Prospects for Peace in Sudan and South Sudan

Emory's Institute for Developing Nations builds relationships through dialogue.

By Stephanie Stawicki 12G

Memories of years of war and its aftermath in Sudan still weigh heavily on the hearts and minds of those who fled their homeland during the past three decades.

“All of us are hurt, because you know, we’re saying we’ve been at war all these years,” says Philemon Gam, a member of the sizeable South Sudanese diaspora community in Atlanta. “I left my home when I was eight years old, so whenever I think about this, it hurts me.”

The journey toward peace in Sudan and South Sudan remains a tortuous one. “We went through all the processes of peace and now we ask, ‘Why are we here?’” Some people are still in shock, especially in the North and some in the South,” said Luak Achiek Deng, former minister of petroleum in the Government of National Unity in South Sudan, during a forum sponsored by Emory’s Institute for Developing Nations (IDN) last year. “A neighbor as a country is different from a neighbor in a house. . . . these are two countries. God has given them the space—they have to share it, and until we realize that . . . we will not live in peace.”

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The signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the government of Sudan and the South Sudanese Liberation Movement in January 2005 ended the two-decade-long civil war in which an estimated two million people were killed and more than four million displaced. In January 2011, an overwhelming 98.83 percent of the people in South Sudan voted for national independence. Six months later, South Sudan officially became the world’s newest independent country.

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With little institution building in the past 20 years of conflict, South Sudan continues to struggle with governance, human rights violations, limited economic development, and lack of social services—not to mention regional unrest over oil and borders. With South Sudan still in its infancy, hope and uncertainty coexist, often in tension. For many, hope for progress is rooted in possibilities for dialogue: bringing parties from Sudan and South Sudan together to discuss issues at hand and to develop strong, long-lasting solutions.

The Carter Center in Sudan and South Sudan

The Carter Center’s involvement in Sudan, and now in South Sudan, dates back to 1986. In 1995, former President Jimmy Carter brokered the “Guinea worm ceasefire” between the government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, which led to the cessation of violence in order for community health volunteers to treat Guinea worm disease. Today, the center’s Guinea Worm Eradication Program is nearing completion, with just a few hundred cases remaining, mostly in South Sudan. The center also played an integral role in monitoring the 2009 national elections and 2011 national referendum on South Sudan’s independence.

For the past two years, IDN and The Carter Center’s Conflict Resolution Program have brought attention to the challenges of peace and development in Sudan and South Sudan through the “Prospects for Peace in Sudan and South Sudan” series. The series, which draws upon prominent leaders working in the region with the center’s Dialogues Initiative, now provides a highly visible opportunity for scholarship and diplomacy to meet.

“Shared understanding of a clear vision and commitment to pragmatic action are the basis for sustainable peace with justice at every level,” says Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Emory’s School of Law, who is a Sudanese-born expert on Islamic law.

An-Na’im spoke on identity, rights, and citizenship in postreferendum Sudan as part of the very first event in the series, alongside Rt. Reverend Ezekiel Kondo, Episcopal bishop of Khartoum and chair of the Sudan Council of Churches. The two discussed the sociopolitical implications of sharia law in current-day Sudan as well the impact of the 2011 referendum on northern Sudan and the future of North-South relations.

While maintaining peace on the ground remains challenging, the Prospects for Peace partnership provides an opportunity for key decision makers and thought leaders to test out ideas in a public space. With notable participants such as Lual Achiek Deng, former petroleum minister for South Sudan’s Government of National Unity; General Lazaro Sumbeiywo, former Kenyan special envoy to Sudan and chief mediator of the 2004 Comprehensive Peace Agreement; Ambassador Rabi al-Hassan, president of the Future Studies Institute in Khartoum; Alex de Waal, executive director of the World Peace Forum; and, most recently, US Ambassador to South Sudan Susan Page, the series consistently draws a standing-room turnout. Faculty and students from area universities, leaders of nongovernmental organizations such as CARE and MAP International, and staff from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention come to listen, engage, and challenge the region’s experts.

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Perhaps the most engaged members of the audience are from the South Sudanese diaspora community here in Atlanta. Through questions, impassioned statements, and sometimes pleas for assistance, they add unique insight into the struggles of war and its aftermath. Many of the community members recognize the importance of dialogue and mediation and see both as true pathways toward peace.

“It’s hard to forget about what happened in the past,” says Jacob Mach, a member of the South Sudanese diaspora and regular series attendee. “The only way to get rid of that or clean those wounds that have been hurt for a long time is to continue a dialogue, to continue talking about the peace. In that way, to understand that we are two nations, but we are still brothers–we are all human beings and there is a need for us to coexist as two nations, as neighbors.”

He points to the Prospect for Peace series as a means toward that end. “When I look at The Carter Center, with what they’ve been doing with Emory University, I think it has been incredible and instrumental indeed. . . . This is a process for making peace.”

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Itonde Kakoma, assistant director to The Carter Center’s Conflict Resolution Program, says the series also has been important to the center’s work in the region.

“The Carter Center has benefited from roundtable discussions with the various panelists, which have advanced the working relationships and deepened trust with key actors in the region,” he says. “We believe a core guiding principle of our work is that dialogue is an essential part of peacemaking.”

In Sudan and South Sudan, The Carter Center now facilitates a dialogue initiative that fosters constructive bilateral relationships among Sudanese and South Sudanese civil society leaders. The dialogue is co-chaired by General Sumbeiywo and Ambassador David Kapya, special adviser to former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa.

For IDN, the series has opened doors to new collaborations with the South Sudanese diaspora community in Atlanta. “The series is a wonderful example of what can result from our sustained partnership with The Carter Center,” says IDN Director Sita Ranchod-Nilsson.

IDN is currently exploring ways to strengthen networks of small, US-based NGOs that have been started by some of the “Lost Boys” who now reside in Atlanta and other parts of the United States, as well as opportunities to work with civil society organizations in South Sudan in the areas of human rights, women’s issues, and youth empowerment.

“The university provides a valuable and increasingly rare space for open, critical engagement that crosses disciplinary, institutional, and even international boundaries—and for testing ideas,” says Ranchod-Nilsson. “The series has not only shed light on the challenges of sustaining peace and advancing development in this African region; it has also fostered relationships and initiatives to help meet these challenges.”

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The next forum in the series, “Peace in the Sudans,” brings together Ambassador Nureldin Satti, director of the National Library of Sudan and co-chair of the Woodrow Wilson International Center’s Sudan Working Group, and Jok Madut Jok, undersecretary of the Ministry of Culture, Youths, and Sports in South Sudan and executive director of the Sudd Institute. The event takes place Tuesday, October 15, at The Carter Center.

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