Forest Whitaker, UNESCO Special Envoy for Peace and social activist, talks about saving lives in South Sudan at the World Economic Forum on Africa 2017 in Durban. PHOTO: WEF
Durban - The protracted conflict in South Sudan was having a devastating impact on countless levels and more needed to be done to address the situation, US actor Forest Whitaker said at the World Economic Forum on Africa taking place in Durban.
Whitaker, a UNESCO Special Envoy for Peace and Reconciliation and whose Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative has been actively involved in South Sudan for the past five years, focusing mainly on the plight of displaced youth, lauded the South Sudanese people for their resilience.
Whitaker said thousands were fleeing the conflict in the world’s newest country, not because they wanted to leave, but because they were being forced to due to the high levels of violence.
“The people of South Sudan are resilient, they want to stay in their country, they don’t want to leave but they are forced to leave their crops because of the conflict,” Whitaker said.
“I have been assisting the youth through the Whitaker Foundation and my partners. We have found that young girls are forced into early marriages because when they are displaced their parents want to keep them safe and the option of an early marriage seems viable. We try to discourage them from early marriages through skills development.”
Head of the UN mission in South Sudan, David Shearer, told members of the UN Security Council on Tuesday that “virtually no part of the country is immune from conflict” and that there had been “no concerted effort by any party to adhere to a ceasefire”.
According to latest figures, around 60,000 people were fleeing the country each month in the first three months of the year.
According to Shearer, by year-end the number of refugees would likely have topped two million.
Whitaker said the conflict in South Sudan extended beyond the two rival factions belong to President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar, as there were new factions being formed every day which made it extremely difficult to find a solution to the conflict.
Whitaker said: “Around 1.4 million South Sudanese are displaced, people are frustrated and I don’t think the international world is doing enough to solve the conflict. More needs to be done to solve the conflict. We are doing something to help the people in refugee camps.”
Asked about the challenges he faces when it comes to delivering supplies in refugee camps, Whitaker said sometimes they had to drive in circles just to find the safest route.
“Fifty thousand people have been killed in the South Sudan conflict and 80 aid workers have been killed. Our people have to find the safest routes because they don’t know where the rebels are stationed.
“Staff have been threatened, there are challenges of electricity connection and internet connection. We even ask local business to help with building roads and electrifying refugee camps.”