The report ‘Sustaining Relative Peace’ is a reflection on over ten years of peace work with armed youth and their communities and leaders in South Sudan and the borderlands with Uganda and Kenya. These communities mostly consist of shepherds.
When the cross-border peace program was developed, over ten years ago, these communities were stuck in a cycle of violence with their neighbours that consisted of armed cattle raiding and conflicts over natural resources. These conflicts killed hundreds of people every year. Each of the three countries has a different policy regarding security and a different governing structure. In addition, the nomadic nature of shepherd life made it complicated working with them especially in the years when there was no network at all. Notwithstanding these challenges, a few local peace organizations and churches, together with PAX, started a cross-border peace programme to break the cycle of violence and to act as intermediaries building bridges between mostly armed local communities and local authorities, army and police (when police were present) and acting as peace makers in inter-communal conflicts.
This peacebuilding work was at first geared toward young armed warriors in the different communities. Young men from different communities were able to meet during sporting activities, which led to more contact and mutual understanding. Later, kraal leaders, chiefs, women and medicine men were invited to participate. At the same time, local peace organizations and churches addressed their own respective governments, army and the police to solicit their cooperation and to intervene in conflicts peacefully and in time, to make sure that stolen cattle is returned to its owner and to make a case for good regulation of natural resources and the improvement of the necessary infrastructure, such as roads and markets.
This cross-border cooperation has led to good results. In particular, the relations at the border between Uganda and Kenya have been strongly improved. In the whole area, there is less cattle raiding and a basic cross-border early warning system is active. Starting with and involving these armed youth in a program seems to have worked well in reducing conflicts in these borderlands. This insight can also be relevant for other peace work.
Because of the war and renewed conflict in South Sudan, some group relations have deteriorated. This makes the relative peace in the borderlands still fragile. The peace work has to continue and needs to focus on the many groups of armed youth and their communities in South Sudan who have a bleak future perspective and on their leaders.