The recent re-eruption of political violence in South Sudan in late 2013 has not only inflamed long-standing and unresolved local grievances, but also highlights the critical need to improve the impact and sustainability of local peace processes in any region. In the new Peaceworks, “Local Peace Processes in Sudan and South Sudan,” USIP’s Jacqueline H. Wilson outlines the importance of understanding and improving local peace processes.

Representatives of pastoralists from South Kordofan convene in Warawar for a meeting. Photo USIP/Jacki Wilson

Her report is informed by analysis from conflict resolution training workshops as well as consultations, dialogues, meetings and interviews sponsored by USIP and conducted across Sudan and South Sudan since 2005.

In this Q&A, Wilson highlights some of the major points in her report.

What are the essential ingredients to make local peace processes sustainable?

First, you must have the right people in the room.  Second, you must focus on specific objectives, such as demarcating a grazing corridor clearly or resolving a certain cattle raid.  Peace is not one final, big event, but rather a process over time – so there needs to be benchmarks and milestones along the way. 

What is most newsworthy in your report?  What is a new finding?

Peace conferences do not bring peace.  Instead, they can actually be a waste of time and money, particularly if the issues on the agenda cannot be resolved by the people in the room.   Usually they don't include the "right" people in the room, but instead focus on political and civil elites.  It becomes more of a social event than about working with the main players and producing tangible outcomes.  Follow up from these conferences is usually rare --- they may end with an agreement or a communique with many recommendations signed by the high profile actors at the end of the conference, but frequently the celebration of the conference itself is the capstone accomplishment.

There needs to be a structure for peace, and there needs to be accountability for groups involved.  

What one message is particularly important for policymakers and/or practitioners?

That better practices -- those I mention above -- can bring about sustainable peace.  There are clear things that can be done to address this problem:  Having an appropriate architecture of the process, getting the right people in the room, and then moving beyond recommendations to actual commitments, responsibility for implementation and accountability. 

Why is this important and relevant for U.S. national security interests?

The U.S. and the international community have spent billions of dollars in humanitarian assistance for regions in conflict, and then millions of dollars on peace processes and conferences that have not achieved sustainable peace and stability.  For instance, there was a peace process in Jonglei State (in South Sudan) in 2012 that held promise. And, if there had been follow-up – particularly on political and ethnic reconciliation -- and if the agreement had been implemented, it could potentially have prevented the conflict that is happening now.

Your research focused on South Sudan and Sudan. Can you apply your hypothesis to other conflict situations?

Yes, although I focus on local peace processes, the same patterns and gaps can be seen with the two Darfur internationally-sponsored peace processes that have largely failed. The violence there is as bad now as it was before the peace processes. 

In a broader sense, with Darfur and beyond, the agreements seldom address the root causes, a trend that reflects the need for establishing specific objectives, and engaging those directly affected by violence in the processes. What's really needed is to build the capacity of key, local stakeholders on mediation and negotiation so they can be more proficient at leading their own peace processes, at following through with the benchmarks, and at holding the elites accountable. The process cannot be simplified to an event, which cannot bring sustainable peace. 

Learn more about this Peaceworks

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