Reconciliation and Healing after the Violent War in South Sudan: Who is Involved, When, in What Order and How Fast?

By Tong Kot Kuocnin, SEPT/15/2015, SSN;

Ideally reconciliation prevents, once and for all, the use of the past as the seed of renewed conflict. It consolidates peace, breaks the cycle of violence and strengthens newly established or reintroduces democratic institutions in societies which lack them like South Sudan.

It brings about personal healing of survivors, the reparation of past injustices, building or rebuilding of non-violent relationships between individuals and communities and the acceptance by the former parties to a conflict of a common vision and understanding of the past and future.

In its forward-looking dimension, reconciliation means enabling victims and perpetrators to get on with life and, at the society’s level, the establishment of a civilized political dialogue and an adequate sharing of power which is the center piece of violence.

But it is to be noted that there is no handy road map for reconciliation and there is no short cut or simple prescription for healing the wounds and divisions of a society in the aftermath of sustained violence.

This is because creating trust and understanding between the former enemies is a supremely difficult challenge.

However, it is an essential one to address in the process of building a lasting peace because examining the painful past, acknowledging it and understanding it, and above all, transcending it is the best way to guarantee that it does not and cannot happen again in the future.

Hence, reconciliation is not easy to realize. The experience of a brutal past makes the search for peaceful coexistence a delicate and an intricate task. Reconciliation is not an isolated act, but a constant readiness to leave the tyranny of violence and fear behind.

It is not an event but a process, long and an unpredictable one involving various steps and stages. However, there are three stages to reckon with namely; replacing fear by non-violent coexistence, when fear no-longer rules: building confidence and trust and towards empathy.

When the shooting stops, the first step away from hatred, hostility and bitterness is the achievement of non-violent coexistence between the antagonist individuals and groups involved.

As Martin Luther King said, those who do not learn to live together as brothers are all going to perish together as fools.

Therefore, the move towards such coexistence requires first the victims and perpetrators be freed from the paralyzing isolation and all-consuming self-pity in which they often live because even in the midst of the most cruel conflict, small island of tolerance, forgiveness and civility should be given a chance.

This involves building or renewal of communication amongst the communities of victims and perpetrators.

But conflict do not disappear with this step in the reconciliation process because individuals, groups and communities continue to be adversaries, but they agree to disagree and use less violent means to accommodate old and new disputes that arise.

The most important ingredient in the process requires that each party both the victims and the perpetrators gain renewed confidence in himself and in each other.

It entails believing that humanity is present in every man and woman; an acknowledgement of the humanity of others is the basis of mutual trust and opens the door for the gradual arrival of a sustainable culture of non-violence.

For trust and confidence to truly develop, a post-conflict society has to put in place a minimum of functioning institutions, a non-partisan judiciary, an effective civil service and an appropriate legislative structure.

Finally, comes empathy. Empathy comes with the victims’ willingness to listen to the reasons for the hatred of those who caused their pain and with the perpetrators understanding of anger and bitterness of those who suffered.

What is importance is the recognition that victims and perpetrators share a common identity as human beings.

However, coexistence, trust and empathy develop between individuals who are connected as victims, beneficiaries and perpetrators.

All the steps in the process entail the reconciling of not only individuals, but also groups and communities as a whole.

Therefore, lasting conciliation must be home-grown. Burying the past in a reconciliatory way requires the mobilization of a variety of methodologies including healing the wounds of the survivors, retributive or restorative justice, historical accounts of the horrors via truth-telling, and reparation of the material and psychological harm inflicted on the victims.

Given the volatility of an immediate post-conflict context, time management in processing reconciliation is extremely important so that policies must not come too soon or too late.

Ideally, reconciliatory steps by perpetrators include fully exposing the facts, looking the victims in the eye, listening to them, repairing the harm done, acknowledging sorrow, guilt or shame, and ultimately feeling empathy with them.

Tong Kot Kuocnin is a Master of Laws (LLM) Candidate at the School of Law of the University of Nairobi and a practising Legal Counsel at Deng & Co. Advocates – Juba. He can be reached at:

1 Comment

  1. Good Citizen says:

    Mr. Tong kotchin,

    Listen, the most important virtue for peaceful coexistence, tolerance, is the virtue of EMPATHY.
    Empathy entails listening and putting oneself in the shoes of the affected person, the victim. The perpetrator feels the pain and remorse of the victim and this enables the victim to fetch in the virtue of FORGIVENESS.
    But unfortunately, the only prevailing dominant virtue among the hostile Nilotic communities is the virtue of REVENGE and REVENGE TAKING. Oh sorry, we shouldn’t call it a virtue, it’s a vice ! This thing is ingrained in their medieval brain of Dinkopethicus Naledi and Nueropethicus Naledi. So if God had blessed these Naledis with EMPATHY, there would have been no senseless medieval wars. You would have, as well, heard a minister resigned from his / her position because of human atrocities committed, corruption, lying, etc, any minister resigned since 2013 ? Ask yourself why.

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