Romano Longole is a dual citizen, born in Uganda but raised and educated in Kenya. He has been working with the Catholic Church on peace and justice issues for decades. He is a visionary and has a very good way with all people. He has land, a farm, and supports an extended family in Uganda while currently working in South Sudan. Romano is a soft-spoken, well-educated, man from the Karamoja ethnic group. He speaks the Karamoja language, which is the same as the Toposa of South Sudan and Turkana of Kenya. He also speaks English and KiSwahili and has an understanding of several other languages.
His task here in Kuron Peace Village is quite difficult. He is charged with mediating and motivating the Toposa, Jie, Murle, Nuer and other ethnic groups to work together for peace and unity. Romano is frequently out of the office. His responsibilities take him into the villages. He and his team, Eliah and Peter — young Toposa men — go where the people are. They are constantly on the move and of course, in these settings, things can change quickly. They can spend one or two nights in any community to try and resolve problems.
The main issue the team is attempting to address are the conflicts and violence arising from cattle raiding. This is a deep-rooted issue and cannot be changed overnight. Cattle are seen as most important in several of the cultures of South Sudan. However, the topics for discussion are all encompassing. Romano will not hesitate to address issues like clan disagreements, reports of alcoholism, thefts, and many other social issues. His role is really what the government should be doing, but government officials are absent out here.
Romano is truly enthusiastic about his work. In a very short time, he has gained the respect and admiration of the chiefs and local people through his humble and unassuming ways. Being a Karamoja, he is keenly aware of the dominant issues and how to approach the Toposa about changing attitudes and behaviors. He knows, and is known by, so very many in this area. The Peace Team has often been approached by various elders to help with mediating between conflicting groups. Thus, the reputation of the Peace Team has grown over the years.
The village was waiting for Romano. A gorgeous blue sky hung overhead. All the men, women and youth were sitting in the central area. Surrounding them were the numerous stick and mud huts with grass-peaked roofs. Cattle, goats, chickens, and dogs wandered around here and there. Romano spoke to the people in parables. He often uses the eyes to represent male and female when he is discussing issues of gender equality. Romano says, “You can’t see so well with only one eye. You need two eyes for clear vision. So send your girls to school.” Toposa men are especially resistant to this idea and prefer to keep the women in the household. Slowly things are changing — more and more girls are asking for schooling, and more fathers are allowing them to study.
Romano has a gentle and calm disposition. He has a fast wit and keen insight into the people he works with. They are often left speechless with his comments. Like Jesus, he silences his critics with simple sense and faith. He insists that these Toposa men and women devote their lives to truly living as Christians and not seeking revenge for previous wrongs.
I have been honored and blessed to meet Romano. We spend time talking about many things, and I have learned so much from him. I thank God for his presence in Holy Trinity Peace Village in Kuron.
My blessings and prayers to all those peacemakers who patiently continue to mediate contentious and seemingly intractable differences in the world. May God favor them with strength and courage like Romano Longole.