Supporting Sudan's rebirth
Ballard Pritchett M.B.A. '92
From South Africa to Iraq to Tunisia, the birth of a new government is fraught with false starts, fresh bursts of violence, and seemingly insurmountable structural challenges. Sudan has endured decades of conflict, and the resulting toll on its people and its economic infrastructure has been devastating. South Sudan voted this January to secede from North Sudan—an outgrowth of a 2005 peace agreement to end decades of war between the Arab-dominated northern government and the rebel forces from the mostly Christian southern region—and there is hope that the northern African country can change its fortunes for the better.
Ballard Pritchett is among those who claim equal parts optimism and clear-eyed realism about what the secession might bring. Through the Leadership Institute of New Sudan (LIONS), a nonprofit organization with offices in the U.S. and Sudan, Pritchett and others are helping to train South Sudanese men and women—those who have stayed throughout the civil war and expatriates who long to return—to lead the world’s newest emerging democracy.
Pritchett says he is encouraged by the nearly unanimous vote in January and by the country’s rich resources, which, if managed properly, can bring sorely needed investments in education and job creation. But the leadership of South Sudan president Salva Kiir is what makes Pritchett hopeful. He calls Kiir “a generous man of faith and peace who has a deep commitment to his people. He has resisted every call to retaliation. He is a powerful, ethical leader, and I will always place my bet on ethical leadership,” he says.
Yet Pritchett knows that the obstacles to peace and prosperity are many. North Sudan leader Omar al-Bashir, charged last year by the International Criminal Court in The Hague with crimes against humanity (most notably in the country’s western Darfur region), is an unpredictable figure who doesn’t share Kiir’s record for seeking reconciliation. Because of the disruptions caused by war, many of the country’s people are poorly educated. In some villages, he says, the illiteracy rate can be as high as 85 percent, particularly among women. And with expatriates poised to go back to the country they left as long as a decade ago, there’s bound to be friction.
“By and large those who stayed behind carried guns and fought in the bush and didn’t have the opportunity for education, and they now feel rightly entitled to desk jobs,” he says. “At the same time, the people who have competencies to actually run a sewer system or maintain a well or teach a class or pave roads have been slow to be welcomed back. But that’s beginning to change.”
Founded in early 2008 by Mangar Gordon Amerdid, a Sudanese who came to the U.S. in 1999, LIONS offers a three-week, three-part curriculum for Sudanese people interested in helping rebuild their country. Pritchett, who is president of the consulting firm MarketLeadership, was hired to develop the leadership component; the other subjects are democracy and economic development.
The inaugural LIONS Leadership Training Institute was held in 2009 at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies. The second, held this past November, took place in the South Sudan capital of Juba. Sudanese participants met six days a week with daytime classes augmented by evening presentations on important issues, practical applications, and cultural awareness. The final celebration attracted local dignitaries, members of various non-governmental organizations, and families and friends.
During the trip, Pritchett recalls, he stood on the banks of the Nile and reflected on the historic importance of the moment. “Ultimately, we are all from Africa,” he says. “So to be standing there, reunited with those who live there now, at a time of rebirth for the country, was inspirational. It felt like riding a wave, something bigger than all of us that was carrying us along.”