A close partnership between USIP and a Sudanese organization over the past seven years is strengthening USIP programming in a key African country that has been torn by conflict--and helping to build a vibrant civil society organization where few have prospered previously.

USIP Helping Develop Civil Society with Unique Sudanese Partnership

A close partnership between the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) and a Sudanese organization over the past seven years is strengthening USIP programming in a key African country that has been torn by conflict--and helping to build a vibrant civil society organization where few have prospered previously.

When the long-running civil war between Sudan's north and south ended with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, USIP saw a window of opportunity to develop peacebuilding training programs in the country. It provided seed money for the Khartoum-based Institute for the Development of Civil Society (IDCS) after USIP specialists recognized the potential of Abdel Mitaal Girshab, a Sudanese chemical engineer with considerable international experience (particularly as a Middle East/North Africa specialist with Amnesty International in London). Girshab, now IDCS's executive director, had the ambition of creating a versatile peacebuilding organization in his home nation—one that could assist a society facing the prospect of significant change.

USIP has been a primary funder and program collaborator ever since IDCS was founded in 2007. As its programming capacity has grown, IDCS has come to attract funding from a number of organizations interested in supporting the development of civil society in a country where any initiative not started by the government can be seen as a threat.

"IDCS has grown into one of the most reputable civil society organizations in the country," says Jon Temin, USIP's director of Sudan programs. "They help USIP understand the situation on the ground in Sudan and communicate with officials and other actors. Since we don't have an office there, we need that understanding to develop effective programming." Adds Jason Gluck, a senior program officer in USIP's Rule of Law Center of Innovation, "It is not a typical grantor-grantee relationship. It is truly a partnership."

A Unique Partnership

IDCS, with about two dozen employees, operates out of Sharg El Neil College in the Sudanese capital city. A nonpartisan organization, it has trained or educated thousands of Sudanese on such topics as preventing violence, teaching peacebuilding and exploring what it would take to develop a modern, democratic constitution.

"The IDCS-USIP partnership is unique and differs from many other relationships in several aspects," says Girshab. "It works in both directions for support, information and cooperation. Project ideas are initiated from either side, and projects are developed with input from both. Plans of action are developed in close consultation and finalized through mutual agreement. In addition to providing funding, USIP's participation in our workshops gives IDCS staff hands-on experience. USIP also provides insights from its experience throughout the world and further connects us with its partners all over the world."

USIP Senior Program Officer Linda Bishai, who helped launch the partnership in 2006, says IDCS's activities "demonstrate what a well-functioning civil society can look like in a complex, non-permissive environment." Civil society groups in Sudan operate under difficult conditions, including restrictive laws, narrow margins for freedom of expression, tough economic conditions and the risk of harassment and intimidation by authorities. Those uncertain conditions have also led a number of U.S. and international organizations working with Sudanese civil society to leave the country. IDCS has nonetheless survived—and thrived—in this setting.

The shared USIP-IDCS programming, says Girshab, "was very much needed and timely and gave more edge and credibility to IDCS." He calls the initial USIP support "critical" to expanding the capacities of IDCS staff, particularly younger members, and describes the IDCS-USIP workshops as "a model to other civil society organizations regarding methodology and approach."

USIP-IDCS collaboration has created a range of peacebuilding-related activities on the ground in Sudan, as well as in the newly independent nation of South Sudan.

Working with IDCS and other civil society groups, USIP has been providing technical advice and training in support of Sudanese efforts to design and advance an effective constitution-making process. Some 40 Sudanese groups, along with other individuals, banded together in March 2011 to found the Sudanese Initiative for Constitution Making (SICM). It is a coalition committed to a transparent, inclusive and participatory constitution-making process that, as Girshab says, "reflects the diversity of Sudan and leads to a constitution based on democracy, equality, citizenship, social and economic justice and fundamental human rights." Girshab chairs SICM's coordinating committee, and its secretariat works out of IDCS.

Gluck says that IDCS has provided him with important insights on how Sudan's culture, politics and economy affect the way the Sudanese are navigating the challenges of developing a potential new constitution. As for SICM, says Gluck, "The initiative is truly Sudanese-owned. USIP provides critical technical, intellectual and financial support, but they drive the train, not us."

USIP and IDCS worked together as well on a series of violence prevention workshops ahead of critical national elections in April 2010. Ten such workshops were held between January 2009 and March 2010 in Sudan and what later formally became South Sudan, with USIP staffers including Bishai teaching on such topics as citizenship skills, democracy, conflict styles and analysis, negotiation, mediation and stereotyping as a factor promoting conflicts. The workshops were tailored to Sudan's situation, with case studies of other African nations conducting elections following conflict. The Sudanese participants learned, for instance, about the sorts of factors that can trigger election-related violence. The focus on overcoming stereotypes, says Bishai, "resonated tremendously with Sudanese. They live it all the time."

Training the Trainers

The electoral violence prevention programs were in such demand that USIP developed a training-of-trainers (TOT) course to build up a group of people who could go on to spread the program to other Sudanese. The TOT course for electoral violence prevention instructed one group in Khartoum and one in Juba in 2009, then brought them together in Juba for a joint training. "Bringing Sudanese from Khartoum to Juba to work in tandem was eye-opening for all," says Bishai. "Most of the northerners had never seen the south before."

In late 2010, the electoral violence prevention program was modified to create workshops in advance of the historic January 2011 referendum on South Sudan's independence.

"I believe these efforts reduced the amount of the violence that had been anticipated during or after the April elections and the referendum," says Girshab.

Because of a suggestion from IDCS to involve police in the violence prevention efforts, USIP and IDCS also decided to pilot a police-community dialogue program in Khartoum to address misunderstandings between police and local communities. It has now been expanded to South Sudan in five locations, with another four or five workshops in other areas of the South under consideration. The workshops offer a unique forum for citizens and police to meet under the guidance of trained dialogue facilitators. They discuss the tensions and lack of communication that contribute to violence and instability.

Another joint project is known as the "Peacebuilding in Higher Education Initiative." It has included a workshop on improving civic education in Sudan, a two-week course on peacebuilding and conflict resolution and a specialized conference for Sudanese educators on teaching peacebuilding. With the USIP trainings emphasizing fairness and transparency as values in instruction, notes Bishai, "the classroom itself becomes a model of what society could be." Girshab calls teaching peacebuilding in higher education a task "of utmost importance to a country like Sudan. Though USIP-IDCS efforts are limited, we have gotten the ball rolling."

IDCS itself is also running trainings to strengthen the leadership skills of young people with the aim of raising the prominence of youthful voices and increasing their participation in decision-making and public life. IDCS conducts programs aimed at fostering the socio-economic empowerment of women, too.

In the future, IDCS plans to focus on education for civic involvement, human rights and peacebuilding. "The overall aim," says Girshab, "is promoting sustainable peace, expanding democracy and building a culture of constitutionalism and good governance."

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