Collective visions of better times to come as South Sudan celebrated International Peace Day

unmiss south sudan juba international peace day guang cong dsrsg roadmap peace agreement unified forces progress setbacks challenges

Just about everyone with a say in the South Sudanese peace process was present when International Peace Day was celebrated in Juba. Photo: Isaac Billy/UNMISS

22 Sep 2022

Collective visions of better times to come as South Sudan celebrated International Peace Day

Filip Andersson

In South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation and a place where the quest for sustainable peace is very much ongoing, International Peace Day, that special day to reiterate the wish for global harmony to rein supreme between and within countries, is likely to mean more than in most other locations.

An indication of that significance could be found at the Nyakuron Cultural Centre in the capital: Most everyone with a say in the future of South Sudan was present. A list of them would include First Vice President Riek Machar and numerous other senior government officials, diplomats, a myriad of international entities, national civil society organizations, representatives for women and youth, and, most importantly, ordinary citizens craving that elusive peace more than most.

“For peace to come we must be able to move around freely, and we South Sudanese should use that mobility to learn to establish friendly relations with our neigbouring communities, because friends don’t fight,” said one of them, William Deng Aru, a doctor for a national non-governmental organization dealing with malnutrition.

“Tensions are also a lot less likely when people don’t have to always compete for scarce services and resources, like access to clean water, schools, health centres and pastures for their cattle. Therefore, our government needs to develop our country to provide everyone with these necessities,” he added.

The doctor’s words, exemplarily easy to grasp for all and sundry, were but a trickle of what followed when the government of South Sudan, the peacekeeping mission in the country (UNMISS) and other partners organized the commemoration of the day, under its national theme: End Ethnic Discrimination, Build Peace in Diversity.

Plenty of speakers took stock of progress made, setbacks experienced and challenges remaining to achieve that lasting piece of peace, with many recognizing, using somewhat more technical jargon, that a dose of love and understanding between each other could go a long way.

I urge all South Sudanese to silence the guns, stand up against prejudice and hatred, and recognize that in your diversity, lies your greatest strength,” said Guang Cong, Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, in a more UN manner of getting that point across.

And for peace to be restored and prevail, there is both reason for hope and a Roadmap. The latter, recently presented by the government, outlines the steps to be taken for the full implementation of the 2018 revitalized peace agreement.

I commend the ongoing graduation of the first batch of the Necessary Unified Forces that started last month. The unified force can be deployed to help curtail subnational and inter-communal violence. Critically, it is a symbol of unity for the people in South Sudan and can play a vital role in the democratic transition of the country,” said Mr. Cong.

Among the positive steps taken, he and several other speakers also cited the Roadmap itself, and the recent resolution of a parliamentary impasse, which will enable the ratification of important bills and create the necessary legal framework for the constitution making process and other judicial reforms.

And yet, attendees at the event, which featured a few much-appreciated cultural performances as well, heard a multitude of dignitaries conceding that tough challenges remain to be tackled to get hold of, and hold on to, much-desired and long-lasting peace in South Sudan.

The unification of the national army must continue and be completed, other security sector reforms undertaken, and the permanent constitution finalized, but there is another, more urgent and lethal problem that needs to be addressed first: ongoing fighting in several parts of the country.

“The ongoing conflict in some counties of Unity, Upper Nile and Central Equatoria is a serious concern, casting a long shadow over the implementation of the [peace] agreement in general. We cannot truly celebrate peace in South Sudan when there is conflict in any part of it, remarked, amongst others, Dr. Thomson Fontaine, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (RJMEC), the body in charge of overseeing the implementation of the peace deal.

First Vice President Dr. Riek Machar echoed the thoughts expressed by both the UNMISS representative – “we are hoping with the deployment of the new forces, most of the weapons that are floating in the hands of the civil population will find themselves under control” – and Mr. Fontaine.

While every Very Important Person holding the microphone urged the South Sudanese people to embrace peace to promote the development of the country, Dr. Machar offered a concrete suggestion as to how to give South Sudan more days of peace: a second, national version of International Peace Day. Should it be implemented, the date would be 12 September, the day, in 2018, when the revitalized peace agreement was signed.

Words did come easy, and en masse, on this memorable day. With everything having been said, efforts to achieve sustainable peace can resume.