Communities in Ikotos make remarkable peace gains following months of conflict
EASTERN EQUATORIA – Communities in Ikotos, Eastern Equatoria, are slowly restoring harmonious relationships among themselves following a period of conflict with neighboring counties.
Visiting peacekeepers from the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) spoke with community members who tell tales of a respite from violence and the power of reconciliation.
“Our people can now walk peacefully between Tseretenya and Ikotos. Even commercial motorcyclists and vehicles travel from Uganda day and night,” states Peter Odwar, Chief of Tseretenya boma [administrative division] with a smile.
“It is a relief to see normal movement and life,” he reveals to members of the UNMISS patrol.
Tensions between communities have reduced greatly following concerted efforts by state and county officials, the South Sudan Council of Churches and UNMISS to engage all feuding parties in constructive dialogue.
“After UNMISS built our capacities in conflict resolution, I used the skills I had learned to encourage young people in my payam [administrative division] to approach differences with tolerance and seek recourse for any injustice done to them through responsible state authorities,” says Michael Mogga Olukatuwa, a community leader from Chorokol.
His efforts at peaceful dispute resolution have borne fruit, according to Mr. Olukatuwa.
“I definitely saw a change in approach among my community and in cases where the law was not adhered to, such as the forced marriage of an underage girl, all community members, including youth wanted the issue to be dealt with by competent authorities rather than taking matters into their own hands,” he discloses.
Another reason that has boosted coexistence: The establishment of a water reservoir, funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), along Kidepo valley which has benefited both animal herders and settled farmers, ending years of struggles over water use.
Although pockets of crime still exist, community leaders and members have joined hands to ensure a lasting peace here.
“Peace truly begins with me,” says Pio Oset, a community leader from Lobira. “As the head of my community, I lead by example and believe if every individual understands that there is nothing to be gained from violence, we will never have to deal with conflict again. There is no problem that cannot be solved with open and transparent conversations.”
For patrolling peacekeepers, the improvement in security and social cohesion across Ikotos is heartening.
“We are here to follow up on the impact of joint peace initiatives and I am happy to say that communities across this area have truly risen to the occasion and worked hard to restore stability,” says Alexandra Tomczak, a Civil Affairs Officer working with the UN Peacekeeping mission.
“UNMISS and partners will continue to monitor the situation and ensure that the people of Ikotos county do not ever have to suffer the consequences of conflict again.”