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Revisiting youth peacemakers in South Sudan

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I recently visited our Youth Peacemaker Network (YPN) project in Torit, South Sudan. This is a project run by the Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative (WPDI), which aims to bring together youth from different communities and tribes to be pioneers in peace-building and agents of positive change. Ericsson and Zain provide the ICT tools, training and connectivity.

Before I write about the trip, some context on South Sudan:

  • According to Wikipedia, a 2013 population census indicated that 66 percent of the total population of 11 million is under 25 years old.
  • In 2011, it is estimated that more than 80 percent of the South Sudanese population cannot read or write he challenges are particularly severe when it comes to girls South Sudan has proportionately fewer girls going to school than any other country in the world. According to UNICEF, fewer than one percent of girls complete their primary education.
  • The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that in 2015 an estimated 2.5 million people across South Sudan will face extreme food insecurity. Threats to the wellbeing of internally displaced people are further exacerbated by extreme weather and the outbreak of diseases such as cholera and malaria.

So with this backdrop, I have to admit that when we started our project in South Sudan, I had my doubts. How could we work on an ICT for peace and development initiative in the middle of a conflict state? Well, for the Youth Peacemaker Network with WPDI, that was exactly the point, so we forged ahead.

I remember the day six months ago, when we first introduced mobile phones and tablets for the ICT training, and most of the participants did not know how to turn on the devices. We quickly had to adapt our training to be more basic. However, during the six months since my last visit, I was so surprised to see how dramatically things have changed. Thanks to the training provided by our team from Ericsson Academy, they were able to master Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel and other work tools, and the Peacemakers (some 30 youth that are part of the three-year-long program) were using their devices to prepare project plans and present their peace plans for their communities to each other and to the group. One of the main community issues that affects the peace is cattle raiding, and I got the feeling that we might be the first project to address this using PowerPoint …

Also during this trip, we launched a second computer center in Nemule (we are aiming for some eight to ten computer centers in total). When the Peacemakers start to implement their plans in their communities, each Peacemaker has the potential to reach another 50-100 individuals, so if they are successful, you can see how this can quickly get some scale.

Despite the gains, all the challenges are still there – literacy, lack of reliable electricity, the need for strong community engagement, and even keeping a safe space for girls. And back at the airport in Juba on the way home, it felt like the international community was possibly gearing up for another evacuation.

Yet I still think we are getting there one step at a time. Some say South Sudan is a failed state. I would say that with some skills building in areas like peace, conflict resolution and ICT, this generation of youth might be able to turn the tide.

Written by Elaine Weidman-Grunewald

Elaine Weidman Grunewald is Vice President of Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility at Ericsson. She joined Ericsson in 1998, and she is responsible for a number of public private partnerships which explore the use of Technology for Good, i.e. the use Ericsson’s core technology to solve some of the world’s most compelling challenges and help to achieve the Millennium Development Goals , including the Millennium villages, Connect to Learn, and Refugees United. She is a leading advocate of Technology for Good and represents Ericsson in a number of external fora including the Broadband Commission for Digital Development and the United Nations Global Compact.