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Rift Valley Institute

Making local knowledge work

Sudan Course 2004

The first RVI Sudan Course was held in April 2004 in Kenya at a game ranch on the Athi Plains, outside Nairobi. Participants were housed in a field centre on the ranch and a tented safari camp nearby. Twenty-five students from sixteen organizations and a dozen nationalities attended. There were ten academic staff and half-a-dozen guest speakers.

Speakers examined the historical formation of the Sudanese state, the causes of the civil war in the South and the current role of outside agencies in economic and social development. Teaching was by means of lectures, panel discussions, special presentations and reviews by students of each day’s teaching.

The first day dealt with the physical environment of Sudan: the country’s natural resources and communications and the modes of livelihood and patterns of settlement of the human population: riverain communities in the north, savannah dwellers in the West and South and cultivators of the southern woodlands. The teaching was led by the Deputy Course Director, Abdelwahab Sinnary, assisted by Dr Malte Sommerlatte, formerly head of the Wildlife Unit at the University of Juba. The other speakers were George Echom of the Sudan Peace Fund and Philip Winter, former South Sudan Field Director of Save The Children Fund. There were game walks and game drives on the ranch led by Dr Sinnary, George Echom and Philip Winter.

The second day of the course was dedicated to the ethnography of Sudan. Speakers examined the work of anthropologists in the region, the role of kinship among different social groups, the changing nature of ethnicity and the legacy of indigenous political systems. Dr Wendy James, Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Oxford, led the teaching, with the assistance of Dr Peter Adwok Nyaba, Muna Khogali and John Ryle, the director of the course.

The subject of the third day was state formation and decay, from the nineteenth century to the present day. Students were introduced to the political history of Sudan through four interwoven themes: the ambitions of the central state; the nature of local authority; the role of religion; and the relationship between the state and the practice of violence. Dr Justin Willis led with a panoptic view of the rise of riverain states: the process of Islamization and Arabization, imperial rule, independence and civil war. Dr Suliman Ali Baldo and Dr Douglas Johnson and Cherry Leonardi made presentations on specific aspects of state formation and development. There was a panel on human rights with Jemera Rone of Human Rights Watch and Diane de Guzman of the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team.

The final day of the course, “A Fantastic Invasion”, considered the global dimension of Sudanese economic and political history and Sudan’s experience with international aid and development programmes. Speakers reviewed the imperial legacy of development planning and more recent developments in mechanised farming, the use of displaced and captive labour, and the impact of oil. Dr Douglas Johnson, author of The Root Causes of Sudan’s Civil Wars, led the day. Other speakers included Dr Suliman Ali Baldo, Kristina Belknap of the Lulu Livelihoods Project and Dan Large of the School of Oriental and African Studies. Participants were briefed on the state of the peace negotiations at Naivasha by David Mozersky of the International Crisis Group.

Evening sessions of the course featured a number of visiting speakers and video presentations. Allan Reed, the recently appointed head of the USAID office for South Sudan, showed a film he made in the early 1970s, in the last years of the first civil war, travelling through South Sudan with Anyanya guerillas. Other visiting speakers included Nhial Bol, the Editor-in-Chief of the Khartoum Monitor, and Acuil Malith, director of the South Sudanese NGO, Supraid.

The final dinner was attended by HE Dirdeiry Mohammed Ahmed, Deputy Ambassador of Sudan to Kenya. Other guests included: David Hopcraft, owner of the game ranch where the course was held; Paul Lane, then Director of the British Institute in Eastern Africa; Neil Turner, Regional Coordinator of Save the Children Fund (UK); Paul Murphy of the Sudan Peace Fund (Pact); and Michael Chege, a Rift Valley Institute Fellow and Director of the Center of African Studies at the University of Florida, currently seconded by UNDP to the Kenyan Ministry of Planning.

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