Female opposition soldiers in Mogok talk on being torn between war and peace

19 Sep 2019

Female opposition soldiers in Mogok talk on being torn between war and peace

Gideon Sackitey

“We have a cause to fight. We don’t just enjoy being in the military, we have decided to take up arms to defend our children,” says Captain Rebecca Nya Piuudup in opposition-controlled Mogok in Greater Jonglei.

Their children are very much the focus of the arguments presented to me when Rebecca and her Second Lieutenant sisters-in-arms Roberta Nyajok Yak and Martha Nyamier give me their views on why they joined and continue to be part of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition.

While a revitalized peace agreement was signed a year ago, the three Amazons, with more than 30 years of combined military experience between them, still fear for the wellbeing of their sons and daughters. Martha has lost one of hers to the conflict, Roberta her husband.

All of them long to resume normal, civilian lives, but not till they feel that it is safe.

“If peace comes, we will go back home and take care of the children, but we prefer doing this [stay with their armed force] for now. If we come to them [our children] in the current situation, they will be together with us. We prefer to defend them first,” Second Lieutenant Roberta explains.

Together with almost 50 of their armed colleagues, another three of them being women, they have just attended a workshop conducted by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan. The topic? The rights of children in general and those exposed to armed conflict in particular.

“We welcome the role of the peacekeeping mission, to not only bring peace but also to take us through such trainings to teach us how to protect our children from the dangers of war and the army,” Roberta says, with her peer Martha quickly adding that she, too, believes that “peace is on the horizon” with the sustained presence of blue helmets in her country.

Sharply dressed in their military outfits and talking to me through an interpreter and the occasional bit of sign language, the three women I’m interviewing all affirm that they are happy doing what they are doing, but emotionally scarred by their experiences.

Captain Rebecca, a mother of four and in charge of the logistics of her unit, says she thought she had no choice but to take up arms.

“I joined the army when I was very young. I had to, because our children and fathers were being killed.”

“Of course, over a period of over 30 years, we have had to go with our men to fight in the wars for independence, and now fighting for peace among our people,” Second Lieutenant Roberta adds.

My question about their continued military involvement, with a signed peace deal on the table, may have touched a raw nerve, or maybe there is a lack of adequate translation going on, but none of them explains how they figure that war will lead to peace, or whether fighting is still needed.

Peace by any means is, nonetheless, what they desperately desire.

“People, not just us, are expecting peace all over South Sudan. We count on it to come soon, because we are just tired of the difficult situation,” says Second Lieutenant Martha Nyamier.

Durable peace, Roberta believes, would result in development.

“If there is peace, there will be schools, healthcare and food for the children, and those who joined the military because of the war can return to their communities.”