Reducing pastoralism-related violence in the Sudano-Sahel

Members of the Dinka tribe, South Sudan (around 2018) Members of the Dinka tribe, South Sudan (around 2018) Randy Fath on Unsplash

This article is a brief summary of the  report by Peace Insight on solutions for the e pastoralists-farmers conflict in the Sudano-Sahel area

The aim of the research by Hanna Qadir from Colombia University is to propose possible solutions to resolve the conflicts between farmers and shepherds in the Sudan-Sahel macro-area. These disputes arose mainly for territorial and resources-related reasons (strictly limited to the local reality), but over the recent years they have become increasingly intertwined with regional security dynamics of much greater geographical and political scope. The methodology of the paper is based on the construction of a theoretical framework that examines a series of practices, theories, and customs of conflict resolution at the local level, and the participation and influence of the main actors involved. The result are six recommendations to be considered for  possible resolution of the conflict.

After briefly introducing the most relevant historical and political events of the conflicts between the Sudanese government and the rebel factions, the author examines the origin of the conflicts between shepherds (generally of Arab ethnicity) and peasants (mainly from the Darfur region). Caused mainly by territorial disputes and the scarcity of natural resources, these conflicts have generated further violence that has extended to the point of leading to the rise of new rebel and extremist groups that now constitute a serious threat to stability and to the general order of international peace and security. The author suggests the implementation of a series of initiatives at the local level that can finally allow a lasting and peaceful coexistence between shepherds and farmers. These six recommendations are:

- Understand the role of “social capital” between pastoralist groups.

The author recognizes that social capital within a particular community is very important in the dynamics of peace-building. In times of conflict, status, recognition of specific values, customs and all interactions between individuals in a society of human beings lose value and their existence is threatened. In order to achieve lasting peace, it is necessary to build “bridging ties” between antagonistic groups and stronger “bonding ties” within specific groups.

- Recognise psychological and cultural factors on both sides.

In the past, some traditional local level practices (such as mediation dynamics between leaders, elders, and influential figures among the groups of shepherds or farmers) have helped to establish regimes of peaceful coexistence between the various opposing factions. Despite this, the effectiveness of these tools has diminished over time, mainly due to the excessive politicization of the reconciliation factors due to external influences. Consequently, a new balance must be found to meet the needs of each party.

- Focus on understanding Sudanese group identity politics.

According to the author, to achieve a situation of stability, it is necessary to know better the identities of the ethnic groups of Sudan and to understand their relations. Fundamental elements to take into consideration are religion (Islam is widely practiced in the Darfur area), languages ​​and dialects, physical features and skin color (which have always been grounds of identity clash between Sudanese ethnic groups), and customs (a large part of the Arab pastoral population is nomadic or semi-nomadic, while a good part of the non-Arab peasants are sedentary).

- Involve leaders at the grassroot level.

As suggested by several peace-building and conflict resolution scholars (such as John Paul Lederach), the negotiations discussed by leaders at the highest levels of the military, political, and religious spheres often ignore the internal issues and needs of the communities directly involved in these dynamics. Consequently, a “top-down” approach is too ineffective and inadequate in the longer run. As indicated in the second recommendation, involving leaders at the lower levels can foster a better understanding of the priorities and the cultural and psychological components of the groups involved in the conflict. These leaders are fundamental to the peace-building dynamics in Sudano-Sahel, and their involvement can lead to more creative and more lasting solutions.

- Explore dialogue and deliberation.

It is necessary to facilitate interactions between the groups involved and persuade them to dialogue, through seminars, meetings, and discussions at the local level. This can potentially be a concrete opportunity to encourage an ever-greater integration of these groups in the dynamics of governance and decision-making.

- Inspire people to take time to reflect and heal. 

Finally, it is desirable that groups of shepherds and farmers can have all the necessary opportunities to build a comprehensive dialogue to reach a state of resilience and compromise. The role of civil society in peace-building processes is much more important than what has been considered in the recent past, and needs to be considered alongside other factors, such as the role of state institutions, the media, and the more influential local actors. 


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