Six lessons on how to support change in South Sudan

What does active citizenship look like in a conflict affected state like South Sudan? Richard Chilvers, WWS Learning and Communications Officer, draws on the experience of Oxfam’s partners to identify six key lessons for civil society organisations seeking to build constructive dialogue.

Civil war erupted in December 2013 and has killed tens of thousands, displaced over 2 million (1.5m internally) and by July, 4.6 million people could be severely food insecure (about 40% of the population).

Basic health, education and water services are often missing and citizens struggle to know their rights and responsibilities.

Since 2012, Oxfam has been working to improve the relationship between citizens and the authorities in South Sudan, as part of the Within and Without the State programme. On a recent visit I identified the following six learning points from the programme:

1. Work with existing state structures rather than inventing parallel systems.

Two WWS partners set up grassroots community groups which track state budgets for health, education, water points, etc from being agreed at national level to the spend in the community itself. CEPO (Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation) and SUTCO (Support the Children Organisation) realised that provision had been made for accountability groups in South Sudan’s constitution, but they were not functioning. So they’ve worked to ensure
these groups are actually operating effectively rather than starting a parallel system.

2. Build gender equality by demonstrating increased economic productivity at household level, and involve the whole community including men and religious leaders.

Challenging gender roles and expectations is a long process. One of WWS’ partners APARD (African Partnership Aid Rehabilitation and Development) surveyed the amount of work women did compared to men. They sought to demonstrate how households could be better off if women had a greater say in how the money was invested and spent. They used a multi-pronged approach working with key public figures, such as the local bishop, to increase the impact of their message. 

3. Support women who are already having a positive impact in their communities.

Susan Nadi Majaro, 38, is Paramount Chief of Wulu County in Lakes State – an exceptional appointment for a woman in South Sudan. She was elected with support from Oxfam’s partner APARD in community dialogues and because she was already carrying out invaluable work resolving domestic abuse cases in the community court. Chief Majaro added: ‘Women get left behind in poverty. I needed to speak out as we are all human beings and are supposed to be equal. Human beings shouldn’t be treated like dogs – we are of the same blood. I will do this until
the suffering of women is no longer there and men see women on equal terms.’

4. In peace mediation work, conduct thorough research into the context, involve all those concerned in the dispute, but limit the number of actual participants.

In Lakes State, cattle raiding is widespread and violent. Two peace and stability dialogues were held between the warring communities. The first involved participants from across the community, including local politicians and leaders, but this was found to be counter-productive. So, after a lot of community consultation and power mapping, the second dialogue got the young people carrying out the raids to meet and resolve the situation. Matur, 28, from Mayom Payam has seen the devastating impact of cattle raiding on his community, he told me: ‘The
real youth who fight each other got involved and that’s what made the difference. Since the dialogues people have never clashed and people are still friendly now.’

5. Have solid risk management plans and conduct a power analysis, review and update both regularly.

Every three months CEPO conducts a power analysis which they share with other CSOs and NGOs and parliamentarians for comment. They map institutions or individuals who are influential, and identify who is supportive or unsupportive. They use this for particular interventions for example in peacebuilding or women’s empowerment. They map allies who can potentially bring others to support the programme and strategies that can influence them.

6. Develop imaginative ways to explain to communities the change you want to see.  

SUTCO decided that making a film using local actors would be a good way to highlight the issues a community could face. They recruited actors in an open process and devised scenes where young people turned their lives around from drinking and gambling to working on and monitoring community development funds. They asked people what the barriers are to the community participating in local government and invited them to come up with possible solutions, and work with them to devise an action plan.

You can read more background detail in the full report. Do you know of other successful governance approaches in South Sudan? We’d be very interested to know more.

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Photo: MP/public dialogue, Wulu, Lakes State. Credit: Crispin Hughes/Oxfam

Author: Richard Chilvers
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.