As South Sudan’s new peace agreement was being signed in Addis Ababa last Wednesday, I was in Wau, a town in the northwest of the country scarred by deadly violence over the past five years.
From June until last month, fighting outside of the town continued even as parties declared a permanent ceasefire in Khartoum and proceeded with peace talks.
The hope and optimism of the people I met has struck me. I have been struck by the enormity of the task that faces the unity government to win back the trust and confidence of the people, who feel let down by them, to rise above self-interest and take on the nation-building transformative agenda. In my view, this is where the job starts.
I met Salma (not her real name) in the Protection of Civilians camp — where nearly 20,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) live under the protection of United Nations peacekeepers.
She told me: “I will only believe in peace deals when I can finally go back home safely.”
Salma is not alone in her scepticism. There are more than four million other IDPs. Some have been forced to flee time and again as conflict has slowed only to explode once more.
Many of them are still trapped in dreadful conditions, prevented from rebuilding their lives by persistent insecurity.
There is fear that this peace is only ink on paper, and only for a small clique of elites.
Though 16 representatives of civil society, women and youth have participated in the peace talks over the past nine months, not enough has been done to involve the wider South Sudanese population inside and outside of the country.
For much of the talks, communities have not received enough information about what was happening in the process.
Going forward, South Sudan’s people must be more engaged if they are to trust that this agreement finally means lasting peace.
Now, more than ever, the parties to the conflict must show through action that they are ready to stop fighting to allow access to humanitarian agencies and for ceasefire monitors to do their work.
They must open up the peace deal to ordinary South Sudanese, who are leading the way in keeping the political elite in check.
Civil society demonstrates the resilience of the South Sudanese people and that, indeed, people from different ethnic groups can come together to make a difference.
The agreement itself gives specific roles to civil society, women and youth representatives in many of the bodies it forms — including opportunities to influence the content of their constitution and monitor how effectively their leaders are implementing the deal.
Their participation should give voice to the women who have endured horrific incidents of sexual violence; youth who — though often portrayed as instigators of conflict — have been robbed of their chance for an education and decent livelihoods; and the millions who have fled their homes.
The concerns and demands of these people must be heard.
The formal inclusion of civil society in the implementation of the agreement is an important achievement. But it will be meaningless unless they are free to speak openly about the situation in the country.
Since the start of the conflict in 2013, civic space has continued to shrink. While they continue to use their influence to shape peace in their communities, activists risk arrest.
Journalists face similar threats. While they play an important role in sharing information and representing a diversity of views on the peace process, they do this at the risk of being harassed, threatened, or worse.
Igad and South Sudan’s leaders must ensure that civil society, peace activists and the media have the freedom and power to shape the implementation of the deal, to represent their people by speaking out when there are concerns, and to criticise and be heard where the process falls short of expectations.
It is time the leaders not only listened to their people, but also humbled themselves to include this formidable force in nation-building.
If South Sudan’s leaders succeed in helping to bring the country together for a people-driven peace, it will be an excellent example for the rest of the world.
We know that those bent on violence will be central to these talks but what is clear is that, without help and guidance from civilians and the people — who are already building peace day in, day out — we will struggle to find lasting peace. Their hope must not be squandered.
People like Salma — the ones with the most to gain from peace, and the most to lose from war — must not just have their place at the table, but also be looked to for leadership.
Ms Zigomo is the regional director for the Horn, East and Central Africa at Oxfam. [email protected]
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
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Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
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Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
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Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.