In Sudan, civil society helps implement the law

By Osman Hassan

Khartoum (which is the name of a state in Sudan, as well as the name of the country and state’s capital) is witnessing the flow of large quantities of illegal weapons. A study conducted by the Human Security Initiative Organization, a non-governmental organisation operating in the field of human security, indicates that 70 per cent of the residents of Hajj Yousef, a quarter in the Carton Kasla district north of the capital, either own weapons or know people who do.

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In view of the threat that this poses to security and peaceful coexistence, the Human Security Initiative Organization (known locally as Ma’man ,which is Arabic for safe haven), has started the “Khartoum Free from Weapons and Violence” campaign to mitigate the risk of armed conflict in the state, and the threat that it could move to the capital.

Last week, the first official announcement of results from South Sudan’s independence vote was made by members of the commission that organised the referendum earlier this month. In the weeks leading up to the landslide January vote in favour of southern Sudan’s secession, tensions between northern and southern parts of Sudan ran high. During that time, Ma’man held workshops and lectures in various parts of the region, especially in areas where tensions were most acute and there was potential for violence.

Ma’man organised dialogue sessions with community members and local leaders to examine concerns of violence as a result of the impending secession. These activities had a direct impact on the acceptance of the referendum’s results by Sudanese in an environment free from violence.

Historically, Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, has been famous among Sudan’s numerous ethnicities and religions for peaceful coexistence, even as other parts of the country were being ravaged by war.

Yet displaced people from various conflict zones in Sudan and neighbouring countries, and former militia fighters of different ethnicities are sometimes to be found carrying weapons in the state. Quite often, tensions amongst these groups turn violent, leading to killings. Police reports in the state of Khartoum show that every murder reported in 2010 was committed by perpetrators using unlicensed weapons.

There were also 22 incidents of injury or death resulting from people shooting in the air with weapons to celebrate weddings and soccer victories. Again, police point to a major increase in the ownership of weapons in Khartoum, which is fast becoming a societal phenomenon.

Based on these reports, Ma’man began raising social awareness last year about illegal weapons and encouraging local leaders to play a positive role in their communities to reduce their numbers. The organisation also works toward increasing tolerance between people of different ethnicities and is trying to foster a communal rejection of violence and crime.

Social awareness takes place through activities such as the production of materials that promote a culture of peace and tolerance, workshops, publications, lectures, drama, theatre and television programmes, all of which relay the message to Khartoum’s residents that keeping the capital peaceful is crucial.

During one of Ma’man’s workshops, children were encouraged to draw angels and peace doves, while adults were informed of the dangers of keeping weapons in their homes. People in the region were surprised to see such an initiative and are pleased that this subject is finally being discussed in the open.

One particularly gratifying outcome of a workshop in northern Khartoum was a local tribal leader promising that his tribe would dispose of all its illegal weapons. He then invited Ma’man to announce the news. Already, a significant indication of success is the large number of citizens applying for weapon licenses.

The campaign has garnered positive responses from government officials and civil society activists alike. It is financed by the government of the state of Khartoum, which has provided $125,000 in funding thus far. Administrative facilities are provided by the police force.

Through its work and subsequent successes, Ma’man is proving everyday that civil society organisations are playing an important role in supporting and implementing laws – and spreading peace. Instead of imposing harsh and restrictive measures, organisations like Ma’man are confident that through dialogue and education, peace is within reach.

Osman Hassan is Director of Human Security Initiative Organization in Sudan (Ma’man). This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).