Two weeks ago, I wrote about lessons learned from the conflict in South Sudan. This week a peace agreement was signed in Ethiopia, and it was broken and violated soon after it was signed. I have been thinking about my friends and co-workers in South Sudan 24/7 and why this happened and what could change it in the future if they could ever obtain peace long enough to implement real change.
Change needs to happen in South Sudan on a micro-level as well as a macro level. I was walking from our tents at Dr. Luka’s residence where we stay to the basketball courts for a meeting as South Sudan became an independent country (July 9, 2011). I was walking with an African-American, and many, many children pointed at me and said, “Kawaja, Kawaja, Kawaja” so many times that my friend was totally dismayed and horrified. Depending on who you talk to, Kawaja means white person, whitey or foreigner. You literally can’t walk outside with kids without hearing “Kawaja” over and over again.
I must have been prescient, because I began the meeting by telling the local administrators that South Sudan was a brand new country and that if they wanted to make it strong, it should not matter that someone is a Dinka (the local tribe) or a Kawaja and that they had to begin to work with kids in the community center to stop making those distinctions, as well as pointing at and actually harassing someone who walks by.
That was more than two years ago, and now South Sudan has sunk into civil and tribal-based warfare.
The civil conflict (war) in the world’s newest country has me constantly thinking about how they can build a country that maintains peace. There have been other experiments in conflict countries, and South Africa was one of the first in the recent past. They began “Truth and Reconciliation Commissions.” South Africa did this by having registers of reconciliation (which gave people a way to express regret at failing to act to prevent human rights violations), amnesty hearings, witnesses giving testimony in their own language as well as financial and other reparations, including placing headstones and obtaining death certificates and education to allow victims of violence to have dignity and become self-sustaining.
In Rwanda, according to an article by Hilary Matfess in The Nation, has begun youth camps that have a military flavor and, although they sing patriotic songs, Ms. Matfess believes they may sow the seeds of more violence in the future by the militaristic culture.
There is another aspect to ending these cycles of violence in these countries, and that is a familiar concept in mental health: “identification with the aggressor.” Dr. Martin M. Parker describes how it was first identified by Anna “in her paper, “The Ego,” 1936. According to her, it was a defense mechanism that was used to “protect the self from hurt and disorganization.”
He explains, “Throughout one’s life cycle children as well as adults can be faced with an event that produces intense anxiety. It can be a parent who abuses a child, a priest or an angry police officer who prefers to intimidate rather than educate.” Parker says, “The child as well as the adult thus learns to reduce their anxiety by changing from the passive to the active role.”
It seems that what we have seen in South Sudan and the behavior of the current administration and the rebels is an internalization of years of the abuse, torture and killing by the Arab north to the Christians in the South. Now, both sides are acting like the aggressors in the previous 22-year war with the North. They were united in fighting the North, but what is going on currently in South Sudan is nothing more or less than this kind of identification. This internalization of the past aggression will have to be dealt with head on if there is going to be any kind of permanent peace.
We also know that for peace to work, there is going to have to be the kind of honesty that we saw happen in South Africa. In the words of a commissioner on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, “We know that many South Africans are ready and eager to turn away from a past history of division and discrimination. Guilt for wrongdoing needs to be translated into positive commitment to building a better society – the healthiest and most productive form of atonement.”
Truth and reconciliation is exactly what needs to happen in South Sudan, because “political settlements” without truth telling and understanding personal behavior, such as identification with the aggressor, will never work.
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