have experienced, while underlining the need for national and sub-national actors to own the peace process.