In January 2006, Carolyn Hayman and a colleague went to Sudan ostensibly for a civil society conference organised by the African Union and to recruit a local researcher. They returned to the UK with a new peace organisation in an embryonic state and by September of that year, peace builders from the North and South of Sudan had come together for the frst time and the Collaborative for Peace in Sudan was formed.

Through a Sudanese contact who travelled with Peace Direct, Hayman was introduced to Dr Mudawi, the founder of the Sudan Development Organisation (SUDO):

“… an amazing human rights activist who’d been imprisoned many times. It was pretty clear that anyone he introduced us to would be someone trustworthy. We also ‘talent-spotted’ at the civil society conference, which became increasingly surreal as government stooges piled in and dominated the discussion. Those few brave people who took the microphone to say what they really thought – well, we made sure we made contact with them. And we made use of Amnesty’s database of contacts in the South as well.”

A real thirst

“By the time we’d visited Khartoum and Nairobi, it was clear that there were so many local Sudanese organisations doing similar work but in isolation. We could see that if they could come together nationally, their work would be stronger. It was so obvious that there was a real thirst for talking to people in other parts of the country so we decided to try and bring them together.”

Not only had the original purpose of the visit taken a back seat, Hayman soon realised that there was a fundamental difference in what she thought should be discussed at the September meeting, and what the Sudanese wanted.

Jumping in the dark

“They were at an earlier stage than me. They really cared about disseminating the Comprehensive Peace Agreement first. It was difficult to change my views, to face the fact that actually it wasn’t appropriate for me to think about what the meeting should be about. I was being over directive to the point that I even resented the delegation from the South putting in an extra person who I hadn’t chosen. I was so wrong. It really underlined why it is so difficult for local people to get funding for what they think is needed.”

We were jumping into the dark. But as we were still a very unknown organisation, so we didn’t have a reputation to lose, and no-one was putting up a lot of money for the event, I tried not to worry too much. It was reassuring to be working with PACT, an organisation well established in South Sudan, and we found two absolutely brilliant African women facilitators from the Interaction Leadership Initiative.”

Support at a practical level came too from the British Council in Khartoum.

“They went way beyond the call of duty in providing a safe place for the meeting - we’d seen what had happened previously with security services and government snoops. Then, when the Director said he would host a reception at his house as well, I realised that we had done everything we could to make the event a success – the rest was up to the participants. We just had to make sure they arrived.”

48 hours

And they did - 18 organisations at a three day meeting (even though the team from the South arrived a day later than planned.) Within 48 hours the participants had elected a Steering Committee for the Collaborative and presented a nine point plan to a number of donor governments, including Canada whose Charge d’Afairs Alan Bones commented “  achieved in 3 days what others would have taken a year to accomplish.”

“At the time, the Northern groups had almost no funding for their peace work, while the South Sudan delegates were smartly dressed and well resourced - they had a bit of a swagger when they arrived at the hotel. But appearances aside, we were struck by how similar they were, how passionate they were and just how much they’d done themselves. They were all do-ers, not talkers, they’d demonstrated their own commitment, made personal sacrifices and there was so much common ground.”

Tearing the veil

Hayman recalls what George Ngoha, one of the delegates said at the time “It’s not just that we are coming to the North for the first time in 20 years, but it’s also to find that our brothers in the North are doing the same work as we are doing in the South. The veil has been torn down.”

So, in a country almost ripped in two by over twenty years of war, peacebuilders from across Sudan are working together. Two and a half years on, the Collaborative has held workshops on disseminating the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, trained warring tribes in conflict resolution, brought oil companies and communities together, and built peace networks in two of the most volatile states. The Steering Committee members have given their time generously – no-one except the paid co-ordinator has earned a cent so far – establishing the Collaborative as an organisation that people put in to, rather than taking from. Peace Direct still has a seat on the Collaborative Steering Committee.