“South Sudan is the world’s youngest nation and one of the poorest on Earth. After two long years of civil war, tens of thousands of victims, and almost two million people displaced, a fragile peace took hold in the country in 2015, though violent clashes still happen.”
This document by Search for Common Ground (SFCG) synthesises lessons learned from programming and monitoring and evaluation (M&E) to build an evidence base on conducting conflict transformation programming in South Sudan. SFCG has been in South Sudan since 2014 with the overall objective to promote social cohesion, resilience, and the peaceful resolution of conflicts among individuals and communities. Through strategic communication and dialogue the organisation targets youth and community influencers such as religious leaders and media actors; civil society groups; local authorities; and other influential interlocutors.
The document outlines three key lessons and strategies that have led to the success of the programme. The first is to develop a strategic context assessment and conflict analysis to inform relevant programming. To ensure that programmes are relevant and responsive, it is necessary to identify underlying factors of conflict, triggers of conflict, and community unifiers. SFCG recognises that different groups - such as community leaders, youth, and women - have different needs, influence on difference areas of the community, and have different roles they can fulfil within the peace building process. Reflecting on these factors, SFCG determined that traditional dance, music, sports (football, wrestling), church, and school constitute popular activities that provide opportunities for people to gather and have discussions across dividing lines. It is also important to acknowledge that dispute-resolution mechanisms (dialogue, going to the policy, and fighting) and preferred community-bridging activities may vary across the country by location. (See “South Sudan: Conflict Analysis Brief - Trends in Conflict Drivers, Triggers and Unifiers” for the report informing the work in South Sudan.)
Secondly, programming should use creative strategies to reach hard-to-access locations and populations. In the context of South Sudan, where many communities are inaccessible or where people are displaced, the use of media approaches, and particularly radio, ensures that programming can continue to reach affected populations. Creative solutions also entail working through key stakeholders and bringing people together across dividing lines into safe spaces for collaboration. It is also important to work through local stakeholders to ensure ownership of the solution and sustainability of the spaces and interlocutors for ongoing dispute resolution. SFCG also supported the identification of common social, economic or livelihood interests that both communities relied on to build on commonalities and enhance social cohesion. Most of all, allowing communities to discover solutions to their conflict instead of trying to impose a solution and giving them the tools to take ownership of projects contributes to the sustainability of an action.
Thirdly, in order to engage a diverse target audience it is important to develop credible and constructive narratives. Based on research findings, that showed a gap in “debate among youth on non-violent conflict resolution mechanisms”, SFCG developed a radio programme, Hiwar al Shabab, which offered a platform for youth to discuss issues that affect them and their communities; identifying areas of shared interest that transcend ethnic and religious divisions (see video link below for more information on the role of radio in South Sudan). SFCG has also used participatory theatre, where stories are collected from the community where it will perform. This allows the narrative of the performance to be relevant to that community and its residents (see video link below for more information the work involving participatory theatre).
The following videos highlight some of the work described above:
Performing Miracles: South Sudan refugees find hope in theater - At 10, Dau fled the violence in his native South Sudan with his mother and became a refugee in Kenya. There, he learned to act. Today, he’s performing in refugee camps for members of the tribe that persecuted his family decades prior.
South Sudan: two tribes rebuild what violence demolished - A fragile peace defines the relation between the Madi and Acholi tribes. SFCG radio programmes and community dialogues offer them an opportunity to come together, humanise each other, and heal the trauma caused by years of ethnic violence.
SFCG website on December 8 2016.