Hope dashed in South Sudan

Rebuilding requires reconciliation, hope, honesty and open hearts

By Simon Mach,

Mach SimonJuly 7, 2014(Nyamilepedia) — Having lived through the 1983 experience of displacement and hardship in South Sudan, I have words of experience and strong convictions from a peacemaker perspective about what South Sudan, our suffering country, needs.

We need to begin nation-building in which all of the diverse cultures will be embraced, to replace the negativity of tribal divisions. We need to find a way to benefit from diversity and to build unity. The next generation will then have a sense of belonging to a nation, with continuing pride and identity in our tribal roots. The diverse tribes can unite in a larger sense of positive citizenship, within an overarching national identity. Our tribal backgrounds would no longer be excuses for aggression and division, but would be celebrated as unique and valuable contributions to the whole.

We can learn from those tragedies we experienced. Even from a distance, we can begin to create a truly democratic and free citizenship based on human rights, and a government that builds on the grassroots contributions of ordinary people, rather than dividing and destroying the civil society that supports the population. We want protection and provision of basic human rights.

South Sudan needs to inherit the kind of culture our fathers died for: one that provides equal access to economic, political, social and cultural resources. The government needs to respect and protect the lives of diverse people. The constitution must reflect the voices and rights of the people, and the government must practice these policies in a new democratic tradition like Canada’s, respecting all citizens.

The current situation does not truly reflect what we were hoping and dreaming of in the new nation of South Sudan.

The current situation does not truly reflect what we were hoping and dreaming of in the new nation of South Sudan. Our hopes for a new democracy, prosperity, unity, peace and stability have been dashed. This disillusionment came about because the government allowed genocide within the country’s capital, and violence escalated to the other cities. It divided our national army, taking on a strong ethnic theme. It began, we know, with the president’s ethnic-based militias, targeting and killing one tribe: the Nuer.

This has sent citizens of all ages fleeing for safety, damaging the economic and civil fabric. It will take immense effort to recover from this, requiring cooperation between diverse groups to heal the trauma.

Some people believe that reconciliation means an apology, a hand shake and, perhaps, financial compensation. But real reconciliation involves an honest meeting and confrontation between people who have been harmed or disadvantaged, and those who have caused them to be harmed. Both the victim and the perpetrator speak from their own experiences, and if the perpetrator expresses regret for the hurt that was been done to the victim, a sincere apology can be made. If the person who was victimized accepts the apology, acceptable reparation can be discussed, and healing may be experienced by both the victim and the perpetrator.

This model of reconciliation takes time, honesty, an opening of hearts, a chance of healing and real change for the future. This is more or less the model that was followed by the Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa. It was painful and intense, but it led to many people being freed from the bitterness and hopelessness created when aggression was out of control. Reconciliation is a two-way street in which individuals from both sides engage with sincerity and honesty. It is rare, but there are examples in “restorative justice” approaches.

I appeal to the South Sudanese in Canada to put your voices together to seek support from the Canadian government and the United Nations to stop the hostilities and preserve the South Sudanese population. We cannot create peace by joining warlike activities that promote anger and agitation. Communities here and in Africa need workshops and seminars for anti-genocide education and conflict prevention. We also need special programs for emotional and social rehabilitation of individuals, to make a positive transition from war orientation to nonviolent peacemaking.

I would be happy to discuss this vision of creating security, peace, positive communities, unity, prosperity and democracy as an alternative to violent actions that further destroy the normal lives of civilians in South Sudan. I include non-African Canadians in my challenge to understand and assist with peacemaking approaches and rebuilding of war torn South Sudan. These are global issues; we all share responsibility when humans anywhere are suffering.

Simon T. Mach was born in South Sudan, and became a Canadian citizen in 2008. He is an active community developer among African newcomers, assisting them with successful integration in their new home. He lives in Hamilton.

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