All roads point south

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Stabilisation Unit’s Adrian Garside explains why getting stuck in mud and running into lions is all in a day’s work as a Stabilisation Advisor in Juba, Southern Sudan.

Earlier this summer, Adrian Garside had an unexpected interruption during a mammoth 10-hour drive on a 10-day field visit from Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile State in southeastern Sudan.

“We’d had all sorts of road conditions on the journey, from half-decent mud-tracks to a brief section of pristine tarmac through the Chinese-developed oilfields to no road at all for the final three hours,” he recalls. “Thankfully, we had excellent Sudanese drivers. Then, just as it was becoming dusk, four lions jumped out in front of the vehicle. It was great to see these rare members of Sudan’s large wildlife population, and a reminder of the breadth of security issues faced by the remote communities.”

The lions proved no obstacle to getting the job done: “they were probably as surprised to see us as we were to see them.”

The mission - conducting a series of local consultations on a multi-donor (including UK) funded Community Security and Arms Control programme - continued. For ten days, Garside with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and national colleagues, lived in mud huts, eating the local diet of fried goat and bread, and were well looked after. “We had very friendly hosts and were welcomed wherever we went by the local authorities.”

The Juba-based Stabilisation Advisor is deployed by the UK government’s Stabilisation Unit, which is co-owned by the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development. The FCO has had a presence in Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan, since 2006. There is now a growing UK Government team in Juba, including FCO and DFID staff, which is set to expand considerably later this year with new offices and accommodation under a DFID platform.

Garside has a wide-ranging brief of analysing, reporting and advising on stabilisation-related issues and programmes. It is little surprise, then, that his day-to-day role is so varied. As an example, he recently visited the state of Jonglei to see the first Livestock Patrol Unit (LPU) on parade at their graduation in the state capital of Bor.

“Cattle raiding in Jonglei is a major problem, primarily between tribes. Cattle represent status and wealth, a bank from which you tend not to spend other than for a dowry. A lot of the raiding occurs during the dry season, when herders move their cattle to areas where there is water and pasture. With many herder groups merging in similar locations, it is easier to steal. When the rains come, they go back to their original villages, taking as many cattle with them as possible. Cattle raiding is violent and particularly in Jonglei, it often includes raids on villages.”

Recruited from young men and women who are neither police nor military, the members of the LPU are trained by UN police, learning everything from investigating incidents, basic military patrolling skills and some human rights law, “for example, protecting arrested raiders from angry villagers seeking revenge” Garside says.

Most of Southern Sudan remains remote and access can be extremely difficult. “In two of the three counties we visited, we were told this was the first consultation they had ever had,” Garside says of the Upper Nile State field visit. “The consultations are an inclusive process with administrators, security officials, traditional chiefs and elders, women and youths all well represented. The process is good at drawing out the causes of insecurity rather than the symptoms. Subsequently, the provision of water points, education and vocational training schemes were prioritized. All of this was fed into a substantial report and community projects will be implemented as a result.”

With 20 years in the British Army behind him including much Sudan experience, Garside, who is part of the Civilian Stabilisation Group’s database of around 1,000 Deployable Civilian Experts, was well prepared for a role that requires travel to the ten states that make up Southern Sudan.

“With the UN mission and a large international effort in Southern Sudan it is so important to make in-country visits in order to assess the situation and the impact and effect we are having. Being the first donor representative to accompany the programme in Upper Nile State gave the UK a lot of credibility.”

Garside says he was attracted to the Stabilisation Unit by the broad range of short- and long-term deployments it offered, together with a good deal of interesting short-notice work. Having worked on the East Africa portfolio while seconded to the UN, he jumped at the chance of returning to Sudan as a Stabilisation Advisor.

“Getting out and about in a country with so little infrastructure is a challenge,” he says, remarking that he relies on UN or NGOs to provide logistical support for his visits. “Once you are on the ground, there are plenty of interlocutors to visit who are all willing to talk and present their perspective on the situation. These people are a vital source of information which we need to appreciate,” he says.

For many Sudan observers, all eyes are on January 2011, when a referendum will be held that will determine whether Southern Sudan becomes an independent state.

“The referendum is the key milestone in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement so we are building to a critical period,” says Garside. “It’s not our vote and we don’t have a say, of course. However, we are working to ensure the best possible peace, whatever the outcome of the vote.”