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Of the people, by the people

Dartmouth Professor helps Southern Sudan establish democracy

In early May, Professor of Government John Carey presided over a classroom a little different from the classrooms he encounters at Dartmouth. Instead of coaxing undergraduates to learn how democracies are established, he was helping members of a former guerrilla army establish one in Africa's largest country. Carey was part of a five-day workshop in Southern Sudan designed to help members of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) develop a legislature for their new government.

Professor of Government John Carey (center) with members of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement Leadership Council (SPLM). Carey visited Sudan in May to help the SPLM develop a regional government. (PHOTO COURTESY JOHN CAREY)

"It was like a college classroom in some ways," he said. "The stakes were a little higher, though, and the students were very attentive."

The SPLM had been engaged in a civil war with Sudan's central government in Khartoum, and they recently signed a peace agreement ending decades of unrest. According to Carey, under the terms of the agreement, the SPLM must now create a regional government. He provided the region's new leaders, many of whom had primarily military, not political backgrounds, with a menu of different options for their new legislature.

"I gave them a checklist of decisions they need to make about their new legislature," says Carey. "They are starting from square one. They need to decide between bicameral or unicameral. They need to figure out how many members they want and what the power relationship will be with their regional president. They need to figure out how to build a committee system."

Carey's workshop, which he led with two other political scientists, one from Nigeria and one from South Africa, was part of a larger training effort organized by the International Republican Institute (IRI), a nonpartisan group that supports the growth of political and economic freedom through education programs about democracy. The IRI's Sudan work is funded by USAID, the Agency for International Development. While this is the first time that Carey has worked on behalf of IRI, he has done similar work in Colombia, El Salvador and Mexico.

"I think it helped the SPLM officials to learn about the experiences of other emerging democracies," said Carey. "I offered thoughts on Latin American countries, because that's what I've studied, and the representatives from Nigeria and South Africa spoke from their perspectives."

Carey was impressed by the SPLM officials he met, but cautioned that any new government of Southern Sudan faces enormous challenges-including poverty, ruined infrastructure, internal ethnic conflicts, disputes over land and natural resources-which could easily swamp even a well-designed legislature. He also expects that the peace agreement obtained by the SPLM will be difficult to repeat in other regions, like Darfur.

"Every negotiation is different," he explained. "Groups in other regions of the Sudan will now look at the concessions the South secured and want at least that much, but I'm afraid Khartoum might be reluctant to cut an equivalent deal again."


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Last Updated: 12/17/08