The president of the Sudanese Catholic Bishops’ Conference called on leaders in South Sudan’s Bahr El Ghazal region to fight segregation and division, uniting to work for peace in the violence-ridden country.
Achieving peace, said Bishop Barani Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala of Tombura-Yambio, “demands of all of us that we act with real respect for human life. It demands that those who still sponsor anger, hate, segregation and violence against one another end such meaningless projects or ideas”.
Bishop Kussala has recently published ‘An Open Letter of Hope and Peace to the Elders of Greater Bahr El Ghazal’. “With this letter I am indeed consulting leaders of civil society, religious leaders, community organisations, business, cultural and other leaders in Greater Bahr El Ghazal to seize an opportunity on such initiatives”, he said.
South Sudan has been embroiled in civil war since December 2013, when South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy, Riek Machar, of attempting a coup. The war has been fought between their supporters, largely along ethnic lines, and peace agreements have been short-lived.
The conflict has created more than 2.5 million refugees. At present, some 4.5 million people face severe food insecurity, a number expected to rise one million by July.
“At the core of the crisis within South Sudan’s war-affected communities and regions is the desire to acquire power and secure resources for one group of elites or one ethno-national group at the expense of others”, Bishop Kussala continued.
This has created tension and division, and “has undermined the social fabric of our society or nation”, even affecting neighbouring countries as refugees seeking the escape the conflict flee to other nations.
“In all of these cases, violence has led to the breakdown of our beloved homes”, Bishop Kussala pointed out. “Human lives have been lost. Infrastructure has been destroyed, education and health services have suffered, and the environment has been damaged. The ties that link people together…have been broken, social solidarity has collapsed and political tension has been highly generated”.
These conflicts arise from self-interested elites who take advantage of past divisions, the bishop said. However, peace is possible, as evidence by the “relative peace, development and economic growth after our national independence shortly in 2011”.
In an efforts to restore this stability, Bishop Kussala called on the elders of Greater Bahr El Ghazal to “engage all stakeholders” in seeking peace, allowing for dialogue and supporting genuine efforts aimed at reconciliation and healing.
He urged the elders to publically and unequivocally condemn revenge killings, violence against civilians and the use of hate speech which fosters tribal division. In addition, he said, they should “call urgently for immediate robust humanitarian intervention for the starving people”, pushing for roads to be opened to aid workers delivering food for the hungry population.
Efforts are needed both to prevent further killings and to foster reconciliation and healing in society, the bishop said. He also recommended an independent investigation into atrocities against the community, in order to hold perpetrators accountable.
In solving these problems, it is important to remember the role of culture. “People derive their sense of meaning from their culture…Cultural attitudes and values…provide the foundation for the social norms by which you as a people exist and live”, he noted. “Through internalising and sharing these cultural attitudes and values with fellow community members, and by handing them down to future generations, societies can – and do – re-construct themselves on the basis of a particular cultural image”, Bishop Kussala said.
Achieving peace will require an acknowledgement of wrongdoing, repentance and an offering of forgiveness, the bishop said. It will also require “a way for members of these communities to ‘re-inform’ themselves of their rich history of co-existence with a cultural logic that emphasises sharing and equitable resource distribution”.
“The people of Greater Bahr El Ghazal should draw their strength from each other as one people” he emphasised. “You have common humanity, heritage, history and you are socially interwoven”.