Security and livelihoods: Opposition soldiers reflect on hopes and life in a cantonment site
"We are happy with the changes that we are seeing as a result of the signing of the [revitalized] peace agreement. The ceasefire is holding up nicely and the security situation is calm. We, the opposition, and government forces are working closely together to bring durable peace to South Sudan,” says 37-year-old Sergeant Gisma Ibrahim, a father of two.
Sergeant Ibrahim is one of approximately 750 troops belonging to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition currently staying at a cantonment site in Raja, near Wau. He lost both his house and his farmland during the conflict, his temporary home now being a tent he shares with his family.
The much-improved security situation means that the cantonment site dwellers can spend much of their time fishing, hunting, collecting fruits or fetching water. In their spare time, they play sports, or simply hang out with each other. Yet, life in the cantonment site is not all a bed of roses.
“Living here with children is not easy. Insufficient food, water and medical supplies are becoming major challenges,” says Sergeant Ibrahim, adding that at least his two boys, aged 9 and 12, now have an informal school to go to.
His family is desperate for the fragile peace to prove sustainable, thus allowing them to return Delip, their parents’ home village, to resume life as it was before the conflict broke out.
Sergeant Fatima Nuredin, a widow and mother of three, nurtures the same dream of normalcy.
“If peace returns, I will be very happy, I will continue serving as a soldier, and if I am not needed in the army, I will return to farming. I will also gather my scattered children to rebuild our lives together.”
Following the 2016 violence in South Sudan, Fatima Nuredin’s family fled to Wau and the protection of civilians site next to the base of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan. Her two boys, aged six and nine, are still staying with Fatima’s mother at the Wau protection site, while her 13-year-old daughter lives in a village, Agoke, on the outskirts of Wau town.
“The support we received from the United Nations Mission in South Sudan has helped a lot in terms of food and shelter, and I also appreciate the work of UNMISS to promote dialogue to build durable peace in our country,” she says.
The two sergeants are currently waiting for the next step towards the creation of a unified national army: transport to a training centre in Wau.
They hope and expect that this move will happen sooner rather than later, so that opposition and government forces can spend a couple of weeks together honing their skills and building sufficient mutual trust before 22 February, the date a transitional government of national unity is scheduled to be established.