Although originating from humble beginnings as local-level disputes over land and resources, pastoralism-related violence in the Sudano-Sahel has become increasingly intertwined with some of the most pressing security threats facing the world today. This toolkit puts forward six areas for action to resolve conflict sparked over land issues.
On August 31, 2020, a historic Sudanese Peace Agreement was signed in South Sudan between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) with a mandate to achieve stability and peace in Sudan after decades of multiple civil conflicts, killing more than 300,000 people and displacing more than two and a half million, according to estimates.[i] Two of the eight protocols within this agreement highlighted the “development of the nomadic and herder sector and redistribution of land falling within the control of tribes.” [ii]
The indigenous peoples of Darfur and the Arabs have always had relatively distinct identities and generally got along well until resources became scarce and ethnicity and race became a factor in the conflict. Farmers were driven from their land and attempts were made to divide them up. This led to a rebellion by two local groups in 2003 - the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Army, accusing the government of oppressing non-Arabs in favor of Arabs. A war began with attacks on towns, government facilities and civilians in Darfur, with the conflict prompting deaths and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Sudan, and neighbouring Chad, to camps and settlements.
A growing humanitarian crisis ensued due to this apparent competition for scarce resources between farmers (mostly non-Arab) and pastoralists (mostly Arab). The rising tensions triggered retaliatory cycles of violence spiralling out of control, and in some cases pastoralism-related violence and mass violence against civilians. This further contributed to growing insurgent and extremist threats in parts of the region, posing significant risks to regional stability and international peace and security.
There remains concern that the conflict will persist unless land use and the development of agriculture is addressed from a local perspective to enable the peaceful co-existence of traditional farmers and pastoralists. In this toolkit are six possible interventions to encourage the involvement of the local community in the ongoing role of the pastoralist groups in Darfur, and to create new opportunities for change and peacebuilding.
Understand the role of ‘social capital’ between pastoralist groups;
Status, recognition, and the function of civil society all play a part in peacebuilding. During war between groups, social capital is invariably degraded or destroyed, therefore it is crucial to build ‘bridging ties’ across opposing groups as well as ‘bonding ties’ within specific groups to create social cohesion and help these groups learn to live together peacefully.
Recognise psychological and cultural factors on both sides;
It is crucial to engage appropriately to rebuild relationships and resilience. Farmers who have been displaced must be supported to return to their homes and ensure sustainable peace. Historically, conflicts between farmers and pastoralists have generally been settled through local mechanisms for conflict mediation and reconciliation led by chiefs and elders with local leadership. Often, traditional practices retain an important role in managing conflicts between communities and encouraging reconciliation. However, over time their effectiveness has varied in part due to politicization by external influences. There is a need to re-balance the needs of parties on either side.
Focus on understanding Sudanese group identity politics;
Darfur is home to some 80 plus tribes and ethnic groups, with divisions that run deep. If we imagine each tribe as a knot in a network of relations with other groups, we can better understand the relationship dynamics, ethnic hierarchies, and individual group identities, which often have multiple aspects. Other cultural distinctions should be considered, such as religion (considerable sections of the population of Sudan –in Darfur and elsewhere– practice Islam), languages and dialects spoken, and skin colour. Other important markers of identity include modes of livelihood – for example, most Arab groups in Darfur are primarily nomadic pastoralists; while many of the non-Arab groups are sedentary farmers.
Involve leaders at the grassroots level;
Local farmer and pastoral leaders, leaders of indigenous communities and refugee camp leaders (where many displaced farmers are now located) are key to influencing peacebuilding in the Sudano-Sahel. Conflict resolution scholars such as Lederach [iii] have highlighted that conflict resolution driven by top-level leadership such as military, political and religious leaders with high visibility, often focus on high-level negotiations alone. The ceasefires and peace agreements that result from this top-down approach rarely reap optimal or lasting results. Leaders at the lower levels may be better placed to deal with the day-to-day signs of the conflict and understand psychological and cultural components. Lederach highlights the merit of “insider partials, described as those insiders involved in the conflict but still able to work across the conflict lines to try to bring opposing people together. This grassroots level involvement often leads to more creative conflict resolution solutions.
Explore dialogue and deliberation;
The relationship between traditional farmers and pastoralists are complex. Dialogue and deliberation workshops or small scale facilitated group discussions between participant groups may offer a means to build and strengthen relationships, bridge gaps, resolve conflicts, generate innovative solutions to problems as well as inspire collaborative action.[iv] Reconciliation must find ways to address the past without being locked into a vicious cycle of one side being seen as superior to the other. Using a dialogue-based approach may give both farmers and pastoralists the opportunity (and space) to express their emotions and memories of the injustices experienced. It can also offer local people a strengthened voice in governance and decision-making.
Inspire people to take time to reflect and heal;
Time allows greater opportunity for collective problem solving and building common ground. Ultimately, collaborative processes build resilience and create space and learning for new grassroots peacebuilding opportunities to take shape. Civil societies contribution to peacebuilding needs to be reflected on alongside other factors; such as the level of violence, the role of the state, and the role of the media, as well as the behaviours of powerful regional actors.
Read more in the full research paper by Hanna Qadir.
[i] United Kingdom: Home Office, Country Policy and Information Note Sudan: Non-Arab Darfuri, September 2018, v 3.0, available at: https://www.refworld.org/docid/5bb5d6527.html [accessed 30 November 2020]
[ii] How Sudan’s rebel deal offers lifeline for peace. (September 9, 2020). BBC. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-54071959
[iii] Lederach, J. P. (1997). Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies /. Washington, D.C. : http://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015040163233
[iv] Holman, P., Devane, T. & Cady, S. (2007). The change handbook: The definitive resource on today's best methods for engaging whole systems. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
Further Reading List
Paffenholz, T. (2014). Civil Society and Peace Negotiations: Beyond the Inclusion-Exclusion Dichotomy. Negotiation Journal, 30, 69-91.
Vellturo, M. (April 24, 2020). The Erosion of Pastoralism in the Sudano-Sahel. Retrieved April 2, 2021 from https://www.stimson.org/2020/the-erosion-of-pastoralism-in-the-sudano-sahel/
Young, H., & Ismail, M. A. (2019). Complexity, Continuity and Change: Livelihood Resilience in the Darfur Region of Sudan. Disasters, 43(S3), S318–S344. https://doi.org/10.1111/disa.12337