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'I don't see or feel peace'

By Caroline Gluck
Mary Agya and her teenaged daughter, Fubi Idia, were displaced by the Lord's Resistance Army. Photo: Coco McCabe

Finding enough food to have one meal a day is proving a daily challenge for 45 year-old Rebecca Konjo.

The mother of 13 children is hunting for wild grass to eat with three of her young children, collecting plants in metal pans.

“We should not have problems, because we are in peace”, she says. “But we have no food and the raiders destroyed everything. Where can we go? What can the government do? We are with God. We just pray that peace will come”.

Rebecca and about 4,000 others living in her village in Lakes State, southern Sudan, were forced to flee for their lives following two attacks earlier this year by a rival tribe. At least five people were killed.

Families moved back to their homes in July after the government installed a visible security presence. Rebecca returned to find her house completely looted, her 11 chickens and 10 goats stolen, and her crops ruined.

“All our crops – sorghum, ground nuts, and sesame – suffered,” she said. “We couldn’t cultivate normally. Everything was lost. Everything was destroyed. What could we do? We have to stay here and collect wild fruit in the bush.”

Southern Sudan has seen an upsurge in violence in the past year. Much of it is taking place in remote, rural areas between rival tribes.

It is often linked to disputes over resources, especially cattle and land.

Many civilians still have guns – a legacy of Sudan’s devastating 21-year civil war between the central government in the north and the southern based Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army, or SPLM/A. The proliferation of arms means disputes can easily flare into violent conflict.

It wasn’t meant to turn out like this.

Five years ago, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or CPA, was signed, heralding a new era of hope for Sudan. It was supposed to end one of Africa’s longest conflicts, which cost the lives of around two million people and displaced around four million more.

But Sudan is once again at a crossroads. The coming year – with landmark elections and a referendum where southerners will decide if they want to remain part of a united Sudan or secede – will be critical. There are fears that unless the international community acts swiftly to bolster the fragile peace process, Sudan could once again face serious instability.

Public confidence in the CPA is also being undermined by the slow delivery of what many had hoped would be “peace dividends” – the establishment of basic services such as water, health clinics and schools. Southern Sudan is already one of the poorest and least-developed regions of the world. Less than half the population has access to safe drinking water. One in seven children will die before their fifth birthday.

But development cannot come without peace. Many aid organizations, like Oxfam, have re-started emergency response programs to help communities displaced by conflict, setting aside longer-term development work.

Some villages that were untouched by the civil war are now facing violence and upheaval for the first time.

“I only heard peace was signed in Sudan”, said mother of four, Mary Agya. “I don’t see or feel peace.”

She speaks from experience. Her village in Diko, Mundri West County, was unscathed by Sudan’s long civil war. But villagers were forced to flee their homes after an attack by the vicious rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, which first originated in northern Uganda.

Her 14-year-old daughter, Fubi Idia, is still traumatized after being abducted by the rebels. She spent 12 days in the forest before she could be reunited with her family.

The family remains worried about the future and what it might bring. Communities in southern Sudan have wearied of war and yearn for peace. The coming year will be a testing time.