When the conflict broke out in South Sudan on 15 December 2013, everybody was devastated. Many people lost their lives in a senseless war. Like any other conflict in Africa, the majority of those affected were women and children. They were displaced everywhere, in refugee camps, and thousands are still in Protection of Civilian Centers across the country. After years of tragedy we finally claim to be in peace. With international influence and pressure from neighboring countries the parties to the conflict accepted to engage in dialogue and signed several peace agreements.
Grace Ojukwu: Peace or scam?
They are, however, not being implemented.
Some of my fellow feminists have consistently asked whether the peace agreement in South Sudan is holding or not. Most say not. The signing of the ‘Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan’ (ARCSS) in 2014 was commendable. The agreement brought together all factions that were fighting the government, enabling peace to return to South Sudan. The implementation of the agreement gained weight and the parties had a smooth working relationship until the return of exiled opposition leader, Dr. Riek Machar from South Africa. Thereafter trust broke down. The levels of suspicion between President Salva Kiir and his Deputy, Dr. Riek Machar resulted in a meeting in the Presidential Palace turning violent. Conflict broke out again on 8 July 2016, returning the country to square one and back in to war. Again, engagements from the international community and regional leaders brought the parties to dialogue and achieved the signing of the ‘Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan’ (R-ARCSS). This gave another glimmer of hope to many South Sudanese, especially those displaced in refugee camps.
However, since the signing of the revitalized agreement, the parties have seemingly spent more time launching accusations and counter accusations at each other, than focusing on genuine implementation. For example, the government has been accused of selectively implementing some provisions of the agreement while deliberately ignoring others, of refusing to graduate unified forces after over three years of training, of withholding the release of funds for implementation, and expanding the parliament from 392 MPs to 550 MPs at a time when an appalling economy is hurting every citizen.
In such an environment it is no wonder that crucial implementation is still lacking.
Some important steps have been taken though. With mounting pressure from civil society and the international community, the government was able to implement some key provisions and the parliament passed some important bills. This built confidence in the government, and brought us a step closer to lasting peace. Recently, the government graduated over 50,000 unified forces from different states in phase one of its plan and promised to graduate more forces in the coming months. What remains to be seen is if these forces will provide the necessary security to address conflict at national and sub-national level, especially cattle raiding, road ambushes, the conflict between cattle keepers and farmers, among others. In South Sudan, especially in Jongolei, Upper and part of Unity States, there is violent conflict between the youth and the government, between opposition forces, and between cattle keepers. Likewise, in some states of Equatoria, there is conflict between cattle herders and farmers over grazing land. The rise in sub-national violence needs to be addressed, and this requires cooperation between parties to the agreement.
In such a context of protracted violence women, girls and children are most affected. Due to increased vulnerability they are more exposed to, and are even direct targets of, sexual and gender-based violence. According to the UN 65% of women and girls have experienced gender-based violence in South Sudan, as opposed to 1 in 3 globally. Moreover, in a country where patriarchal norms still dominate and women face barriers to accessing land rights and resources, protracted violence, breakdowns of family structures and other conflict related issues further amplify the challenges and trauma they face.
Addressing this violence is of the utmost importance, to ensure that we don’t lose the little progress there has been in the last 3 years. The government should urgently implement the agreement in letter and spirit to attract development, improve the appalling economy, safeguard its citizens, and achieve lasting peace.
Written by Grace Ojukwu for the Nobel Women's Initiative
Grace Ojukwu is a lawyer from South Sudan. She the Head of Program at Youth for Earth South Sudan. Grace has worked to provide legal support for survivors of gender-based violence, she is dedicated to strengthening the rule of law and ending harmful cultural practices such as girl child compensation.
In the run up to the International Conference on Women's Transformational Leadership hosted in Juba, South Sudan on 13-16 February, 2023, Nobel Women's Initiative reached out to young feminist activists and leaders in the country to get their thoughts and reflections on the opportunities and challenges for women and girls, and on building sustainable peace in the world's youngest democracy. For more about the meeting click here.