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SUDAN: The long road to embracing peace

9/12/2005 10:03pm

KHARTOUM, 12 Sep 2005 (IRIN) - Doodee, a 29-year-old man of the Ngok Dinka tribe, used to live in Abyei, a town in the contested transitional area between north and south Sudan. His people have fought for years against the Misseriya tribe over issues like cattle rustling and grazing land.

Doodee recalled the terrible conditions in his village as a result of the ongoing conflicts: "Our homes were built out of trees and garbage. There was no food and water, and if you got malaria you would die - there were no hospitals."

Civil war, in one way or another, has been a feature of Sudan's political landscape since independence in 1956, keeping the country in the brutal grip of a conflict.

The fighting has killed at least 2 million people, uprooted 4 million more and forced some 600,000 to flee to neighbouring countries.

Sudan's national struggle usually has exploited or exacerbated grievances at the local level, where ordinary people fight over ordinary problems.

In 1983, as Sudan entered a new phase of the country's civil war between the north and south, life in Doodee's village became even more unbearable as members from both tribes joined militia groups and began torturing, raping and killing one another.

"We had to move from place to place," Doodee recalled. "I remember dead bodies along the road. I was just a child, and until now when I sleep I see [the bodies] and it hurts me."

When Doodee was old enough to leave home he set out for Khartoum, in search of a better life. In Sudan's capital, he came across the Peace Culture Project (PCP) of Sudan University.

Programmes for peace

The PCP was established in 2000 as part of the Rights, Protection and Peace-Building (RPPB) programme and is supported by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF). The initiative introduces peace-building skills to communities at the grassroots level.

Through PCP, student volunteers gifted in music, drama and art travel to places of conflict and use traditional songs and dance to teach communities to resolve their differences.

Abuelgassim Gor, project coordinator at the university's Science and Technology Department, explained that some of the activities involved "working as animators and getting to know the people in order to gain their trust. Then we take their traditional songs about killing and fighting and make them about peace."

Gor said that PCP's work had make a difference in some areas of conflict but admitted that his team had faced many difficulties - and dangers.

Gamal Suliman, a PCP volunteer, described a peace-building mission he undertook: "There were no roads; it was a jungle area. Then we hit a bump - we hit a mine - and it exploded. The car was rolling and it threw me outside and I fell. Until now my leg is not OK."

The incident resulted in the death of two PCP volunteers. Gor maintained that despite setbacks like these the PCP would continue, as conflict-resolution skills were greatly needed throughout Sudan.

"Peace is only paper here," Gor noted. "When we have a safe community we can say there is peace."

Future problems

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), signed between the southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) and the Sudanese government on 9 January, ended Sudan's civil war - on paper.

Though the prospect of peace was welcomed, Samson Wassara, UNICEF's project officer of peace-building, anticipated a series of problems as displaced people began their journey home.

"Depending on demands and expectations of people - and if little [support] is forthcoming - then the situation can escalate. There could be fights over rehabilitation of villages, distribution of school supplies and local power," he cautioned.

Wassara explained that the war had caused many people to take refuge in safer areas, which resulted in the division of communities and the multiplication of leaders of the same tribe.

"New chiefs will be heading back to their villages, and they will claim to be the real chief," he added.

Despite the possible setbacks and tensions the implementation of the CPA may bring about, Wassara believed that peace-building projects were crucial groundwork for helping people adjust to this new era.

"They [peace-building organisations] have created a platform where the communities can be educated about their rights and how to claim their rights without using force, and have helped to build a relationship within the communities," he noted.

Doodee, now a PCP volunteer, hoped to return to his village and teach the members of his tribe how to resolve conflicts without fighting.

He said that he would tell them to "let all the young people learn to grow together, let them learn to respect each other so that they can live in one area together ... as brothers."

Little by little, Sudan may be able to break away from its bloody past.

"I am optimistic that with time people will embrace peace," Wassara said. "But it will be a very long road, because these people have spent a very long time in conflict."


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