The Azande King Discusses Child Rights and Partnerships
Planning for change and future of children, the Azande Kingdom is keen on child rights
In Yambio, the primary city of the Azande people who span the Southwestern parts of South Sudan, Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, children's rights are in focus. The Azande King, His Majesty Atoroba Peni Rikito Gbudue, recently opened up with UNICEF about the importance of issues impacting children, the unique challenges girls face, and his plans for partnerships and problem-solving.
His Majesty Atoroba Peni Rikito Gbudue, the great-grandson of the late King Gbudue, ascended to the throne in February of 2022, as the new King of the Azande Kingdom and the first King since the death of the King Gbudue. His coronation, which took place on the 117th anniversary of King Gbudue's death, signalled a revival of the Azande Kingdom, one of the few surviving kingdoms in South Sudan.
In a recent interview in Juba, the King voiced concerns about the ongoing conflicts in Western Equatoria, which have resulted in losses of both lives and livelihoods. “The challenge we face is war” he said, explaining that these conflicts are at the root of many pressing issues, such as food shortages and impaired access to education. An unfortunate consequence is a significant surge in the number of orphaned children.
Further complicating the situation is the widespread lack of awareness about children's rights and the local cultural expectation for older children to care for their younger siblings, often at the cost of their own education. The situation is even more critical for girls who frequently manage households, deal with early pregnancies, and leave without recourse or support.
However, despite these hurdles, the Azande King has proposed several strategies aimed at rectifying these situations.
“I see it as important to start at the grassroots level, for example, opening up a boarding school for girls, and facilitating workshops with local chiefs to better understand child rights.”
He discussed his ambition to establish boarding schools for girls, which could offer a safe environment conducive to their education. His plan to hold workshops with tribal chiefs, aims to increase awareness around child rights. His plans also include a focus on programs targeted at orphaned children, recognizing their unique vulnerabilities and needs.
He's equally direct when addressing his community about child rights. “We need to address some aspects of our culture,” detailing that traditional norms should be aligned with the well-being of children, he asserts. He also cautioned against early marriages and favoring boys over girls, calling for the end of these detrimental practices.
As for partnering with the many aid and development actors, the Azande King's approach is rooted in his commitment to service delivery to communities, a goal that centers on the well-being of his people. This vision is parallel with the Kingdom's commitment to improving education and healthcare, further enriching the grounds for cooperation.
His plans also include the proposal of a unique initiative: a farm for the Kingdom. Situated in the fertile lands of Yambio, this agricultural endeavor could be an innovative way to address food shortages and promote increased resilience.
He hopes to collaborate with UNICEF and other partners to advocate for child rights, education – and against gender-based violence, promote farming among households, and encourage the cultivation of productive agriculture. Additionally, he aims to strengthen education in his community, recognizing the need and demand from families for improved access to schooling.
The King is also keen on establishing information centers for women and youth. He believes these centers could act as hubs for disseminating crucial knowledge and resources – highlighting the valuable work done by the Queen's Office in supporting women in the communities.
Furthermore, the King acknowledges the ongoing work by UNICEF in Yambio. One large effort, backed by the German Government – the Joint Resilience Project - aims to bolster resilience through school feeding, malnutrition prevention, WASH services, education supplies, and teacher training. The development of water systems, immunization campaigns, and other interventions form part of this comprehensive support framework.
The commitment to children and women rights, driven by His Majesty Atoroba Peni Rikito Gbudue, promises a better future for his people.