A civil war that has plagued South Sudan, the world’s newest country, over the past four years verges on ethnic genocide and has left half the prewar population in need of humanitarian aid. As the international community tries to help end the violence, the U.S. Institute of Peace brought two of the country’s promising young leaders—one from each side of the divide—to Washington to pursue research on ways to heal the rifts. By the end of their stay, they may have learned just as much from each other.

Ajing Chol Giir Magot and Francis Banychieng Jor each have experienced tremendous loss in the violence that broke out within 18 months of South Sudan’s independence from Sudan. The United States was a key supporter of the referendum that resulted in independence and has invested more than $2 billion in assistance for the new nation. The conflict has attracted some attention in Western capitals, though it has often been drowned out by the wars in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The causes of South Sudan’s conflict are complex, but both President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar have appealed for loyalty to their two main ethnic groups in their struggle for power.

Ajing is from Kiir’s ethnic group, or tribe, the Dinka. Francis is Nuer, as is Machar. The two young leaders, who were active in civic groups in South Sudan, describe in this video how they shared an apartment in Washington during their stay and got to know one another through USIP’s Sudanese and South Sudanese Youth Leaders Program for peacebuilders ages 18 to 35. The two overcame mistrust stemming from their country’s past of ethnic hatred and violence that has been exacerbated by the current conflict.

Francis came to USIP to study how he might help increase the role of women to strengthen political processes. His research persuaded him that reaching that goal will require helping men in South Sudan understand how to transform cultural norms and traditional ideas of manhood that marginalize women and perpetuate violence.

Ajing believes sports can be powerful in uniting Dinka and Nuer people by demonstrating that it’s possible to compete without violence. He draws from personal experience. His late uncle, Manute Bol, was a star player for the Washington Bullets basketball team in the 1980s and 1990s, and a prominent donor and activist for refugee assistance and ethnic reconciliation in Sudan.

Francis and Ajing are exceptional in many ways, but they also typify the country’s recent history and rifts, especially as both of their families have suffered during the war. Their experience together illustrates the possibilities for healing those divides.

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South Sudan’s people have spoken on peace. Is anyone listening?

South Sudan’s people have spoken on peace. Is anyone listening?

Friday, April 16, 2021

By: Ola Mohajer;  David Deng

The United States played a key role in the emergence of South Sudan as an independent state 10 years ago. Yet today, U.S. policy toward the country is insufficient to address the continued violence or promote sustainable peace. Even so, it is not too late for U.S. policymakers to embark upon a renewed push for peace. To move forward, they should listen to what South Sudan’s people said in the recently concluded National Dialogue and incorporate its recommendations in diplomatic, humanitarian and development strategies for the country.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

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Conflict and Crisis in South Sudan’s Equatoria

Conflict and Crisis in South Sudan’s Equatoria

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

By: Alan Boswell

South Sudan’s civil war expanded into Equatoria, the country’s southernmost region, in 2016, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee into neighboring Uganda in what has been called Africa’s largest refugee exodus since the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Equatoria is now the last major hot spot in the civil war. If lasting peace is to come to South Sudan, writes Alan Boswell, it will require a peace effort that more fully reckons with the long-held grievances of Equatorians.

Type: Special Report

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The South Sudan Peace Process Archive: A Window into Mediation

The South Sudan Peace Process Archive: A Window into Mediation

Monday, March 29, 2021

By: Zach Vertin;  Aly Verjee

As part of its commitment to learning from peace processes, the U.S. Institute of Peace is pleased to launch the South Sudan Peace Process Archive, which aims to provide South Sudanese citizens, mediators, policymakers, academics and other interested readers a window into the 2013-2015 negotiations that attempted to end the conflict that began in South Sudan in late 2013. Documents for this archive were first assembled and organized in 2016. Now, archive curators and former peace process advisers Zach Vertin and Aly Verjee discuss their motivations for assembling and organizing the documents and what they hope the archive can contribute to future peace processes.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Mediation, Negotiation & DialoguePeace Processes

South Sudan: From 10 States to 32 States and Back Again

South Sudan: From 10 States to 32 States and Back Again

Monday, March 1, 2021

By: Matthew Pritchard;  Aly Verjee

Last year, South Sudan reintroduced 10 subnational states in South Sudan, in place of the 32 states controversially created in 2017. Far from being an obscure matter of administrative organization, the initial, dramatic redivision of territory in the midst of protracted violence and large-scale displacement had a significant impact on representation, as well as social, economic, and political relations throughout the country. In 2018-19, researchers commissioned by USIP sought to better understand the decision-making process behind the creation of the 32 states in South Sudan. Researchers Matthew Pritchard and Aly Verjee discuss their findings in light of current developments.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

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Related Projects

Sudanese and South Sudanese Youth Leaders Program

Sudanese and South Sudanese Youth Leaders Program

Past Project

The U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) launched its Sudanese & South Sudanese Youth Leaders program in 2013. The program brings Sudanese and South Sudanese peacebuilders between ages 18 and 35 to Washington, DC to be in residence at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) for four months. The goal of the project is to support youth to gain the knowledge, skills, and confidence to further their peacebuilding work and position themselves as stronger peacebuilding agents in their communities. USIP will b...

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