Greetings from South Sudan

Dear Subscribers,

Greetings from South Sudan. I am here working with UNMISS, the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan.  It’s a privilege to be here, to be part of and experience the UN’s substantial peacekeeping efforts, and always so interesting to see the world from its many different perspectives.

I am currently in Torit, S Sudan, a more remote part of the country, living on a UN compound surrounded by soldiers and barbed wire. I feel pretty safe but kind of “in jail” as I am living in a container with no windows and can’t leave the compound without real precaution. Beyond the barbed wire, I am looking at beautiful mountains which the hiker/explorer in me would like to check out but can’t.  I am awed by both the military and civilian personnel who are here for months, sometimes years at a time, eating the same diet of potatoes, rice, maize, collards, chicken, goat, working hard and living with a minimal amount of the regular pleasures that I take for granted.

I have been to S Sudan two times previously (in 2012 and 2103) as well as having worked with UNMISS in Uganda in 2014.   With the perspective of time, it’s interesting to witness the newest country on earth finding it’s footing. Things are very unstable here. People are desperately poor and the government still polarized around tribal lines. I personally see some signs of a few infrastructure improvements: I now have a real visa, whereas before I was just given a letter; my US cell carrier was able to provide me coverage, I have pretty reliable internet and now the aircraft in Juba (the capital) are not all UN, but mostly commercial carriers.

It’s been really moving to get to know people here, groundzero for the beginnings of humanity. So many have been profoundly affected by war. They have been soldiers, they have lost loved ones, they have seen the unspeakable.  The country is still flooded with small and large arms and, as one man said, nothing will change until that gets cleaned up.  As is my way, I am also closely tracking the situation of women, which seems really tough.  Just among the people I am working with, there are so many bright women, and I see them struggle to be heard and seen as equal valuable contributors. A young, very beautiful Dinka woman I have come to know stands out. She is the first of four wives. She and her husband didn’t conceive and so he married again.  When that couple didn’t conceive, he married again, etc.  Apparently, it was unthinkable to consider that it might be he that has the infertility issue. The woman is shamed at not having conceived and burdened by supporting all of the wives as she and her husband are the only two breadwinners.  I am aware of both her desire to empower herself and the tremendous hurdles she faces to do so.

The topic of race is also very close to the surface. While race certainly plays out differently in Africa than my country, I have heard so many deep feelings about color expressed.  There is still so much misinformation. With one group I was working with, I noticed some real light-bulbs going off when I made the statement that, at a genetic level, I may be more similar to the S Sudanese person I was talking to than to a white neighbor at home.  Race is such an illusion and yet we humans have made it so important – and so destructive.

My main motivation in writing this post is to update you on the progress of the Podcast.  I will write you a short update here and then release a summary podcast when I return from Africa. Thank you all so much for your support, comments, and suggestions. They really mean a lot.  They are both helping in improving the podcast, and motivating me to continue.

I hit an obstacle in the last couple of months that slowed my progress. For those of you who listened to my introductory episode, you know that I launched with the support of “the collaboratory” – a team of four of us working as a “team for teams”.  So much of the consulting work I and my partners do is helping teams and groups maximize the collaborative potential of people and systems whether it be through coaching, mediation or facilitation.  The purpose of the Collaboratory was to “walk our talk” and work in a highly interdependent way in terms of money and goals.  Nonetheless, while we were humming along for a period, we hit an impasse triggered by the strain of pooling money and finding it difficult to fully align around long term vision. As a result, we sort of “broke up”.

Suddenly feeling much more on my own with this project, I needed some time to reflect on whether I could afford the effort.  The Peacebuilding Podcast is a large undertaking for me and one that I do without compensation (at least of the financial variety). After thinking it over, I’m definitely committed to continue, at least with Season 2, which I am super excited about.

What I am loving about the podcast, is that it’s an amazing way to connect and engage with people. Here in Torit, a young military peacekeeper from Yemen has just subscribed to this blog with great enthusiasm and tells me that he and his people need this information much more than all the fighting that has been going on for decades in Yemen. Similarly, it was great to be able to provide the resource of Episode No. 4 on Peacebuilding Through Education in Bosnia with Naghmeh Sobhani  to a very eloquent S Sudanese man who is interested in bringing conflict resolution skills into the schools here.

What is difficult for me about the podcast are the psychic hurdles -- about the effort, exposure, and money. I will admit to an inner narrative that flip-flops from great excitement - to a crisis of confidence so rampant among women on our planet these days.  In the latter moments, I say to myself  “silly girl” -- war and peace are men’s business. In the more confident moments, I hear the whispers of the rising divine feminine that says, this is the time to step into my leadership. This is the time for women’s voices to speak clearly on this issue in order to best care for ourselves and our children. Men and women need women to lead.

So, here is a taste of the upcoming line-up of interviews that I am planning for Season 2 of the podcast.  I hope you find them as compelling as I do. 

  • an organization development master who worked to build common ground among member states of the African Union
  • a negotiator on the front-lines of recent climate change negotiations in Paris
  • a colleague whose business specializes in mediation and preventative mediation in the field of closely held partnerships – the largest segment of both the U.S. and global economies
  • a couple who work in conflict zones to bear witness as the third side
  • an organization development consultant who is bringing state-of-the-art techniques to shift to a high-team, high collaborative environment
  • a family therapist who uses some of the most innovative psychotherapeutic techniques to address the impact of  trauma on recycling conflict
  • a NASA (United States Space Agency) staff member who has spent a career creating international cooperation in space
  • a Lebanese chef who grew up in the midst of the civil war there and now uses food to build intergroup harmony
  • an academic who tracks the role of money in building peace and waging war
  • large group process intervenors who do so much to build common ground in complex systems
  • a senior diplomatic mediator working in Asia
  • a representative of Mediator’s Beyond Borders
  • the developer of one of the  first academic programs in Peacebuilding

I am now on Twitter with the twitter handle @MediatorCoach so please follow if you like. I love getting Tweets’ back such as this recent one from a woman in Prague:

“I’ve been listening non-stop to The Peacebuilding Podcast. So many inspirational people and stories!”

I also have heard that a number of people were so inspired by Mel Duncan that they are considering joining Non-Violent Peace Force.  I’ll keep you posted.

That’s all for now. You will hear from me soon and I look forward to it.  Please encourage people to subscribe to these blog posts.


David Gage: Mediating and Preventing Partnership and Closely-Held Business Disputes

Andrea Bartoli: "Seek What Unites, Not What Divides." Lessons from Mozambique and Elsewhere