* By Fredrick Nzwili
A new report by Christian Aid - the UK charity - has cautioned that securing long-term peace in South Sudan requires much more than agreements between political leaders.
The report, titled “In it for long haul? Lessons for peace-building in South Sudan,” comes at a time when president Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar are engaged in high-level peace negations in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital.
Its methodology involved a review of the existing literature and field research on everyday peace-building experiences. More than 50 long-term peace-building practitioners, as well as many community members affected by or involved with their work, were interviewed.
It outlines ten principles which provide some guidance for anyone trying to understand or support peace-building in South Sudan. There are also case studies exploring why the principles are important.
While arguing for the support of local and subnational peace-building efforts, and multi-level approaches to peace-building strategies, it says that South Sudan’s multi-level and interdependent conflicts require peace-building strategies that reject the distinction between local and national processes.
Local does not mean unimportant, and sub-national actors can impact national dynamics of peace and war, just as national leaders depend on local constituencies to supply fighting forces and for legitimacy, according to the study.
“Many of these interactions take place through complex loyalties and informal patronage – such as the delivery of money, grain or suits to local leaders - which may not make much sense to outsiders, but the local capacities, increased community awareness and political will can help prevent spread of war into new areas,” says the report.
Kiir has agreed to reinstate Machar to his earlier position of first vice president, after discussion in Kampala, Uganda last week. Machar’s team reportedly agreed to the creation of a new post of a fourth vice president. On 27 June, the two politicians and other groups signed a declaration agreement which paved the way for a permanent ceasefire.
Such national processes must recognise the sub-national factors and reflect local priorities and interests so that high-level agreements work for communities, according to the report.
While recognising the important role of external actors, the study findings stress that peace work that builds on existing mechanisms, structure or individuals has the greatest chance of contributing to social and political change.
“In order for this peace work to be meaningful, it must be owned by and its development led by South Sudanese,” it says.
It urges peace actors to confront difficult practical and ethical dilemmas with honesty and integrity to ensure their work is conflict sensitive and contributes to long-term peace and stability.
“There is an urgent need for every peace actor (including those engaging in support of peace-building approaches) to ask whether their contribution reflects South Sudan’s interlocking, multi-level conflicts, and whether it makes sense when viewed from different centres within South Sudan. This kind of thinking is currently lacking,” says the report.
*Fredrick Nzwili is an freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.