Take away from South Sudanese Peace Building and Conflict Management graduates: Do no harm
Tande Elias Agobe is not afraid of death. He has come face to face with it and lived to tell the tale. He was born in South Sudan but considers himself a real Eastern African citizen as he has lived in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Congo, in search of education and peace. He first had to flee his country with his mother when war broke out. Then, less than ten years old and too young to understand the implications of the war, got out of it without many scars.
He witnessed the war in 2013. He recounts tales that many of us perhaps have only seen in movies; jumping over dead bodies, walking past the wounded, and dodging bullets. When the 2015 war broke out, he stayed in the country despite the threat of death that lay around him.
“Although many people left the country, I never did. I lived next to the barracks, where the war started from. I had never seen anything like that; there were multitudes of people on the streets – women, children – crying while shots rang out. They were singing a song, loosely translated as, ‘What did we do?’ I wanted to witness it, and know what it is like to live through war so that I know what to do about it.”
Tande is among 30 South Sudanese students who graduated on Friday, December 7, 2018, after completing a 9-week training on Capacity Building in Peace and Conflict Management ran by the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. The graduates were drawn from local South Sudanese NGOs and from South Sudanese media outlets. The programme was a joint collaboration between Strathmore University and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), South Sudan.
Tande now works in a community radio based in Juba. He has produced videos under Contrast VR from Al Jazeera that tell the stories of young South Sudanese who have grown up in conflict but are now changing their own lives and that of others. The course has shown him a different way of looking at situations that he is faced with daily in his line of work.
“The media is a very strong element of impact in the communities and therefore needs to be used appropriately for positive change. I have learnt to be conflict sensitive. I have to know the impact of my words on my listeners.”
The situation of South Sudan has been dire after the consequences of the civil wars, and there is immediate need to manage conflict and its aftermath in order to create lasting peace. The course aimed at giving the graduates the skills to promote peace, manage conflict and transform the country.
Christine Gichure, Dean, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, speaking on the impact of the programme said, “I know we have left a mark on the individuals who have gone through this course. If they take the peace they have acquired here, it will make a great impact.”
Madgalene Peter Majuang’s story is no different from Tande’s. She works in Coalition for Humanity as a gender officer and has a background in finance. She grew up in Khartoum in a family of 11. When it came time for her to look for a job, she left home and went to Juba, where it would be easier for her to get employment. While there with her father, war broke out. “I had to leave immediately. I came to Nairobi, leaving my father behind, because it was not safe for a woman to be there. Luckily, none of my family members were harmed as my mother and siblings were still in Khartoum.”
However, during the 2015 war, she did not leave the war zone, despite her mother’s pleas for her to do so. “War is difficult but this is my country. If I run away, who will mend it?”
She too is not afraid of death. “There was a time when I had to travel home to get my documentation. There was a hail of bullets flying all around me as I made my way to the house. People were shot. I was lucky to get home unscathed.”
In the same vein, Tande insists that they are the ones who have to bring change to their country. “If we desert and fail to bring change to our country, who will?” he asks.
The training programme was initiated after a past visit to the university by Christian Grünhagen, Programme Manager, GIZ South Sudan. This led to the development of a proposal, advertising the programme and interviewing prospective candidates in South Sudan. Speaking about the programme, Mr. Grünhagen, said, “The nine weeks of the programme were intense. The dedication of the students made it successful.”
During the course, there was emphasis on the use of social media to disseminate messages that will promote peace in their country. As part of the programme, they all had smart phones which would help them initiate communication among themselves and promote journalism for peace.
Tande says, “I am going to educate the communities by creating radio programmes that relate to peace-making and conflict sensitivity. I have chosen to use the radio because it has the ability to reach and educate a large population compared to other mediums.”
One of the main takeaways that the graduates spoke about was the importance of ethics and the dignity of the human person. It was summarized as: Do no harm.
Anthony Kahindi, University Secretary, while addressing the graduates said, “The task ahead of you of creating peace is not easy. You have to be courageous and determined to achieve the end goal. As you leave, always be aware that many people look up to you to create that desired change in your society. You need to be up to the challenge.”
This article was written by Wambui Gachari.
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