Suffering returnees in Kediba ask leaders to speed up implementation of peace agreement
Circling above Kediba in the early morning light, those on board the UN helicopter can’t help but notice the huge potential of the land beneath them.
Despite the ongoing dry season, the landscape is relatively lush. Once cultivated, this soil could and should provide food and income not only to the villagers but to communities across Western Equatoria State.
The reality, however, is rather different.
“I have five children, but last year my harvest was poor. My sister and her seven children are among the thousands of returnees. We are staying together, and the food we have is not enough. It may finish this month,” says Joy Atiti. “We are going to starve and depend on what grows in the forest.”
The 2018 signing of the revitalized peace agreement and the subsequent improvement of the security situation have made more than 10,000 internally displaced children leave the bush behind to return to their homes. Most of them came here over the last six months, but their lives haven’t panned out as they would have hoped.
“When I heard that the peace agreement had been signed, I thought that would put an end to my suffering. Unfortunately, the delay in implementing it is causing all of us a lot of frustration,” says Ms. Atiti, visibly deeply concerned.
The visiting peacekeepers are here to assess the situation in terms of security and humanitarian needs. They hear the stories of returnees who were forced to flee into the bush and neighboring villages with their families, leaving their homes and belonging.
“People here are suffering. They tried to cultivate the soil, but it was too late, and their efforts failed,” says William Francis, coordinator of Kediba’s Relief and Rehabilitation Commission. He appeals to humanitarian organizations to assist the returnees with food and medicines.
“We are being helped by relatives. They give us water and sleeping mats,” says Robert Maring, one of the returnees.
Ann-Marie McDonald, a civil affairs officer serving with the peacekeeping mission, is worried about the situation.
“When there is such an influx of returnees and internally displaced persons to an area, it will naturally lead to an increase of the likelihood of conflicts because of the scarcity of resources,” she says. “The increasing levels of frustration with the slow implementation of the peace agreement adds to that risk, because people here are not experiencing the dividends of peace.”