South Sudan needs a stronger civil society to ensure the benefits of independence are felt by all of the nation’s citizens. That was the key theme at this week’s launch of a new initiative to build better links between civil society and government, and ensure that the needs and concerns of communities across the country are addressed by policy-makers.
The three-year “Civil society strengthening” project, launched by several organisations including Oxfam, aims to increase the accountability of the government, civil society and international donors to the citizens of South Sudan, and ensure that South Sudanese women and men can contribute equally to the development of their nation.
Speaking at the launch in Juba, the nation’s capital, Rita Mazzochi of Oxfam said: “South Sudan is a new country emerging from decades of civil war and neglect. There are many challenges but there are also many opportunities. National civil society played important roles during the war, and now – whether by delivering the services that people need, or promoting accountability and transparency – civil society has a key role to play in shaping the nation’s future.”
Partners in the new project will focus on a range of issues affecting people in South Sudan:
- CEPO (Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation), who are monitoring budget expenditure and the Community Development Funds to help improve accountability to citizens
- SuDEMOP (Sudan Domestic Election Monitoring and Observation Programme), which is lobbying for women’s greater representation in politics, and better access to services
- AIM (Agency for Independent Media), which is working on South Sudan’s new Media Bill, and citizens’ right to information
- SSRDA (Sudanese Disability Rehabilitation and Development Agency) and APARD (African Partnership for Aid Rehabilitation and Development), who are promoting community-level conflict prevention and resolution in Lakes State.
Communities in South Sudan face many challenges. High inflation has left people unable to afford food and basic services. There is limited infrastructure and many people still do not have access to clean water, adequate sanitation, healthcare, schools and markets. More than 170,000 refugees have arrived in the country since independence, fleeing conflict in Sudan, in addition to hundreds of thousands of returnees, many of whom still live in difficult conditions.
The project will place particular focus on ensuring gender equality in South Sudan, where women have very little participation in the decision-making that affects their lives, suffer frequent domestic violence, and face enormous barriers to accessing education, income and politics.
“Despite commitments to ensuring that 25 percent of ministerial positions are filled by women, at the moment they fill only 12 percent of posts,” says Lorna Merekaje, the Secretary-General of SuDEMOP.
“We need to change attitudes to women across the country, from Juba to the bomas and payams (local administrations). Gender equality will only happen when it becomes a reality at the household and community level.”
The project will also focus on raising the voices and priorities of communities affected by insecurity. Inter-communal conflicts, often over scarce resources and cattle, continue to kill and displace thousands of people across South Sudan, destroy livelihoods, and hold back the country’s development.
We hope the project will increase trust and understanding between civil society and the government, and also improve the links between national civil society and community-based organisations. We hope to see increased dialogue so that civil society can help influence national policy debates to reflect the priorities of constituencies – including shaping the new permanent constitution. It will also help South Sudanese civil society learn and exchange ideas with experiences in other countries in the region – such as community efforts to reduce violence against civilians in DRC, and post-conflict reconciliation efforts in Rwanda.
“The vision for this project,” says Rita Mazzocchi, “is a strengthened civil society – from traditional leaders and the media, to development agencies and religious groups – that is helping to build legitimate institutions that will benefit all South Sudanese; working to help citizens hold their government and institutions accountable; and ensuring that people have access to basic services and feel safe in their communities.”