On 18 July 2015, the South Sudanese Diaspora in UK held a peace conference to explore mechanisms for achieving a sustainable peace in South Sudan.
Members of the South Sudanese community in the UK came together on 18 July to discuss how to achieve sustainable peace and reconciliation in South Sudan. This is the first time that the UK-based diaspora have held such a meeting.
Over one hundred individuals from across the UK South Sudanese community representing all regions of South Sudan and all sectors of society, including youth and women, met at St John’s Church Waterloo in London to discuss the role of the diaspora and civil society in achieving peace, justice and reconciliation. Bishop Emeritus Paride Taban, the former Bishop of Torit in South Sudan, and Bishop Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, led the discussions.
Bishop Paride, who is a member of the South Sudan Council of Churches and the Committee for National Healing, Peace and Reconciliation, stressed the need for a spirit of forgiveness, tolerance and compassion. He said:
“We must respect and listen to each other. We are all children of God. I want to eradicate tribalism in South Sudan. Don’t talk about tribalism or you will end up spoiling South Sudan for ever. The ravaging effects of war could mean the next generation grows up hating. We need change now for the sake of the children. They are innocent; they are peaceful so let us not poison their ears. The war could stop tomorrow if all sides showed love. They must forget the past, accept their wrongdoing and be forgiving. If this is done, the war will stop”.
Bishop Paride received a UN peace award in 2013 for his efforts in promoting peace in communities, in particular in establishing the Kuron Peace Village, a model community where people from different tribes live in harmony.
Bishop Rowan Williams, who visited South Sudan last year, warned that the challenges facing South Sudan had fallen off the international radar, although the challenges facing the country in terms of mass displacement, food insecurity and disease were getting worse and worse. He stressed the need for the churches in South Sudan to continue to work together to promote peace and grass-roots reconciliation. Dame Rosalind Marsden, the former EU Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, said that, if the South Sudanese diaspora in the UK could come together around messages of peace and reconciliation and engage in constructive discussions on how to support sustainable peace, this would be a powerful symbol of hope at a dark time for South Sudan.
Many participants echoed Bishop Paride’s words about the need to overcome divisions and thought that peace was still attainable if everyone focused on their common identity and interests as South Sudanese and on their shared humanity instead of tribal, clan or political differences.
The peace process needed to be inclusive of wider South Sudanese society. The most urgent priority is to stop the fighting which has caused so much suffering to innocent civilians.
A number of speakers spoke about the pain and trauma caused by the war and the need for trauma-healing. Others stressed the need to end the culture of violence and impunity and called for accountability and justice to go hand in hand with reconciliation.
The conference gave the South Sudanese in the UK a rare opportunity to express themselves freely. Varying views were expressed but in a great spirit of unity and tolerance. At the end, people went away saying that they felt their confidence for peace and reconciliation had been restored. The meeting was seen as a positive start in bringing the community together and helping to plant a seed of hope in people’s hearts.