Classrooms promote peace in Sudan
In Mazmoom in Sennar State, things are tense. The normally quiet village in the south-east corner of Sudan has been the scene of conflict in recent months. More than 3,800 returnee Sudanese, including some 1,800 ex-fighters, are trying to establish new homes and farms in the small community. Many of the new farmers left grazing land in the south and escaped across the border when South Sudan officially declared independence in July 2011.
The increase in population in Mazmoom had its old residents worried, with many in the community fearful that new arrivals might stretch local resources. This caused some clashes between long-time villagers and the new arrivals, that was bound to incite further disputes.
To address this source of potential violence, UNDP helped villagers construct and furnish a US$ 120,000 primary school and community centre. Besides providing valuable schooling in the district, the school is proving central to efforts to defuse the tense situation and peacefully reintegrate the returnees into the community.
- The project is part of a UNDP US$75 million portfolio of disarmament activities, under the Sudan Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration Programme.
- As well as building the school in Mazmoom, UNDP and its partner NGO have embarked on a 6-month, US$ 53,000 project to provide a forum for those in conflict to resolve their differences.
- Activities include literacy classes for youth and women, training for local teachers, as well as civic education on conflict resolution and peace building, and awareness-raising on the dangers of small arms and light weapons.
Chief among the fears of locals was that a population increase would strain local resources and basic social services. “In an area where tribal disputes are often settled with Kalashnikovs [or violent conflicts], community consultations showed that locals were concerned about potential conflict between farmers and pastoralists, mainly related to land resources and ownership,” says Noori, Executive Manager of Elnasaiem, a local NGO that is implementing the scheme on behalf of UNDP.
Elnasaiem was given UNDP funding, training and advice in order to establish a community security and arms control committee. The committee is using the new school to teach night classes about security; the dangers of small arms and light weapons; alternatives to gun violence; conflict resolution and peacebuilding. “We want to raise awareness that using weapons comes at a price and instead of promoting security, they contribute to instability and insecurity,” says Noori.
The buildings also serve as a venue for teacher training as well as a space to provide math and reading lessons for local women. More than 2,000 members of the community have made use of the facility so far.
These project activities are central to UNDP’s disarmament programme in Sudan. As well as building the school, UNDP and Elnasaiem have embarked on a 6-month, US$ 53,000 project to provide a forum for those in conflict to resolve their differences, as well as liaise with the government on issues regarding access to basic services and other measures necessary to accommodate the returnees from South Sudan. Common issues resolved through the forum include conflict over land allocation and conflicts between farmers and animal herders.
“We were able to talk to the government on the community’s behalf,” says 60-year-old Ahmed, who used the forum recently to resolve a conflict with a neighbour. ”We have been able to explain the security situation for our returnees from South Sudan. In order to mitigate possible conflicts between farmers and pastoralists, the state government responded to the security committee - allocating both animal routes and land to the returnees from South Sudan.”
The school and community centre, completed in August 2012 are staffed with government teachers, and will teach children up to grade eight.
The project received support from the governments of Japan and Norway and is part of a UNDP US$75 million portfolio of disarmament activities, under the Sudan Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration Programme. The Government of Sudan contributed land and staff for the community centre and school and plans to add an additional four classrooms and two offices to the facility.