From the ground up: Education and livelihoods in Southern Sudan



History of the Conflict

Sudan has been in a state of civil war for all but 12 years since it gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1956.The conflict has been drawn primarily along religious and ethnic lines between the predominantly Arab and Muslim government based in the north and the Christians and animists from a variety of ethnic groups in the south.

Sudan's first civil war began the year it became independent and continued through 1972, when the north declared Southern Sudan to be a self-governing region. Peace lasted for 10 years until 1983, when civil strife, triggered by a famine and the announcement that Shari'a, or Islamic law, would apply to all Sudanese, precipitated a new conflict between the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) and the northern-based government. For the two decades that followed, the country was at war.

This most recent conflict resulted in the world's highest death toll since World War II, with as many as 2 million casualties. The war also precipitated one of the worst humanitarian disasters of the 20th century. Since the conflict erupted, more than 4 million people from Southern Sudan have been displaced or have sought refuge in neighboring countries.

In January 2005, following more than 12 years of peace talks facilitated by the United Kingdom, the United States and Norway, the Government of Sudan and the SPLM/A signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). Under the "one country, two system" model, the north and south will share power, resources and wealth-including vast oil wealth, much of which is located in the disputed or transitional areas of Abyei, Blue Nile State and the Nuba Mountains.These disputed areas are still officially part of the north but are to have an opportunity to join the south pursuant to a public vote under the terms of the CPA.The north and south maintain separate armies in addition to a joint integrated army that they share. Following a six-year transitional period the south will determine whether it wants to secede via referendum.

At present, Southern Sudan is in its second year of relative peace and stability. However, the ongoing conflict in Darfur may prove to be a destabilizing force. Efforts to negotiate an end to the conflict put considerable pressure on the relationship between government actors from the north and south. Additional unresolved issues remain, including the border between the north and south, which is yet to be decided, and the contested oil-rich areas between the north and south. The extent to which conditions improve in the south may also bear on the region's long-term prospects for peace.

Impact of the War on the South: Refugees and Internally Displaced People

At least 4 million Southern Sudanese fled their homes after the war began in 1983. The majority were displaced to other regions within Sudan; more than 400,000 sought refuge in neighboring countries, with the largest number of refugees going to Uganda.

Since the signing of the CPA in 2005, the security situation has improved overall in the south, although some new and significant risks have emerged. Fighting between the SPLM/A and the Government of Sudan has largely ceased, but attacks and incidents of unrest persist in the region, many involving the Uganda-based Lord's Resistance Army and clashes along ethnic lines.

Rates of return of refugees and internally displaced people (IDP) have been lower than humanitarian aid agencies predicted when the CPA was signed. Approximately 25 percent of those displaced have returned home since the cessation of hostilities.The vast majority of returns have been spontaneous, with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) providing assistance to only 17,500 returning refugees in 2006. According to UNHCR, just over 1 million displaced people had voluntarily returned home by July 2006, including 91,000 refugees from neighboring countries.

Lack of services, inclement weather, lack of safe and dignified transit and other risks encountered by returning refugees and IDPs may have contributed to the relatively low rates of return.11 Refugees cited lack of education, health care and employment opportunities, as well as the lack of information on conditions in intended places of return, as key factors preventing them from returning home. Meanwhile, as UNHCR only received 56 percent of its requested 2006 budget for Southern Sudan,12 the agency was forced to cut funding for education, health and other critical services in the region in order to continue supporting repatriation efforts.


The Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children (Women's Commission) visited Southern Sudan in November 2006.The purpose of the field mission was to assess education and livelihood programs, including formal and non-formal education, vocational training, income generation and micro-credit.The trip was part of the Women's Commission's global study on appropriate livelihoods for displaced women and youth and its work to advocate for resilient education systems in the transition from emergency to post-conflict situations.The goal of the two efforts is to enhance the well-being of displaced women, children and youth by promoting high quality and appropriate educational programs and comprehensive, sustainable livelihoods that meet real market needs and build on existing skills and experience.The knowledge gained and lessons learned from the field visit will guide the Women's Commission's advocacy efforts and will inform future programming in these sectors in situations of conflict, displacement and post-conflict return, emphasizing the role education and livelihoods play in the prevention of and protection from abuse and exploitation experienced by refugee women, youth and children.