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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sudan: Lazaro Sumbeiywo and The Power of Peace

In June, HOPE International Development Agency’s International President David S. McKenzie took a small group to visit our colleagues and friends in southern Sudan.

En route to Sudan, while they waited for their visas to be processed in Nairobi, Kenya, they had the great fortune to spend an afternoon with Lazaro Sumbeiywo.

General Lazaro Sumbeiywo served as Kenya’s Special Envoy to the Sudanese peace process (1997-98) and then as mediator (2001-05). His role was instrumental to the cessation of one of Africa’s worst conflicts, a multiple-decade civil war that claimed upwards of two million lives.

Helmut Fandrich, one of HOPE International Development Agency’s delegates, recounted this meeting, among other events, in his memoir of the trip, The Power of Peace.

The former chief of the Kenyan army told us how Kenya’s then-President Daniel arap Moi had asked him to negotiate a peace in Sudan.

I was surprised to learn that Kenya’s top general started a three-day fast to get close to God before he accepted the challenge to end Africa’s longest-running civil war, an 18-year conflict between Muslim Arab northerners and mostly Christian black southerners. I was amazed how modest the General was about his accomplishments and how casually he talked about God.

In his calm, soothing voice the General talked about starting his “ventilation sessions” in 2002 with a basic question: Why are you at war? The representatives from the Khartoum government in the north, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLA) led by rebel leader John Garang in the south, were told to stay put until they came to an agreement on the basic issues that divided them.

From what I learned I concluded that the root cause of conflict in Africa’s largest country was division between Arabs and non Arabs, between Muslims and Christians. Among the big issues was how to split up Sudan’s oil wealth, as the south has huge oil reserves and the north has refineries. Also, the Christian south did not want to have Islamic law (sharia) imposed on them, and they wanted to have economic and political power. The Muslims in the north had taken the oil but had not put money back into the south, and the Christians felt powerless to do anything about it. Apparently similar feelings of marginalization also sparked the separate 2003 rebellion in Sudan’s western Darfur region, which led to US charges of genocide against the Sudanese government.

The ventilation sessions helped Sumbeiywo see that the conflict was about who was in control. “War,” he said, “is about power.” When Sudan’s military leader, President Omar al-Bashir, read the early draft peace proposal his raging response was for Sumbeiywo to take the draft and “go to hell.” Instead, the General went to his hotel room, sank to his knees and sought God’s will.’

I looked the General in the eye. “How was it possible that you were able to broker a peace,” I asked, “when previous peacemaking efforts had failed?”

“Both sides were tired of the conflict,” he said. Both north and south were losing sons and daughters and relatives in the conflict. “Some two million people had already died,” he added.

“What would be required for peace to come about?” I asked. “Education is the only solution to peace,” the former chief of Kenyan Intelligence said. “Unschooled people have to be educated.”

As is obvious from Helmut’s reflections, the trip was an excellent opportunity to connect on a personal level with the fine people that HOPE International Development Agency is fortunate to work with in Sudan and elsewhere. Though the material conditions there are as challenging as anywhere in the world, the people working for peace and prosperity for all of Sudan’s people are truly easy to support.

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