Today the world will see the birth of a new country – the Republic of South Sudan. After two civil wars, a rocky six-year peace deal, and an almost unanimous referendum vote, Sudan is splitting in two. But as celebrations get under way in the capital Juba, fighting across the border in South Kordofan is casting a long shadow over the prospects for peace.
Photo credit: United Nations Photo
The world’s attention is once again on violence in Sudan, yet the crisis has only highlighted the limited influence of the international community. World leaders have spoken, the UN has condemned and international NGOs have appealed. But aid agencies are refused access to the affected areas, the renewal of the UN mission in the North is in doubt, international pressure is rebuffed and the violence continues.
However South Kordofan does show there is an alternative. Since the 2005 peace agreement, locally-led peacebuilding organisations in both North and South have worked tirelessly to rebuild relations between communities ripped apart by civil war. Now, as the prospect of war again looms large, this work is paying of. To give just one example, in the west of South Kordofan, local organisations have brokered a ceasefire between the rival Nuba, Misseriyah and Dajou tribes. Similar agreements are in place across South Kordofan and south of the border in Unity State.
All too often local people are seen as merely victims of the conflict, but examples like this show agents of change. Where internationals are excluded from the ground in South Kordofan, it is left to local groups to act. When internationals find themselves with nobody to talk to, local groups can rely on long established relationships with local leaders to prevent communities being dragged into violence. As internationals are refused access, local organisations are there – because they’ve been there all along and will remain long after the current crisis is over. Local organisations are in place, with the capacity, contacts, and courage to respond rapidly and effectively.
For long-term, sustainable peace, the international community needs to recognise the valuable role of local peacebuilders. High-level political negotiations are indeed essential, but so too is building a commitment to peace on the ground; and when political negotiations fail, this grassroots rejection of violence may be the only thing preventing wider conflict. In Sudan’s many complex conflicts, insights from locals are invaluable, and their views need to be fed into the longer-term planning. The international community needs to make sure this work is supported, both now and after this crisis is over.
The importance of local peacebuilding for long term stability is well-understood, but the current situation in Sudan shows that peacebuilders can and should play a role in short-term attempts to prevent violence. We send our best wishes to everyone in North and South Sudan on this historic day, and hope that those struggling to resist violence are able to prevent a slide into further conflict.