Thursday, September 15, 2005

Africa's peace seekers: Lazaro Sumbeiywo

This is a breath of fresh air: an article containing the the words "Africa's peace seeker" in its title. Here is an excerpt from an inspiring piece about African peace seeker Lazaro Sumbeiywo by Abraham McLaughlin, staff writer of CS Monitor, September 12, 2005:

"Until a single phone call from the president of Kenya changed the trajectory of his life, Lazaro Sumbeiywo had spent the whole of his illustrious career focused on making war.

When the phone rang in his office in October 2001, this towering son of a village chief was Kenya's top general.

"I have an offer for you," he recalls the president saying, "and I order you not to refuse."

General Sumbeiywo was fiercely loyal to then-President Daniel arap Moi. During a 1982 coup attempt, he'd raced to Mr. Moi's home to protect him. Off and on since 1987, he had sometimes been involved with the Sudan negotiations. But the president's order caught him off guard.

"I want you to find peace in Sudan," Moi said.

The general was dumbstruck. This was Africa's longest civil war - a seemingly intractable 18-year conflict between Muslim Arab northerners and mostly Christian black southerners. Some 2 million people had died. Four million had been forced to flee their homes. And at least five major peacemaking efforts over 13 years had failed. Yet if peace could be found in oil-rich and populous Sudan, it could usher in a new era of trade and prosperity in neighboring Kenya and across northeast Africa.

After stammering something, Sumbeiywo hung up. Then, he phoned back to try to reject the assignment. But Moi wouldn't take the call. So, Sumbeiywo did the only thing he could think of: He started a three-day fast "to get very close to God."

It was not the last time he would seek divine help. Over the next 3-1/2 grueling years of peace talks, he would muster the persistence of the biblical Joseph, the wisdom of an African chief, and the ingenuity of a modern mediator. And eventually the process he led would become what many now see as a gold standard for making peace in Africa.

"General Sumbeiywo should win the Nobel Peace Prize," says former Sen. John Danforth, who was President Bush's special envoy to Sudan from 2001 to 2004. "His ability to stay there in the talks and be an honest broker - and to listen to all the back and forth over such a long period of time - was essential, and was very largely responsible for the result," says Senator Danforth by phone from St. Louis.

As a boy, Sumbeiywo would walk past one of the biggest trees in his rural village and see his father, the chief, sitting under its sprawling branches, surrounded by neighbors. His dad would listen for hours as people aired disagreements over such things as who owned a particular cow. Then he'd dispense his wisdom. Like many African chiefs, he'd stay under the tree until every villager had spoken.

Decades later, standing at the front of a conference room at a Kenyan resort hotel, Sumbeiywo drew upon his father's ways: He let the two sides vent..." Read full story.

Africa's peace seekers: Lazaro Sumbeiywo

Gen. Lazaro Sumbeiywo

1947 Born in Elgeyo Marakwet district of Kenya

1968 Enrolled in Britain's Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst

1987 Appointed director of Kenya's military intelligence

1997-98 Served as Kenya's envoy to the Sudan peace process

2000 Appointed Chief of Staff of Kenya's Army

2001 Appointed mediator of Sudan's north-south conflict

2003 Retired from army to devote full time to peace effort

Child soldiers in the Sudan

Photo: Child soldiers with the Sudan People's Liberation Army gather at their barracks for a demobilization ceremony in Malou, southern Sudan. (Sayyid Azim/AP/CS Monitor)
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Click here to see, at a glance, Sudan's long path from war to peace.

South Sudan rebel

Photo: SPLA soldier in 1997 (John Cobb/AP/csmonitor)

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