(Photo by AECOM)

Building Peace Along the Sudan/South Sudan New International Border

By Jason Mathus

How do you transform the world’s newest international border and longest in Africa into a social and economic bridge? The border between Sudan and South Sudan was a frontline during decades of civil war and is now an international boundary, threatening to harden and cut through the interconnected communities that live along it. One of the most disputed areas along the border is Abyei Area whose political status as part of the Sudan or South Sudan remains unresolved after the secession of South Sudan. While the United Nations Peace Keepers work to keep the armies and armed group apart, their work is complemented by efforts to build local peace between communities whose homes and way of life are threatened by the tense political relations between the two countries.

USAID/South Sudan’s Viable Support to Transition and Stability (VISTAS) program builds on over a decade of USAID’s local conflict management work in Sudan with AECOM as its implementing partner of eight years. Along the new border, VISTAS’ focus is to protect and promote peaceful co-existence between borderland communities. The annual migration of hundreds of thousands of  Sudanese families and cattle seasonally into South Sudan and historic trade routes from central Africa north along the Nile trade were undermined by the civil war which placed the communities on both sides of the conflict. Today, new political arrangements and national level political tensions threaten to keep these communities in conflict.  Success requires a multi-level approach of strengthening the customary, local and international mechanisms responsible for governing these relations and addressing the economic and social needs of both communities.

The approach developed by USAID/VISTAS starts with dialogue and reinforces it with effective action. Facilitating a broad base of community representatives to meet safely, discuss their problems with grazing and trade and set new rules and recommendations going forward, provides the guiding framework and mechanisms for follow on activities. Creating an early network of high-frequency radios, building local courts, constructing and equipping the peace committee and chambers of commerce offices, providing motorcycles and bikes all help address problems before they escalate. Providing mutually beneficial services like market structures, water, human and animal health care demonstrates the benefits of co-existence and hosting joint sports and media events reinforces these relationships.  Bringing influential Sudanese and South Sudanese from other border states and the national level to learn from the local success helps spread the model across the border and inform the agreements and policies between the two countries. This model is working in the South Sudanese state of Northern Bahr el Ghazal with communities from East Darfur and Western Kordofan to the immediate west of Abyei.

In September 2015, USAID/VISTAS facilitated a migration and trade conference that brought together a broad group of Sudanese and South Sudanese from the borderlands to Northern Bahr el Ghazal to learn from their arrangements. The outcome was a request to replicate this model in other areas along the border including the most difficult case, Abyei Area.

UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, in his November 13th “Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Abyei” stated:
The gathering provided an opportunity for the communities to share their experiences, best practices and information on practical arrangements put in place to peacefully administer the annual Misseriya and Rizeigat dry season migration in the Dinka homelands of the Bahr el Ghazals, in South Sudan.

A few months later, efforts remain underway for a meeting on migration and trade into Abyei. National level interference remains the biggest barrier to a strong local desire for peace. The international community continues to support the communities’ desire for local peace and a soft border, and USAID/VISTAS is well positioned to strengthen and reinforce local initiatives to attain that goal.
[Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency of the U.S. government.]