In South Sudan, building peace by strengthening local organizations
All the worn plastic chairs are filled when Hakim Cipuounyuc says it’s time for the meeting to start. He surveys the two dozen community leaders who are seated beneath a grove of trees outside his organization’s small office. The group is mostly men, but there are women, too. They’ve come from across Rumbek to talk about a growing problem: The bride price in this rural state capital is too high.
Hakim asks who would like to speak, and a slew of hands go up. Some men are paying their brides’ parents as many as 200 cows, one person says. It’s led to violent crime, says another. Young men are resorting to armed cattle raids in order to pay dowries.
The group eventually settles on a solution: To try to stem the bloodshed, they’ll begin pushing local policymakers to set a bride price limit.
Hakim is executive director of the Disabled Association for Rehabilitation and Development, or DARD, a small civil society organization that, with Pact’s help, is improving life in South Sudan. Although DARD started out as an advocacy group for people with disabilities, it has widened its scope; it now educates the public about women’s rights, helps poor women start small businesses, gives trainings on peaceful dispute resolution – a vital service in a place where small disagreements tend to erupt into violence – and holds community forums to solve social problems, such as crime related to soaring bride prices.
“We are working in many different ways to improve the situation for society,” Hakim says. “Everyday, this is our objective.”
DARD is one of about 50 community organizations that Pact has strengthened in South Sudan through its Enhancing Peace and Security (EPS) program, which began in 2012 and is funded by Sida and Danida, the international development agencies of the governments of Sweden and Denmark.
Among EPS’s main objectives: to build the capacity of local organizations like DARD that are working to bring stability and peace to South Sudan, a 4-year-old country of about 10 million people that is struggling to develop in the wake of independence and civil war.
Building the capacity of local organizations is a Pact signature. Among Pact’s core principles is that local organizations are best positioned to solve local problems – and making them stronger is the best way to create lasting impact that will continue beyond the presence of international aid and development groups.
Pact uses its capacity development model around the world to help a range of local organizations, including groups that alleviate poverty, improve people’s health, build civic engagement, promote peace and democracy, and protect children from exploitation and abuse. The process starts with a thorough assessment of an organization’s abilities. Pact then provides what’s needed to improve deficiencies – whether it be administrative training, funding for computers or additional staff, or hands-on guidance on developing and implementing programs.
Along the way, Pact objectively measures organizations’ capacity growth using an evaluation tool that has been adopted by others in the international development sector.
For DARD, Pact identified shortcomings in its ability to develop project proposals and budgets, to communicate about its work and to conduct financial reporting. With Pact’s training and mentorship, DARD is now able to create thorough proposals that have attracted funds from international donors. It has a strong financial reporting system in place, as well as other internal procedures and policies that have helped build its reputation as an efficient, trusted nonprofit.
DARD has taken its work to a new level. It has made strides in building citizen involvement in local governance, has become a champion for the development of county-level strategic plans, and has helped launch a network of local nonprofits that is developing solutions to social problems and finding ways to fund them.
These achievements represent remarkable progress in a country where the government does not provide basic public services, and they are vital to South Sudan’s long-term stability and the establishment of democratic ideals, says Julius Woli, Pact’s EPS program manager.
“Rather than imposing an outside development program in South Sudan, we are strengthening local organizations that are already working to improve the country with the trust and support of the community,” Woli says. “We are helping them to do more and to have a sustained impact that will last for generations to come.”
Among other organizations that Pact supports through EPS are Friends for Justice, which is educating key members of the community about human rights and South Sudan’s written laws; the Initiative for Rural Empowerment, which is using radio programs, trainings and community events to promote the non-violent management of conflict; and the Committee for National Healing, Peace and Reconciliation, which is dispatching trained “peace mobilizers” to record accounts of war-related suffering from around the country to be collected and delivered to national-level decision makers.
Despite the nation’s top leadership, DARD’s Hakim says, at the community level, his young country is making progress.
“The people of South Sudan want peace and compromise,” he says, “and they are working to achieve it.”
Since 2012, Enhancing Peace and Security has directly benefitted nearly 15,000 people in five South Sudanese states and indirectly benefitted more than 2 million through trainings, conferences, awareness campaigns, public debates and recreation and cultural events.
More than 2,000 people have taken part in peace conferences to begin reconciliation among rival tribes, and hundreds of youth have taken part in sports events to help them find common ground with teammates of different backgrounds. Fifteen peace committees have been established in the absence of formal systems to resolve disputes, more than 4,000 people have been reached with reconciliatory radio messages, and more than 300 community leaders have been trained on the non-violent management of conflict.