As South Sudan emerges from seven years of brutal civil war, COVID-19 is creating new threats to peace. Our partners have asked us to pray in solidarity and keep holding onto hope.
Earlier this year, the struggle for peace in South Sudan took a significant step forward. In February, President Salva Kiir Mayardit swore in Dr Riek Machar as Vice President and both declared the end to their rivalry; a power struggle that resulted in a seven-year civil war that left nearly 400,000 people dead.
After many failed starts at peace and a great deal of international pressure, the agreement of leaders to form a ‘Transitional Government of National Unity’ was a cause for celebration.
Power vacuums causing new waves of violence
Unfortunately, the new government has failed to appoint state governors to provide much-needed local leadership and this has already resulted in renewed violence. An estimated 800 people have been killed in intercommunal clashes since February.
Just last month, hundreds of people were killed in outbreaks of violence between the Lou Nuer and Murle communities in Jonglei state. Hundreds of women and children have also been abducted and are still in captivity.
PCOSS Vice General Secretary Rev Orozu Daky shared these words with us recently:
“My heart is bleeding with what is happening between Lou Nuer and Murle…I know for sure through prayers of many believers around the world, there will be peace between them. However, God has time frame to that to happen. We need peace among the two sister tribes.
Pray together without ceasing. Amen”
South Sudanese faith communities in Australia have also called on the Church for prayer and solidarity. Responding to the recent violence, Pastor Moses Leth of the South Sudanese Nuer Faith Community in Queensland wrote to members of the Uniting Church in Australia:
At this point, we do not know what else to ask of you besides your will to plea to God with us. As always, we seek for your prayer and solidarity.
New stressors on cycles of violence in South Sudan
As well as the of lack of political leadership at the state level, ongoing food insecurity and COVID-19 are also fueling intercommunal violence.
In South Sudan, 6.5 million people, or 55% of the population, are expected to face severe food insecurity between May and July 2020, owing to the dire economic situation and events like last year’s floods and locust invasions that destroyed crops, killed livestock and contaminated water supplies of whole communities.
While food insecurity increases the risk of violence over land and resources, violence in turn works in a vicious cycle to increase food insecurity. Conflict prevents people from moving in search of food, it restricts humanitarian access to deliver emergency food and supplies and disrupts trade routes and access to markets.
COVID-19 is also expected to put further pressure on the cycle of violence. Social distancing requirements have meant peacebuilding and mediation efforts have stalled and people’s ability to go to work and buy food have been severely restricted. In addition, a sharp fall in government oil revenues has meant funds for peace processes have been cut.
What can be done? Is there any hope?
Our partner the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) has been committed to working for peace in South Sudan since the 1970s. This has included running peacebuilding and trauma healing workshops for South Sudanese people of various tribes living in refugee camps in bordering countries, training church leaders in peacebuilding skills that can be shared with the wider community, as well as collaborating in ecumenical peace efforts as part of the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC).
Now, PCOSS is working as part of the SSCC to mediate between the Lou Nuer and Murle communities to seek a peaceful resolution. At a time when there is an absence of local leadership and UN peacebuilding missions and NGOs are facing difficulties in implementing peace programs, the work of the Church is especially vital for reconciliation and peace.
PCOSS Moderator Rt Rev Peter Gai Lual Marrow said:
“The church cannot sit back and watch while the nation is bleeding. Now am asking your prayers in this process of mediation we started trying to bring together the two communities to the table to talk about possible reconciliation.”
“The church, no matter how fragile is the leadership of this country, will try her level best to say “STOP” fighting and let people resolve this recycling revenge amicably through peaceful negotiations…Let’s hope for success, keep going on in our thoughts and prayers.”
During COVID-19, PCOSS is providing vulnerable communities with awareness about COVID-19, food and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) items and delivering psychosocial support. They are also continuing their critical peacebuilding activities. You can help. Click here to support our partners to respond to COVID-19 and save lives in South Sudan.
Please join us in prayer:
- For PCOSS and SSCC, and that their peace mediation efforts are successful
- For lasting peace between the Lou Nuer and Murle communities and others across South Sudan
- For the safe return of abducted women and children
- For the recovery and healing of people physically injured or experiencing trauma; and
- For our partners PCOSS as they respond to COVID-19.
UnitingWorld is the international aid and partnerships agency of the Uniting Church in Australia. UnitingWorld supports our partners the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) to train ministers and lay leaders and equip them with the tools they will need to teach reconciliation and peacebuilding skills in families and between tribal groups throughout South Sudan. Read more