Shaping Peace Now: “True peace starts at home,” – Esther Siama, South Sudan
“I remember being very scared as a child. Ambushes on dirt roads were common and people would be robbed, beaten and killed. I was entrapped once and thank God every day that my attackers didn’t kill me,” reveals Esther Siama, a 28-year-old hairdresser working at a salon in Yambio, Western Equatoria.
Esther’s smile is infectious, but her eyes darken as she speaks about her country, South Sudan. “Since 2018, you could say that security conditions have improved relatively for some of us. But it’s not just about some of us, it’s about all South Sudanese,” she says. “While I can visit my friends and neighbours late at night, there are communities, especially women and children, across the country who are scared for their lives every single day,” she states passionately.
2018 was significant for many South Sudanese; the signing of the Revitalized Peace Agreement led to renewed hope for a peaceful, prosperous future amongst many people as they saw this as a way to start healing—as communities and as a country— from the devastation and carnage wrought by years of civil war.
Today, much of this widespread early optimism has waned due to delays in the peace process, despite the formation of a Transitional Government of National Unity earlier this year. “As a people, we want real peace and to live in freedom. When I say freedom, I don’t mean relative peace for me and my loved ones. I want a true, ‘normal’ freedom for all South Sudanese, where we can live our lives without fear,” Esther asserts.
She also believes peace and economic development go hand in hand. “Where are the roads that can connect us to not only our families in villages but also our communities living in remote areas for them to access schools, hospitals, markets, and the justice system?” she asks.
Moreover, while Esther agrees that the COVID-19 has impeded peace initiatives, she doesn’t believe that delays in ensuring safety, security and stability across South Sudan, can be blamed solely on the pandemic. “Business has taken a massive hit,” she acknowledges, adding that with national authorities slowly lifting restrictions, many citizens are now going back to work and are able to put food on the table for their families. “But I want to tell our government is that our struggles are not just because of a virus. I was born in conflict, I grew up amidst violence and have given birth to two children while civil wars were ongoing,” she declares. “This has to stop.”
In conclusion, what, according to Esther, is the way forward for herself and millions of South Sudanese? “Love,” she says simply. “If I had a message to give to all my brothers and sisters in this country, it would be that true peace starts at home. It then begins to trickle all the way up to leaders and all the way down to the grassroots. Let us love our neighbours, see ourselves reflected in them and treat everybody with empathy.”