Partera International spent a month a year in Sudan and then South Sudan from 2005 and 2013, working in partnership with peacebuilding staff from the Swedish Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Sudanese Organisation for Nonviolence and Development (SONAD). These years were marked by brutal civil war, its division into two countries, massive internal displacement, huge refugee flows–and a determined movement towards peace. In 2019, the country’s brutal, long-time dictator, Omar al-Bashir, was successfully and nonviolently overthrown. Through powerful peace partnerships, hundreds of thousands were trained as trainers in nonviolence. Youth movements proliferated, feeding the advance towards peace. In this article first published in SweFOR’s online periodical, I ask them to consider their role in this historic accomplishment.
I would like to invite SweFOR, your staff, sponsors and donors, to consider taking some slice, however small, of the credit for the nonviolent overthrow of Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir. Gene Sharpe would have been proud. Here is why it is worthwhile to consider this invitation—and, thus, to pull out for examination those strands that combined to bring down a dictator. In what way can you and we say that we had a role? Here are some reasons:
- We had a superb partner in the Sudanese Organisation for Nonviolence and Development (SONAD). Driven by leadership drawn from the Southern diaspora and living in informal settlements that ringed Khartoum, SONAD was skilled in identifying and screening participants for training. They had to be literate in either English or Arabic, already demonstrating their interest in dissent, representative of a broad swathe of tribal groups across the country.
- Part of the screening process was a two-day basic training in Gandhian-Kingian nonviolence; from amongst a large group, twenty people were chosen.
- Their decision to insist on equal numbers of women and men, Muslims and Christians, was brilliant. It is difficult to overstate this piece of insight on SONAD’s part.
- Following the training, ranging from 12-16 days, participants were expected to conduct three trainings of least 20 people each within six months of completing the training.
- The graduates of the all-Christian 2005 training were invited by the enthusiastic 2006 graduates to join them in the creation of what they called the Sudanese Nonviolence Forum; SONAD supported its formation, growth and communications amongst its members.
- SONAD facilitated housing for participants coming from a distance and provided a mid-day meal.
- Keen on developing strong in-house facilitation-translation skills, the animation team was made up of two foreigners, two Sudanese, two women, two men, two Christians, two Muslims.
The SweFOR-Partera partnership added other key contributions:
- Religious practice was taken seriously. We took half-days off on Fridays and Sundays; our workshop design included twice-daily pauses for mid-day zuhr and late-afternoon asr. An entire day was spent on the alif-ba-ta of Islam, the ABCs of Christianity; religion was regularly invited in as an important piece of people’s lives.
- There was nothing that was not up for interrogation, whether history or politics, cultural norms or economics; gender, religion and tribe, and all of it through the dual lenses of ‘What drives violence? and what makes for peace?’
- It was a training-of-trainers, meant to multiply exponentially over a short period of time the numbers of trained trainers.
- The design was divided in Introductory, Digging Deeper and the final three-four days were devoted to training trainers to train. The TOT part included such elements as workshop design, role-playing the exercises, the challenges of ‘going home’ and an invitation to mutual support beyond the training with ‘give and take’.
- The methodology is key: it is ‘popular’, experiential, elicitive. The name ‘Partera’, Spanish for midwife, casts the animator in the role of companion, not expertise: the participants are the experts. It is forthrightly de-colonising in its intent, methods and content.
Between 2005 and 2015, hundreds of trainers went on to train hundreds and thousands more, joining ranks with others to form a movement characterised by strong youth and female leadership—to overthrow a dictator and to do so nonviolently.
Reprinted here with permission.