In the first week of March, 2007, forty young people from Sudan participated in an unprecedented youth dialogue at the Laikipia Nature Conservancy and Spiritual Center in Kenya. It was the first time young people between the ages of 20 and 35 from throughout Sudan were able to meet to discuss the situation in their country as major stakeholders. They were joined by an international delegation of mentors, including Dena Merriam, Marianne Marstrand, Teny Pirri Simonian, Venerable Chang Ji, Jackeline Wilson from the US Institute for Peace, and Fr. Ismail Kanani of the Nile Theological College, as well as members of the Young Leaders Peace Council. The Sudan Youth Dialogue was the first program of the Young Leaders Peace Council (YLPC), an international network of young leaders committed to peacebuilding and promoting the role of youth in conflict resolution and healing. The Council was launched in October 2006 at the YLPC Retreat sponsored and hosted by DDMBA.
Surrounded by the natural beauty of the Great Rift Valley, the seven-day meeting was filled with discussions among the young adults about how to create a stronger and more peaceful Sudan. For the first time, Sudanese youth from all regions met to exchange experiences and challenges, form partnerships, and build a network that would facilitate a positive role for youth to play in a way forward for the country. They shared their concerns about the atrocities happening in Darfur as well as the need to address issues of HIV/AIDS, gender, poverty and environment. The outcome of the meeting was the creation of the Sudan Youth Network for Development, where active members of society would work together to connect youth and development organizations for the common good and development of their nation. They appointed focal points for each region and agreed upon a mission statement and a set of priorities.
Goals and Objectives
The main goal of the Sudan Youth Dialogue (SYD) was to build bridges and realize a dream of gathering Sudanese youth to discuss problems leading many youth to be displaced and the experiences they have gained towards possible resolutions. The meeting offered a platform for them to share their voices in a neutral and safe space, and be fully integrated into a dialogue as leaders, facilitators and participants. The Sudan Youth Dialogue framework was built around the Millennium Development Goals based on the premise that progress in development can support and enable an environment for peace.
The objectives of the meeting were to:
- Cultivate understanding and compassion for what people from different ethnic or religious groups, or regions, have experienced as a result of the conflict between the North & South and in Darfur
- Build a culture of mutual respect and commitment to pluralism, creating equality for all
- Develop sensitivity for projects that incorporate values for community building into development work
- Promote gender equity among the next generation
Sudanese youth participants were nominated by the SYD co-chairs to provide an overview of the status of youth in each region of Sudan. The following summaries highlight the central points from each presentation on youth and development challenges.
Before the war, there were no non-governmental organizations operating in the South. Now the region is facing issues of poverty, education, health and intercultural tensions due a growing influx of returning refugees. Organizations are addressing the MDGs, especially in areas of child and maternal mortality due to lack of awareness and education. Challenges include limited resources to conduct community outreach, gender discrimination, poor transportation and infrastructure, and negative social norms.
Northern Sudan is made up of a diversity of tribes who co-exist respectfully but remain marginalized. These areas are facing desertification and limited water access, which have led to problems in education, food supply, and increased poverty. Many youth are forced to move to main cities due to limited resources and unemployment.
The population in Western Sudan is estimated at 5 million in Darfur and 6 million in the Nuba Mountains. Factors leading to the onset of conflict were economic and social, and youth marginalization. Challenges include: widespread illiteracy, health issues such as HIV/AIDS, cultural tension between tribes, and a severe education gap. It is estimated that there are 100,000 displaced persons from western Sudan in Chad and neighboring countries due to the current conflict in Darfur.
Access to clean water is a major concern in the Blue Nile region. Distance, drainage, and rainwater collection have become health issues. Education, employment, poverty, HIV/AIDS, child and maternal mortality are similar problems faced in the East as with other regions nationwide.
Central Sudan is a mixture of all regions. The disarmament of rebels in the South and the reintegration of former soldiers into communities in the South is a challenge. As is dealing with youth who were recruited to serve in the rebel or government armies as child soldiers in Darfur. Eastern Sudan is also dealing with the spread of HIV/AIDS where there is an especially high prevalence in the Kalazar region, where lack of awareness is one of the main reasons for transmission.
Status of Millennium Development Goals in Sudan as Reported by Youth Delegates
MDG 1 – Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger
- The population of Sudan was an estimated 36 million in 2006 with the majority living on less than $1day. Youth are 65% of the population and the most affected by poverty and health issues.
- Challenges to poverty reduction: continuous conflict & displacement of people caused by the imbalanced distribution of resources and unemployment.
- Poverty gives rise to other socio-economic ills, such as exploitation (child labor and sexual), gender inequality, marginalization of certain groups/communities, poor employment and education possibilities and many health issues.
MGD 3 – Promote Gender Equality and Empowerment
- Women are approximately half the population, however, girls’ school attendance is 24% while boys’ attendance is 70%.
- Women account for 18-30% of economic activity and 10% of the formal workforce.
- Women participate more in voting during elections than men.
- Many men are intimidated by educated women; families fear educating their daughters; and sexual harassment in schools and workplaces is rampant.
- Many women lack an awareness of their rights and are unable to exercise them to their advantage.
MDG 6 – Combat HIV/AIDS
- Cases of HIV/AIDS are severely underreported. Only 4,004 cases of HIV/AIDS were reported in Sudan between 1986 and 2004.
- The disease is mainly spread through sexual transmission, blood transfusions, and drug use.
- 97% of cases through sexual transmission can be linked to sex workers, infrequent condom use and poor economic situations.
- The continuous movement of people and troops has also contributed to the spread of HIV/AIDS.
- Challenges to stopping its spread are lack of awareness, illiteracy, lack of funding, data collection, policies, lack of communication and awareness, stigma, poor education, open borders, and violence.
MDG 7 – Ensure Environmental Sustainability
- MDG indicators such as access to clean water and slum dwellings, land threatened by war and lawlessness, desertification and education on protection of natural resources need to be addressed.
- Environmental projects can be linked to rehabilitation for former soldiers.
- Opportunities: direct involvement of other stakeholders outside of politicians and lobbyists; promoting organic farming and other methods for sustainable use of natural resources; and investing in policies to protect the environment – pollution, human activity, such as extraction of minerals.
Conflict Zone: The Situation in Dafur
In Darfur there are 59 different tribes residing in the Bakura area. Before the discovery of oil, the main economic activities in the region were agriculture and livestock with an additional $15 million being earned per year by Darfurians working in Libya. However, the agricultural sector has suffered greatly due to desertification and climate change. In 1995, due to political tensions between Libya and Sudan, all Sudanese in Libya had to return to Sudan, which led to a chain reaction in factors contributing to the 2003 rebellion. At first the majority of Darfurians were in favor of challenging the government over the distribution of resources between the tribes and the central government and the marginalization of Darfur. After the Peace Accord, the nature of the conflict changed from one between the rebels and the central government to a tribal conflict in Hakura. The armed conflict continued after the signing of the Peace Accord although support from the community shifted as they saw the rebels fighting for position and their own needs. The central government also appeared to show little commitment to implementing the Peace Accord; and in the IDP camps, the Accord was not readily supported because only one particular tribe had signed the Agreement and it did not represent the majority. Tensions continue to occur between displaced and nondisplaced people.
Currently, there are approximately 1.5 million refugees from Darfur with youth as a majority. Young people are fueling the conflict as fighters because they are vulnerable and easily exploited by both the rebels and the government. Crime is a growing problem in the camps due to lack of control by authorities. People are suspicious of the government, who they blame for the continued conflict, and even tribal leaders who have become corrupted for political and personal gains.
Current situation in the camps:
- Psychological problems from the violence and killings, increased rates of suicide.
- Violence against women & children, drug & alcohol addiction, rape, unwanted pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases.
- Not enough teachers in schools to support the demand, even with NGO capacity building & training.
- Women in Darfur also carry the agricultural burden doing the majority of farming.
- Women still suffer from female genital mutilation, early marriages, and maternal death in Sudan is among the highest globally.
During the youth reports and group discussions following, common themes emerged on what could be done to improve youth participation and effectiveness in dealing with country challenges. The recommendations below outline techniques and best practices that could be implemented by youth, as well as highlight areas where skill-building is most needed in dealing with conflict situations.
Delegates identified the need for capacity building, training in conflict resolution and preparation for development once peace is established. Considerations included:
- Results oriented, implementation of training should be immediate
- Networking skills also valuable
- Self-sustainability – not to rely on external funding from international community
- Development of action plans and maintaining communication
- Sustainability of projects – leadership training and shared responsibility
- Teambuilding – how to inspire and mobilize others to action
Building Interaction Skills – Choosing Appropriate Styles
A session led by Jacki Wilson of the United States Institute for Peace addressed the need to adopt different styles of communication for different situations.
Styles include: Competing, Collaborating, Compromising, Avoiding and Accommodating. The Appropriate style with varying levels of cooperativeness and assertiveness depend on external factors such as: relationship between parties, issue being negotiated and time available to negotiate.
Problem Solving Skills:
Step 1: Define the problem - Will my problem be solved if X, Y, Z is done, will problem arise again?
Step 2: Analyze the problem - Levels, Actors/Stakeholders, Root Causes, Underlying factors, Factors, Scope, Stages – stage of problem in current situation, Fears, Who has power, Resources, Relationships, History of previous efforts and Spoilers – who can change efforts last minute
Step 3: Set Goals and Objectives - SMART Goals: Specific/Measurable/Achievable/Realistic/Time-bound
Step 4: Brainstorm options for objectives - Should be fast and participatory, diverse group, creative
Step 5: Decide on a plan or course of action
Step 6: Develop an Action Plan - Who, what, where, when, how, and evaluation with an opportunity to incorporate feedback into plan
The main outcome of the Sudan Youth Dialogue was the creation of a “Sudanese Youth Network for Development”. The delegates agreed to the following Mission Statement:
“The youth of the Sudanese Youth Network for Development commit to making the Millennium Development Goals one of their objectives for developing the Sudanese community, and believes that dialogue is the base for understanding.”
The objectives of the Sudanese Youth Network for Development are to:
- Advocate for the Millennium Development Goals
- Use dialogue as a means to achieve the goals
- Use dialogue as a tool for peacebuilding
- To help to break the cycle of the violence in Sudan, by raising the awareness of a peace culture among the youth.
- To support the development of a youth forum in Sudan, which would respond to the need of youth in conflict and post-conflict.
- The structure of the Network will include a focal point for each region