About the Author: Todd D. Calongne serves as Public Affairs Officer for the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS).
Men and women in surprising numbers have been walking hours or even days to register to vote in Southern Sudan's upcoming referendum on self-determination. Despite potential hurdles, voter registration proceeded mostly peacefully. The presence of Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and Civilian Response Corps personnel at the U.S. Consulate General in Juba helped to make it happen.
"Our stabilization teams comprised of Civilian Response Corps members are truly the eyes and ears of the U.S. across Southern Sudan, travelling to all state capitals and many smaller localities on a regular basis to be in contact with local officials, members of civil society and a wide variety of private citizens, U.N. officials and third-country officials," said Roger Moran, the Deputy Principal Officer and a member of the Civilian Response Corps from State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement.
The referendum in Southern Sudan stems from a peace agreement between North and South signed in 2005 after decades of civil war. It gave the South autonomy for six years leading up to the January 2011 vote on self-determination. During the momentous referendum process, the State Department's Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS) and the Corps are carving out a new role on the ground, supporting the U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan, U.S. Embassy Chief of Mission, and U.S. Consul General in extending the U.S. reach in the country and providing invaluable insights from the field.
The team includes Civilian Response Corps members from S/CRS and the Departments of Commerce and Justice, as well as USAID. These experts in rule of law, security sector reform, and conflict mitigation, working in a truly interagency effort, have increased U.S. engagement with the government of Southern Sudan. This mission is an example of how a conflict prevention team drawn from across the government can work together on the ground to augment existing U.S. civilian capacity.
"One of the real, direct benefits that we're providing to the Consulate in Juba and the U.S. government is expanding their understanding of Southern Sudan, which is a place where we just haven't had much of a presence for a long time," said Paul Turner, head of the Corps' analysis team in Juba.
In 2011, the Office of the Coordinator plans to set up stabilization teams in five states in Southern Sudan, plus two mobile teams based in Juba. The teams may be in place for at least a year, during which they will watch for signs of new violence and try to prevent its outbreak. “As we build up our stabilization teams, I think they will find more than an occasional anecdote during their interactions with local populations,” Turner said. “These one-on-one conversations can shed light on factors impacting instability and help to identify sources of resiliency within Sudanese society. This type of information will help to inform conflict prevention and mitigation efforts.”
The U.S. government is also working with other countries and international organizations on the ground, including the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and a forum of more than 100 local non-governmental organizations. The Corps' team -- 24 people, including 19 Corps members, as of Dec. 7 -- has started sharing information with others in this international community.
Ambassador Loftis, the Acting Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, notes the unique, expeditionary aspect of the Civilian Response Corps's work in Sudan: "Not only have we put a fairly substantial diplomatic presence in Juba, where we haven't had one before, more importantly we are putting [stabilization] teams out in the state capitals to monitor the progress toward the referendum and to assist in identifying conflict areas -- and hopefully to resolve them. This also requires that we put people into places where we normally don't operate as diplomats -- places where we have to provide our own transportation, our own housing, far away from normal support structures. It's quite a challenge but it's also quite a fascinating and interesting time to be doing this."