by Austin Bay
November 12, 2008
Ecstatic Kenyans declared a holiday, waved flags and expressed deserved
pride when Barack Obama, the son of a Kenyan, was elected president of the
United States. They also killed bulls.
In East Africa, killing a bull is more than a barbecue. In southern
Sudan, a sacrifice followed by festivities plays a central role in public
celebration and in tribal peacemaking.
In 2002, the New Sudan Council of Churches published a handbook titled
"The Story of People to People Peacemaking in Southern Sudan." I picked up a
copy in a Kenyan church in fall 2002 and use it in a strategy class I teach at
the University of Texas, in a course section asking, "What is peace?" The
handbook is quite practical, the product of wisdom informed by facts and
suffering -- suffering through Sudan's decades-long "North-South" civil war
pitting the northern Islamist government (the "Arab" Sudanese) against the
predominantly Christian and animist ("black African") south. It is also
unblinkingly frank when discussing divisions within southern communities.
The handbook is a first-rate work in applied diplomacy, with resonance
for Chablis sippers in Geneva and policy wonks in Washington, providing gritty
lessons in the complexities of embedded conflicts where violence, greed, fear
and corruption insistently erode common interests in physical and economic
security. Peace may emerge among warring clans, tribes and even wealthy
nation-states when common interests trump the hellacious forces of division. I
repeat "may," for peace is never a certainty.
The handbook's guiding concept is that creating peace in Sudan begins by
addressing divisions in south Sudan, where Kenyan churches in concert with
southern Sudanese could encourage "factions for peace." I've used this pun in
class: Think of creating a mosaic, piece by small piece, to forge a broader
peace. Call it the incrementalism of realistic diplomacy, meeting small
expectations by achieving reachable goals, a process certainly empowered by
hope, but in the case of south Sudan permitted and protected by the battlefield
successes of the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) -- in other words,
soldiers from the Christian and animist tribes.
The handbook includes case studies where mediators used reconciliation
rituals to help amenable leaders draw antagonized tribesmen into a peace process
with their enemies. The description of the sacrifice of a bull at a peace
conference between southern Nuers and Dinkas is poignant. The "Bull of Peace" is
sacrificed as an act of reconciliation. Participants get a slice of the meat. A
curse is placed on "any who partake" and later "break the oath for peace ..."
This process contributed to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA),
which supposedly ended the north-south war. However, the CPA left several
hundred details unresolved -- tough ones like a definitive north-south border,
refugee resettlement and a satisfactory split of oil profits from Sudanese
Meanwhile, in Sudan's miserable west, Darfur bleeds despite the presence
of U.N. peacekeepers. The United Nations also has a peacekeeping force in south
Sudan, which hasn't prevented occasional firefights between the North and South.
The 2005 CPA created a "national unity" government in Khartoum, but North
and South Sudan are increasingly appropriate names. The SPLA has become the GOSS
-- Government of South Sudan, which regards Kenya as an ally. Recall the Somali
pirates who hijacked a freighter loaded with tanks and other weapons. The bill
of lading said Kenya. The likely destination? The GOSS.
Now back to President-elect Obama. After his election, a GOSS spokesman
requested a U.S.-led peacekeeping force in south Sudan. Why? Perhaps
expectations spurred Kenya's holidays as much as pride. Kenya and GOSS may
assume they will have a great deal of influence on U.S. policy in the region.
Obama rhetorically promised hope and change, and seeded great
As 2005's fragile peace frays, more war threatens Sudan. Of course, war
threatens Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti, and war rages in Somalia, in Chad, in
Congo ... and the daunting list goes on.
Beware this irony: Great expectations unmet seed grand disappointments --
and add new bitterness to devilishly complex conflicts.