Does it make sense to start off development programmes in a so-called fragile state, a place where the government is far from able to fulfill its role and war is always around the corner? That was the key question in my research proposal at the time I arrived in Sudan in September 2010.
The country was in uncertain times, as expectant of a referendum to be held in January 2011 in which the people from the South could vote for separation from the North. After a war which took almost 22 years, 2 million lives and displaced 4.9 million people, the referendum is seen as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to say goodbye to the central government in Khartoum amongst the majority of the Southerners.
As a student-researcher I was attached to SNV Netherlands Development Organization; one of the few organizations working purely on development in an environment in which humanitarian aid organizations have the upper hand. As a case-study, I looked specifically at SNVs and other organizations’ efforts to support the livestock sector in the State of Eastern Equatoria. Keeping and herding cattle, goats and sheep is the main livelihood of the Toposa people living in this area, but despite the presence of much livestock, large part of the citizens is still dependent on food aid provided by the United Nations World Food Programme.
Based at SNVs compound in the small town of Kapoeta my research started with identifying all actors playing a role in the sector, or value chain: producers, vets, traders, butchers, the local authorities, ministry of agriculture, NGOs and so on. During interviews and focus group discussions I learned about production and marketing of livestock and the role of international organizations in this.
While still in the phase of analyzing my data, I can tentatively conclude that typical development interventions like SNVs livestock sector supporting activities are relevant because they contribute to food security, a stronger civil society and local economic development. Though, adjustment of the programmes to make them better suitable to a post-conflict setting can increase its efficiency. Especially, more attention could be given to risk factors, exit strategies, coordination amongst NGOs, institutional memory of governmental bodies and the local culture.
My stay was about 10 weeks and though it was a relatively short period, it was an unforgettable experience: interviewing both ministers and farmers, sleeping in a tent on a compound, eating goat meat two times a day (and that for a vegetarian), taking a shower under the stars, facilitating womens’ group meetings, discussing politics with Sudanese colleagues and finding yourself in a Land cruiser on a bumpy road for 12-hour-trip enjoying street life and beautiful landscapes. At this very moment I am ready for the next challenge; writing it all down!