Born and raised in Sudan, my experiences have been marked by political instability, dictatorial governments, economic problems, conflict, and exile. I was in high school when the current round of civil war resumed. This is a state of existence that has forced every Sudanese adult person to be politically aware and active. Both in high school and university, I was actively involved in the political dissent that had preoccupied the life of young people at that time.
While a graduate student in Egypt and the United States, I became interested in the impact of war on gender relations. After conducting research in Sudan and refugee camps in the neighboring countries, I wrote a book titled Militarization, Gender and Reproductive Health in South Sudan to chronicle how violence is reproduced within communities and families during times of violent political conflict.
Soon after, I became involved in a study funded by the European Union and undertaken by a team of seven experts to look at the impact of humanitarian aid in Sudan. The report from this study analyzed the unintended consequences of disaster assistance, the possibility that aid fuels war, whether aid provides donor countries with an alibi for their lack of political will to look at the root causes of the disaster, and whether relief lets warring parties off the hook from taking responsibilities for caring for the victims of conflict.
In 1998, my colleague Sharon Hutchinson of the University of Wisconsin, Madison and I received a joint grant from the Harry Frank Gugenheim Foundation to conduct a field study of ethnic-based political violence in Sudan. This has resulted in joint publications. During these field trips, I became overwhelmed by the suffering inflicted on the Dinka by the government of Sudan in its war against the opposition. The suffering was particularly a result of a counter-insurgency activity that escalated into a system of slave raiding and hostage taking. Investigation of this resurgence of slavery resulted in a book titled War and Slavery in Sudan.
Soon after the publication of this book, it became clear to me that an aspect of Sudan's war that has not been well understood is the question of whether humanitarian aid could be used by the international community for diplomatic leverage for conflict resolution. To this effect I received a research grant from the U.S. Institute of Peace to examine the uses and misuses of foreign humanitarian aid, both by local authorities and the aid agencies.
At the completion of field research, I received the fellowship to come to the Woodrow Wilson Center.My project at the Wilson Center follows up on this work. It seeks to link the academic debates on the harms and benefits of humanitarian assistance on the one hand, and the practical needs of those who live in war and who need urgent resolution to the root causes of their suffering on the other.
I am particularly intrigued by the norms that govern conflict resolution processes that involve outside interventions. I claim that mediation by developed countries in conflicts that are occurring in developing countries is usually marred by the mediators' own history, national interests, and the perceptions held by the country in conflict.
It is also my view that, because international mediation tends to focus on the warring parties and to the neglect of groups representing the real victims of conflict, a peace deal reached at such a high level has very little relevance to those who actually live in war. Such peace deals usually prove ephemeral and unworkable, because the ordinary folks who could maintain the peace would not have vested interest in it given their opinions were not a part of the deal.
B.A. (1989) University of Alexandria, Egypt; M.A. (1992) American University in Cairo; Ph.D. (1996) University of California, Los Angeles
- Assistant Professor of History, Loyola Marymount University, 1997- present
- Fellow, Rift Valley Institute, 1999- present
- Lecturer, University of California, Los Angeles, 1996
- Relief Project Officer, Save the Children Fund UK, 1993-95
Political violence; war and gender, slavery, and humanitarian assistance, East Africa, Sudan
This project investigates the changing patterns of Sudan's conflict and the role of regional and international mediators in search for peaceful resolution. My primary aim is to develop basic understanding of how various meanings attached to peace by different actors could be figured into peace negotiations. The goal of the project is to inform policymakers of how the viewpoints of citizens, civil society groups, and various opposition parties affect the peace process; how these communities perceive the role of mediators, especially that of the U.S., in managing Sudan's conflict; and how mutual misunderstandings can impede the achievement of desired goals. The main questions this study will attempt to answer include how much pressure can the U.S. put upon the warring parties; how deeply is the U.S. willing to get involved; and is the search for peace in Sudan part of the search for international security? Drawing on strong research expertise on Sudan, this project will attempt to answer these questions, with a broader aim of developing a more comprehensive assessment of the viability of a U.S.-influenced peace process.