Civil society actors can play an unparalleled role in peacebuilding processes. Given their work in the grassroots level, civil society actors can provide crucial knowledge on the realities on the ground; the positions, interests and needs of the local communities in relation to the ongoing conflict. With this knowledge, their local language skills, and understanding of the local culture and traditions, civil society actors also have a unique capacity in different stages of peacebuilding activities. Specifically, as argued by Paffenholz, CSOs contribute to peacebuilding efforts through seven main functions 1) civilian protection, 2) monitoring of developments, 3) advocacy for peace and human rights, 4) socialization to democratic and peace-respecting values, and to develop the inter-group identity of marginalized groups, 5) building of intergroup-social cohesion, 6) facilitation of dialogue between different actors and finally, service delivery to create entry points for peacebuilding interventions (Paffenholz, 2010). Meaningful and direct engagement of civil society in a peacebuilding process is therefore a necessary step in ensuring a path to sustainable and locally owned peace in any given context.
With the realization of the possibilities that civil society actors can offer, most peacebuilding stakeholders seek to operate though a bottom up approach; designing and carrying out peacebuilding interventions in meaningful partnership and cooperation with civil society actors. On the basis of information gained from recent CSOs consultation, the fulfilment of this objective still seems to be underway in South Sudan. The key message of the CSOs was clear: they yearn for more meaningful engagement and partnership in the peacebuilding efforts taking place in the country. They wish for the UN Peacebuilding Commission to engage more with the local actors in South Sudan in planning peacebuilding projects/programmes in order to avoid contradictory objectives and strategies. They discussed of the importance of CSOs being engaged in identifying projects, monitoring and evaluation of the UN’s peacebuilding projects/programmes, and development of exit strategies to promote sense of community ownership and sustainability. They wished that UN Agencies would provide more funding to the CSOs, particularly local women associations. They yearned to take part in platforms/forums where different peacebuilding stakeholders could build up on the coherence and coordination of peacebuilding efforts in South Sudan. Greater emphasis on providing capacity-building for national CSOs was also at the forefront of their needs.
The CSOs’ longing for more meaningful engagement in the coordination and coherence of peacebuilding efforts made me think of the potential that engagement with CSOs also hold for conflict sensitive programming. The protracted civil war in young and fragile South Sudan, stemming from political and ethnic divisions, forces peacebuilding actors to operate in an insecure and constantly changing environment, where ensuring the conflict sensitivity of interventions becomes a top priority. The first-hand information gained from civil society actors can offer a more thorough understanding of how an intervention interacts with the challenging, yet diverse operating context in South Sudan, enabling different actors to ensure that any potential negative impacts as a result of their interactions are minimised.
The Peacebuilding Programme of ACCORD is responding to the CSOs request for further capacity-building by organising a training conflict sensitive approaches to development, directed to national CSOs in South Sudan. Our objective for the training is to provide the CSOs with the information and skills for conflict sensitive programming/project management, while aiding other peacebuilding stakeholders in the country to do so by providing them with first-hand information from the ground.