“People have realized that violence has really created some hatred among themselves, and people are now very poor,” says Dut Makwouch, 35, secretary of the peace committee in Matangai, part of Rumbek town in Lakes State. “Now we are raising awareness with people to make sure they know the violence that they [perpetuate] is not good and not helpful to them.”
Established by UNDP South Sudan’s Peace and Community Cohesion (PaCC) project, with support from the Government of Sweden, peace committees act as arbiters and mediators of community level conflicts and disputes. Each peace committee member is trained on conflict mediation, transformational leadership, and response to gender-based violence (GBV), taught by trainers from the woman-led National Transformational Leadership Institute (NTLI) of the University of Juba.
“The peace committee structure recognizes to be successful, local negotiation and mediation efforts must be led by local actors, not external players. Identifying, recruiting, and training appropriate people, especially women and youth, who represent a broad spectrum in local communities is essential,” says Judy Wakahiu, UNDP Programme Advisor and Project Manager of PaCC.
In the Rumbek-Mvolo-Mundri Axis (stretching across Western Bahr el Ghazal, Lakes, and Western Equatoria States), the PaCC project has trained eight county-level and five payam-level peace committees.
The Matangai Peace Committee in Rumbek town has been working together since completing their initial training in December 2020. There are 18 members, with four women serving. Called in at times of crisis, the committee members understand how to respond and report cases of conflict, insecurity, and other issues. A selection of peace committee members further participated in a recent three-week training on trauma healing and psychosocial support for conflict-affected communities to continue to build their ability to effectively respond.
“After I got involved in the peace committee, the training I got from NTLI and UNDP has really changed everything. I decided to become a peace committee member, that is why I am working day and night to make sure that our communities are in peaceful co-existence,” says Makwouch, who said his enjoyment interacting with people inspired him to become a peace committee member.
“We are training our chiefs that you should use your power in a good way. You should not take advantage of your power, and then take other people’s property, for example. Or refuse to listen to the vulnerable, that is not the meaning of power. You have to protect the people,” explains Dut Manaak Akuot, 35, a fellow peace committee member.
The Matangai Peace Committee has formed a village sub-committee to go train people in neighboring villages.
“We need to have activities that can combine the people together so we can interact and tell the people how to co-exist. We have been carrying out a lot of awareness on how to avoid the issues of rape,” says Makwouch “These cases are very many, they are rampant. We are reporting six-seven cases in a month.”
“Our community they have embraced peacebuilding, and they have embraced conflict mediation, and they have rested their differences with any communities passing along the road,” says fellow Matangai Peace Committee member Malook Thon Malook, 27.
The peace committee members report that when they have raised their voices and taken up responsibility to resolve issues, the community has listened to them.
“In our territory here, there is an improvement. There are no more cases being raised about killing or ambushes along the road,” says committee member Majak Mabor Keer, 35, adding that the improved security situation would facilitate improved cultivation in the area as people become more confident in security and pursue activities of self-reliance.
“What I want for my family, I need peace. It is the first priority. If they are in peace, this will be a good community,” says committee member Ayieda Monica Matur Malok, 25.
UNDP’s Peace and Community Cohesion (PaCC) programme seeks to contribute to the reduction and mitigation of community level conflict and insecurity by investing in initiatives that address key drivers of conflict and insecurity. The project empowers communities to identify in an inclusive and participatory manner the roots of conflicts in their communities, and using an integrated and gender- sensitive approach, support the communities to effectively prevent, manage and resolve conflict in a non-violent manner. The project also strengthens community relationships by identifying and strengthening cultural, social and economic connectors that make communities reliant on each other in times of peace and conflict. This work is made possible with funding from the Government of Sweden and the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA)