Peace in South Sudan is still fragile

The president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, signed a peace deal Wednesday night under heavy international pressure. It marked a formal end to the hostilities that had escalated into a civil war during the past twenty months. A ceasefire is set to take effect within three days.

Feelings in Juba remain expectant, says Finn Church Aid (FCA) South Sudan Country Manager Mika Jokivuori.

“Everyone is waiting what the practical effects of the signed peace deal will be. Until something concrete happens, no one believes that peace has finally been reached. The comments made by president Kiir during the signing ceremony didn’t really add faith in a sustainable peace, quite the opposite”, Jokivuori says.

The South Sudanese president signed the deal under strong pressure from the UN, The USA and the African Union. Even when signing the deal, he said there are things that must be rejected in it.

The conflict has lasted for 20 months, causing the deaths of thousands and forcing 2.2 million people to leave their homes. Many of them now live in extremely difficult conditions as internal refugees, plagued by famine and epidemics.

“Personally, I’m hoping for the best, because without a sustainable peace, misery in South Sudan will continue and refugees will increasingly flood into neighbouring countries. President Kiir and opposition leader Machar should be able to cooperate and divide power in the way defined in the peace deal”, Jokivuori says.

Peace has been brokered amidts violence. At least seven ceasefires have been agreed. All of them have been shattered.

“At this point, nobody can estimate when the war will end. However, a transitional government should be operational within 90 days, according to the peace deal.”

Attitudes towards the deal have varied, says FCA South Sudan Programme Coordinator Marie Makweri.

“Some people have been happy, embraced each other and thanked their leaders for signing the deal. Others have a hostile attitude towards the deal and oppose some of its contents. Others still want to see the leaders who participated in the acts of violence brought to justice, instead of being rewarded with political positions”, she says.

FCA involved in peace work and provides assistance to refugees

FCA has systematically supported the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC) in peace work. Churches have had a significant role in achieving peace.

“We have done a lot. We have supported, and will continue to support, church leaders in the peace deal process and building cohesion”, Jokivuori says.

FCA has remained in South Sudan despite growing violence. In Mingaman, Lakes County, nearly 1,000 refugee children started school last October, when the temporary schools built by FCA were opened.

“We have also distributed direct food assistance, funded by the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, in Mundri, Western Equatoria, where FCA has been supporting local livelihoods like farming and poultry farming.”

FCA has also continued to support the Kotobi teacher training institute in Mundri.

The conflict has also claimed the lives of aid workers. Earlier this week, two members of the Teachers without Borders network were killed in Unity state. A total of 30 aid workers have been killed during the fighting.

Text and photos: Hilkka Hyrkkö