Speech: The Role of South Sudanese Youth in Liberation Struggles and Peacebuilding in South Sudan

By Biel Boutros Biel
Chief Guest
A key note address at South Sudan Youth Empowerment Conference in Uganda
Organised by Fangak Youth Foundation-South Sudan at Wonder world Hotel
22 August 2015
Kampala, Uganda


Kampala, August 23, 2015 (SSNA) — Fellow citizens and friends, I greet you in the name of our country-South Sudan. Our country was born out of decades of liberation struggles by our forefathers, our fathers and ourselves. Fellow youth, today, we owe our existence to the blood poured by our fallen comrades. As our national anthem rightly states so, the blood of our departed comrades has cemented our national foundation.

I tend to note from outset that struggle for freedom is not yet over in South Sudan. In the evening of 19 August 2015, we lost a youth member in person of Moi Peter Julius who was a journalist working with the New Nation English Newspaper in South Sudan. He was gunned down by unknown gunmen in capital Juba. The death of journalist Moi is a great loss not only to his family, media fraternity but also to the South Sudanese youth community, the entire South Sudan and all those who cherish values of free society including free press and expression.

Moi was a voice of the people that has been silenced. May we vow for a minute in his honour and that of Western Equatoria State Legislative Assembly who was murdered on 21 August 2015. May we stand up to ask the Almighty God to rest their souls in peace and comfort their families.

It is not in dispute, that our independence was brought through bullet, blood and ballot. Congratulations to you all for having materialised the dream of an independent state! Yes we made it together and may we thank and congratulate each other for the efforts each of us has made to have an independent South Sudanese state (turn to greet each other and congratulate him or her for contributions one has made in different ways)

Fellow citizens and friends, it should be recalled that many of our fellow country men and women have had no opportunity to survive the brutal civil wars of liberation but we who are here tonight, should thank God for making us witnesses to the fruits of our struggles.

It is my considered belief that our coming together today signifies our strong desire to move forward as young people with one heart and one spirit.

I therefore, thank the organisers and the leadership of Fangak Youth Foundation for inviting me to this important conference to speak on the role of South Sudanese Youth in the liberation struggles and peacebuilding in South Sudan. I will pick key areas to share with you.


Who qualifies to be called a youth or at what age to what age is a person known to be a youth?

Different scholars and institutions have provided various definitions of who a youth is but there is no consensus in definition even under international law.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) for statistical consistency across regions, defines a youth as a person between the ages of 15 to 24 years.

The African Youth Charter defines a youth as a person between the ages 15 to 35 years.

Various countries define a youth based on their national laws (Constitutions or specific legislation).

The Transitional Constitution of South Sudan 2011(TCSS 2011) is silent in defining who a youth is. However, the general notion from Old Sudan seemingly carried forward to the independent South Sudan has been that a youth is a person between the ages of 18 to 45 years but I have not found any record to confirm the claim. It seems a mindset calculation. The TCSS 2011 never mentions much about youth except briefly under article 40 which tips on institutional national policies towards youth.

What all these various definitions however, point to concurrently is that, a youth is a person at growing and energetic development stage, physically and emotionally.

My central argument is not about the definition of a youth but of the role the youth played during the liberation struggles of South Sudan and what they can do today to build peace in South Sudan.

In every society, youth constitutes a backbone of that society. The liberation struggles by black South Africans and a few moderate whites against apartheid policy of racial discrimination were championed by the youth groups. The youth constituted political and armed liberation force.

In South Africa’s example, most of the youth groups under students’ leadership organised peaceful protests and their courage against injustice attracted numerous massacres of youth members as was in the 1976 Soweto Massacre by security apparatus of the white minority government. In a sense, the African National Congress (ANC) which led the South Africa’s liberation struggles was a Movement of energetic and determined youth.


We can assess this by looking at significant milestones that outline role of youth in the liberation struggles of South Sudan:

  • First liberation movement 1955-1972: It was the youth that mobilised the conscience of South Sudanese citizens. The youth joined Anya Anya Movement in large numbers.
  • Second liberation movements 1975-2005 under Anya Nya II and later SPLA/M: The fighting forces were members of youth.
  • Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005: It was the youth that carried out sensitisation of the contents of the CPA.
  • Referendum period and the role of youth: civil society groups constituting of youth members carried out significant mobilisation that informed the conscience of the citizens to vote wisely and the efforts of sensitisation by the youth resulted in the vote for a separate state. It should be noted that youth constituted a sizable voting force during the referendum.

It is imperative to note that most of the youth members died in the liberation wars. Most of the parents of these youth members have been left without children today but their children’s blood brought South Sudan.


As I noted earlier on, there is nothing celebratory about youth in our legislation. The Constitution is silent and the youth have been pushed to the usual rhetoric of being leaders of tomorrow. You know what the South Sudanese musician Silver X has stated in his song: ‘—–tomorrow bi tomon de—‘.

The youth have great hopes that in an independent South Sudan, their potentials would be developed however, today, the youth energy has been wasted by the so called ‘elders’ or ‘leaders’.

The majority of conscientious South Sudanese youth has been dumped into state of manipulation.

Instead of developing the youth potentials, the elders are using the youth for:

  • Wars caused by poor foreign policies, dictatorship, selfishness and greed for power.
  • Political maneouvres where the youth have been reduced to singing praises for leaders whose cardinal objective is to enrich themselves while keeping the youth at the dustbin of history.
  • Tribal politics that misuses talents of youth by offering them useless doctrine courted in divisive language of ‘we’ and ‘them’
  • The educated, enlightened and politically conscious youth members are regarded anti-South Sudan, thus have been isolated and with some killed (Isaiah Abraham and others).
  • They are made to live in poverty and mere fit to be incited to engage in hopeless tribal games such as cattle raiding and tribally incited conflicts to protect the few who continue to loot the nation.
  • The youth members despite the skills and education they have acquired yet majority of the youth remains dangling in garbage of unemployment.

The situation in which the youth members are living today in South Sudan remains regrettably unacceptable given the efforts the youth have done to bring South Sudan independence through their blood.

The world would not come to an end if a youth member becomes a president of South Sudan today, or a Minister of Education, or Justice or head of Anti-Corruption or Human Rights Commission or Speaker of Parliament etc. In any case, most of the educated youth members have what it takes in understanding the modern world than the so called ‘elders’ most of whom does not read much information about South Sudan leave alone the affairs of the world that dog the dispensations of the 21st century. The irony or the paradoxical narratives are self-explanatory and cannot be emphasised.

Despite all these loopholes in the national policies towards youth, it is no point to lose hope in utilising the youth potentials in ensuring free, peaceful and reconciled South Sudan. We must thus ask a question:


For purposes of clarity, I need to pose a question:

What is peacebuilding?

Different scholars including former United Nations Secretary General Boutros-Boutros Ghali have defined Peacebuilding as to refer to diverse efforts to prevent conflict or measures to prevent relapsing into more violent situations.

Simply put, peacebuilding is a process that aims at addressing root causes of the conflict and attempts to bring to reconciliation and peaceful coexistence the belligerent parties.

Although the main actor could the government that represents the state yet other non-state actors such as civil society and other community groups which include the youth can play significant role in peacebuilding.


We must be humble enough to accept that our country today is at a stage of extreme violence, extreme violations of human rights, complete disappearance of rule of law, greed for power heightened by tribalism, greed for quick wealth which has never been worked but obtained at the expense of the public.

All the above evils and more, for avoidance of doubts, are the making of the so called ‘our leaders’ or ‘experienced elders.’ What experience do these guys have? Experienced in violence and increment of tribal hatred? I leave the judgment to you!

As a result, youth members have fallen prey of the political divides and failure of required people’s democratic governance.

I tend to think that the youth cannot go on as mere glorifying recipients or singing choir of this or that oyee! You have been singing this insensitive melody since 2005, what has it brought to youth? Nothing but blood and disunity with incited enmity.


  • Condemning the tendency of the leaders’ refusal of peace in preference of violence.
  • Speaking out against the evils that have thrown South Sudanese to civil war that has turned a brother against brother, sister against sister and led the country into furnace.
  • Protecting human rights of all people including the minority and disadvantaged groups.
  • Rising up in a peaceful manner to challenge any tendency of any leader to defile the constitution and relapse South Sudan to situation of no rule of law and anarchy.
  • Uniting to condemn any use of state power or security apparatus by any leader against any sector South Sudan’s population.
  • Opposing peacefully corruption, tribalism, clique ruling and other evils which are aimed at adoring individual leaders rather than building institutions that serve all nationalities of South Sudan.
  • Advocating for a system of governance that allows peaceful coexistence of a diverse society like South Sudan’s.
  • Getting education especially those who heavens open opportunity to study.
  • Learning basic principles of human rights: dignity of each human person, right to life, personal integrity where youth members refuse to be compromised regardless of their economic status.
  • Standing with the oppressed not on tribal basis.
  • Rising up peacefully to challenge any wrong laws or prevent them from being passed into laws to only be used later to destabilise the country.
  • Learning to understand the grievances of others and devise ways forward on the basis of national interest for all.
  • Opening up to discussion on fears and stereotypes about each other.


Fellow citizens and members of my generation, as we struggle to change a South Sudanese world of organised dictatorship and tribal mindset, it is prudent to remain hopefully focused on what unites than what divides us. We must rise up above the era of personality cult adoration. We must stand up above the tribal sentiments and egocentric approaches to national issues.

If an act of injustice is done to one group, or one rural woman, or a minority group by the tyrants at the realm of power, we must say no and rise up in defence of the oppressed. For certain, violence cannot be our first reaction but our ‘peaceful no’ to injustice should be the response until, like the South African youth, we remain with the last resort.

In order to build South Sudan of hope, peace, unity of purpose in diversity, equality and equitable citizenship, let’s unite to work for peace and never to condone the evil work and plans of our indecisive uncles when their cardinal plans are anchored on the destruction of South Sudan through divide and rule.

We must desist from rhetorical stereotypes of ourselves but embrace our common diversity as a people.

The tendency of generalising   all Dinka as corrupt, arrogant and dictators, or all Nuer being termed  as power greed or warlike or calling a madi or Otuho as coward, or regarding Mundari as backward etc, all must stop,  for they are the names and evils against which South Sudanese sacrificed millions of lives for.

We must claim our rightful place in our society today not the claims of tomorrow. We must be a force to reckon with in quest for free and united nation.

We must be respectful of each other and fight collectively against any common enemy of peace whose objective is to tribally incite the youth that Gatluak, or Monyluak or Oduho or Warnyang etc is nobody. He or she who says so, that is the enemy comrades! Fellow youth, we must build a nation that embraces all of our diversities.

Like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr, we must have an ideal if need be, which we are prepared to die for.

Comrades; may the inspirations of our national heroes such as Joseph Oduho, Dr John Garang de Mabior, Samuel Gai Tut, William Nyuon Bany, William Chuol Deng, Bernardino Mou, Majier Gai, Vicent Kuany Latjor, Kerubino Kuanyin Bol, Isaiah Abraham and their colleagues guide our conscience and efforts toward building a peaceful, free and democratic South Sudan.

Fellow citizens and friends, no matter the waves and tides which blow us oftentimes, yet we must always pick up ourselves and sail through the roaring waters, for that part of the world called South Sudan, we must always be proud of belonging to.

Let’s unite as young people and challenge anyone among us or elders who do not value our common humanity. We must support those who treat as equal citizens the people of Raja to borders of Gambeila and from Nimule to Renk.

Thank you comrades, God bless you all, God bless South Sudan and with God, we shall overcome.

[1] LLM(University of Pretoria), South Africa, LLB(Hons)(Busoga University), Dip. in Law(Law Development Centre), Dip. in Journalism (International Institute of Business and Media Studies). Uganda. Columbia University’s 2013 Human Rights Advocate and former Co-chair of National Human Rights Forum with the chair of Human Rights Commission. Biel is currently the Executive Director of South Sudan Human Rights Society For Advocacy(SSHURSA),  a nongovernmental human rights organisation monitoring human rights and training general public on human rights, rule of law, constitution, transitional justice and peacebuilding in South Sudan (www.sshursa.org). E-mails: [email protected]/[email protected].

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