Articles (Opinion/Analysis)

In healing South Sudanese Armed Conflicts Related Prejudices, Impact & Implications  

By Roger Alfred Yoron Modi, 22nd/Jan/2022

So much, online and offline, is going about South Sudan and the history of decades of various struggles and armed conflicts that led to its Independence, that all need a focus, not simply through passivity, but using facts, upholding the truth, the processes enshrined in the Transitional Constitution and the R-ARCSS, while improving on them, also in conformity with international law.

Issues of implementation versus practical impact have been a challenge, however, despite the many details in both documents, here are brief ones: The Transitional Constitution says all levels of government shall: (a) promote and consolidate peace and create a secure and stable political environment for socio-economic development; (b) initiate a comprehensive process of national reconciliation and healing that shall promote national harmony, unity and peaceful co-existence among the people of South Sudan. (Article 36 (2)). And the R-ARCSS provides for establishment of the transitional justice institutions: The Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing (CTRH);  An independent hybrid judicial body, to be known as the Hybrid  Court for South Sudan (HCSS) and  Compensation and Reparation Authority (CRA). The Commission for Truth Reconciliation and Healing, the R-ARCSS says, is provided for as “a critical part of the peace building process in South Sudan, to spearhead efforts to address the legacy of conflicts, promote peace, national reconciliation and healing.”( Chapter 5 of the R-ARCSS). The Parties also signed up that they are “determined to compensate our people by recommitting ourselves to peace and constitutionalism and not to repeat mistakes of the past.”( Paragraph 3 of the R-ARCSS).

It is no secret that those who participated in the armed conflicts, both the elders and younger ones, in many ways continue to show bravado, because of their contributions to South Sudan’s Independence. While I try to discuss that topic in this article, let me start by mentioning the damages so far created on the image of South Sudanese as a whole as a result of these stories of armed conflicts, stories some of which have not been factual. The impact of those stories on how South Sudanese are viewed.

That damage includes common prejudices and assumptions every South Sudanese had been in an armed conflict, at least engaged in a combat, received a military training or knows how to operate weaponry. That is common in the region and at times beyond, questions regarding those issues get thrown randomly on people every now and then simply because they are South Sudanese, some even ask for a possibility of smuggling weapons to them. To some extent, some of the views go to the extreme, insinuating that merely being a South Sudanese means being a killer, has killed or does not value humanity.

All these happen while in reality all those South Sudanese who, for various reasons, had been violent in all the conflicts, are just part, not even half of the current population, and one even doubts if their number can reach half a million though, throughout, millions suffered from the wars and the effects.

The Independence of South Sudan was finally reached in a democratic exercise, through the Referendum Vote, in addition to the contributions of the armed conflicts/struggles and peaceful and intellectual contributions, those who were in the government controlled areas or in other countries and contributed peacefully or otherwise to the struggles and Independence also have their side of the story.

While it is best to plant and promote a culture of tolerance and peaceful resolutions of conflict, the impact of these decades of armed conflicts is not only on how South Sudanese are viewed by others. It has also created new generations of young South Sudanese who admire militarism, violence and being in the Army, things they see as inspirations from those ahead and those who appear to be doing well in those areas, many times for reasons that do not show an honest intention to serve professionally in the military or other armed forces.  Wearing military or military related uniforms, taking pictures near arms have over the years been what new generations of young South Sudanese admire, even when that does not result in practical harm. All these need to be corrected.

Now, what next with the History, Impact and Implications of Armed Conflicts?

According to a Foreign Policy article about two weeks ago, Carol Berger, an anthropologist and former foreign correspondent, details how South Sudan’s founders forcibly conscripted tens of thousands of children, in her new book The Child Soldiers of Africa’s Red Army.

“According to Berger’s research, tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, were forcibly separated from their families in southern Sudan, trained in Ethiopian military camps, and conscripted into the SPLA,” Foreign Policy writes, “When the southern rebels’ Ethiopian benefactor, President Mengistu Haile Mariam, was overthrown by a coalition of rebel groups in 1991, the SPLA abandoned thousands of the recruits who made their way on foot to the border with Kenya.”

Under the article, someone wrote the following comment, “.…I have had many dealings with The Lost Boys. Their stories differ. Some were deliberately sent to Kenya by families hoping that they would receive education and perhaps even that coveted journey to America (by which they meant the Western world in general). Others were in fact taken off by members of the SPLA, but the goal of fighting for independence didn’t simply mean training as soldiers. In fact, the current president of South Sudan specifically told the younger boys to pursue an education rather than becoming soldiers. He and other leaders, including Garang, knew that the true fight would come after independence, when the tools of the developed world would be needed.”

Indeed the stories can differ and everyone deserves to be heard, even on an individual basis, I’m not here to comment on those accounts I have shared above, but to contribute on the topic of this my article, believing that those quotes can create better understanding of the same, for the reader.

There is a factor of those (then) young people, and new young people recruited in recent years, attaching themselves to history or achievements of high profile figures (their commanders, dead or alive) so as to appear or remain relevant in South Sudan’s politics and affairs, even when they do not really love or admire those commanders or how those commanders treated them. And even when they are simply pursuing their various individual agenda, using the names of those commanders and causing hatred and clashes with others as a stepping stone for political and other positions they would like to get. Some of the commanders also currently seem to find the attachment convenient for themselves to remain relevant in South Sudan’s politics and affairs.

There can be ways to free people from those types of attachments that do not appear to be out of their free will, among that is an argument I made in an article in 2020 that the functions of the The Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing stipulated in the R-ARCSS as to establishing “an accurate and impartial historical record of human rights violations, breaches of the rule of law and excessive abuses of power, committed by State and non-state actors from the date of signing” of the R-ARCSS (2018) to July 2005 be extended to beyond simply 2005 since the effects of those human rights violations on people, including at South Sudanese Communal levels and among the leaders themselves, have been clear on causing tensions and inciting recent and current conflicts in South Sudan, because reconciliation and healing were not done.

Regarding pursuing justice in South Sudan for crimes committed before 2005, there may be other legal avenues victims may prefer despite the R-ARCSS says the Hybrid Court for South Sudan which shall be established by the African Union Commission shall be to investigate and where necessary prosecute individuals bearing responsibility for violations of international law and/or applicable South Sudanese law,  committed from 15th December 2013 through the end of the Transitional Period. And that the Hybrid court shall have jurisdiction with respect to the following crimes:

1- Genocide;

2-Crimes Against Humanity;

3-War Crimes

4-Other serious crimes under international law and relevant laws of the Republic of South Sudan including gender based crimes and sexual violence.

Still, on their mandate, the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing shall, the R-ARCSS says,  recommend processes for the full enjoyment by victims of the right to remedy, including by suggesting  measures for reparations and compensation, further adding that it shall “adopt, in the implementation of its mandate, best practices for promoting truth, reconciliation and healing from Africa and elsewhere.” While practically it can largely be individual victims or their loved ones or well wishers preferred cause of action, however, in order to address the legacy of conflicts, promote peace, national reconciliation and healing, several issues can be suggested and asked, such as to what extent can the various struggles (armed and peaceful ) that let to South Sudan’s Independence be acknowledged? What is needed or deserved so that even when that chapter of contributions to South Sudan’s Independence is being mentioned, appreciated or acknowledged, it doesn’t lead to tension, hate, incitements or some sections feeling less recognized? Transitional Justice including Truth, Reconciliation and Healing and Reparations? Enacting laws providing for honoring Martyrs and Heroes, through naming of roads, historical sites and public places as many as possible throughout the Country after them? Of course facts, fairness, transparency and all inclusive processes shall all be important, also so as to cultivate and promote a culture of tolerance and peaceful resolutions of conflict, as opposed to so much extremism and dramas ongoing.

Relations, attachments, getting into public office, should be possible through individual competence and agenda and out of free will, even free will of the electorates on elective posts, be it for the younger generation or the elderly. That needs to be promoted, made practical and understood. And that those who may not have contributed anything the struggles also deserve to participate in their own rights in democratic processes of the Country. Those who peddled inaccurate stories that have now resulted into  damages including common prejudices and assumptions that every South Sudanese had been in an armed conflict, at least engaged in a combat, received a military training or knows how to operate weaponry, need to carry out corrections, rectifications and damage control campaigns on those stories and how South Sudanese are generally being regarded or viewed by some.

One of the Parameters of the “Permanent” Constitution which the R-ARCSS says shall be promulgated during the Transitional Period is “Committing the people of South Sudan to peaceful resolution of  national issues through dialogue, tolerance, accommodation and respect  of others opinions.” So, negative and sad contributions of South Sudanese to the history should also be acknowledged.

Transitional Justice Mechanisms should also go to the extent of healing xenophobic utterances that some South Sudanese continue express against people from other countries who had their negative shares/contributions in the history of South Sudan, including against human rights.

Finally, with various generations of South Sudanese displaced for very long outside the Country or never interacted with South Sudanese from other places, and some obtained various education about the history of the country, a lot of oral history and sometimes bias and inaccurate stories, promoted by some with short-term selfish interests, some orientation needs to be done to create understanding so that even when voluntary repatriation or greater engagements shall be happening, South Sudanese could be somehow on the same page about their history and their Country.

With many inadequacies in the R-ARCSS expressed and admitted many times, the processes enshrined in it and the Transitional Constitution can all be pursued, improved on, also in conformity with international law, and possibly through adding an addendum through the San’t Egidio led process that includes IGAD and the International Community.

Ultimately, all these should be able to apromote and consolidate peace and create a secure and stable political environment for socio-economic development, far better than what is currently happenning, and as envisioned in the Transitional Constitution provision cited above.

Roger Alfred Yoron Modi, a South Sudanese journalist, is the author of the book Freedom of Expression and Media Laws in South Sudan.  He is also the Producer and Host of The Weekly Review: Making Sense of Relevant Topics and News. For more, keep in touch with this his website rogeryoronmodi.com

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