Peace, national healing and reconciliation have been discussed as fundamentally necessary agenda items for South Sudan since independence nearly two years ago. These ideas are steeped in South African post-apartheid and Rwanda post-genocide legacies, and there is no shortage of people and organisations wanting a piece of this psychological restitution game – or proposing ways (or more often, the problems) of doing it.
The key issue for a while has seemed to be a lack of political will for such a huge and complex project. If anything, government understandings of the war have been going the other way: there is a well established, government propagated single historical narrative. ‘We’ fought together, died together, bound by the same united ideological desire for an independent ‘South’; internal divisions were the product of machinations from the evil North; the war, peace and finally independence were all won by ‘bullet and ballot,’ and nobody voted against independence in 2011.
There is obviously no way of conducting an open, frank and full process of community reconciliation without actively challenging this history; allowing people to express their anger against Garang, as well as the SPLA, and actively questioning the unity of purpose and of leadership professed by this historical monopoly.
The Government of South Sudan announced a few months ago that it would start a formal process of ‘National Healing and Reconciliation’, over several years. This isn’t unexpected, and – unfortunately – neither is the name of the person chairing it. Dr Riek Machar, the vice-president, is leading this process, in partnership with his wife Angelina, apparently (it is being interpreted publicly) as a third recorded apology for the Bor Massacre that he oversaw and that his troops perpetrated when he was heading the SPLA Nasir faction – one of the many events and factions written out of the Official National History.
As with historical peace initiatives, the Sudan Council of Churches (SCC) and other religious or religiously-motivated bodies are taking a lead role. And as is conventional, the process is supposed to begin with a national conference – delayed for several months, obviously – and with 200 ‘Peace Mobilisers’: an apparently entirely unintentional throwback to the ‘Peace Officers’ engaged in reconciliation and local announcings of ‘peace’ in 1971-1972 at the beginning of the Addis Ababa Agreement period after the first civil war.
I think I have an invitation to this conference, and I’m keen to see whether the organisers recognize the intrinsic lack of history in their current thinking: will they consider the failings of the previous peace and reconciliation efforts of the 1970s peace agreement, and will they be allowed to – or be aware of the need to – fully challenge the dominant national history that will otherwise gag dissent?