Kajo-Keji conference seeks to reconcile communities to chart common destiny of peace

unmiss iom peace conference south sudan central equatoria reconciliation

Some 500 people recently gathered for a reconciliation conference in Kajo-Keji, Central Equatoria State. Photo: James Sokiri/UNMISS

15 Mar 2024

Kajo-Keji conference seeks to reconcile communities to chart common destiny of peace

James Sokiri/Filip Andersson

CENTRAL EQUATORIA – The people of Kajo-Keji County have pledged to mend ties to chart a future of peace and the kind of unity needed for socioeconomic development to take place. They did so at a recent reconciliation conference held on home turf.

The event resulted in concrete resolutions to mitigate cattle-related conflicts, develop a plan of action to encourage refugees and internally displaced persons to return home, and to identify local avenues of resolving disputes.

A wide spectrum of stakeholders supported the meeting both financially and technically, including the Civil Affairs Division of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), the International Organization for Migration, the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization, and Finn Church Aid.

Bangasi Joseph Bakasoro, Minister in the Office of the President of South Sudan, set the tone of proceedings.

“Today is an important day to beg one another to forgive, reconcile, and forget the ugly past,” he said. “I also urge our military, the police, and national security service to carry out their mandate professionally by protecting civilians, their property, and services.”

South Sudan’s 2016 conflict spread quickly to Kajo-Keji and eroded the trust and confidence between civilians and uniformed personnel. The emotional wounds of what happened then are yet to fully heal. Yet, that process will need to be completed, said Njoki Kinyanjui, Head of the peacekeeping mission’s Field Office in Central Equatoria.

“Reconciliation, forgiveness and healing are fundamental if we are to build real bridges, foster harmony in diversity, and promote peace,” she told the approximately 500 attendees.

One turning point could be South Sudan’s first elections as a sovereign country, scheduled for December. Some Kajo-Keji residents do, however, have reservations, caused by the economic crisis currently engulfing their country.

“I am ready to vote for the political leaders I prefer, but I fear that the increasingly high cost of living may create a toxic and dangerous environment for elections. A hungry man is often an angry man,” said Mary Keji, Chairlady of the local women’s association.

Another worry expressed by conference participants is the deadly violence that has broken out between cattle herders from other locations and Kajo-Keji’s farmers, with the latter angered by cattle eating their crops.

“Our lives here hinge on decent harvests, and conflicts between cattle herders and farmers may also make civic education, political campaigning, and voter registration ahead of elections impossible,” said Henry Taban Solomon, Secretary-General of the Kajo-Keji community.