More than 97,000 South Sudanese refugees who have fled war, misery and turmoil from their country now live in Kakuma.
This number is increasing by the day since December 2013, when factional war broke out in Africa’s newest country. Indeed, Southern Sudanese make up more than half of the 180,000 refugees at the camp.
On a tour of the camp last week, I noted that more than 80 per cent of the refugees are women and girls, many with stomach-churning tales of physical and sexual violence.
Rebecca Chol (name changed) was holding her toddler protectively. She had recently arrived from a village near Rumbek. She was sitting with a group of women who had come for psychosocial counselling at a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) supported Gender Based Violence (GBV) centre run by one of the UNFPA’s partners, the International Rescue Committee.
It was heart-breaking to hear of the savage violence and brutality she and her family experienced at the hands of opposing forces. She had been raped and abused.
Rebecca’s story is, sadly not uncommon, but is characteristic of the “new normal” where the tyranny of sexual violence is used as a weapon of war. It is being used for political ends, for ethnic cleansing and to sow terror and cause panic.
It is destroying lives, fuelling conflict, creating more refugees and IDPs. In South Sudan this may be jeopardising any hope for a ceasefire as well as undermining the long-term prospects for reconciliation.
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 spelled hope and optimism for the future of what was once a country of incredible promise.
Torn by internecine conflicts, a brutal war of secession from the North combined with protracted periods of hunger, the people of South Sudan have endured one crisis after another.
The entire world celebrated the birth of the youngest nation in 2009, but in December 2013 the gains from the peace process began to disintegrate. Repeated efforts have been made by the international community to secure peace, but the situation has been deteriorating by the day.
Ms Anne Richards, the US assistant secretary in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, remarked in Nairobi: “We face a long list of global disasters, conflicts, and disease outbreaks. Yet none fills us with as much frustration and despair as the crisis in South Sudan. Why? Because this crisis should never have happened.”
The women and children of South Sudan, are among the most vulnerable. The protracted emergencies and complete absence of social services is destroying the human capital base and potential of the youngest country.
That is why UNFPA is making efforts to ensure that the specific needs of women and girls are factored into a humanitarian response and supporting women is one of the best ways to ensure the health, security, peace and well-being of families and entire communities.
The conflict also shows that while it is important to focus on nation building, if tensions continue to simmer, the gains made will be quickly lost.
For any lasting peace, it is essential that political consensus emerge from the grass-roots-level peace initiatives, coming out of ongoing local peace infrastructures, which take into account existing differences between various tribes and political factions.
The international community and key interlocutors must send an unambiguous message to all sides to the conflict, “CEASEFIRE NOW”. A warning of zero tolerance of sexual and gender-based violence must be clear and unequivocal.
Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Population Fund representative to Kenya.