In 2010, two South Sudanese organizations, the Institute for the Promotion of Civil Society (IPCS) and the Sudanese Organization for Nonviolence and Development (SONAD), invited Nonviolent Peaceforce to provide operational expertise in preventing violence before and during the 2011 elections and referendum.
Since then, in South Sudan, NP and its partners have collaborated to build Sudanese-led violence prevention teams. These teams act as adjuncts to traditional dispute settlement and peacebuilding activities in districts where the risk of violence is especially high.
In addition to providing a proactive presence and protective accompaniment for vulnerable civilians, trained civilian peacekeepers work with local groups to foster dialogue among parties in conflict. NP and its Sudanese partners equip civil society leaders with tested tools to strengthen their communities' confidence and capacity to reduce and prevent violence. They seek cooperation and coordination with traditional and community leaders, as well as with elected officials, civil servants, and military personnel. Working especially with women, youth, and traditional leaders, the project employs a blend of well-tested methods and novel nonviolent practices.
Devastated by a 21 year‐long civil war between the north and the south of the country which ended in 2005, Sudan is again entering a period of tension. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended the war, provided for a referendum on independence for the south to be held in January 2011. Citizens remain polarised along political and tribal lines and arms are easily available in the build up to this critical time. There is a risk of small‐scale local conflict, as well as larger destabilisation in the area in the build up to the referendum. The success or failure of peacebuilding in this critical region will have implications not only for the viability of Sudan’s entire peace process, but for stability across the volatile Great Lakes region. Two Sudanese organizations, the Institute for the Promotion of Civil Society (IPCS) and the Sudanese Organization for Nonviolence and Development (SONAD), have invited Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) to provide operational expertise in the prevention of violence in the context of the forthcoming elections and referendum.
NP is a global leader in the practice of unarmed civilian peacekeeping, with a solid track record of success in conflict zones such as Guatemala, Philippines, and Sri Lanka. The effectiveness of civilian third‐party interventions in reducing and preventing violence has been well documented, but the capacity of local actors in conflict‐affected environments to apply this approach is often limited. In South Sudan, NP and its partners will collaborate to build Sudanese‐led conflict prevention teams consisting of 6‐9 Sudanese nationals supported by 2‐3 international advisors.
All NP deployments prioritise the protection of civilians from violence. The years of civil war have left South Sudan with a fragile infrastructure, which it is unable to extend comprehensively into all areas of the country. The government is also often unable, due to insufficient resources and capacity, to provide its citizens with the protection from violence that they require. There is currently a large UN peacekeeping force stationed in South Sudan, but its numbers are insufficient to ensure the safety of civilians in all areas of the country. Moreover, armed peacekeeping is extremely costly, and, in many circumstances, unnecessary.
Using its model of unarmed civilian peacekeeping, NP provides much needed support to communities threatened by violence in contexts where armed intervention would be counterproductive, unsuitable or an overreaction. In such situations, the presence of external actors provides enough of a deterrent to forestall the outbreak of violence. NP’s peacekeepers work to create a safe space in which civilians can be protected, and also work to protect the space necessary for meaningful dialogue to take place.
Because NP’s teams of trained peacekeepers live and work in the communities they protect, they are able to react flexibly to developing situations, drawing upon their knowledge of the area and their ongoing risk analyses to provide context‐appropriate responses.
Whilst NP works with whole communities under threat, we recognise that there are specific groups within communities who require specialist, focused protection. In South Sudan, NP focuses particularly on the protection of women and of children, who rarely engage in conflict, but are often disproportionately affected by it. In order to address the specific needs of these marginalised groups, NP is in the process of forming an all‐female team of peacekeepers who are specially trained in identifying and addressing incidences of sexual and gender‐based violence (SGBV). In order to address the ongoing problem of child combatants in South Sudan, NP is in the process of establishing a team dedicated to monitoring and preventing Resolution 1612 violations. The team will focus specifically on the return, reintegration, and rehabilitation of children affected by armed conflict and former child combatants, in recognition of the fact that both former child combatants and the communities to which they return require sustained, specialist support if they are to overcome the trauma that they have suffered and rebuild their lives.
In order for protection strategies to be effective in the long term, communities must be able to continue them after NP has withdrawn. As a result NP places great emphasis on building the capacity of the local community to protect itself, and the community is involved throughout the term of NP’s deployment. By hiring local staff to work in partnership with the international peacekeepers, NP demonstrates both its commitment to building local capacity, and the value it places upon the knowledge and skills already inherent in the target community. Using workshops and training events NP disseminates its methodology to communities in need on an ongoing basis, and continues to offer support to communities’ peacekeepers as part of its comprehensive exit‐strategy after peacekeepers are no longer on the ground.
NP believes that it is far easier to address a conflict before it has broken out than to stop it once it has begun. As a result, a concerted effort is made to identify possible drivers of conflict and prevent them from escalating. This work is greatly facilitated by the fact that the teams of unarmed civilian peacekeepers live within the communities they serve. As a result, they are extremely sensitive to the specific dynamics at play within a community, and can respond quickly and effectively to counter threats as they arise.
As a result of this belief, NP is committed to working with partners to develop a comprehensive early warning, early response programme. By virtue of NP’s unique access to local communities, the peacekeepers on the ground often hear of a potential conflict long before it comes to the attention of other actors. Whilst NP is a strictly non‐partisan organisation, it is committed to working with other relevant actors to address conflict in the areas in which it works. As a result it is open to sharing information deemed pertinent with interested parties who may have the capacity to influence or forestall any conflict which may arise.
It is important to recognise that, whilst large areas are underdeveloped and under‐serviced, South Sudan is not a lawless state. State structures exist, and, in most places, operate to the best of their ability. State actors can offer valuable insights into the context of a given conflict, and sometimes have the capacity to intervene to prevent the escalation of violence. In recognition of the need to build capacity and encourage sustainable, Sudanese‐led solutions to conflict, NP is committed to building and maintaining close working relationships with state representatives and institutions. Far from setting itself up as an alternative to state institutions, NP sees its role as to support existing structures and fill any gaps which may be revealed. As such, it is vitally important to engage local state actors on issues surrounding the prevention of conflict, in order to tap into their contextual knowledge and to build their capacity.
As with the protection component of NP’s work, building the capacity of communities to prevent conflict is of paramount importance to the organisation. In order to do this, NP works with local communities, and in particular those hardest‐hit by violence, such as women and children, to develop deterrent strategies. These are tailored to the environment and context, and are designed to provide long‐term protection to communities and individuals who are under threat. By engaging with NP’s peacekeepers, communities can learn to formulate and enact policies which will keep them safe long after NP has pulled out of the region.
NP firmly believes that solutions to conflict must originate from within communities, and that local solutions must be found to local problems if sustainable peace is to be achieved. Commitment to this belief means that NP does not intervene directly in peace talks or negotiations. Instead, through the protection and prevention aspects of its programming, NP works to protect the space in which meaningful and sustained dialogue can take place.
In areas with high levels of inter‐community violence, NP works to establish Peace Committees comprised of key actors from opposing communities. With NP’s support, communities are empowered to reach across lines of conflict and formulate sustainable, nonviolent methods of addressing disagreements. Whilst this work is extremely effective, it is not a quick‐fix solution, and cannot be portrayed as such. In order to affect a lasting paradigm shift, communities must be supported in both the short and long term. NP recognises this, and commits fully to the communities in which it works, so that, by the conclusion of NP’s programming, they can own and implement techniques of nonviolent conflict resolution.
NP also supports local civil society organisations and individuals to interact with whatever local state structures may exist, in order to facilitate the transition from a post‐conflict context to one where development can take place. Due to the relative weakness of state presence in remote areas, many people are unaware of the services provided by the state, and how to go about accessing them, where they exist. As part of NP’s ongoing peacebuilding work we provide support to civil society organisations that wish to engage with the state to address issues of conflict and development. Interaction of this kind is essential if South Sudan is to move beyond its violent past and is to begin sustainable and widespread development.
Whilst much is known about the early history of Northern Sudan, largely thanks to its close ties with the ancient Egyptian kingdoms and the achievements of the Nubian kings who left pyramids at Meroë for all to see, little is known about the history of the South. Almost all of this history prior to the start of Egyptian rule in the 1820s is based on oral history. It is believed that the major tribal groupings moved into South Sudan around the 10th century CE. Further migration between the 15th and 19th centuries brought the major ethnic groups to the regions they inhabit today. The culture and traditions of the South remained largely resistant to the southward spread of Islam, largely thanks to an area of swampland the size of Belgium known as the Sudd, or “barrier” in Arabic. This swamp was so impenetrable that it led the Samuel Baker Governor General of Equatoria in the 1870s to declare that, “the fabulous Styx must be a sweet rippling brook compared to this horrible creation.” It is partly the impenetrability of the Sudd’s waterways which have led to the clear divisions in religion and culture between the North and the South of Sudan.
The age of imperialism and revolt
Towards the beginning of the 19th century, other countries began to express awareness in Sudan. Although Egypt had had long standing interests in the region, it was unable to assert its control over the whole country, particularly once British-led initiatives against the slave trade begun to severely damage the economy of Southern Sudan. By 1881 a nationalist movement sprang up to challenge Egypt’s perceived maladministration and exploitation of Sudan. Led by Muhammed Ibn Abdalla, who declared himself to be the Mahdi, or guided one, the movement managed to take control of Khartoum in 1885, killing the British interim Governor General of Sudan, Charles Gordon, and many of the inhabitants of Khartoum. The Mahdi died later that year, and by 1889 the British had retaken Sudan and proclaimed it an Anglo-Egyptian Condominium. In reality, the Condominium was little more than a cover for British control, which was to last until 1956. The British directed most of their efforts in Sudan into building the economy of the northern area around Khartoum, to the detriment of the rest of the country. Until the 1940s the British had ruled North and South Sudan as two separate countries, with distinct legal and administrative systems. However, in the run-up to independence, their policy changed and North and South Sudan were united by one integrated government. Southerners felt that they were under-represented in this government, in which Northern Sudanese held most of the posts. In response to this perceived marginalisation, Southerners formed the Sudan African Nationalist Union (SANU), which became involved in the first Sudanese Civil War in 1958. SANU did not have one specific aim, and was split along tribal lines. Some of the Southern tribes wanted total independence for the South, and others advocating a federalist state.
In 1969 Sudan suffered its second coup, which brought Jaafar Nimeiri to power. In 1972 he successfully negotiated the end of the civil war in the South. Negotiations resulted in the Addis Ababa Agreement, which granted the South regional self-government and a greater say in Khartoum politics. Nimeiri next turned his attention to upgrading Sudan’s infrastructure. Unfortunately, the projects he approved were very expensive failures, and the economy suffered accordingly. In the wake of economic decline, Islamic parties began to gain power in the North. They put pressure on Nimeiri to renounce the Addis Ababa Agreement and bring the South back under direct control of the North. In 1981 the autonomous Southern region was broken up, and sharia law was imposed. By the end of 1983, South Sudan had returned to war. By 1985 Nimeiri was removed from power by another coup. A final coup in 1989 bought Omar al-Bashir, the current President of Sudan, to power.
The civil war
The dominant force in the South’s struggle was the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), which was headed by the Dinka army defector John Garang. As the SPLM became more and more successful the government in the North increasingly relied upon Islam to motivate its troops, calling the war a jihad against the rebels. In 1991 the SPLM/A split down the middle when the Nuer commander Riek Machar rebelled against Garang. As a result, Southerners spent many of the following years fighting each other as fiercely as they fought the North. Talks began between all of the warring parties in 2002, and by 2003 a ceasefire was declared across the whole South. These talks resulted in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005, which settled issues of oil revenue, and provided for a referendum on independence for the South. It was also agreed that the “transitional areas” of the Nuba Mountians and Blue Nile State would be consulted on joining the North or the South, and Abyei would have a binding referendum. Following the adoption of the CPA, Omar al-Bashir remained President of Sudan, whilst Garang was to be Vice-President. The death of Garang in a helicopter accident a fortnight after he was sworn in threatened to derail the peace agreement, but he was quickly replaced by Slava Kiir Mayardit, who is currently the de facto President of South Sudan, with Riek Machar has his Deputy.
Lead up to referendum
The referendum on Southern independence provided for by the CPA took place on 9th January, despite an increase in the rhetoric from both sides. Difficulties registering potential voters had been reported, and it was widely accepted that the negotiations on a post-referendum timetable were yet to begin. There was no doubt that Southern Sudan would face significant challenges if it voted to secede, as the years of war took a devastating toll upon the infrastructure of the country. Only 12% of women were literate at the time, it had the fifth highest maternal mortality rate in the world, and the World Food Programme targeted 1.4 million people for relief services in the South. These indicators suggested that the situation in South Sudan could be easily destabilised. Moreover, the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) made it abundantly clear that it was ready to return to war to ensure that South Sudan achieved its independence.