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Involve Youth in South Sudan’s Peace Talks, Catholic Missionary Sister in the Country Says

Sr. Elena Balatti of the Comboni Missionary Sisters (CMS) alongside participants in the peacebuilding workshop at Akobo, South Sudan, on 9 January 2022. Credit: Sr. Elena Balatti, CMS

Young people in South Sudan are a key element in the conflicts in the East-Central Africa nation, a Catholic Missionary Sister serving in the country has said and proposed the inclusion of the youth in the country’s ongoing peace talks.

In a Tuesday, January 11 interview with ACI Africa, Sr. Elena Balatti, a member of the Comboni Missionaries serving in South Sudan’s Malakal Diocese, said that peaceful coexistence in South Sudan is hindered by the country’s pockets of “youth who are uncontrollable”.

“We have heard about people thinking of ways of getting young people in peace talks… like those who are 16 years old need to find their way in the peace process especially since they are the ones destabilizing peace in different areas,” Sr. Balatti told ACI Africa.

She added, “There is not yet real peace and stability because there are groups of youth who are uncontrollable. They have weapons, they are able to destabilize the good intentions for peace.”

The Catholic Nun explains that peaceful coexistence in the world’s youngest nation can be achieved through the “coming together,” and “the cooperation of so many stakeholders,” including the youth.

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Sr. Balatti who is the coordinator of the department of Integral Human Development (Caritas) in Malakal Diocese said that the various groups opposing each other in the communities served by the South Sudanese Diocese are mostly young people.

She further said that real peace receives a blow from these groups as each of them must be given a chance to raise their complaints.

Speaking about her visits to some communities including the Murle of South Sudan’s Jonglei State, Sr. Balatti said that there is need for more schools so that the youth can receive formal education. 

The Italian-born Comboni Missionary said that education in South Sudan is majorly informal and explained that people who undergo formal education acquire ideas to contribute to the development of the country.

“To see development of civil societies, we need formal education,” Sr. Balatti said in the January 11 interview with ACI Africa, and explained that civil society organizations, in turn, contribute to peaceful coexistence in a country.

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She opined that the existence of multiple ethnic groups is a challenge as the people cannot agree on a unified national identity.

“South Sudan is made up of more than 60 ethnic groups; it takes time for all the different ethnic groups to look at themselves as members of this nation called South Sudan and to be able to look at the interest of the nation as a whole,” Sr. Balatti said.

The Comboni Missionary Sister who served in the then Sudan since 1994 said that the more the South Sudanese will be convinced to advocate for national unity, the more the peace and stability will be achieved.

On the challenges her office faces in executing its duties, Sr. Balatti spoke of the vastness of Malakal Diocese adding that the leadership of the South Sudanese Diocese is struggling to set up sub offices to execute projects in different areas.

“One of the challenges is to reach out to rural areas. The Diocese is very big and as the justice and peace office, we are struggling to set up different sub offices in different areas in relation to peace,” she said.

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She added, “In 2022, we are going to work on the formation of personnel in the sub offices for different places. The Diocese of Malakal is a very huge territory and we have a challenge in reaching out.”

In a January 9 report, Sr. Balatti narrated the challenges encountered in efforts to restore peace in the South Sudan saying that it becomes difficult for dialogue especially when people are directly affected by war.

Participants during peacebuilding workshop organized by Caritas Malakal, South Sudan. Credit: Sr. Elena Balatti, CMS

“Dialogue is extremely difficult when people have been directly affected by the events of the war including pain, suffering, loss of possessions, of their social status, of affections,” the Caritas official said in the Vatican News report.

In the January 11 interview with ACI Africa, the Catholic Nun who has been involved in fundraising for the revival of Sout al Mahaba Radio of Malakal Diocese that was vandalized and looted in February 2014 also noted that some people, despite having lost their loved ones and suffered in various other ways owing to the conflict in various parts of South Sudan, still choose to embrace peace.

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She further explained that those who choose peace despite having been affected by violence have the interest of the country at heart and are aware that reconciliation is key for the country’s development.

“It is always a success story when in a workshop or conversation conducted in the church, people are saying, yes this has happened but we are open to peace and reconciliation with the other group,” Sr. Balatti told ACI Africa, and added, “I have experienced this a number of times… I consider this a big success.”

Hinting to the talks that resulted in the September 2018 Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS), she further said that the Catholic Church as a member of the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC) has participated in the implementation of the peace action plan since 2017.

SSCC, the Comboni Missionary Sister said, is preparing booklets summarizing peacebuilding activities taking place all over the country to create more awareness on the need for a peaceful coexistence in the East-Central African nation that gained independence from Sudan in July 2011.