Traditional Leaders Urged to be Ambassadors for Peace
September 23, 2022
Torit- South Sudan –Traditional leaders command a lot of respect and influence that can be used to engender positive behavioral changes in their respective communities. Their power and influence can be applied to foster peacebuilding and amicable resolution of conflicts.
This observation was made during a recent conference of traditional leaders in the greater Equatorial region of South Sudan. An initiative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in collaboration with United Nations Mission in South Sudan - Civil Affairs Division (UNMISS-CAD), the two-day conference was attended by 50 (14 females) traditional leaders.
Under the theme, “Empowering Local Peace Infrastructure to Address Local Disputes and Communal Conflicts,’’ the conference took place between September 6-7th, 2022 in Torit Town, Eastern Equatoria State (EES).
Together for peace
Speaking during the conference, Hon. Peter Lokeng Lotoney, the EES Minister of Local Government who represented the EES Governor underscored the role of traditional leaders in promoting peace. He said, “No peace, no development, no movement of people and no cultivation. Chiefs should be ambassadors of peace, so, let us focus on peace and make it a reality.”
The minister pledged government commitment to maintain peace, “The EES Government will do all it can to maintain peace, implement conference resolutions and ensure that they are reflected in the national conference in Juba to bring sustainable peace in South Sudan.”
Similarly, Hon. Isaac Moro, the Central Equatorial State (CES) Minister of Local Government, described the conference as a game changer saying, “it will generate solutions to problems interfering with court decisions, customary and statutory laws, murder cases and marriage, among others.”
He also justified the focus on chiefs saying that, “chiefs speak the truth, they don’t have conflict of interest like us politicians. Chiefs cannot be intimidated, and we believe strongly that you can be the agents of peace within our communities.”
The assumption in this call is that traditional leaders have the best interests of the people at heart and have been instrumental in peace processes in different parts of the world.
The conference enhanced the understanding of role of the traditional authority as mandated in the Local Government Act (2009), to resolve inter-tribal disputes, apply customary and traditional resolution mechanisms, foster peacebuilding, facilitate mediation and other conciliatory approaches.
Addressing conflict triggers
During the conference, traditional leaders discussed conflict triggers, shared experiences on peaceful resolution of conflicts and reflected on mechanisms to resolve disputes pertaining to land, illegal mining, illegal logging, insecurity, cattle raiding and cattle migration. Others were ending vices such as child abuse and early/ forced marriage fueled by the desire for monetary gains.
“I believe that the grassroots have solutions, and we need to enhance their capacity and support them to maintain peace in society,” said Hon. James Morris, the Western Equatoria State Minister of Local Government.
The participants urged the national government to resolve border disputes, promote peace through disarmament/ removal of guns from civilians, end cattle rustling, child abduction and improve coordination between peace committees and customary courts.
During the conference, the traditional leaders also discussed challenges hampering their work including disrespect, proliferation of firearms, limited involvement of traditional authorities in the ongoing constitution making processes and under payment of traditional authorities.
Other traditional leaders called for strengthened recognition and involvement of traditional leaders in peacebuilding and mediation efforts and the ongoing constitutional making processes, capacity building of traditional leaders and formation of an umbrella body for traditional authority leaders.
Other participants described the conference as impactful, “When we attended the EES conference in April this year, I thought it was a simple thing! But now it is making a lot of sense! Our resolutions will be presented at the national conference! I am happy because I met my fellow chiefs from Central and Western Equatoria states. This has united us and facilitated sharing of experiences and solutions to our common challenges,” said a chief from EES.
The conference is part of initiatives being supported by UNDP and UNMISS to strengthen the role of traditional leaders in peacebuilding in the three regions – Central Equatoria State, Eastern Equatorial State and Western Equatorial State of South Sudan.
Issues and recommendations during the consultations will feed into the national level conference planned for late 2022. This will potentially inform policies and strategies to strengthen inclusive governance and peace in South Sudan.