Iain Gill, WFD Associate
On 21 January, I ran a Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) training programme on peace and reconciliation in Sudan in association with the British Embassy in Khartoum. The training brought together more than 25 representatives from opposition parties to learn from the peace process in Northern Ireland.
The inclusive nature of the Good Friday Agreement, which turned twenty years old in April 2018, was shared with participants through Mike Nesbitt, Ulster Unionist Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) in Northern Ireland and myself. We emphasised how political parties can work together to achieve lasting peace, drawing on the example of the umbrella movement, Sudan Call, established in 2014.
Sharing lessons from Northern Ireland
Mike Nesbitt was born in Belfast and grew up during the conflict in Northern Ireland that claimed more than 3,500 lives. On 25 January 1973, the Nesbitt family business was attacked by the IRA. This sparked Mike’s lifelong interest in politics and the human cost of conflict.
Many of the delegates could relate to Mr. Nesbitt’s background story, who explained:
“I wasn’t politically active when I was growing up, but I was always curious why anyone wanted to blow up my father’s business and the way it impacted his life – destroying all his certainties in an instant but leaving all the responsibilities.”
Mike’s time as a Northern Irish Victims Commissioner, from January 2008 to February 2010, convinced him that if he wanted to make a difference he really did need to go into politics. Shortly after being elected as an MLA he was chosen to lead the Ulster Unionist Party.
The Northern Irish ‘Good Friday Agreement’ case study was of particular relevance to the Sudanese hosts. The identity versus sovereignty tension that has defined Northern Ireland had a clear parallel with the difficulties experienced between Sudan and South Sudan.
Suitable skills for sustainable peace
The training also focused on the practical application of negotiating skills, policy development, building a campaign message and improving political operations in the fields of gender representation, voter contact, internal democracy and civic participation.
The engagement and energy from the delegates was very high considering politics remains tightly controlled in Sudan. Smaller parties in particular struggle to forge a political space and appeal to citizens.
Throughout the training, delegates had lively discussions on the main issues facing their political organisations, including the ways in which parties address internal democracy and accountability, voter outreach, communications, political ideology and participation, particularly increasing the representation of women.
On the final day, the delegation visited the offices of the ruling National Congress party, where both Mike Nesbitt and myself addressed the ‘National Youth Commission’ and shared perspectives on peace and reconciliation.
Towards a peaceful future
The training certainly helped to stimulate debate on multi-party political competition based on policies rather than identity or patronage but obviously, there is a long way to go. There is a real appetite for more democracy in Sudan.
Supporting peace and reconciliation efforts are central to WFD’s 2017-2022 Strategic Framework, as WFD’s Regional Director, Dina Melhem said:
“The use of political leaders to support conflict transformation and peace-building processes is essential to ensure lasting peace and an effective democratic transition. Groups and factions in conflict situations often need support to broker agreements and advance reforms, something WFD is keen to provide’.
On behalf of WFD, I would like to thank the British Embassy in Khartoum for their partnership during the event. I look forward to building on that relationship in the future.