The escalating crisis in South Kordofan reveals real limits to how much influence the international community can exert from outside Sudan. President Obama’s call for Sudan’s leaders to end the violence has not succeeded on the ground, the UN peacekeeping mission will be unwelcome after partition on July 9, and UN non-essential staff have already been evacuated from the conflict zone. International presence and influence on the ground is waning at the time when it is needed most. If we wish to prevent further deaths and assist over 70,000 refugees to return home safely, the international community urgently needs another way forward.
Such a way does exist. Local sources in South Kordofan indicate that locally-led peacebuilding organisations remain active and influential throughout the province, despite the crisis. Peace Direct, a UK charity that supports such groups, reports the following current examples: the Native Administration of village chiefs are acting to exclude combatants from their areas; the rival Nuba, Misseryah and Dajou tribes have agreed to maintain a ceasefire between themselves; similar agreements have been made elsewhere in South Kordofan and in Unity state, south of the border.
Until external influence becomes more effective, such local peacebuilders are the best channel for mitigating this crisis at the community level. They are already in place, they have high levels of respect, knowledge and operational capacity, and they can evidently reach the areas and groups that outsiders cannot.
What they need is to be supported with funding for their work, and recognition for their insights and analyses of what is a highly complex conflict. I would urge the international community to make contact with them, listen to their views, and fund their operations. These brave people are not victims but agents of change – and it is they who eventually will rebuild their society.