South Sudan's problems go much deeper than the civil war that has wrecked the country and traumatised its people since 2013, according to a Christian lawyer who works in conflict resolution there.
Juma Mabor Mariel works for ALARM – African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministeries – which has been a partner of Tearfund in South Sudan for the past three years and runs peace and reconciliation projects and trauma counselling. Speaking to Christian Today on a visit to the UK, he says: 'There are so many causes of conflict – child abduction, land, cultural perspectives, different values, and the ownership of water. The conflict is not just a national one, there are deep-rooted differences.
'That's what we want the world to know. The national conflict could only escalate because of existing conflicts. Until local conflicts are solved, we cannot solve the national conflict.'
South Sudan became independent from Sudan in 2011 after years of civil war. Peace, however, was brief: in 2013 war erupted again between the government under President Kiir and forces loyal to his deputy Riek Machar, whom he had dismissed accusing him of planning a coup d'état. Fighting has continued between different ethnic and political groups since then in spite of international attempts to broker a ceasefire. Around 2.5 million South Sudanese fled to neighbouring countries, but a fragile peace that has held during the last few weeks is tempting some of them to return. Altogether more than 4.3 million people fled their homes.
However, the oil-rich country is in a parlous state. The conflict has led to food insecurity undermining both agricultural and livestock production, disrupting livelihoods and forcing people to flee.
Humanitarian access has remained restricted and has been made harder by the arrival of the rainy season that has rendered many locations in need unreachable.
Mariel says many people need the help organisations like ALARM can offer.
'The church is a very important partner in peacemaking,' he says. 'We can be intermediaries in local conflicts – we can find out what is happening and report to higher levels. It is the best-place institution because it meets people all the time – it has access to them every Sunday.'
One of the main needs the Tearfund-supported organisation helps meet is trauma counselling. The breakdown of law and order has led to widespread violence, including sexual violence, and recovery is problematic.
Mariel instances a man who was shot while trading cattle, who experienced long-lasting psychological and apparently physical effects that led to him becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol, losing his job and becoming estranged from his family. Counselling and medical referrals resulted in him being diagnosed with leprosy, and ALARM saw him through the course of treatment that cured him. He is now back with his family.
'Trauma healing is a major thing,' Mariel says. 'They think that whatever happens to them, it is someone else's fault.'
However, he says, funding for counselling and conflict resolution is inadequate. ALARM has 58 counsellors working among South Sudanese people in the country and among refugees across its borders. But 'the country is huge, and the needs are huge', he says. 'We can only do what we can. We need help from our brothers in the UK. Continue to pray, continue to engage with the humanitarian effort, help us continue to build local communities.'
For more about Tearfund's work in South Sudan click here.