Civil Society met in late February 2017 to discuss how they, as people dedicated to social transformation and change, should embark on a new journey that addresses this complex and difficult context in South Sudan and how this may involve trying to invent spaces within which civil society can actually work.

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Individual members of civil society have faced both personal and professional challenges and hardships as conflict in South Sudan continues, and their feelings of grief, frustration, confusion were evident, as was their dedication to continue offering support, assistance and hope to the people of South Sudan. The following statements and excerpts were captured.

“This is not like instant coffee that you can fix and guzzle. This will take time and it will require constant leadership.”

“As civil society activists our space is continuously shrinking and our voices are going down. How can we find strength in each other and keep giving hope to people? Things that are discussed here should lead to a strategy that allows us to hear the voices of SS, raise those voices, and give them hope.”

“Peace is not something we are waiting for someone to bring; it is the responsibility of everyone. If we contribute, that peace will be there. This peace, there are some laws that if implemented it will contribute to a good environment; there will be respect to the dignity of human beings and human rights. Local Government Act, Protection of Children, Declaration of Human Rights.”


“In Juba, you have to always check who is next to you. Those who come from Juba, might think what you are doing here? People backstab each other, we have been infiltrated. We are weak. We need space where there is no suspicion of who is who and what is what.”

“You better be careful how do you smile, because they will argue that you smile like IO.”

“With Justice Africa we tell what we feel, exactly.”

“In South Sudan, it is just do it as it is. Humanity vis-a-vis policies is important.”

“The problem in South Sudan is that we believe we develop because of information. South Sudanese that are outside the system make positive contributions, and they are smart. The moment they ‘go in’ you no longer hear about their relevance. What can we do to maintain their wisdom and information and wisdom when they are becoming part of the state?”

“There is a need to engage the diverse regional and international interests that are crushing and translating the conflict, much as we know that we cannot get much help from the internationals, we have to appreciate the fact that they have real interests and their engagement is part and parcel with the issues that are perpetuating the conflict. One of the main ways proposed was how to engage in a fashion to both mobilize and demobilize resources for the national dialogue process, making it criteria based. If Qatar wants to fund the national dialogue, they can just fund it the way the government wants it. How do we engage them such that their funding promotes peace rather than the politics of exclusion? In the EU we have to establish a consensus that they have money and can fund the process, but there needs to be some sort of criteria so that it is conflict sensitive.”

“People look at the government dialogue as a monologue, not a dialogue.”

“How can you engage in the national dialogue when 50% of the population has no bread?”

If you talk to someone about their rights when they have an empty stomach, they may not be happy.”

“Even within the government there are people who are good that can help us – let us consider them as allies with whom we can work. It is only that we need to be smart – once they are exposed, they are in danger, but we should not lose them. All the tribes have tribal associations – how do we see them? Is there no way to get into those communities to challenge them to get into working for the communities with love for South Sudan?”

“Your freedom also ends where mine begins.”

Understanding What Community Empowerment Looks Like

“When you start writing to your mother in the village, you start asking her, how are the people ‘down there?’ She might ask, how are the people ‘up there?’ You have internalized the colonial vision – those biases.”

“Emphasis needs to be put on something that makes us to be in the situation we are in now is the fact that many of us, including those in the parliament, believe that the power belongs ‘up there’ not ‘down there’ at the community. Whoever is ‘up there’ is an employee of the people.”

“We need to be open minded to the community, not to assume that we are always the deliverers.”

“Community empowerment is a process to enable communities to live their lives.”

“Community empowerment is putting people at the centre of their livelihoods.”

“Community empowerment is a process of helping the communities to improve on their livelihoods politically, socially and economically.”

“To understand what community empowerment entails, we must understand what community disempowerment entails. It includes lack of information. People at the grassroots do not have access to information, and even when they do they may not be concerned with these things. We have also seen that poverty is part of that, and insecurity. So community empowerment entails enlightening communities to understand their obligations and to realize their power. For communities to be empowered, you have to allow them to properly and meaningfully engage in political processes like the national dialogue and decision-making processes like the elections. It involves demanding accountability from the government. We also said it should enable them to develop community policing Finally, it entails the component of developing resilience in the fact of poverty and economic issues.”

“Because people do not know how to demand accountability, they take the law into their own hands. ‘If you kill from us, we kill from you.’ So you keep killing and you keep revenging as a form of justice. If we want them to bring some form of change, accountability must be addressed. For example, how do we encourage communities to ask for accountability without taking the law into their own hands?”

“If we are we afraid if citizens get enlightened, we are playing like governments themselves… It is not a question of whether we should let citizens know their rights or now, it is a matter of what information we prioritize giving them.”


  • Voices on Justice from a Justice Seminar
  • Voices from a Paralegal Workshop
  • Voices on Issues Related to Divorce, Security, the Justice System


The following collection of voices comes from civil society members who met in Western Bahr el Ghazal during October 2015. The civil society members reflected on the Peace Agreement itself as well as what real peace at the community level would look like.

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“[The peace agreement is] focusing on the opposition, but the security in South Sudan in general is not addressed. We have a lot of opposition in South Sudan, but the agreement only addresses SPLA-IO. We have many small defection groups [militias] plus Western Equatorian groups – they are not captured. I am quite sure that these groups will continue, including cattle keepers [who conduct raids]. If all groups were considered [in the peace agreement] then the security would be stable.”  – WBG government representative

“Politicians are not pro peaceful co-existence. The peace agreement should set indicators to address insecurity at community level.” –  Western Bahr el Ghazal civil society member

“The agreement should not promote a political approach for creating peaceful co-existence.”Western Bahr el Ghazal civil society member

‘What is community peace?’ according to western bahr el ghazal civil society

“When communities live in peace they can sit down together and discuss with freedom of expression.”

“People are moving freely without being asked who they are and where they are going.”

“A soldier dropping his gun to cultivate the land.”

“Men and women, boys and girls sitting and talking together.”

“Everyone dancing his or her traditional dances together.”

“Schools, hospitals, people going to school.”

“Clean roads and security lights; small industries that can sustain people; a water line is connected and there are full services; the town is demarcated.”

“If there is peace in the community, there is political peace.”

“People free and laughing.”

“UNMISS leaving.”

People are talking about peace between Riek Machar and Salva: it is political peace. But for us we want freedom of movement and expression at our community level.”

“Where you can see people cultivating, growing flowers and birds singing there is peace.”

“For us to come together we need to have love and hope in our heart. If we do there is chance of us dialoguing and coming together for peace.”

“Peace is not only for politicians – communities have their own conflicts which, left unaddressed, will mean there will be no peace.”

“Peace is important to all of us… when peace comes it should be enjoyed by the people… the benefit of peace is for the communities not just the politicians.”

“Defining peace is about perspective; if we come together, you define yours and I’ll define mine, and then we find a way to combine and find peace.”

“Peace starts from within us; if you have peace in your family you have peace in your community, then the country. The peace going on now is serving the interests of the leaders.”

“Peace goes beyond just the absence of war and fighting.”

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