Displaced Sudanese voices on education, dignity, and humanitarian aid.

Author:Affolter, Friedrich W.


Education is viewed by Sudanese refugees and internally displaced persons as a key prerequisite for social status, prestige, socio-economic survival, and therefore human dignity. Using Sudan as a case study, the article demonstrates that humanitarian aid--which claims to ensure the basic conditions for a life with dignity--often attributes less importance to education than to other sectors such as water, nutrition, and health. Utilizing anecdotal evidence from internally displaced persons in conflict-affected regions of Sudan, this article illustrates that the humanitarian aid agenda fails to adequately address what their target population most demands: education.


L'education est consideree par les refugies soudanais et les personnes deplacees a Vinterieur du Soudan comme une condition prealable essentielle pour le statut social, leprestige, la survie socioeconomique et done la dignite humaine. Utilisant le Soudan comme etude de cas, Varticle montre que Vaide humanitaire, qui pretend assurer les conditions de base pour une vie dans la dignite, attribue souvent moins d'importance a Veducation qua d'autres secteurs tels que Veau, la nutrition ou la sante. A Vaide de temoignages anecdotiques de personnes deplacees dans les regions touchees par le conflit au Soudan, cet article montre que le programme humanitaire ne repond pas adequatement au besoin principal de sa population cible: Veducation.


The Sphere Project's Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response defines humanitarianism as "our shared conviction as humanitarian agencies that all people affected by disaster or conflict have a right to receive protection and assistance to ensure the basic conditions for life with dignity." (2) Later the handbook argues that the "right to life with dignity ... entails the duty to preserve life where it is threatened. Implicit in this is the duty not to withhold or frustrate the provision of life-saving assistance." (3) It then continues to argue, "Dignity entails more than physical well-being; it demands respect for the whole person, including the values and beliefs of individuals and affected communities, and respect for their human rights, including liberty, freedom of conscience and religious observance." (4)

Numerous organizations' mission statements, international covenants, mandates, and resolutions call for a commitment to dignity. (5) This article aims to illustrate how the provision of basic education services in humanitarian situations continues to be underfunded and undervalued, despite the fact that populations affected by conflict or disasters consider access to education an integral component of a life with dignity. Using Sudan as an example, this article r illustrates that education is indeed a valued and sought-after asset, (6) and that humanitarian interventions that give preference to the provision of food, water, and health services only, fail to take into account the values and beliefs of their target beneficiaries.

In this article, we begin with a situation analysis of Sudan, a country suffering from "chronic emergencies" for more than a decade. We then present an education context analysis, which illustrates the dim prospects of Sudanese IDP and refugee children and youth to obtain access to adequate and quality education. The article will demonstrate, on the basis of a comparison of financial allocation amounts made by different humanitarian funds, that education is not being given equal priority, despite the fact that target populations consider it of equal importance. Then using voices of those affected, we present why education makes a fundamental difference in the lives of children and youth affected by crisis. We conclude by providing evidence for why education must not only be included but prioritized when funding and delivering humanitarian responses, and highlight the importance of critically looking at an education system and its impact on a nation's development and citizen building.

Sudan Situation Analysis

Prior to the referendum in July 2011 declaring South Sudan an independent country, Sudan was the largest country in Africa. After the referendum, Northern Sudan comprises 17 states, including the three protocol areas of Abyei, Blue Nile State, and Southern Kordofan State. (7) The vastness of Sudan's geographical landscape, the high number of nomadic people (roughly 8.5 per cent of the population), civil conflict, insecurity, and high incidence of drought and desertification make accurate demographic data almost impossible, and, as such, there are no accurate understandings of the needs of its people. This diverse and complicated landscape further illustrates how one country such as Sudan houses both conflict and peaceful zones side-by-side, further complicating notions of aid and development.

Sudan has been in a state of ongoing conflict since even before its independence from the British-Egypt condominium rule in 1956. Generally the civil war is described as a conflict between Muslims and Christians or Arabs and Africans, but van der Zwan writes, "The reality is that the conflict has been fuelled by the chronic underdevelopment of marginalized areas of Sudan, coupled with often violent competition for access to political and economic power. Local conflicts, over grazing rights, access to water and control over humanitarian aid, as well as ethnic and religious manipulation and mobilization, have also been fuelling instability and tensions." (8) Even after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 and the referendum of July 2011, tensions have erupted between Sudan and South Sudan, and the Government of Sudan (GoS) has continued to use military means in the three protocol areas, leading to additional displacements and alleged war atrocities and human rights violations. (9) There are also ongoing conflicts between the Dinka Ngok and the Misseriya groups in the disputed region of Abyei, as well as resistance groups and the Government in Darfur.

As a result of GoS involvement in the ongoing conflicts, the government reduced its budget by 36.5 per cent, decreasing their spending on the social sectors and lower fiscal transfers to the states for basic service delivery. (10) At the same time, high inflation rates drove food prices upwards, increasing vulnerability among rural people and the urban poor. (11)

Sudan suffers from a habitual state of endemic poverty. This is a major area of concern, because high poverty rates in disadvantaged states are correlated with conflict. Approximately 46.5 per cent of the population lives under the national poverty line of less than one dollar a day. Although political conflict is the most obvious reason for insecurity in Sudan, inter-family fighting and criminality are also key factors. In addition to poverty and insecurity, Sudan has experienced extreme demographic shifts due to urbanization for economic reasons and displacement as a result of conflict. Compounding these difficulties, over 40 per cent of the population is under the age of 15. (12) In a country where poverty and insecurity are major concerns, in addition to a quickly growing and changing population, the government's lack of capacity has increased vulnerability and decreased trust and support, making governance in Sudan a major limitation. All these factors have directly and indirectly contributed to vulnerability, conflict, and poverty. (13)

Sudan is an interesting country in which to investigate the funding of education in a humanitarian response, because it can be classified as both a conflict-affected country (where education can potentially be a part of the humanitarian response but not always a priority) and as stable or post-conflict context (where education is definitely included in development efforts). Thus various parts of the country fall onto various areas of the relief-to-development continuum. Sudan continues to have outbreaks of violence, especially in the three protocol areas, in addition to the Darfurs where conflicts are ongoing and are further complicated by flash flooding and other natural disasters. (14)

The World Bank Education Sector Report (2012) estimates that there are 4.3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) either living inside IDP camps or in other "spontaneous settlements," while the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reports IDP numbers to be closer to 5 million. Prior to the separation of the two countries, Sudan had the highest number of IDPs in Africa. (15) Many of the displaced have spent almost a decade in emergency camps, although the average length of displacement for the internally displaced is roughly 20 years. (16) Ferris and Winthrop argue that "IDPs--although numbering far more than refugees--have a descriptive rather than a legal definition, having no binding international convention, and have no dedicated UN agency in charge of their protection and assistance." (17) The government is in charge of IDPs, and this is problematic in a context like Sudan, where the government played a role in the conflict, resulting in displacement. Interestingly, of the 10 countries with the largest IDP population (one being Sudan), Colombia, Iraq, and Turkey are the only ones that have taken steps to include IDP children and youth in their laws and policies. However, more importantly, even when there are laws and policies, "there is almost always a gap between the legal framework and the implementation on the ground." (18) Complex emergencies and natural disasters continue to result in new waves of IDP movements mainly in the Darfur states and the three protocol areas. The closing of the border points between Sudan and South Sudan will impede traditional nomadic migration routes and result in new spontaneous settlements near the South Darfur border. Over half a million school-age children are affected by this situation and, as a result, many may not have access to schooling in the new...

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