News reports are full of reports of violence in South Kordofan, Sudan, but peace still exists in many places. Despite escalating violence, communities historically involved in the conflict are rejecting violence.

Women at a water project in South Kordofan. Thanks to SOS Sahel, uploaded under a Creative Commons Licence.

This is best seen in west Kordofan. In this area, the Dajou, Misseryah and Nuba tribes, located in the western mountains, have so far all agreed to reject the current violence. Until now there have been no violent events between them, despite the surrounding conflict. This follows a formal agreement made by themselves after they convened a meeting with each other to discuss the outbreak of inter-government conflict. Supported by the Deputy Ameer of the Nuba, tribal leaders of Dagu and Misseriyah and peace activists from all the communities, the agreement they made was published in the local media on the 14th of June. Similar agreements have been made elsewhere in South Korodofan and in Unity state, south of the border.

Even in the midst of the conflict as INGOs are bunkered down, the tribes are able to still communicate with each other. Aided by a network of peace activists created and supported by local peacebuilders, essential communication is maintained to prevent escalation of the violence. For the past two years, local groups have been working at a local level with individual communities, encouraging them to think about their own interests. They have acted as mediators to re-build relationships degraded by decades of conflict and they have equipped individual leaders and communities with the skills and the structures to respond to conflict non-violently.

At a time when most outside observers would expect history to repeat itself, the communities historically caught up in the violence between the SAF and SPLA have resisted. Local interventions have broken a cycle of violence that has lasted decades and so far that has prevented the outbreak of a new civil war.

However, as the pressure mounts and what seems to be an act of ethnic cleansing continues, there is a genuine fear that such peaceful abstention will be harder to maintain. It is imperative that the international community recognises the historical importance of these local level initiatives. The international community is right to seek to apply pressure at a government level but, in parallel, it must also recognise and support local approaches.

It may be too late to prevent the mass displacement and destruction in South Kordofan but it is absolutely vital that the international community learns from this episode. Whilst attention was focused on the CPA, progressive members of the international community, recognised that in such complex situations, local actors have the number, variety and contextual awareness to respond in a way that meets the scale of the problem.

Ironically, the international community continues to overlook local peacebuilders as too small scale but what we are seeing here is that, for all the money in the world, typical responses by the international community are far too simplistic and lack the sophistication to match the complexity created by decades of violence.

As the conflict moves towards Blue Nile state and violence continues to distract many in the south from Independence celebrations, there is still a chance that a new approach to the conflict in Sudan can be realised.