Resilience in Organising during the time of COVID-19 in South Sudan
As the first session of our new webinar series, on May 15th Impact Cap hosted a webinar on the topic of Resilience in Organising during the time of COVID-19 in South Sudan. As the world embraces protective measures to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, directives such as social/physical distancing and staying at home present a new set of challenges to change-makers who need to organize and mobilize communities to take actions. The following is a brief summary of the discussion and findings.
South Sudan has currently reported over 800 cases of COVID-19. The country closed its borders in late March before any cases were reported, as well as putting in place other preventative measures such as a curfew and closure of non-essential businesses. But enforcement has proved challenging and some of the measures have since then been lifted. With limited capacity to test, quarantine and isolate positive cases, there seems to be growing evidence that the authorities are struggling to manage the pandemic as community transmission has taken hold and reported positive cases skyrocketed in recent days. Thus, more than ever there is a critical need for civic actors to step up their role in creating awareness and addressing the side effects of the pandemic in society. We have seen examples of this with a Citizen’s Taskforce on COVID-19 being formed by some civil society activists. The Doctors Union have become vocal, releasing statements and recommendations on how to manage the health crisis and reduce the spread. Radio stations have also been proactive in shedding light on the situation and creating awareness. #211Check is a fact-checking and information verification platform and community that consist of people from various disciplines that have been working on providing accurate information on COVID-19 preventing measures in South Sudan . The South Sudan Red Cross have also responded with community outreach and setting up simple hand-washing stations and numerous other efforts.
South Sudan was facing significant challenges before the coronavirus pandemic entered into the picture. The Revitalised Agreement on the resolution of conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) continues to see serious delays in the implementation. State governments as well as the reconstituted parliament (TNLA) are yet to be formed. Social cohesion continues to be a significant obstacle in the long-term road to sustainable peace and in recent weeks a rise in inter-communal violence has taken hundreds of lives. There are also high levels of trauma in the country and a need for healing and reconciliation support.
Thus, there is also a need to not lose the momentum and work gained in other organising efforts focusing on peace and justice. We have seen that organising has continued to take place, in the midst of many challenges but also some opportunities. There are some good examples of organizers continuing to advocate on issues beyond COVID-19 crisis in South Sudan, our panel shared their experiences and here are a few additional examples below.
On May 15th a group of women in Juba organised a march to parliament and the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social welfare to deliver a petition demanding justice and an end to impunity for sexual violence crimes committed in the country. This was triggered by the brutal gang rape of an 8-year-old girl in Juba days before. The participants in the march wore masks and observed physical distancing but insisted that such injustices could not wait.
A local research institute, the South Sudan Center for Strategic and Policy Studies (CSPS) published a brief on the Delayed Peace Process and Impact of COVID-19 Crisis in South Sudan highlighting some of the critical areas of concern that are impacting the agreement as well as recommendations.
More and more citizens are turning to social media as a platform to organize and raise their voices. #SSOT are also becoming a strong group of advocates on Twitter while informal, they include a number of influential voices who often come together and speak out on issues of concern. In the past week that included damage on the new road being constructed from Juba to Rumbek by a Chinese company that is the result of an agreement between the government and China being paid directly in crude oil. The road which is not complete was damaged by rain and citizens took to Twitter and Facebook outraged demanding accountability. This resulted in both the Ministry of Roads and company making a statement assuring the public it will be addressed.
Impact Cap Survey with local organisations in South Sudan
As part of our background research for the webinar we circulated a brief online survey to local organisations that we are familiar with in South Sudan. 19 organisations completed, largely a mix of national NGOs, community-based organisations both in Juba and in other states and rural areas. Some of the key findings were:
100% of those surveyed stated that their work has been affected by the pandemic and 95% have adjusted their programming.
Some of the key challenges reported were around restrictions of movement, how to mobilize people and also access rural areas during the pandemic. Concerns around lack of funding were also strong with 68% reporting that they lost funding or support as a result of the outbreak and 58% of those losing at least half of their funding or more.
We also asked them to rate their international partners or donors on their level of solidarity, understanding and support in regards to the challenges they were now facing. It was a mix of feedback, with 10% stating excellent, 52% adequate and 32% inadequate and %5 non-existing demonstrating there is room for improvement in this regard.
89% expressed concern that COVID-19 measures could have long-lasting effects on civic space in South Sudan.
Increased use of online platforms with over 80% reporting an increased use of social media.
63% reported that despite the challenges they also see opportunities for organising during this time.
“It's forcing the elites to stay in Juba, which is rare given people's proclivity to stay in neighbouring countries. It may also help reinforce the idea that no one is going to come save us and if we want to have a prosperous country it is up to us to do it.” – Online respondent
Sample of Survey Visuals:
Summary of Webinar Discussion:
On May 15th, Impact Cap organised a Webinar to explore the topic of resilience in organising during COVID-19 in South Sudan. We invited three guest speakers all based in South Sudan, from different backgrounds and organisations and talked to them about how they have responded to the changing context under COVID-19.
Manasseh Mathiang, Anataban
Manasseh is one of the co-founders of Anataban as well as the Initiative’s Coordinator. Anataban was founded by a community of young South Sudanese creative’s in 2016 who use art as a platform for engaging youth in topics of peace, justice and unity. Anataban – means “I am tired” in Juba Arabic. #Anataban self-defines as a youth movement and community of young South Sudanese creative who are tired of seeing our people suffer. To address the COVID-19 pandemic Anataban has launched a campaign called Wagif Corona or “Stop Corona” in simple Arabic. This is a campaign aimed at raising awareness on the COVID-19 through the power of art. They are using various art forms including music, comedy, visual art like murals and cartoons, poetry and drama to pass the messages to the people. They have started the campaign in Juba with some street art but plan on doing it in some of the state capitals as well and in the Refugee camps in the region.
Maura Ajak, Journalist, CRN
Maura Ajak is an award winning investigative reporter in South Sudan. She is a fellow at the Catholic Radio Network, a 360-degree camerawoman and a 2018 International Women’s Media Fellow. Maura works on human rights stories such as sexual assault related stories, people with disabilities in South Sudan, and juvenile cases. She has freelanced for Aljazeera and AP. Maura has been covering the COVID-19 outbreak from Juba, interviewing politicians, healthcare workers and citizens. Catholic Radio Network is also doing awareness work through their network of stations that cover 8 states in South Sudan.
Emmanuel Lobijo, Junub Open Spaces
Emmanuel is the founder of Junub Open Space. In response to the outbreak in Juba, Junub Open Space in collaboration with Voice Post organisation formed the Access to Information and rumour verification (AIROV) consortium South Sudan and came up with innovative information sharing tool called Blue Messenger Bicycle. They are using blue messenger bicycles mounted with megaphones, amplifiers and batteries to help pass information to people in the neighbourhoods of Juba on COVID-19 and other related important information. One fully mounted blue messenger bicycle can cover 200 households in a day, each household with an average of 6 people hence 1,200 people will be covered by one blue messenger bicycle per day. They have started with 3 fully mounted bicycles and 25 trained volunteers with plans to expand. They hope to have 50 blue messenger bicycles, covering 10,000 households which is approximately 60,000 people per day.
Key Findings and Themes:
There were some key themes that came out through the discussion, we have summarised them below.
New challenges in organising:
Some of the key challenges or concerns that South Sudanese organizers highlighted indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic is indeed adding more challenges to an already complex and difficult environment for organising. Their concerns included both the current situation and fears on what may come in the near future. Some of the current measures and safely concerns around COVID-19 make it more difficult for organizers to get out in the community, reach people, consult and pass information. There are concerns that the measures such as a curfew, restrictions on movement and numbers of those gathering in one place could be potentially misused to make it difficult for citizens to organize and work together on issues affecting the country. Freedoms of expression, assembly and association could all be potentially affected. The issue of social cohesion must also be followed closely. There have already been some examples where the spread of the virus has been blamed on certain groups, misinformation, hate speech have all occurred. Vigilance is needed to ensure that people don’t use the pandemic as a way to further divide the country, blaming certain individuals or groups for political agendas.
The power of communication & connectivity
Organizers are quickly adapting and looking towards shifting their activities and efforts on mobilisation and awareness to platforms that respect physical distancing measures required during the COVID-19 pandemic, this includes increasing their use of radio and social media to reach communities. Yet, access to strong internet connectivity remains in a challenge in South Sudan. Globally, organisations and movements are moving their work online, but many in South Sudan will be left out of this. Even this webinar, a large number of the South Sudanese in the country who registered were not able to find a connection strong enough to join the meeting. There are good wi-fi connections in Juba yet they are costly and thus largely only found in UN or INGO offices or some upscale restaurants that charge by the hour. There is a need to address these imbalances in connectivity in the coming months to ensure there is more equity in access.
“Our access to cross check the facts with authorities is also limited, but we are also seeing an upsurge in leaked documents. There is a need for greater transparency and access to information.” - Maura Ajak
Resilience also brings opportunities
Unpredictable change is actually familiar ground for many South Sudanese organizers and thus many are reacting quickly to the new COVID19 context and continuing to organize and do great work. Their resilience is also breeding innovation and new opportunities and solutions to the problems on the ground. While the authorities are not reacting as some might have hoped, citizens are moving fast to do their part, largely with minimal support but fuelled by a sense of nationalism. There is potential to harness such commitments and enthusiasm to organize. Some mentioned that one possible opportunity the crisis could bring is a greater demand for home grown solutions. With border closed government authorities now remain inside with their citizens and this could create more pressure for reforms especially on budget allocation to provide services to the people, and increased transparency.
“The lockdown has made people think outside of the box. People are using their skills to help their neighbours (making soap). There are also some new recycling efforts I have seen in the community. There are opportunities at the local level people are claiming.” – Emmanuel Lobijo
The need for international partnership & solidarity
With the continuing efforts of organizers moving forward despite the obstacles, there is also a need for international partners to demonstrate solidarity. Some of the requests included flexibility of funds and resources in partnerships to ensure those on the ground are able to quickly adjust to the changing context. With predictions that the already struggling economy will take another hit, to ensure organisations don’t collapses, international partners should find ways of supporting core costs. Finally, INGOs/donors shouldn’t forget the needs of South Sudan are much more than just COVID-19, and thus they shouldn’t abandon all other support, but rather encourage integrated programming from their local partners. Depending on the duration of this pandemic and the limitations of international travel, it is possible that less foreigners will be able to travel to South Sudan, this also provides an opportunity for shifting support and responsibilities to local organisations who are still on the ground, working hard for positive change and development in South Sudan.
“No one expected this, we had plans with our partners pre-COVID-19, but now we need partners to be flexible enough to allow adjustment. Beyond awareness we also need to be looking at issues such as how can COVID-19 affect peace and security? How can it affect social cohesion? Partners can see how they can shift their resources to help us. Let them also understand the new risks we as local organizers face.” - Manasseh Mathiang
Through this webinar on Organising during the time of COVID-19 it is evident that while COVID-19 does present new challenges to organising in South Sudan, there continues to be many examples of resilience and action. Local efforts should be both noted and supported on both the COVID-19 response as well as long term actions and investments that are needed to bring peace, healing, justice and development to South Sudan.
Thank you to all that joined and we look forward to our next session on June 3rd on the Role of local media in increasing access to information and storytelling during COVID-19 in South Sudan.
Impact Capital Initiative is a social enterprise founded in South Sudan that aims to demonstrate that locally led ideas, efforts and initiatives have the potential to create impact in communities. We are passionate about recognizing untapped potential and providing opportunities to ensure they succeed. We understand that there is not a one-size-fits-all mold for changemakers and thus we invest in initiatives in the various forms that they emerge. We provide a range of services to our partners and clients. We embrace and encourage innovation, new ideas and approaches to problem solving. Impact Cap is also committed to contributing to learning that shifts the paradigm on development practices in the global south.