Role of Traditional Leaders in Peace, Security and Development: National Conference
September 25, 2023
Juba – South Sudan – The Traditional authorities under the umbrella of the Council of Traditional Authority Leaders (COTAL) are known to resolve local disputes to maintain peace and security at the grassroots level in South Sudan; a role that the stakeholders acknowledged the national COTAL conference held in Juba from 1-3 September 2023.
This conference was a follow-up to the resolutions and recommendations of the 2022-2023 regional traditional leaders’ conferences supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in collaboration with United Nations Missions in South Sudan (UNMISS), the National Ministry of Peacebuilding, the Local Government Board and other partners. It brought together 122 stakeholders (10 women), mainly paramount chiefs and Directors General of State Ministries of Local Government and Law Enforcement Agencies from the ten states and Greater Pibor Administrative Area, as well as national level representatives of governance cluster institutions of South Sudan.
Themed ‘Empowering Traditional Authorities to Consolidate Peace and Reconciliation’, the national conference enhanced understanding of the role of traditional authority in conflict management and resolution of community disputes to contribute to peace and stability in South Sudan.
The key to Peace in South Sudan
During opening remarks, most UNDP partners stressed the important role of traditional leaders in realizing sustainable peace in South Sudan. Johanna Tervo, Fin Church Aid representative, said: “COTAL is essential to create peace in South Sudan because they are linked with different stakeholders in the in communities. Thus, formalizing their role in conflict management is key for peace in South Sudan.”
“Peace is the cornerstone of progress, and the traditional leaders hold the key,” said Michael Ouko, Representative of Norwegian Church Aid, NCA,
“The past role of traditional leaders was important for peace and security. This conference should enable the traditional leaders to have a common understanding of their role and strengthen it to promote peace and security”, said Ms. Margaret Wendels, GiZ Representative of the German Embassy in South Sudan.
Speaking on behalf of UNMISS and UN agencies, Mr. Guang Cong, the DSRSG-Political, said: “The role of traditional leaders is important in national building exercises including elections, addressing communal conflicts, and justice which contribute to the implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement”.
Mr. Cong recommended that the national COTAL conference will harmonize resolutions of the 2022-23 traditional leaders’ regional conferences and, more importantly, include more women and youth in traditional leadership structures”.
“Peace in South Sudan is incumbent upon the traditional leaders' work, " said Hon. Pia Philip, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Peacebuilding.
This conference created an avenue for traditional leaders to share best practices, including the traditional justice approach (South Sudan people-to-people approach), to enhance reconciliation and healing amongst communities. It also improved the understanding of the key provisions of the Revitalized Agreements amongst traditional leaders.
In his opening remarks, Hon. Lasuba Wongo, Minister of Federal Affairs, said: “This conference should be an impetus of conflict mitigation. It creates awareness that traditional leaders have an important role in peace and security as we embark on the constitution-making process.”
On his part, the Chief Guest, H.E. Riek Machar, the First Vice President of South Sudan, noted that government system could be wiped out but the chiefs would remain and serve communities which we saw in Anya nya one and two rebellions. H.E. Machar added: “Traditional leaders are important in dispensing justice, building peace and development including production activities like agriculture and establishment of schools”.
To promote social cohesion, H.E. Machar advised traditional leaders to reduce bride price to encourage intermarriages between communities across South Sudan. Acknowledging the important role of traditional leaders, H.E. Machar said that conventional leaders address over 80% of disputes in South Sudan. Thus, H. E. Machar recommended a national legislation for the establishment of COTAL at all levels of government in South Sudan.
Powers of Traditional Leaders
While commenting on resolutions of previous regional conferences for traditional leaders, Hon. Stephen Par Kuol, Minister of Peacebuilding, emphasized the importance of the judicial powers of chiefs. Hon. Kuol said: “Without restoration of the powers of traditional leaders, it would be hard to implement government policies and South Sudan laws”.
This was echoed by paramount chief Leone of Torit County, Eastern Equatoria State, who said.” armed youth and absence of police to enforce law and order continue to challenge the work of traditional leaders especially in Payams and Bomas”. Chief Leone added, “the power of guns has eroded our powers and so there is no security for chiefs”.
The conference also identified other key challenges, including cattle raiding, child and women abduction by armed groups; lack of detention centers for suspects of crimes; the presence of illegal firearms in the hands of civilians, inadequate basic social services, including health; lack of salaries and mobility for traditional leaders; inadequate capacity of local government officers to carry out their role in collaboration with traditional leaders.
Thus, the traditional leaders called for comprehensive disarmament of civilians, deployment of unified forces, including police, to maintain law and order and protect chiefs; establishment of reformatory centers for suspects of cattle raids; training of local government administrators to effectively carry out their role and organize state level COTAL conferences which can enhance participation of head chiefs, executive and sub-chiefs in conferences.
The national COTAL conference is part of local initiatives that started at the state and moved to the regional level. It is supported by UNDP, UNMISS, Finn Church Aid, Norwegian Church Aid, GiZ, Restore Hope Africa, Ministry of Peacebuilding, and the Local Government Board to strengthen Councils of Traditional Authority Leaders to enhance reconciliation and peace across South Sudan.