As we drive through the placid streets of Malakal in South Sudan, the youngest nation in the world, an eerie sense of anticipation looms. Strategically located by the Nile in the northern part of the country and key to controlling oil fields, the city has seen a lot of combat over half a century of civil wars. Ruins and buildings riddled with bullet holes are reminders of a recent violent past. But now the city is on its way to rebirth since the signing of the Revitalized Peace Agreement took place in 2018.
Malakal is one of the nine bases of the South Sudan peace monitors – CTSAMVM (Ceasefire & Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring & Verification Mechanism). Unarmed, they patrol the city and its vicinity and report on any ceasefire violations.
On the streets of Malakal, we met Colonel Modest Kombo, an international observer from Kenya working with CTSAMVM. He has participated in peacekeeping missions in Morocco and Congo, and has been in South Sudan for eleven months.
A veteran of conflicts, he offers his view on the impact of the peace monitors.
“It is very interesting to be in South Sudan, the youngest nation of the world, because there are so many things we learn. Civil wars are different from nations fighting each other – it’s brothers and sisters against each other, slaughtering each other. There are deeply rooted internal divisions that the international community is not always able to understand. It takes time to heal an internal conflict. It’s not easy.”
What is important about the healing process?
“Once the bullets come out of the guns, you don’t know who they are going to hit. The damage is done. Lives are lost. The only way to heal and find reconciliation is to accept that it happened and move forward instead of looking backward because it is impossible bring back the dead. The cycle of revenge must be stopped. This is the only way forward. It is a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s better than revenge, because you never get out of revenge once you pursue it.”
What is the role of the peace monitors in this healing process?
“We bring hope to the people because they see through our example how people can experience a normal life. Through our presence, the conflicting factions can see that it’s possible to dialogue and live in peace. We become an example to them.”
Are you optimist about the future of this country?
“Yes, I have never seen a country so endowed like South Sudan, it is flat, there are rivers that can be used for agriculture and transportation, there is oil, you can do a lot of things here. There are immense resources, just give it a chance.”
Do you make a difference?
“Yes, I made a difference. The animosity among the parties is slowly going down. Our presence is a deterrent that contributes to prevent fighting and foster dialogue. Our reports are like providing information to the doctor: when a doctor knows what is happening he can prescribe the medicine to heal. Our presence encourages dialogue, and as time goes by it leads to changing of minds towards peace”.
Smiling and confident, he goes on another patrol in his daily routine of monitoring the peace in South Sudan.