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Revisiting Civic-Engagement as a Tool for Peacebuilding in South Sudan

by Donnas Ojok
Keynote Address by Donnas Ojok

As a victim of conflict that lasted for over 20years in Northern Uganda, I often ask myself: would my brothers voluntarily have joined the LRA insurgents group in its initial days if they understood the concept of civic-education? Would the conflict have lasted for decades and destroyed thousands of lives and unquantifiable amounts of properties if there was a basic sense of civic-consciousness by both the LRA who perpetrated the violence and the UPDF who could have stopped the war at its infancy? I will never get answers to these questions.

But all I know is that civilized people who value love humanity and wish to create and leave behind a better world cannot kill each other. Of course, civilized people disagree with each other. But in this disagreement, they value each other’s opinion; they respect each other’s view points; they find a middle ground. They reach a consensus.

But most importantly, they do not let their differences come in the way of advancing a progressive and prosperous civilization. If Joseph Kony understood this, I am sure the people of Northern Uganda wouldn’t have experienced the horrifying and the harrowing pain of war. If the various warring factions in South Sudan knew this, the 400,000 would have never died and more than 4M South Sudanese would have never been forcefully displaced.

Perhaps that’s why we should all be disciples on a mission to civilize the world: preaching tolerance; advocating for respect of each other’s opinions and world views; dialoguing instead of fighting and choosing love instead of hate. That’s the mission I am on in Yei River State, a magnificent countryside with amazing people – most of them innocent women and children who must never again be subjected to violence orchestrated by uncivilized men and their greed for money and power.

This address explores not only the role of civic-engagement as a tool for peacebuilding but it also critically reflects on its its potentials, limitations and critical factors.

When gun shots rattle and bombs fly and vibrate like it has been the case in South Sudan in recent years, there isn’t always space and room for civic engagement. This is because during war and protracted conflict situations respect for democratic values such as law and order, tolerance, justice and accountability, etc. vanishes. More so, no ounce of development can take place when there is war. In fact, war and development are the worst enemies that cannot even so eye-eye.

And yet, during and in the aftermath of conflict, constructive civic-engagement is one of the most proven ways de-escalating violence and building peace by providing a platform where; (i) warring factions can have reconciliatory dialogues and (ii) victims of conflict can find space to heal, an opportunity to forgive and revitalized energy to be hopeful to start rebuilding their lives. In this context, civic-engagement plays a key role in enabling various violent actors to overcome existing conflict lines and find a common ground to build bridges of peace, unity and harmony.

More specifically, civic-engagement plays a vital peacebuilding role by;

  • Protecting lives and properties
  • Inculcating a sense of shared responsibility and accountability
  • Providing a platform for advocacy for the vulnerable groups
  • Enabling people to socialize and get to know each other thereby building a culture of peace.
  • Making people to be more conflict-sensitive because they now know each other and will deliberately try to engage in actions that can cause violence.
  • Providing a space for mediation.
  • Enabling the delivery of the much needed conflict and post-conflict services, such as trauma healing, humanitarian assistance among others.

In trying to understand the role of the civic-engagement in peacebuilding, it is imperative that we try to distance ourselves from the often wrong assumption and practice that civic-engagement and education should only be an affair of the civil-society organizations (CSOs) who again are most times narrowed to NGOs. Rather, civic-engagement should be a multifaceted action of various public and non-public actors including private companies, individuals and/or any other organized groups of people who share a common goal and vision about the betterment of their community. ​​​​​​​

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