Actors and Approaches to Peacebuilding: The Case of Sudan

John Prendergast


John Prendergast, "Actors and Approaches to Peacebuilding: The Case of Sudan," sect. in Building Peace, by John Paul Lederach, (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace, 1997), pp. 153-161.

Prendergast analyzes conflict in Sudan using Lederach's models of conflict and peacebuilding. Sudan has been at war for the better part of forty years. Prendergast focuses on peacemaking attempts from 1989 onward. In 1989 a coup by the National Islamic Front (NIF) installed the current Sudanese government. A variety of rebel forces continue in violent opposition to the NIF.

Lederach describes conflicts in terms of three levels: top level, middle-range, and grassroots. Top level actors are the main military and political leaders. These leaders are usually highly publicly visible, and their actions may be sharply constrained by political considerations. A number of regional and international actors have attempted to facilitate negotiations between the NIF and rebel forces, with little success. The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional organization covering the Horn of Africa, has been very active in Sudanese negotiations. IGAD negotiations produced an agreement on the terms for resolving the Sudanese civil war. However the NIF later reneged on that agreement.  The NIF appears to be fundamentally committed to regional Islamization, and so there seems to be little room for compromise with more moderate forces.  While IGAD continues to pursue negotiations within Sudan, it also encourages international pressure on the NIF government, and fosters coordination among the various rebel groups. Should it prove necessary to remove the NIF by force, it is hoped that a unified rebel opposition would be better prepared to take over.

Middle-range actors are usually respected figures in business, education or religion. These actors generally have connections to people in both the top and the grassroots levels. Extended civil war has eliminated much of the middle-range in Sudan, as the warring parties have attempted to maximize their control within their territories. Middle-range peacebuilding attempts have focused largely on arranging meetings between church leaders from the opposing sides. UN groups, such as UNICEF, both deal with middle-level actors, and try to encourage and empower moderate middle-level leaders. Generally such middle-range initiatives are frustrated as the conflict becomes increasing polarized and dominated by extremists.

Grassroots leaders in Sudan are primarily traditional and tribal authorities. Relief and development workers also have some grassroots authority. Grassroots actors generally are constrained by a relative lack of power and the immediate need to survive. In Sudan, both rebel and NIF forces initiated programs designed to disempower traditional authorities, and so further consolidate their own power. Nonetheless, Prendergast argues that "the greatest vitality and innovation in peacebuilding are to be found at the grassroots level, with diverse responses and initiatives being undertaken that involve both external agencies and internal actors."[p. 158] The New Sudan Council of Churches has trained local villagers to monitor compliance with a local peace agreement. Violations are reported to village elders. Grassroots leaders have staged local peace conferences, of which the Akobo Peace Conference is one notable example. Communities have also sought to rebuild customary law and traditional courts, in response to the breakdown of national order during the extended civil war.


Summary by Tanya Glaser


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