Hoshea Kumbonyeki prepared to go to work at his local church as part of his daily routine. But that morning in June 2017 proved to be anything but routine.
He was visited by armed men who demanded he show them where “the people who are in the bush” were. The then 24-year-old had no idea.
Fortunately for him, he was left alone to go to church but was warned not to come back. He later learned that some people were killed in his village and some huts burnt. He has lived in the Assumption of Our Lady Catholic Church of Tambura Yambio in Rimenze since then.
“I think about going back home but I still am afraid,” the father of two told a peacekeeping patrol visiting the area. He is worried the armed men will come back and this time try to loot his possession although he has lost all he had in the two years that he has been away from home.
Established in 1947, the Assumption of Our Lady Catholic Church of Tambura Yambio in Rimenze lies about 29 kilometres east of Yambio on the Yambio-Maridi road in South Sudan. The imposing building sits at the centre of a seminary, a convent, schools and other amenities, most of which, save for the school and health facility, have not been functioning.
Now only is it a sanctuary for public worship but has, since the crisis in the country, doubled as a camp for internally displaced people from the nearby and outlying villages.
The Reverend Father Peter Babitimo, the Parish Priest, says the church is now home to 3,026 internally displaced people, most of them women and children, from about 800 households.
“Some say they want to go (back home) but they fear insecurity,” he says. “They fear that the forces that are still in the bush will come and loot them.”
At its peak, the church played host to a little over 7,000 individuals. The signing of the Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities (ARCSS) and the subsequent signing of the revitalized peace agreement (R-ARCSS) ushered in a period of hope that saw some people go back home. The trend has, however, faltered with time as the hopes wane.
“Some are saying that they want to see the peace agreement implemented in Juba and that things are going well and also this is manifested on the ground here in Rimenze,” Fr. Babitimo says.
But he noted the concerns of displaced families about the lack of basic services such as schools, health facilities and water points in the areas of return as most of what they had at home has fallen into disrepair.
For the people in the IDP camp in Rimenze, which lies precariously on the supply route between opposition groups in James Diko to the south and Li-Rangu to the north, their return is strongly pegged to the implementation of the peace agreement.
Hoshea Kumbonyeki sums it all up in his words:
“I am hearing now that the peace process is in progress and on 12th November, if they form the new government and they remove all the rebels from the bushes, I will go back.