July 21

Nothing can change a life quite like a bullet.

Written by Geoffrey Duke, South Sudan Action Network on Small Arms (SSANSA)

Ashley Hammer/Al Jazeera

In my home country of South Sudan, there are 3.8 million people who could confirm that. That’s the number of people who are in serious need of humanitarian assistance here.

And it doesn’t stop there. 2.1 million more have been forced to flee their homes, 560,000 of them are refugees in neighboring countries. Most of those people are women and children. Thousands of children are more likely to be going hungry, than going to school.

At the heart of this humanitarian crisis is the failure to end the violence that is fuelling these needs. Yet behind the violence lays the life-shattering guns and the bullets, without which the scale and nature of the crisis wouldn’t be this catastrophic. The continuous flow of arms to South Sudan has enabled the warring parties to continue wrecking violence.

10 year old Nyayia is one of the millions displaced due to the violence in South Sudan. She took refuge in one of several UN Protection of Civilian sites harboring over 140,000 south Sudanese who have fled for their lives. Her father was gunned down in front of her. Her mother beaten and taken by the fighters and the whereabouts remains unknown. Living with the memories of this peculiar horror, Nyayia is struggling to care for her little sisters as she waits for peace to come.

Like I said, nothing can change a life like a bullet.

In all fairness, in the case of South Sudan, there’s more than one. In any given year, there are over 12 BILLION bullets produced. It breaks my heart to say, but far too many have flooded into my home country. Thousands have spilled into the hands of civilians. Combined with a familiar local favorite, the AK-47, these bullets have wrecked havoc in towns, villages, and farms. They have claimed innocent lives and torn apart families and held hostage the hopes of the South Sudanese at independence. The hopes for Peace after over 2 decades of civil war; The hope to finally live as free and equal citizens and in Prosperity.

South Sudan is the youngest country in the world. To compare, the United Kingdom was founded 308 years ago. The United States first celebrated independence 239 years ago. I remember the day the South Sudanese declared independence. It was just four years ago. As a new country we have lots of priorities – education for our children, access to clean water, economic opportunities for former combatants, including for the thousands of youth who are also joining the army due to lack of opportunities for better livelihoods. We need infrastructures like, roads, hospitals and electricity. The list continues to grow but notice that AK-47s are not on that list.

Four years ago it was estimated that there were about 3 million guns in South Sudan. That’s one for EVERY OTHER person in the country. With the outbreak of fighting, another billion US dollars’ worth of weaponry has crossed our borders. This has not brought us peace. It has amplified our challenges and wrecked havoc on our people. Weapons both legally and illegally supplied to one party to the conflict have changed hands during battles for control of territories.

That’s why I’m calling on you to speak up. I was the first person to raise my voice as part of the “Shout Down Arms” action. Shortly after, I was joined by supporters around the world – from New York to London to Stockholm to Sydney.

And you may wonder who will be listening to all of this shouting? That’s a great question. People from all over the world are listening as the watch the flow of arms into South Sudan with the keen concern to stop that flow. Diplomats who could make decisions to halt the deadly arms flows to my country are also listening from the UN Security Council Chamber. Politicians in Washington, DC that could make an impact are also listening. And finally African governments that have the ability to make an arms embargo work are also listening. From the Africa African Union Peace and Security Council to IGAD member states, they are listening. But they’ll only listen if we speak loudly.

So I ask you – I challenge you. Take two minutes and raise your voice for those that have lived in fear for years.

I work every day to give my country a chance for peace. If I have learned one thing in this path am treading, it’s that change will not happen if we are silent.


Geoffrey Dukeis the Head of Secretariat at South Sudan Action Network on Small Arms (SSANSA). Follow him on Twitter @DukeGeoffrey