Asset Publisher

Event Reports

Peacebuilding Lessons for South Sudan from Northern Uganda

by Ojok Okello

Yei-Okere Peacebuilding Initiative

Drawing a parallel between Okere, a small community that found itself in the wrath of war and civil strife for over three decades and now trying to rebuild itself, and Yei which is currently in the storm of such challenges, we thought it worthwhile as KAS, YAMORA, and Okere City to exchange lessons, networks, and strategies for advocacy, organizing and lobbying with local leaders in Yei, South Sudan.

Asset Publisher

This was intended to supplement their existing grassroots efforts toward bringing peace to their region.  Our local South Sudanese partner and community organization Yamora identified 30 local leaders in Yei to travel by road for over 1,000KM to Okere, Otuke District, northern Uganda. The group included; boma representatives, media persons, traditional leaders, people with disabilities, civil society organizations religious leaders, and youth leaders for a week-long engagement comprised of training and networking to build their capacity for building peace in Yei.

Yei River Country in South Sudan and Northern Uganda are inextricably connected by shared threads of experiences, practices, and histories of conflict and war. Just like over a decade ago when Acholi and Lango sub-regions were a hotbed of LRA conflict, today Yei finds itself engulfed as a base of rebel activities, majorly because the National Salvation Army (NSA) of Thomas Cirilo who refused to sign the peace agreement of 2018 is based in Yei. Moreover, Yei has also been a stronghold of the SPLA-IO (Sudan People’s Liberation Army - In opposition), just like Northern Uganda had been an opposition stronghold uniting against the ruling NRM party during the war. Additionally, the different peace-building efforts to bring an end to the conflict in Northern Uganda and the subsequent post-conflict reconstruction projects by both the government and development partners are important learning points for South Sudan. Lastly, cattle rustling, a common practice in many parts of the Eastern Equatoria region in South Sudan, is a similar problem that Okere had to grapple with as their neighbors the Karamojong rustlers stole millions of cattle in the 1980-90s.

“We believe that learning about these experiences and histories brings important perspectives on how to navigate complex conflict context, as well as finding solutions to enable our society to emerge out of our current predicament,” said Yuasa Justoson, the Executive Director of Yamora. “Ultimately, this project is a way to steer the youth away from joining the violent alternatives because the number of young people joining rebel groups is overwhelming. We also hope to find more purposeful ways of engaging them and channeling their passion into positive peace-building activities”, Justoson reflected.

During the one-week-long peace-building workshop, the experts took the participants through various topics, including; human rights, local peace-building, trauma healing, community organizing, intergenerational dialogue, and transitional justice, among others. Among the experts were; Alexander Omara, Amongi Judith, and Raymond Gobba from the African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET); Adile Achom from Wi-Tuke Gender Initiative, Mary Tukwaje from IOM, South Sudan; Milton Ochen, a local councilor in Okere; Gaga Frank from the Whitaker Peace Foundation; and Maximillian Kiefer, a peace and conflict researcher from the University of Tubingen in Germany.

To start us off, Achom Adile took the participants through nonviolent action methods as a form of peace-building. She emphasized the need to maintain nonviolent discipline because its outcomes are more sustainable than violent action. Adile also reiterated that nonviolent campaigns use tactics that leverage power while maintaining nonviolent discipline. Moreover, keeping actions nonviolent increases participation and reduces the potential for infiltration and the likelihood of repression by authorities. This is all the more important in the context of South Sudan where the armed forces are ruthless and could counter violent actions with more violence thereby leading to injuries and even death. But key to success of nonviolent action is the investment in planning. Successful nonviolent campaigns must engage in strategic planning that harness assessment, sequencing, escalation and innovation of tactics to lead to a successful end game.

Gaga Frank who has been championing many peace-building efforts in Yei through the Whitaker Peace Foundation noted that grassroots initiatives in Yei only invite participants at the tail end of the process, not in the design of the initiatives. “When peace-building processes lack local ownership, then their possibilities to end conflict and bring peace are quite slim” lamented Mr. Gaga. Frank Gaga believes that in order for grassroots initiatives to be successful, we must work to regain the trust and confidence of the community as well as give them a sense of ownership to whatever peace-building initiative that we can imagine.

Taking the participants through the role of Government in post-conflict reconstruction in Northern Uganda, Denis Kiptum, highlighted Government’s structural efforts to address the crisis in Northern Uganda, such as, Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF), Plan for the Reconstruction and Development of Northern Uganda (PRDP). These flagship programmes were supported by the World Bank and other development partners and focused on social and physical infrastructure, governance, and financial recovery.  Mr. Kiptum also talked of failures of systemic design such as the top-down nature of the first plan where no significant consultation was made with Northern Ugandans. Even when these programmes were later re-design attempted to be more inclusive, they were tainted with the corruption that plagued most public service delivery initiatives within Uganda.

Maximilian Kiefer, a peace and conflict researcher at the University of Tübingen in Germany also presented snippets from a research project he’s undertaking which studies Okere City as a local peace-building effort. According to Maximillian, local peace-building enables us to appreciate how we can take local resources to make peace and build our communities rather than relying and applying conventional practices and ideas of peace-building conceived and championed by international and national NGOs and other actors. Local peace-building as Max elaborates is not an event. Local peace-building is a continuous process sustained over a long period of time that must effectively address the legacies of war and conflict. In northern Uganda, the legacies of the LRA can be viewed through poor health, educational and livelihoods outcomes, as well as, cultural degeneration which remains significant huddles towards socio-economic transformation of the sub-region. “But Okere City’s attempt to reimagine activities that provides solutions to some of these challenges must be viewed through the lens of local peace-building”, Mr. Kiefer argued. But what can societies still at conflict, like Yei learn from local peace-building activities in Okere? Asked one of the participants. Max responded that what Okere City demonstrates is that it is always important to maintain some level of social capital, even during war time and conflict, although it is difficult. But generally it is never wasted time or money to invest in educating people and creating awareness. Lastly, Okere City shows the importance of understanding peace-building holistically spanning different areas of interventions since they are all interwoven.

Just like in Northern Uganda where the religious and cultural leaders played significant roles to promote peace talks and dialogue, their counterparts in South Sudan should pick some lessons too. Indeed, Pastor John Manesh from Yei who was also one of the trainers attested to the fact that religious leaders in Eastern Equatoria were already championing a number of local peace-building initiatives. For instance, Bishop Emeritus Pharide Taban is playing a significant role to reduce cattle rustling conflict in Mundri County. He also started the Kuron Peace Village which conducts training and capacity development on peace-building. In Yei, ECSS church is hosting IDPs today because of trust people have in the Church as a good place for them to take refuge.

Moreover, the Adungu Peace Club in Yei, whose founder was one of the participants in the workshop shared stories of how their group was able to traverse the jungles of Yei to compose and perform peace songs with the rebels. This helped to promote harmony and understanding between the rebels and the local community.

The combination of trauma healing and dealing with the past sessions facilitated Mary Tukwaje, Gobba Raymond who are both psychologists didn’t only enable the participants to share their experiences but also practically deal with such traumatic experiences. Some of the traumatic experiences shared include sexual assault and grief.   According to Raymond, mindfulness, grounding, and breathwork are important healing components because they enable victims to be present and communicate with their inner selves.

In a nutshell, civil society actors in Yei, South Sudan can promote peace-building in the following ways;

●          Peace-building initiatives should be rooted at the local level or grassroots. CSOs should encourage continuous dialogues at the grassroots, work with all stakeholders i.e. victims/survivors and continue to bring community problems to the government for a solution.

●          CSOs should also invest in the training or orientation of army units on their roles in

●          From Okere, the civil society leaders pledged to replicate the cultural galas and community gatherings around fires, meals, and festivals back in Yei.

●          CSOs should come together and lay down strategies and move forward because peace-building is a process, it's not an event.

The article was written by Ojok Okello and Natasha Hadijjah Sebunya

Asset Publisher


Asset Publisher