Over the first three years of the people-to-people process, the NSCC fostered the spirit of Wunlit and raised the profile of grassroots perspectives. As a vehicle for political consensus, the process was reaching new constituencies, but remained tenuous as an organised movement. By 2002 the two main southern factions had merged and the improving prospects for peace were starting to bring a new urgency to the future role of grassroots peacebuilding. It was unclear how an emerging people-to-people movement might respond to the challenges ahead and how far the southern political elites could be influenced from the grassroots.
The timely creation of a three-year Sudan Peace Fund (SPF) by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in 2002 brought about new developments within the people-to-people process. The US government had already established a mode of working in the south outside the strict humanitarian rubric of the time, and the SPF took this further by supporting people-to-people peacebuilding. The NSCC joined a consortium of agencies funded by the SPF and coordinated by Pact, also comprising the African Union Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources, Christian Aid and Pact Kenya. The SPF operated by providing grants to Sudanese organisations within an increasingly defined strategy and framework for conflict reduction and the promotion of stability. It added a broad range of complementary peacebuilding activities to the work championed by NSCC.
The program pursued a number of design features that later proved critical. Firstly, the programme structured its design on a rapid but participatory conflict mapping conducted in late 2002, involving analysis of the dominant disputes, their underlying structural and proximate causes, and linkages between conflicts. The majority were deemed to be ethnically-based with two thirds perceived as politicised (fuelled by external factors). In many instances, a weak, negligent, biased or 'missing' civil administration either perpetuated or intensified conflict. It was apparent that sustained conflict reduction would require institutionalised peacebuilding processes through, for example, peace committees and councils, and eventually new law and order institutions under a peace-time southern government. The mapping forewarned that a political settlement would not immediately do away with local conflicts, and could even intensify them for some time.
Secondly, the complexity and multiple causes of conflict required a strategic and systematic approach. Discrete peacebuilding interventions could risk either precipitating another conflict or being undermined by adjacent insecurity. In response, the programme grouped configurations of conflict and the strategies required to address them into geographical or thematic 'clusters.' The program engaged with eight major cluster areas in the south and three additional focus areas (Blue Nile, Southern Kordofan and the Bahr al-Ghazal border with South Darfur).
Thirdly, as the demand for peacebuilding support was likely to far exceed what the SPF could provide, a 'platform approach' was adopted, whereby the program was promoted as a wider platform to attract and fund the appropriate mix of interventions, facilitating the inclusion of other actors and technical expertise.
Fourthly, given the sensitivity of the issues faced and the propensity for political interests to try to commandeer local peace initiatives, maintaining a credible 'third party' positioning was exceptionally challenging. A set of principles to guide decision making and safeguard the legitimacy of people-led processes was adopted in order to keep grassroots analyses and preferences as central as possible.
All these facets were tied together under an emerging framework that, over time, moved towards identifying and including actors and institutions that stood the best chance of facilitating and sustaining people-led peace initiatives. It embodied the belief that effective conflict reduction and peacebuilding is subject not only to horizontal arbitration between divided communities, but also vertical relationships of accountability between the communities and their governing authorities. By establishing greater clarity around the roles of governmental and non-governmental actors, underscoring the need for democratic accountability and promoting greater complementarity between stakeholders around common goals, the prospect for enduring stability and peace is more likely to be attained.