Perspectives on the role of South Sudanese elites in Uganda in refugee management and the struggle for nation building and Civic Engagement:
By Gatwal A. Gatkuoth | Executive Director
Young-Adult Empowerment Initiative (YEI)
June 15, 2017
Organized By: Konrad Adenaeur Stiftung Kampala Sheraton Hotel
Abstract: “The ongoing South Sudan conflict has put the life ofthe Refugee at stake. In Bidi Bidi refugee settlements alone, more than 270,000 persons are in dire humanitarian crisis, as a result of man-made, catastrophe. The behaviors of the leaders of the warring parties towards peace requires mounting pressure from the Regional and international community to bring lasting peace and put an end to the suffering of refugees in East Africa. This paper is appealing to the international community to unpacked the crisis affecting the refugees in Uganda, to engage the South Sudanese elites in refugee management, and how they could exploit refugee opportunities in Uganda, and their involvement in nation building.”
1. Definition of a refugee
Article 1 of the 1951 United Nations (UN) Convention defines refugee as “a person who is outside his or her country of nationality or habitual residence due to a well-founded fear of persecution base on race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion and is unable or unwilling to avail him/herself of the protection of that country or to return there for fear of persecution”.
Article 1 of the 1969 Organization for African Unity’s Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa added a second paragraph to the 1951 Convention to incorporate “people that have been displaced due to liberation wars and internal upheavals”
Such a person may be called an asylum seeker until granted refugee status by the contracting state or the UNHCR, if they formally make a claim for asylum.
The lead international agency coordinating refugee protection is the United Nations Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The United Nations have a second Office for refugees, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), was set up in 1949. This however is solely responsible for supporting Palestinian refugees
2. Internally Displaced Person
Not to be confused with the term “displaced person,” which may include both internally displaced persons and refugees
Is someone who is forced to flee his or her home but who remains within his or her country’s borders? They are often referred to as refugees, although they do not fall within the legal definitions of a refugee.
At the end of 2014, it was estimated that, there were 38.2 million IDPs worldwide: South Sudan =1.6 million
The United Nations and UNHCR support monitoring and analysis of worldwide IDPs through the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre
The South Sudanese in Uganda, who unwillingly left South Sudan, are therefore, fitting into the above definition of refugees and are indeed refugees and NOT IDPs
3. Challenges facing Refugees in Uganda before December 2013 crisis
a. Achol-Pii Settlement, In Pader District
Achol-Pii refugee settlement has hosted refugees since the early 1960s. The most recent past influx was in 1993 when there was an upsurge in fighting in southern Sudan between different Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) factions.
By early 2002, there were approximately 24,000 Sudanese refugees living in the settlement.
In addition, Achol-Pii and the surrounding area have also hosted a number of communities of displaced Ugandans fleeing the war between the LRA and the government of Uganda (GoU).
Achol-Pii settlement has become a melting pot for forced migrants fleeing different conflicts in the region
Majority of the 174,000 officially recognized refugees in Uganda are from the country’s northern neighbor, Sudan
1) Refugees were settled in a conflict zone
• On 13-14 July 1996, Achol-Pii settlement was subject to a particularly devastating LRA rebel attack.
• On the first day, two drivers and two police officers were abducted and approximately 22 refugees killed.
• On the following day (15 July 1996), an estimated 76 refugees were rounded up and systematically shot, hacked or clubbed to death, with an additional 21 wounded.
• Calls to close down the settlement and relocate the refugees to a safer location fell on deaf ears.
• On 5 August 2002, LRA rebels once again attacked the refugee settlement, killing an estimated 60 refugees and abducting 19 people, including four staff members of the International Rescue Committee.
• The settlement was consequently closed and the entire refugee population moved to Kiryandongo settlement.
2) Lack of immediate response
Despite the intensity of the first major attack in 1996, neither UNHCR nor the Government of Uganda (GoU) saw it fit to close Achol-Pii and relocate the refugees to a safer location.
While additional army personnel were sent to defend the settlement, their presence was neither consistent nor sufficient either to reassure the population that a similar attack would not take place again or indeed to prevent a similar attack.
Further still, a study conducted in Achol-Pii in April 2002, made it clear that the settlement was still vulnerable to attack and that, given the recent resurgence of the war in northern Uganda, the lives of the refugees and those in the surrounding area were in grave danger.
These findings received little attention from the authorities, making it easy for the second LRA attack to be carried out.
The LRA has since declared that it considers Sudanese refugees as legitimate targets for their attacks.
Yet, although roughly one third of the 24,000 refugees displaced from Achol-Pii have since been transferred from Kiryandongo to the relative safety of Kyangwali settlement in Hoima District (Western Uganda), the government intends once again to move the remaining refugees back to northern Uganda, only this time to different settlements
3) Settlement Policy and legislation
Ugandan refugee policy, stipulates that all refugees and asylum seekers must live in designated settlements; most Sudanese refugees live in camps or settlements, the majority of which are located in northern Uganda.
The story of Achol-Pii settlement also reveals a deeper problem associated with the settlement policy itself. Quite apart from being a violation of refugees’ right to freedom of movement, as enshrined in Article 26 of the 1951 Refugee Convention, the settlement structure is indefensible in at least two other ways.
In the context of northern Uganda, for instance, the structure effectively creates a concentration of people within areas that are already insecure. The presence of large numbers of unarmed civilians within a zone of conflict clearly presents a soft target for LRA rebels of Joseph Kony to attack.
4. Post- December 2013 refugees’ influx into Uganda
Rift between the ruling Sudan’s People Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A)
In December 2013, President Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar and ten others of attempting a coup d’état. Machar denied trying to start a coup and fled to lead the SPLM – in opposition (SPLM-IO). Fighting broke out between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM/A) and SPLM/A-IO, igniting the civil war. Ugandan troops were deployed to fight alongside the South Sudanese government.
1) Discriminative Killings and other Inhumane atrocities
Notable atrocities such as rape of women, systemic killing and murders, burning of people and villages were and are still rampant.
The people of Wau, Yei, Bor, Eastern Equatoria, the Murle, the Shilluk in Malakal and Nuer have paid the brunt of the SPLA horrors
“In 1990s, Uganda received highest number of Sudanese refugees, 174,000 due to internal conflict of SPLM/A rather than from the overall Sudanese civil war which started in 1983
“Through 2013 to 2017 after Independence of South Sudan, Uganda received the highest number of South Sudanese refugees due to deadly conflict started by the same SPLM/A party
As per now, no sustainable peace solution reach and the fate of South Sudanese is still uncertain. These facts draw more questions than answers on SPLM/A vision, capabilities and intentions on South Sudanese people”
2) Attempts to mediate peace but in vain
In January 2014 the first ceasefire agreement was reached. Fighting continued and would be followed by several more ceasefire agreements.
Negotiations were mediated by “IGAD-PLUS” (which includes the eight regional nations called the Intergovernmental Authority on Development as well as the African Union, United Nations, China, the EU, USA, UK and Norway).
A peace agreement known as the “Compromise Peace Agreement” was signed in August 2015.Machar returned to Juba in 2016 and was appointed first vice president.
Following a second breakout of fighting within Juba in July 2016, the SPLM/A-IO fled to the surrounding and previously peaceful Equatoria region. Machar was replaced by Kiir as First Vice President by Taban Deng Gai, splitting the opposition, and rebel in-fighting has become of major part of the fighting.
Question is: will South Sudan reach sustainable peace without Dr. Riek Machar?
3) The humanitarian crisis
More than 3.5 million people have been displaced in a country of about 12 million, with more than 2.1 million internally displaced and more than 1.7 million having fled to neighboring countries, especially Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda.
Fighting in the agricultural heart in the south of the country has soar the number of people facing starvation to100,000. And threatening 1 million more as famine has been declared in parts of the country in February 2017, yet even as the humanitarian crisis grows, the international response remains meager. The UN has requested $781m (£625m) to care for the 1.6 million people coming out of South Sudan. So far, it has received just 8%.
5. Upsurge of South Sudanese Refugees in Uganda
a. Government of Uganda and the Host communities
The Government of Uganda and the host communities must be acknowledged for: –
• donating Land that is occupied by the South Sudan’s refugees,
• ensuring and safeguarding the security and safety of South Sudan’s refugees,
• stretching out for resources especially mobilizing food items for the refugees from refugee agencies and development partners,
• Ensuring that South Sudan refugees access social services such as Medicare, education among others.
• The people of Northern Uganda are welcoming and hospitably kind towards South Sudanese refugees throughout many years of refugee influx into their areas
• Achol-Pii refugee settlement in particular, has hosted Sudanese refugees since the early 1960s.
• In addition, Achol-Pii and the surrounding area have also hosted a number of communities of displaced Ugandans fleeing the war between the LRA and the government of Uganda (GoU) 6, the two communities had lived together harmoniously for a very long time and integrated.
UNHCR highly commends the generosity of the host community in Imvepi refugee settlement, founded in 2016, who have come together to donate the land on which the settlement will be hosted. “This gesture is an exceptional display of solidarity with people who have been forced to leave everything behind due to war and conflict.”5
In March 2017, the stream of arrivals averaged between 2,000 to 2,800 refugees from South Sudan each day through different entry points at South Sudan – Uganda’s borders. UN expected roughly 300,000 South Sudanese refugees to come to Uganda in 2017.Just three months into the year, the estimate has risen to 400,000.Roughly 3.5 million South Sudanese people – at least one-quarter of the entire country’s population – have had to leave their homes since war broke out in December 2013
1) Highlighting initial Challenges faced by the GoU
Uganda’s Bidi Bid refugee settlement is at the breaking point as South Sudanese refugees arrived in large number(Washington post) “The pace at which people are coming is faster than the rate at which we are registering, so there’s a backlog of unregistered persons,”(Lamented officials from OPM).
2) Immediate responses
Uganda: is feeling the neglect: The country has one of the world’s most compassionate refugee policies, which grants migrants land to build a home and enjoy rights to travel and work that are practically unheard of elsewhere.” (the guardian)
“Upon arrival, refugees from South Sudan receive a plot of land on which to build their new homes and grow crops.
Refugees additionally are free to access public services such as healthcare and education.”
6. Perspectives on the role of South Sudanese elites in Uganda in refugee management: The struggle for nation building and civic engagements
1) Who are the elites?
An elite is a group or class of people seen as having the most power and influence in a society especially on account of their wealth or privilege 1
The South Sudanese who are in Uganda fall under different categories of elites and this placement is determined by their circles of influence on South Sudanese society who are in Uganda as refugees or migrants
My categorization includes, among others:
• The South Sudanese politicians who are currently hibernating in Uganda and politically inactive,
• South Sudan Embassy officials in the Republic of Uganda,
• the South Sudanese civil society organizations’ leaders in Uganda,
• social activists,
• Religious leaders,
• Political activists and commentators,
• Academia or scholars
• freelance writers and journalists,
• prominent community workers and leaders,
• socialites and celebrities
In order to play a key role in refugees’ management, contribute positively to the struggle for nation building which is a lifelong phenomenon and engage civilly, the South Sudanese refugees and migrants’ populace that segments to about ten per cent of Uganda’s total population,2 the different groups of South Sudanese elites in Uganda must not only have a better understandings of the political dynamics that plunged South Sudan into this currently civil wars as prerequisite but also a deep empathy for protracted suffering ordinary South Sudanese are conditioned to, in concentrated refugees’ camps in Uganda.
According to World Food Program, Uganda currently hosts Africa’s largest refugee population estimated to be 1.1 million. Seventy-five per cent of which is from South Sudan, the world’s youngest country that attained Independence in 2011 through a referendum.
The daily arrival is averaged at between 2,000 to 2,800 refugees; fifty-eight per cent of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda are children below 18 years of age, a significant statistic for the South Sudanese elites in Uganda to grab and utilize by changing the tribal mindsets and growing tribal rivalry of these young adults.
2) The South Sudan Embassy, Kampala
Embassy’s pivotal role is keeping strong diplomatic ties between the two Governments and this bilateral relationship in my opinion has helped improved the refugee security and free movement of South Sudanese refugees, especially the urban refugees
Also, of a significant importance is the unity of purpose among South Sudanese youth and especially students through South Sudanese Students’ Union, Embassy is fostering. Being impartial in students’ politics and supporting their welfare and intellectual growth is part and parcel to the nation building in the long run because students are the next leaders of South Sudan who need to be de-radicalized from the tribal mindsets.
3) South Sudanese working with UNHCR at various settlement receptions
I commend UNHCR for framing and strengthening policies that allow few South Sudanese who are themselves refugees to volunteer and work for fellow refugees.
These are South Sudanese who when the conflict erupted in December 2013 were either in Kampala studying and could not continue their studies because of financial crisis; or skilled South Sudanese who quit their jobs in various parts of South Sudan due to insecurity and brought their families to the camps and volunteer to render services through UNHCR voluntary vacancies
Volunteers from South Sudan understand in depth what the refugees under go through and forward their needs to the higher UNHCR offices. Besides, South Sudanese refugees are quite often open with fellow South Sudanese in discussing issues affecting them than to non-South Sudanese UNHCR staff members and Office of the Prime Minister’s non South Sudanese employees.
Breaking of language barriers and educating the refugees how to get along well with the cialis prix host communities is one of the important aspects of South Sudanese volunteers’ key role. Having come from fresh hostile environment of wars, South Sudanese translate their trauma into hostility. The volunteers help in the processes of integration of refugees and host communities given the fact that they have been in Uganda before the other refugees
4) Individual Role of Concerned South Sudanese
Case study: Malual Bol Kiir (Peace activist)
Malual Bol Kiir, a South Sudanese refugee in Uganda since 2001 at the age of 7 and he studied in refugee’s schools in Northern Uganda.
At the fall of 2015, Malual co-founded African Youth Action Network (AYAN), a nonprofit NGO which works with refugee youths and communities. Through his excellent work with refugee communities, he was appointed as one of the expert members on advisory group to UNSC resolution 2250: Youth, Peace and Security by the Former UN SG Ban Ki-Moon. “Resolution 2250 (2015) is the first resolution to recognize the important and positive role young women and men play in the maintenance and promotion of international peace and security7”
In May 2017, Malual was named as Voices of Courage Award winner and recipient by UN Women’s refugee commission. AYAN is a South Sudanese refugee Youth’s initiative which is creating impact through amazing work for the refugees, especially South Sudanese refugees in Uganda.
AYAN offers scholarship windows to South Sudanese refugee kids who demonstrate excellent academic performances. It also initiates and implements refugee life skills projects in various settlements which improve the livelihood of the refugees and the host communities.
South Sudanese refugee youths at Global Refugee Youth Consultations (GRYC)
Every year UNHCR sponsor a certain number of refugee youth leaders from various settlements in Uganda and take them to Geneva, Switzerland for Global Refugee Youth Consultations or GRYC,Workshops8
A forum at which selected South Sudanese youth voice and air out the challenges facing South Sudanese refugees in Uganda and recommend policy implementations
5) Religious Leadership
South Sudanese religious leaders in Uganda play a key role in peace building, reconciling and uniting South Sudanese in Uganda through their daily preaching and outreach activities.
South Sudanese Christians in Kampala pray at various churches at different locations for instance, the Nuer speaking congregations pray at MakerereKikoni, Dinka at Lubowa and Sana and Equatorians at Kasanga, all are suburbs of Kampala
However, the church leaders make the effort to see that all South Sudanese at least pray for peace and reconciliation together under one roof and as such a monthly fellowship prayer attend by all South Sudanese is arranged. Nonetheless, the religious leadership also organizes Peace Building workshops, seminars and outreach programs
I would like to cite one outstanding case study of Youth Maale (loosely translate as Youth for Peace), a Christian South Sudanese refugee youths outreach program which organizes youth fellowship for peace and outreach activities at various refugee settlements. Youth maale normally dress in white that symbolizes the need for peace and reconciliation among South Sudanese people
6) Mutual Arts by South Sudanese artists
(Comparison of the two Sides of South Sudan in a painting by Anataban’s South Sudanese artists)
The piece of art above is painted by Anataban, a group of South Sudanese artists who believe that talking arts in form of paintings, graffiti can be used to repair torn Social fabrics.
Anataban is Arabic Juba which loosely translates as “I am Tired”.
Question is, tired of what? One can think of anything they would get tired of in South Sudan but Anataban, a social group of young South Sudanese are tired mostly of war, poverty, oppression, hunger, injustice, violence, tribalism and corruption as portray by their paintings and artworks.
Anataban also organizes radio talks, public campaigns in South Sudan and their presence is much pronounced in Northern Uganda refugee settlements. Their works were featured in main stream media such as Al Jazeera, CGTN and other media groups. They are really creating impact through awareness campaigns for a better South Sudan.
7) Use of musical talents: South Sudanese local musicians
Musicians using their gifts of talents in music have composed songs which advocate for peace, the importance of living together and the need to take firm stands that oppose to tribalism and political divide10.It’s to be noted as well that music is one of the most power tools socially use to either integrate or disintegrate communities.
There are a few groups of South Sudanese local musicians who use music and stage to promote hatred and disunity; however the role play by the major segment from this sector of art and entertainment is not completely overshadowed by the long protruding legacy of violence promotion through the use of local music and poetry as witnessed throughout the history of Sudan, before and even after South Sudan attained Independence.
My question is how can such an art be harmonized to advance unity of purpose, peace and reconciliation among South Sudanese in Uganda?
8) Civil Society Organizations Consortia Diaspora
these make the necessary noise and blow the whistles when there is any growing humanitarian concern about the social welfare of South Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers in Uganda.
They are however, in a number of occasions accused by the warring parties of being Partisan to one group or another. This makes their work quite daunting and the continuity of their work in Uganda’s territories depends on the level of protection given to them by the Government of Uganda.
9) Freelance writers and Journalists
one of the most fundamental approaches to civic education is creating informed and empowered masses that would sooner unite and vehemently demand for the reforms South Sudan needs.
No other category of the elites who could do this job better than the journalists and freelance writers. Through their writings, they cast a lime light to the shortcomings and loopholes in the governance and recommend policies and core action points about the problems facing South Sudanese refugees in Uganda.
10) Social Media users
South Sudanese elite’s use of the social media for example, twitter to create awareness campaigns on crisis has been notably amazing. In the second week of June 2017, unspeakable incident happened along Nimule- Juba road at which brutal attacks were launched on commercial public transporters by armed groups who later claimed allegiance to the Sudan’s People Liberation Movement /Army in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO).
Shortly after these horrible incidents occurred with allegedly 22 people civilians losing lives and dozens other critically injured, many South Sudanese social media users took to social media, especially twitter and tweeted with hashtag: #DefyhateNow, #SSudanHaguana which were trending and attracted a lot of attention.
11) Other Celebrities and socialites
Aliet Sera, 17 is South Sudanese refugee youth in Uganda who is as well a fashion model. Celebrities like her have big fan base and followers as they are seen as role models by South Sudanese refugee’s peer youths. They can also use their circle of influence at international stages, forums and share the values that represent humanity, unity and peaceful co-existence of South Sudanese people.
7. Challenges facing the refugees
• Refugees still face trauma, hatred and tribal rivalry among themselves that further create disunity manifesting in ethnic group zoning in refugee settlements
• There is rampant and wide spread corruption and mismanagement of refugee systems; for instance, cases of paying money as bribes to get registered have been reported and I have personally witnessed at settlements many times.
• Shortage of basic needs; refugee’s food ratio has been cut to 25%, inadequate supply of drugs and Medicare service, and school facilities and scholastic materials, for example, there is High schools for refugees in most of the settlements.
8. Concluding Remarks and Ways Forward
1. Although Uganda is credited as one of the world’s best countries in managing refugees, yet, there is high demand for Uganda to exert more efforts towards peaceful resolution of South Sudanese political strife as one of IGAD most influential member state to enablethe return of the South Sudanese back home than managing them as refugees
2. The direct involvement of Uganda by taking side in South Sudan conflict contradict the good gesture that Uganda is playing in managing the refugees, it frustrates peace efforts and worsen refugee crisis
3. The Uganda’s Government through the Office of the Prime Minister and UNHCR should consider giving lifting hand to all the South Sudanese elites and other stakeholders under its protection who demonstrate effort of good will in refugee management, by continuous recognition and amplification of their efforts to forge sustainable partnership
4. The South Sudanese warring parties should place the interest of the people first by bringing the much needed peace through compromising their own interests.