A Sudanese Peacebuilding Tradition: The Long, Boring Meeting

Water sharing

St. Patrick’s Church in Nimule, southern Sudan, is the scene of meetings large and small. Even the most contentious issues can often be brought to mutual agreement in a weekend when all parties are allowed to meet and be heard. Photo by Karen Kasmauski for CRS

by John Lindner

In yesterday’s post I said peacebuilding is a well and a school and a traffic light. Today, I look at another thing peacebuilding is: It’s boring.

Of course I mean that in a really good way….

But seriously, look, when Bruce Willis and Jackie Chan make movies, what do we get? — couple guys sitting around talking over their problems, listening to the other side air its grievances, offering compromises on one issue after another?

Not likely. Action heroes don’t make bundles at the box office by filming 3-day conferences on border disputes.

Peacebuilders, on the other hand, attend meetings.

Southern Sudanese have long had effective ways to resolve their differences peacefully and permanently. Leaders, usually elders, gather everyone who has something to say. Each stands in turn and gives a speech, often rehashing what everyone else said. Finally they take a decision and that is that. Everyone accepts it and lives with it. No lengthy appeals process, no counter suits, no trials by media.

I know, sounds good, right? Like, where do I sign up for that?

Importantly, the respect for mutual agreement, the willingness to let the other side be heard—those things still undergird Sudanese reality. They still get that. The problem is that years of war broke down the traditional mechanisms for coming together to make those agreements.

CRS peacebuilding looks to restore those mechanisms and thereby restore the relationships long held dear by the Sudanese. To do this, CRS depends upon the Church, the one institution in southern Sudan that still has the time, space and credibility to bring people together to safely discuss their problems.

From a nice safe distance, peacebuilding may sometimes look boring. But in southern Sudan, with the lives of millions of people at stake, a long-awaited freedom in the offing, and a country ready to mend and grow, peacebuilding is anything but boring. It’s high drama.

Sorry Bruce.

Learn more about CRS’ work to achieve peace in Sudan.

CRS web managing editor John Lindner traveled to southern Sudan to report on peacebuilding. This is the first of a set of posts on the work the Church and CRS are doing in southern Sudan.

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