Ingenuity in the Face of Crisis: Solutions-Mapping in South Sudan’s Jonglei State
Written by Tong Atak, Head of Solutions Mapping
On a recent visit to Bor, in Jonglei State, the South Sudan Accelerator Lab encountered communities adapting to change and deploying local solutions in the face of three challenges: localized conflict, COVID-19, and climate change-impacted flooding.
Positioned along the banks of the White Nile River and within the vast Sudd wetlands, communities in Jonglei State are no strangers to living with the rhythm of the water. For centuries, recurrent flood waters have come and gone, setting forth migration patterns for communities and their livestock.
Yet the floods in 2020 surpassed previous records dating back to the 1960’s. As flooding has become more severe and less predictable, more people have been displaced, and issues over land ownership arise as a key source of conflict. These disputes can spiral out of control and leave communities on all sides devastated.
Despite hardship in Jonglei State, local solutions to address challenges tell the story of persistence and ingenuity to protect and preserve life, livelihoods, and property.
We witnessed community-led peacebuilding initiatives healing years-long rifts. Fishermen are adapting their livelihoods to serve a greater community need. Youth have sprung to action providing critical flood response, creating democratic associations, funding their own food relief efforts, and harnessing radio to bring credible messages of peace to cattle camps. Here is a closer look at what we found:
Solutions to Heal Divides
The communities of Koroi and Gwala, located in Kolnyang payam, are aware of how the vicious cycle of conflict can negatively impact their way of life. In 2016, a violent incident led to multiple deaths, 117 homes burned, and property razed. Men, women, and children all allegedly took part in the destruction. Despite historically close relations, the communities remained gridlocked thereafter.
Following training in conflict mediation provided by UNDP’s Peace and Community Cohesion (PaCC) project in late 2020, a newly formed Kolnyang peace committee began sorting through complicated issues of reconciliation. From their initiative, traditional measures of forgiveness and compensation for lives and property lost were agreed upon by both sides. During our visit, we witnessed the voluntarily relocation of hundreds of households occupying land gained during the conflict. Their shift to allocated land will pave the way for rightful owners to return home.
The agreement reached is detailed and monitored closely by local leadership. The solutions emanated from within the communities themselves rather than being imposed or enforced by government or outside influence.
“Even the state [government] did not think we could normalize relations,” said one of the peace committee members. “We did not want what was happening to continue. With the [peace committee structure] we have now, we would have prevented what happened in 2016.”
Although self-driven, efforts made by peace committees in communities like Kolnyang feed into county, state, and national peacebuilding efforts. Guided by the South Sudan Peace and Reconciliation Commission (SSPRC), community members will soon be able to report incidents via a conflict early warning and response system.
Solutions to Inform
Misinformation, disinformation, rumors, and hate speech can have devastating effects in situations common throughout Jonglei State. The combination of flooding and migration contribute to the complexity of information sharing. The onset of COVID-19 in 2020 presented another layer and source for misunderstanding.
With a contextual grasp of these local cleavages, Radio Jonglei 95.9 FM is finding ways to spread accurate information to hard-to-reach audiences in cattle camps. The journalists, producers, and personalities of Radio Jonglei have a unique level of credibility and trust with the cattle camp youth. This has enabled them to deliver messages and information on peace and COVID-19 prevention.
Solutions for Disaster Response
When the dikes in Bor town gave way last year, young people showed up on the front line with shovels and hoes. Youth-led initiatives to combat disaster have continued in subsequent weeks and months.
Ataka Hub, a Bor-based organization and coalition of innovative youth, uses a crowdsourced fundraiser run on blockchain technology, to get food in the hands of families in need. Called eatBCH, the technology-enabled campaign transforms micro-Bitcoin Cash donations into food aid. Through their platform, Ataka Hub was able to feed close to 1,000 vulnerable community members across Bor town.
The Ataka Hub team also set up “Repair Café’s” in Bor town to serve the community with pop-up electronic and phone repair services. During flooding, flashlights are essential for locals navigating watery areas. Ataka Hub’s “Repair Café’s” troubleshoot, fix, and ensure this equipment is in good working order. The team uses #ASKotec (Access to Skills and Knowledge - Open Technologies Emergency Case) to train local youth on electronic repairs, supported by Berlin-based r0g_agency for open culture.
Solutions to Preserve Livelihoods
When Bor town center was divided by the flood waters in 2020, local fishermen in town decided to bring their boats into what was previously interior dry land. This effectively transformed their fishery businesses into transportation operations. Their ability to adapt to serve a greater community need has allowed the fishermen to earn a decent living in challenging times, as well as provide the community a much-needed route to transport food, goods, and people across the two divided sides of Bor town.
Boda-boda riders (motorcycle taxis) also help move people to and from boat launch zones. Since COVID-19 school closures, the number of boda-bodas exploded in Bor, causing fights at the makeshift Addis Ababa boat launch station. Many young men are earning income for their families affected by floods, so competition was fierce.
Recognizing the need for change and unity, a large group of approximately 50 young boda-boda operators organized themselves into a democratic professional association. The collective put in rules and norms for the station, agreed upon by consensus. The group welcomes new members regardless of tribe, believing in the principle that everyone has an equal opportunity in the pursuit of earning income. The members form an orderly queue and serve customers in sequence, enabling each boda boda to get customers throughout the day. The association created a matrix of pricing across the town that offers profits for the drivers and a fair and affordable means of transportation for the community. There are set prices and no undercutting or price gouging is permitted. The group works in partnership with the local boat captains to transport community supplies and disadvantaged members of the community for free.
These examples of grassroots community interventions have allowed a devastated community to be able to cope with ongoing challenges. Their tenacity and flexibility to adapt to all manner of situations reflects several different forms of what innovation can look like through the lens of crisis.