By Hope Tichaenzana Chichaya
On February 22, 2014 a community security meeting prevented violence, enhanced understanding among community actors, and enhanced space for dialogue. This ultimately protected humanitarian actors, assets and space in Nyirol County, South Sudan. These community security meetings facilitated by Nonviolent Peaceforce play an important role in Waat community. Waat is a payam (political subdivision) in Nyirol County of Northern Jonglei State. Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) in Waat serves three counties of Greater Akobo: Nyirol, Akobo West and Uror County.
In February, reports of violent fighting between government forces and anti-government forces (AGF) spread quickly in the area. According to these reports, there was a greater need for fuel and cars by anti-government forces. In Uror County, several cars and fuel had been taken, they also began turning to humanitarian actors looking for fuel and cars. After hearing the intentions of the anti-government forces, the payam administrator of Waat talked to the AGF logistics commander. The payam administrator then referred the AGF to the county commissioner, but unfortunately the county commissioner was absent. Therefore, the acting county commissioner scheduled a community security meeting among the actors on the ground. This included community and youth leaders, the anti-government forces and local government authorities.
During the meeting, community and youth leaders learned that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Nyirol County, such as Nonviolent Peaceforce, were being targeted for fuel and cars. The armed actors in the anti-government forces demanded they hand over these items, but the NGOs refused. To make matters worse, the youth leaders threatened violence, if the armed actors attempted to take property from any NGOs’ including Nonviolent Peaceforce. “The presence of Nonviolent Peaceforce is important here,” said one leader during the meeting. The leader also noted “Protecting non-governmental organization’s property and staff will help us have more assistance.” Chan Makuach declared, “[the] presence of Nonviolent Peaceforce and Save the Child International protects civilians, not with guns like other organizations.”
Despite being threatened to be labelled as government “spies” by not giving into the demands of AGF, the community members still met to clarify misconceptions and explain the significance of NP’s “proactive presence.” Ultimately, all actors agreed to not cause any more violence or to threaten non-governmental organizations. “The meeting also protected humanitarian assets, staff and existing space. The community cannot imagine this place without the presence of international actors,” said Lony Koang Dhuor, a national protection officer for Nonviolent Peaceforce in South Sudan. Lony agreed along with the acting commissioner, to pledge personal responsibility in protecting civilians and humanitarian personnel assets in his jurisdiction. After the meeting, Zandro Escat, senior international protection officer for Nonviolent Peaceforce in Waat said, “Although this place is harsh and difficult, I am humbled [and] inspired.”
Photo: Hope Tichaenzana Chichaya visiting NP's caretaker Martha after she gave birth to a son named Nonviolent in July 2013. Hope is working in the most remote field site with no internet; therefore, unfortunately we don't have a more recent picture to illustrate this article.