“I got the tools from the Nonviolent Peaceforce training to manage my three wives. I applied the concepts; now my family lives in [a] peaceful manner.”
This was the positive feedback given by one man after participating in a Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) community protection training in South Sudan, where polygamy is a common cultural practice. Not, perhaps, the application that NP had in mind, but we always appreciate hearing from community members that they find NP’s work valuable. We are thrilled when participants take ownership of the violence reduction concepts and tools that NP shares, adapting them to their own culture and context. This is how NP remains true to one of our key principles: primacy of local actors. In a recent community protection training the NP Mingkaman team was able to inspire community members to this, and other acts of nonviolent conflict resolution. This could only be achieved through an ongoing process of collaboration with the community.
Throughout the past year, violence has caused many cattle keepers in Jonglei state to move with their herds over the border to Lakes state. Large numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) have settled in Awerial County in Lakes state, including these cattle keeping groups. They are living amongst the host community and host community cattle camps. There are many causes of tensions between IDP and host communities, and between cattle camps and other settlements. Cattle raiding and revenge fighting are common. There are few structures in place to support nonviolent resolution to conflicts.
These were the considerations that led NP to visit Kalthok payam, part of Awerial County, with the idea of engaging both IDP and host community cattle keeper youth (young men). The youth, often perpetrators of violence, are key actors with the potential to reduce the conflict in their communities.
On the first visit in July NP went to the leaders of Kalthok, including the payam administrator who is the highest government authority of the payam, and the chiefs who are the traditional leaders. The team introduced themselves and the work of Nonviolent Peaceforce.
After this initial introductory and relationship building meeting, a second meeting was arranged at the beginning of August. The purpose of this second meeting was discussing in more detail the community’s protection needs, the conflict issues, how NP could assist, and making sure that key actors would be in attendance. NP’s CEO Doris Mariani, NP board member Mukesh Kapila, and Country Director Tiffany Easthom were visiting at the time and participated with the NP Mingkaman team members.
NP wanted to hear from the community leaders their concerns and what the areas of conflict in Kalthok were. The leaders identified cattle theft as their main source of conflict. Another one was attitudes of host and IDP community members. They described an attitude amongst the host community of feeling that they are braver than the IDPs because they stayed in their homes while the IDPs fled theirs. They also described an attitude amongst the IDPs that the host community should be grateful for their coming, because due to their presence much humanitarian aid has come to both communities. Other problems were caused by cattle eating crops and by elopement. If a young woman elopes without her parents’ permission it leads to fighting between families and between communities.
Grievances of unresolved cases were also an issue. The leaders shared about one three-year old case in which fighting resulted in two people being killed. Both the family of those who were killed and the family of the ones who did the killing were unhappy that the government had not yet resolved the case. They lived with the fear of revenge fighting and had difficulty eating together in social gatherings.
NP asked the community leaders: “What can we do to help you with these issues?”. The leaders suggested capacity building. It was agreed that NP would conduct a training. Though NP’s initial idea had been to target the youth, the leaders were also interested in participating. The training was expanded to include representatives from both groups. The leaders identified 15 youth whom they knew would be committed to the project. An additional 12 community leaders, including the paramount chief (the highest traditional authority in the area) and some former civil administrators, brought the number of participants up to 27.
The NP team began preparing for the training. They made another visit to arrange details like venue and tea (an obligatory part of conducting any training in South Sudan). They revised the NP community protection training tools and adapted them to the specific concerns that the community had shared. The national protection officers reviewed the content that they would have to translate from English into Dinka. Finally, the two-day community protection training took place at the start of September.
The training curriculum used participatory methods to equip participants with tools for conflict analysis and reviewed methods of nonviolent conflict resolution. After these areas were covered, the training then worked through processes that helped the participants think about possible community-led responses to the concerns that they had identified. The training finished with an evaluation in which the participants let NP know that they were excited about what they had learned. The NP team had had their own ideas about forming a Community Protection Team (CPT) out of the training, but the participants anticipated it, letting NP know that they wanted to form a group. NP supported their initiative and made plans to meet with the group to follow up.
The team went back at the end of the month to meet with the participants who were going to form the CPT and to deliver certificates of participation (another requisite part of any training in South Sudan). The men were full of stories about how they had been using what they had learned and come up with in the training – and not only to resolve marital disputes!
Deng (not his real name) talked about how there was a situation with an International Non Governmental Organization (INGO) that would come and hire youths to do manual labor. The INGO always hired IDPs, which created tension with the host community. Deng had mobilized the youth from the IDP and host community to meet and each select a representative. They made a plan that these representatives would meet with the INGO in question the next time they came to hire youths and work together to make sure both communities would be considered in the process.
A chief at the community level had been empowered by the brainstorming portion of the training, in which the specific case of the killings of three years ago had been discussed. The chief went to the county commissioner and explained how the delay in resolving the case was giving problems in Kalthok. They were able to bring a lawyer from the state capital to Mingkaman (county capital) in order to get the case resolved. It was decided that reparations would be made to the victims’ family in the form of livestock. The two families are now able to eat together at community gatherings.
The group saw potential for expanding their community protection work. They often experience conflict with cattle keepers from the neighboring state of Central Equatoria, in Terekeka County. Cattle keepers from both sides often do not respect the border; crossing to loot cows, which leads to killings. The group wanted NP to go to Terekeka and train that community so that they would form a CPT that could be their group’s counterpart. The Kalthok CPT envisioned being able to work together with a CPT from the other community to discuss matters at their level of influence and when necessary report larger problems to the government authorities in order to prevent violence.
NP was happy to see how quickly the training had had an impact, and excited about the vision for the CPT that the participants shared. NP could see how including influential leaders in the training with youth had made it easier for the group to implement its ideas. It was decided that the CPT would meet every two weeks and they asked for NP to also be there. The NP staff present took the news back to the rest of the team in Mingkaman to figure out how NP could continue to support the Kalthok CPT and decide on next steps. There is much for the Kalthok CPT to do and they are enthusiastic to start contributing to the reduction of violence in their community.
 A payam is the second-lowest administrative division, below counties in South Sudan. Payams are required to have a minimum population of 25000. They are further subdivided into a variable number of bomas. As of 2009, South Sudan's 514 payams have an average of 4.2 bomas each.
 The community decided that they wanted to keep the training separate for men and women, and the team respected that wish. They continue to work with women in other parts of Awerial County and have conducted women’s peacekeeping trainings, and hope to be able to offer a training for women in Kalthok in the future.