A consultant on international peace-building has advised religious leaders in South Sudan to focus on reconciling the people, as they work on long-term peace building strategies.
(Left) International peace-building consultant Dr. Dane Smith. He advised church leaders in South Sudan to work for reconciliation.
Speaking to the annual Conference of the American Friends of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan (AFRECS), Dr. Dane F. Smith said because of the militarilisation of the conflict in the country, the best the church can do is to reconcile people as a short-term measure.
“But at this point, when violence is as pervasive as it is in South Sudan today, those longer-term tasks are lesser priorities,” he said in a presentation titled ‘Church Leaders as Peacebuilders in South Sudan’.
While acknowledging that church leaders have been active in trying to bring settlement in the conflict, he reminded Christians that they still have an important role to play.
“Our mission statement comes from Jesus’ words in Matthew 5: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God,” he stated.
Dr. Dane mentioned that there are three basic modes that church leaders in the country could use to promote reconciliation: advocacy, good offices, and mediation.
Advocacy is the most common mode and usually the easiest. He says Christian leaders should be talking to South Sudan government officials and military 700 generals, colonels and captains.
“Church leaders need to continue to make regular statements urging a change in the common narrative of ethnic vengeance to reconciliation and peace,” he says.
Dr. Dane recommends use of good offices by church leaders in the country. Good offices means informally offering assistance to both sides in reaching a peaceful solution. To be effective, the party providing good offices must be viewed as neutral.
“Good offices is a highly appropriate role for church leaders in the present situation,’ he said.
Dr. Dane says because of the complex nature of the conflict in South Sudan, it was difficult for churches or tribal elders to exercise moral persuasion over the combatants.
Women as peace makers
He regretted that the traditional role of women as peacemakers has diminished because they are subjected to unprecedented violence, including mass rape by unrestrained armed men.
“Clearly most South Sudanese women feel unable to play a peacebuilding role at this time,” he says.
He points out that reviving and facilitating the peace-building role of women should be an integral part of Christian peacebuilding in South Sudan.
Dr. Dane says that in any conflict situation, justice must be a major objective of religious peacebuilding, adding that peace cannot last unless the settlement agreed upon is seen to provide justice to those who feel aggrieved.
“To have credibility, Christian peace-builders should be seen to represent churches which are communities of love and justice,’ he said in his address in October. “In South Sudan, there is a very particular problem of justice which must be faced and overcome.”
He says that South Sudan church leaders should continue proclaiming that the current civil war is unjustified and, in fact, an abomination.
Dr. Dane is a former Senior Advisor in the Office of the US Special Envoy for Darfur, Deputy Chief of Mission in Sudan, and Ambassador to Guinea and Senegal. He is also the author of ‘US Peacefare, Organizing American Peacebuilding Operations’.
AFRECS was founded in 2005, as a network of individuals, churches, dioceses, and other organizations that seek to focus attention on the needs and priorities of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan (ECSSS).
It holds an annual conference which brings together people from various parts of the US, and from different ethnic communities, as well as friends from other denominations, with the aim of advancing peace and stability in Sudan, and to amplify the voices of Sudanese Christians.