Sørbø remembers his first moments in Sudan vividly, even though it’s more than 40 years ago.
- I first came to Sudan in 1970. I was only 22 years old and had never been outside the Nordic countries before landing in Khartoum. I remember spending my first nights in a youth hostel which was located near the railway line in Hai al-Mataar. All the other people staying there were refugees from Eritrea and it was a very difficult transition, climate-wise as well as culturally. Fortunately, a young lecturer in the Anthropology Department and his wife invited me to stay at their place until I found something else. I remember buying an Indian bicycle but it had a flat tire all the time and I managed to get hold of an old Lambretta scooter. Khartoum was a small city in 1970 and there was hardly any traffic. I adapted to the place, starting enjoying myself and then went to New Halfa where I spent 8 months doing anthropological fieldwork. For a time, I was the only Norwegian in Sudan and on my first visit, I stayed for 18 months without leaving the country.
Sørbø’s visit came as a part of academic exchange between Norway and Sudan.
- It would be wrong to say that I was drawn to Sudan on my own at the time. Professor Fredrik Barth more or less sent me to Sudan. While being Visiting Professor at the University of Khartoum he had signed an agreement on student exchange between Khartoum and Bergen. I was the first student to go and Abdel Ghaffar M. Ahmed who is now Professor at the university of Khartoum and al-Ahfad Universty for Women was the first student to arrive in Bergen. This was the start of a major program of activities spanning many different disciplines. At one point, the University of Bergen was clearly the largest center for Sudan studies outside Sudan and it is still holds a prominent position in this area.
Sørbø’s first visit was followed by many others.
- After doing research in the New Halfa Scheme on Nubian resettlement and nomadic adaptations, I went back to Bergen to write up my Master thesis. I returned in 1973-4 for some fieldwork on the Butana, then again in 1976-77 to teach anthropology at the University of Khartoum. Since then, I have been back many times, particularly after the CPA when we started a cooperative program between Chr Michelsen Institute (where I was the Director) and several Sudanese universities. I have also carried out research in Aweil (Bahr El Ghazal) among the Malwal Dinka and in the Gezira Scheme (for the World Bank). With Professor Abdel Ghaffar I took in February 1989 an initiative to hold a peace meeting in Bergen where all major political groups attended. A publication (Management of the Crisis in Sudan) was issued after the meeting.
Sørbø continue to have a strong relationship with Sudan.
- After having served as Director of the Chr Michelsen Institute (CMI) for 16 years, I am now Senior Researcher there and primarily involved in activities related to Sudan, although recently I led an evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka. Like so many others, I suffer from what Professor Peter Woodward calls “Sudanitis”. It is a contagious disease and there seems to be no medicine for healing. Despite all the problems in Sudan, I just love to come back. I even got married here although with a Norwegian woman, not a Sudanese.
Sørbø sees no easy solution to Sudan’s many challenges.
- I have no recipes for solving the big problems in Sudan. The country suffers from a number of conflicts, at different levels, and they are increasingly interconnected. The piecemeal, incremental approach to peace has proved very difficult because of such interconnections. Also, I do not believe that a top-down approach like the CPA can be repeated for other areas like Darfur.
- Senior Researcher at the Chr. Michelsen Institute in Bergen. Director of CMI (1994-2010). First Director of the Centre for Development Studies, University of Bergen (1986-1994), Chair of Anthropology Department, University of Bergen (1979-81). Member of several boards, including Research Council of Norway (Division Society and Health), Rafto Foundation for Human Rights (chair), Centre for Peace Studies, University of Tromsø (chair).
- Research focus has been on irrigated agriculture, pastoralism, regional studies, peacebuilding and conflict studies. Led many evaluations, including of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka, Danish assistance to democracy and human rights, International Alert, Irish aid for democratization, and Danish development research. Main countries of research: Sudan and Sri Lanka.