Community voices: South Sudan
Patrick* is Chairperson of a community security working group (CSWG) in Warrap State. He is 51 years old and lives with his three wives and 14 children. The area he lives in is made up of mainly returnees – South Sudanese people who returned from northern Sudan for the referendum and subsequent independence of South Sudan in 2011.
“When we arrived here in 2011, the communities of the returnees gave my name to the government as someone who they wanted to be their representative. Those who are in the local town have cattle; returnees when we were first here we came with nothing. There are no factories that we can work in like there were in Khartoum so it was hard but we feel now this is our home.
People come to me with problems which range from issues around adultery, girls being taken [for marriage], money issues and loans, cattle, domestic violence, stealing. I take these problems to the CSWG and if there is a problem that we cannot solve, we now have the connections and we can call the police. People had some misconceptions about our work when we first started in 2012, but now they understand the role we are playing in community safety. When we formed the CSWG, all the community members were called and I was selected by my community to act as the Chairman. It is a volunteer role but I enjoy it and I keep trying to encourage others to volunteer.
Patrick talks to other community security working group members
The major problem we face as returnees here actually stems from the lack of employment opportunities. It affects every aspect of people’s lives and it means people turn to stealing. It also impacts our health as we can’t pay for medication, for example for malaria. But the other issues we can solve, we do try to.
As a CSWG, we have had successes on three major issues. When people are fighting over resources, like access to boreholes and water, we calm them down. We get people to try to respect each other and work as a community to find a solution. If we cannot do that, then I contact the customary Chief on behalf of the CSWG who also supports us to try and find a solution deciding who was in the wrong.
The second major issue is cattle theft because here in South Sudan people will not steal money but they will steal cattle. When we feel there are thieves, or when people have had things stolen, we go out and through the CSWG members, we warn the neighbourhood to be aware of crime and alert them. Then of course there is the issue of domestic violence and violence against women and girls. We work to try to stop this, we try to step in and work with the family to find a solution that works for everyone. The CSWG is a mechanism through which people can air disputes and it calms people down as we try to address them.
But we are facing challenges. At the moment there are no detention centres so people who commit crimes are often tied up under a tree when apprehended. But the community outweighs the police, so when this happens it is hard to protect the accused from retaliation from communities. This happened with a man who was accused of raping a girl; the community attacked him because obviously they felt very angry. We need a protection centre or somewhere the police can take criminals.
At the moment we have real issues with access to resources, roads, schools, hospitals, centres for the youth, water taps and tanks; it causes outbreaks of conflict. We would love to see this improve but in reality the government is focused on the conflict at the moment so there are no resources coming through to us. We are trying to promote justice, telling people that if you take things by force, this will cause problems. We are also building relationships with us and the police in the community, but we need to expand this work. I would like to see this initiative extended throughout the wider area, as while we have had an impact on crime in our area where the CSWG is working, other neighbouring areas are still committing crimes.”
* Note that names and locations have been changed.
These case studies from two of our programming locations help to give voice to community members who are affected by differing forms of insecurity in South Sudan. Too often their voices are not heard outside of their communities; there’s often a significant disconnect between local communities in South Sudan and national and international level policymakers. These case studies illustrate a number of the security issues their communities are facing – including criminality, robbery, gang activity, lack of access to basic services and violence against women – and the work they’re undertaking in challenging circumstances to address these jointly, supported by Saferworld and our partner civil society organisations through our community security programme.