Peace on a bicycle: Travel between villages made easier for peacemakers in Eastern Equatoria
It is not every day that a bicycle is viewed as an important tool for building peace, but in some remote and hard-to-reach areas of South Sudan, like Lopa, Ikotos, Torit East, Kidepo Valley, Chukudum, Kimotong and Riwoto Counties in the country’s Eastern Equatoria region, any item that eases transport is very welcome.
Peacemakers in the region will now have their peace-making journeys made lighter, thanks to the support of peace partners in the region, who have donated to them some 40 brand-new bicycles and an assortment of other goodies, including mobile phones, rain coats, and gumboots.
“This is going to help me very much because it takes me four to five hours to walk from my place to the Headquarters, so it will help me in facilitating giving reports,” said Tito Abas Lomoro, one of the recipients of a brand-new bicycle. “I also have to go to other payams like Okokore, since they are not represented. I will be moving to disseminate this peace program,” said the determined peacemaker.
The donation was unveiled at the end of a ten-day training programme that focused on transformational leadership and peace-building skills for members of the border migratory peace committees from the Torit and Kapoeta areas, organized by the area Peace Commission, with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Viable Support to Transition and Stability (VISTAS) and the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
“The bicycle will help us to go and resolve conflict in the villages,” said Paska Aku Alfred, adding, “when there is misunderstanding in another payam, we will hurry there to settle it. It was difficult for us to move to other places, now it is good we are going to work together,” she concluded.
This is the second donation coming after almost four months since the UNDP donated the first batch of bicycles to the peace committees to facilitates their movements to resolve conflict in the communities.
“In fact, before this, it was very difficult for us to move from the county headquarters to other payams because of lack of means of transport. Now that we have the bicycles [and phones] it will be very easy for us to communicate and to go to the county and payams,” said William Oniama, a participant and bicycle recipient from Lopa County in Torit.
Already, positive results are being recorded, thanks to the first donation. According to Tito Abas Lomoro, who is also the Executive Director of Kimotong County in Kapoeta, there has been a reduction in inter-communal conflict and cattle-related incidents in some places, following improved coordination among peace committees.
“The rate of theft and cattle raiding has reduced, and we have also formed some committees in the kraals,” said Mr. Lomoro. “Now, this training we have done here in Torit is a benefit that we are going to take back to our people on the ground. What we got is very helpful, especially now they have given [us] material support like the bicycles, which will ease facilitation of peace members.”
Charles Alphonse, Acting Chairperson of Torit State Peace Commission, reminded the peace committees to use the bicycles for the rightful purpose.
“I want to inform you that these bicycles are not for personal use, they for official purposes, did you hear that?” he asked, before adding, “the mobile phones are, too. If there are issues, you need to communicate together so that you give us full information. You can report to the county commission, to the peace commissioner and to the UNDP,” he said.
UNDP Conflict Training Officer, Margaret Lado explained why the agency decided to focus on bicycles:
“In these counties there’re no transport facilities; these bicycles will help them to move from village to village to do peace work because they are tasked to be peace ambassadors,” she said. “They are tasked to solve conflict in a nonviolent manner,” concluded Ms. Lado.
In all, the peacebuilders were given 42 bicycles, 14 mobiles phones, 42 raincoats and 42 gumboots, which has brought them big relief as they seek to embark on conflict resolution at the grass-roots level to foster peaceful coexistence among the communities.