Sudan and South Sudan and the need for Education

2 May 2017

“We want children to grow up to fight with the pen and not the gun”
Nagwa Konda, Director of Nuba Relief, Rehabilitation and Development Organisation

History and Context of Sudan and South Sudan’s humanitarian crises:

Map of Sudan and South Sudan compiled from United Nations Data (Eye Radio, 2013)

Sudan, and the now youngest country in the world, South Sudan are areas which have not seen much peace over the past 60 years.  Since independence from Britain and Egypt in 1956, there has been much internal conflict. Sudan’s first civil war between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) lasted for a lengthy seventeen years between 1955 and 1972. Only eleven years later another civil war broke out ending with a military coup taking power in 1989 headed up by General Omar Al-Bashir, the current president of Sudan.  This war stole the lives of 2.5 million people and displaced 4 million.

After signing a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the National Congress Party (NCP) and the SPLM/A in 2005 it seemed as though there was hope. The CPA established a six-year interim period which provided southern Sudan with considerable autonomy, which at the end offered the people of southern Sudan a referendum to determine if they would gain independence. In January 2011 the people of southern Sudan voted for independence and on the 9th July 2011, the end of the Interim period, South Sudan became the youngest country in the world.  Since then, however, there has been renewed fighting and violence in the disputed oil rich territory of Abyei on the border of Sudan and South Sudan as well as in the South Kordofan and Blue Nile states and Darfur.

Since 2011 South Sudan, a young nation established on fragile infrastructure, has also been the setting of conflict. Corruption and political instability in the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) led to factions within the party between supporters of President Slava Kiir, a Dinka, and supporters of the former vice president Riek Machar, a Nuer.  In December 2013 war broke out in the capital city of Juba, the start of a long civil war between the SPLM led by Kiir and the SPLM-In Opposition (SPLM-IO) led by Machar, leaving thousands of people dead.  Several years of this war and the consequential collapsing economy, along with drought, has meant that hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese people are now facing starvation with parts of the country living under a declared famine.  More than 20% of the population have been displaced with 1.4 million refugees living outside of South Sudan and 1.8 million internally displaced.[1]


Peace and Reconciliation Strategies:

Diocese of Wau
Chief Deng Kuol speaking in Luo language to IDPs (Diocese of Wau, 2017)

Although immediate aid is quite clearly and urgently needed for the current humanitarian crisis, the situation leaves one considering what long term prevention methods need to be instigated, particularly in terms of conflict prevention, to stop it and prevent this horrendous situation from occurring again. Long term, community level approaches to conflict prevention need to be supported. It is people from local communities who understand the social complexities of the conflict and who are best equipped to map out peace and reconciliation strategies. HART’s partners in the diocese of Wau, South Sudan have embraced an approach of integration rather than segregation of warring tribes and ethnic groups.  After receiving over 5000 Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) from more than 10 tribes in their Cathedral compound, they encouraged peaceful coexistence by speaking to groups of people from the two predominant tribes, Dinka and Luo, in their own languages when arguments arose between them.  It was Bishop Deng and Chief Kuol’s reasoning and calls for empathy with each other that enabled a peace to take place in the compound, with the two groups currently living peacefully side by side.  HART’s partners on the ground have said how many UN refugee camps are in fact causing more divisions by separating out people from different tribes such as the Dinka and Nuer. In such a fragile and complex social situation, international intervention must be carefully thought out and must listen to and include the communities living there.

Education as a long-term conflict prevention mechanism:

Amongst this backdrop of conflict, violence and humanitarian crisis, education is something which is not accessible to many. Without it conflict is only likely to continue, with uneducated children being recruited to join various armed groups.  According to a 2016 report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), between 15,000 and 16,000 children are estimated to be recruited by armed sectors in South Sudan. Our partners in the Nuba Mountains region in Sudan have stressed that even amongst the violence and humanitarian needs, education is their priority. In a HART visit in 2016 they told HART “children are our future. We want them to grow up learning that the word can be more powerful than the weapon. We want to give them hope and ambition to do great things and bring peace to the region”.  Despite this desire for education, there has been little to no provision for education by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).  Yida camp, a settlement situated in Unity State in South Sudan, 12km from the border of Sudan is home to over 78,000 refugees. The real population figure of the camp is unknown because the UN stopped registering new arrivals in April 2013, therefore the actual figure is thought to be significantly higher. In Yida camp there are 64,000 registered school age children, yet 47,000 of these children are not receiving schooling.  According to UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) 72% of primary and lower secondary age children in South Sudan do not have access to education, and 3 million children between the ages of 5-13 in Sudan are not in school.
Education, as well as being a basic human right as listed in article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), is also key to enabling and supporting a new generation to rise above the conflict.  According to a report by UNICEF, “children and young people need to be an integral part of any peacebuilding or conflict prevention strategy or intervention…for the results to be durable”.  For conflict prevention and peacebuilding to be sustainable, future generations need to have a willingness to resolve conflict by non-violent means. Research by the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development has found that well-managed, high-quality education systems can help to prevent civil unrest and support conflict resolution, tolerance and reconciliation. As well as this their research found that good education can reduce poverty and inequality, enabling solid foundations for good governance and effective institutions.  Therefore, education plays a crucial role in preventing conflict and building long-term sustainable peace processes, yet less than 2% of global humanitarian aid goes towards education.

Bahr el Ghazal, Sudan ( Flickr ,2011)

It is with this understanding of education being key to long-term peacebuilding and conflict prevention that HART supports its partners in Sudan and South Sudan. These partners provide education to many, including the Marol academy in South Sudan. You can find out more information of HART’s work and partners in Sudan and South Sudan here.

The conflicts and humanitarian crises in Sudan and South Sudan are complex and there is certainly no simple solution. However, it is important that when instigating conflict resolution, that international intervention listens to the people and communities living there who have a substantial understanding of the social complexities.  Education, as well as  being a basic human right, is a key mechanism to building a firm foundation for lasting change and peace and reconciliation and must be invested in if we are to ever see peace in Sudan and South Sudan.

Disclaimer: This blog is a space for discussion and personal reflection. Any opinions expressed within the blog are those of the author and are not necessarily held by HART. Individual authors are responsible for the accuracy of statements made within the blog.


[1] All Party Parliamentary Group for Sudan and South Sudan meeting: 29th March 2017

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