South Sudan church backs new peace initiative


South Sudan church backs new peace initiative


George Conger

The Episcopal Church of South Sudan has lent its support to a peace initiative launched by President Salva Kiir to end the three year old tribal conflict that has devastated Africa’s newest independent nation. Speaking at the close of a special meeting of the church’s House of Bishop in Juba on 17 June 2017, the Most Rev. Daniel Deng, Primate of South Sudan and Archbishop of Juba, urged all sides to pursue peace.

The church’s bishops “think that the national al dialogue is an opportunity to talk to all the parties and the church has resulted to be going between the parties to reach a peaceful resolution to the conflict," he told reporters last month.

In 2014 South Sudan fighting erupted between troops of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) loyal to President Kiir and those loyal to Vice-President Riek Machar. The United Nations and international aid agencies have reported that government and opposition forces alike committed mass atrocities against civilians, with much of the violence taking place on ethnic lines, with with Kiir’s Dinka soldiers targeting civilians of Machar’s Nuer people, and vice versa. Upwards of five million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, aid agencies report, with the specter of famine stalking the land.

The two sides signed a peace agreement in Addis Ababa in 2015, and Vice-President Machar’s returned to South Sudan, however, during his absence, President Kiir reconfigured the map of the country, dividing its ten states into twenty eight, mostly along ethnic lines. Machar’s supporters have objected to the new state lines, saying it is a form of tribal gerrymandering that will exacerbate South Sudan’s tribal divisions, and keep the government firmly in power.

The political squabbles led to a new round of ethnic clashes and a return to war footing in many parts of the country. However in May President Kiir announced a unilateral ceasefire and formed a national dialogue steering committee that included civil and religious leaders, tasked with finding a way forward for the nation.

Archbishop Deng told reporters the churches of South Sudan can play a key role in the peace process.  "The church has always been for peace and we will engage fully the local communities, the political leaders and everybody who is interested in peace in the country, diaspora, displaced persons and refugee camps," he said.

Past church initiatives to broker a peace agreement have met with limited long term success, as local warlords and political leaders did not always cooperate, and police attempts to restore order often led to further outbreaks of violence.