Start peace and reconciliation at the grassroots level: An open letter to H. E. Dr. Rick Machar


"My intention of writing an open letter to Dr. Machar is that I agree with him principally on the idea of peace and reconciliation initiative but I would love to see an approach that engages the communities at grassroots level," writes David Mabior Atem in this open letter addressed to the Vice President of the Republic of South Sudan Dr. Riek Machar on the upcoming national peace and reconciliation conference scheduled to take place in Juba in April 2013. 


Winnipeg, MB, Canada - First and foremost, I would like to register my vote of thanks to our Vice-President as well as entire leadership of the SPLM for proactive move toward initiating and championing upcoming “Peace and Reconciliation” conference.  It is an honor and privilege to write this open letter to Vice-president as he is an architect of this peace and reconciliation initiative.  I applaud and commend  your innovative thinking pointing toward revitalization of the past and redirecting of the future, although it needs rethinking to achieve maximum results and longevity of outcome. 

South Sudan is a generational crisis nation that went through numerous challenges conferred upon by the former colony and Islamic regime; which required peace and reconciliation at earliest stage of our independence.  This thinking will accelerate effort of healing those wounds, which will allow us to forge or achieve unity of purpose.  It is not too late for our leaders to exert more effort by identifying, and studying causative factors; prioritizing and responding appropriately and responsibly to reverse gears of internal hatred, which can prevent us from consolidating and appreciating our achievement of independent state. Of course, South Sudanese did not vote for an independent state that segregate individuals and communities and deprive them of civil liberties and wealth due to unnecessary looting of wealth and killing of innocent people.

My intention of writing an open letter to Dr. Machar is that I agree with him principally on the idea of peace and reconciliation initiative but I would love to see an approach that engages the communities at grassroots level. This is how I envision concrete peace and reconciliation conference to be undertaken to achieve the same intended goal.  It would be more appropriate to take peace and reconciliation conference to grassroots levels where the problems are occurring, such as Counties and States and then it can be followed by the national peace and reconciliation conference similar to what is scheduled from April 18-21, 2013.  For South Sudanese to heal wounds of long term suffering it cannot be addressed in 3 to 4 days conference, unless we want to pronounce a word “peace and reconciliation” but not thoroughly understanding its importance for us to forget the past and recharge ourselves for the future. 

For me, achieving a real peace and reconciliation will require the following three stages.   First, peace and reconciliation conference in my view should take place at Counties where the problems are occurring.  It will allow participants’ discussions to be more engaging and inspiring, which will ultimately allow them to reconcile with each other.  This will enable them to express their feelings in short range proximity where message of peace will be articulated and contextualized.  Having conferences at Counties’ levels will reenergize and regenerate feelings of forgiveness from affected individuals and communities to accept realities and begin new lives with new nation. 

If peace and reconciliation was to begin at grassroots levels questions such as, what can be done to let warring communities abandon their past and begin the future? What can be done to prevent the future atrocities not to be committed against innocent people?  These questions and many other questions can be answered by the affected communities reciprocally, which can give peace and reconciliation vital meaning.  Having a conference in a smaller setting will yield more fruits rather than bigger setting.

Dr. Machar, when you see an object at short-range and see the same object at long-range you will get different results.  Similarly, if you could use micro-scope and telescope you can also see different results from the same object.  Convening peace and reconciliation at national level will make us miss the target or opportunity of engaging right audiences for this important event.  It would be more appropriate to let the affected communities take ownership of this conference where they will develop relevant policies, which will be regulated by the state apparatus such as police, traditional arbitration and modern law. A meaningful peace and reconciliation come when involved parties are dialoguing, communicating and engaging one-on-one discussions with language flexibility.

Dr. Machar, peace and reconciliation in our country is most needed and you know that but healing those wounds will not be achieved in days, weeks, months but years.

Second, peace and reconciliation conference could take place at state level where Counties’ resolutions will be studied and scrutinized before they are made laws or practical policies.  It can help each state government to proactively utilize Counties’ recommendations to prioritize service deliveries.  This approach can task each level of government to shoulder meaningful responsibilities as preventative measures of restoring peace at grassroots communities where the problems are occurring daily, weekly, monthly and yearly. 

State government can take ownership of identifying the challenges and turn those challenges into opportunities such as health care, education, creating an employment through private enterprises, address insecurity and encourage subsistence agriculture etc, to address the disparities.

Third, peace and reconciliation conference will be similar to what is now scheduled on April 18-21, 2013 where special invited guests will be drawn nationally, regionally and internationally, which will deliberate on grassroots’ recommendations gained from stage one and two at the counties’ and states’ levels.  Undertaking bottom up approach theory will allow engagement and shared responsibilities across the board.  Affected communities will take custody of agreed upon resolutions, rather than viewed as being passed down by the central government.

 I believe that all government levels had spoken to communities to desist from looting and killing of innocent people but to date no change.  If they listen precious lives would have not been lost this month, January 2013, in Lakes State and across Jonglei State, especially in three Counties of Duk, Twic East and Bor and others.  On January 7, 80,000 cows were taken from Twic East, please see this link:

For these reasons and many others that is why I suggest having peace and reconciliation at grassroots level as opposed to national.  As already alluded to, having conference at the grassroots can create an interactive participation where recommendations and policies originating from the grassroots will then be enacted as laws.  In this sense, central government will have a clear direction of prioritizing needs based on a clear guide from the grassroots not politicians. 

In conclusion, once again, Dr. Machar, peace and reconciliation is a brilliant idea for our country but as suggested the grassroots approach would yield a meaningful result.  Healing those long inflicted wounds against one another cannot be dealt with in 3-4 days as well as top down approach instead of bottom up approach.  In my view, if you were to begin that peace and reconciliation conference at grassroots level it can gain and gear up a meaningful participation of face-to-face dialogues with the victim communities.  Another added advantage of beginning at grassroots level is the flexibility of language (dialects), which can result into high interactive and productive engagement. Peace and reconciliation conference should be backed up with sustainable development, which can lead to sustainable peace where peaceful interactions and movements among communities can be a key factor.  Peace is a prerequisite to meaningful independence of a nation like ours, full with resilience encountered and endured in those decades of civil wars.

David Mabior Atem – Canada, Winnipeg, Manitoba.  He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.