Community voices: South Sudan
Chris* is a 22-year-old community security working group (CSWG) member, student and assistant at a customary court in Western Bahr el Ghazal State, South Sudan.
“My name is Chris, I’m 22 years old, and I am a student at the university studying agriculture and English language. I am a member of the community security working group (CSWG) and also a youth representative at the local customary court where my role is to coordinate the court sessions and support the Chief in his administrative work. We hold the court four times a month, every Friday.
As a CSWG, we meet once a month at the meeting established by Unity Cultural and Development Centre (UCDC) and Saferworld but we also have additional meetings depending on the issue we are working on as a community. We report incidents to the Chief if we cannot solve them. He then reports them to the police.
Before we started the CSWG and before the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) community policing programme started in Wau, the relationship between communities and the police was very strained, but now it has improved. As you can see just by us (points), there are police around and now it is easier to report cases to the police. We can call them and tell them there is a problem and [the police] need to get here, and the police will come. So I do see a more positive working relationship with the police and the police themselves seem responsive to us.
But for community security to really be successful in future, the police need three things to be trained sufficiently. Firstly there must be an increase in the number of academies for the police to receive training in the law. At the moment most police have a limited grasp of what the constitution and South Sudanese laws are, most of them don’t understand that the police role is to arrest but not to judge; in some cases you’ll find the police acting as both. So in my opinion to improve community safety the police need to be trained, this is fundamental.
The second aspect is legal experts need to be deployed to police academies who have been supported by the international community to be trained in how to be a lawyer for communities. The third aspect is we need an increase in community policing. Communities need to be empowered to take care of their safety and also be given some technical trainings and advice on how to work to reduce crimes in their communities.
Before Saferworld and UCDC worked with us and we formed the CSWG, there were lots of killings, theft at night and alcoholism. These are still issues in the area but we have been able to work together on them and I think the magnitude has been reduced. The major problem we have at the moment is theft; people breaking into shops at night and issues around gangs still persist. The gangs are made up of young people. I think this happens for two reasons; one is economic hardship, which forces some guys to become gang members because their parents are unable to pay for school fees and the way of survival at their home is tough. They can’t find food so end up gravitating towards gangs. Then the second major reason is youth unemployment. Most of the gang members are actually university graduates but they cannot find jobs.
As a CSWG, we want to work with the gangs and the youth; we want to do a campaign about small arms [and light weapons] and the impact of being in a gang.”
*not his real name
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.