MOSES YAKUDU “As citizens of Eastern Equatoria, we must leave our differences behind and embrace a unified identity because we are now one state,” said Davidika Ikai, a women’s leader from Torit.
Ms. Ikai was speaking at a roundtable discussion organized by UNMISS which aimed at bringing together representatives from all communities in Kapoeta, including community and religious leaders, civil society, youth groups and women, with a view towards reframing the perceived identity of people residing in this now defunct state to enhance social cohesion and coexistence.
Five years ago, after the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS) was signed by government and opposition leaders, 28 states were established to replace the previous 10 states. Following this, the states were further subdivided into 32.
Now, with a peace deal and a transitional government of national unity in place, the number of states in the world’s newest country is again 10. However, the divisions of the past continue to be a stumbling block in the path to a durable, sustainable peace.
Participants at this forum revealed as much.
“We have been divided repeatedly leading to prolonged conflict and dissension,” said Michael Akimat, an elder from the Toposa community based in south Kapoeta. “The scars and the memories remain, and we need to heal from the trauma we have suffered, we need to reconcile,” he adds.
Mr Akimat’s views were echoed by young people who demanded economic stability and equal opportunities for employment. “Many jobs in and around Kapoeta are often colored by communal affiliations,” revealed Flora Loleyi, a women’s representative who formerly worked at a local aviation company. “For women, it’s even harder because many male managers expect sexual favours in exchange for a job.”
While many challenges emerged, participants also said that they believed speaking openly about each other’s issues was, by itself, a positive step towards healing and a more peaceful, unified way forward.
“There are things I have learned by listening to everybody here which has taught me that life is a journey where all of us face obstacles. I feel I have gained knowledge that will help me change hearts and minds within my community,” stated Stephen Lowosio, a representative of civil society groups from Kapoeta South.
For his part, Marko Miljevic, Civil Affairs Officer, UNMISS, expressed his appreciation for the free and frank discussions which took place.
“We hope this forum will contribute to peace and stability and will continue to work with your communities, elders, traditional leaders, women, youth and the government to contribute to peace,” he stated.
“As a mission, we are your partners for peace but you, as community members must all work together to reap the benefits of durable peace.”
Similar events are planned for Torit and Magwi counties in coming weeks.