Development Heroes: Dr Garth Glentworth OBE

Sonia Warner and Dr Garth Glentworth at the 
Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2005

 Dr Garth Glenworth OBE is a longstanding friend and mentor.  He encouraged me to become a Governance Adviser almost 10 years ago and remained a great sounding board and source of encouragement over the years.  I inherited his preference for realistic, sensible and practical development solutions, rather than the overly bureaucratic, complicated and commercialised responses increasingly proffered which stand little chance of sustainability.    

Garth and I met in Sudan in 2005, the year the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed.   I was a Programme Coordinator, leading on Security and Justice in the British Embassy, Khartoum.  Garth was the Senior Governance Adviser commissioned to provide technical support in developing the new Security and Justice Programme covering both Sudan and Southern Sudan (as it was known before independence in 2011).  Garth made occasional, but very meaningful visits during which time we travelled extensively.  Southern Sudan was ravaged by decades of war which meant travel was challenging and quite treacherous, to one’s health particularly.   However, this did not deter us from being amongst the first to start travelling between Sudan and Southern Sudan to explore the terrain for the first security and justice programme. 

We both felt committed to doing things in the right way, which meant developing a programme that reflected the very different needs of both countries.  Sudan had a reasonably well-established police force, albeit closeted from modern policing practices. Southern Sudan had to establish a police force from a ramshackle group of largely aged war-torn ex-military personnel, with no understanding of policing; no uniforms to make them identifiable to the public and low to no literacy.  Garth and I had to consider building from scratch, basically responding to the situation as we found it. At that time, the Southern Sudan Police Force was under the leadership of Makwei Deng who was very approachable and keen to stand up his police force, under the stewardship of the then Commissioner (and later Minister) of Interior Daniel Awet Akot.  He was to us quite a fearsome character, but he engaged constructively with Garth and I to the extent that we felt covered by this big man of the South.   Akot was Deputy Speaker of the National Legislative Assembly of South Sudan when I last checked.  

In Sudan, we had the challenge of prising doors open which had long been closed to western interventions, to develop new relationships and design interventions. The Sudan Police Force seemed hard to penetrate, particularly with Darfur raging and accusation of serious human rights abuses directed towards them. However, we managed to find some common ground with General Majoub, Inspector General of the Sudan Police Force, sometimes through extended meetings in his office or over sweet tea at the Police Social Club in Khartoum, where Garth and I were invited on several occasions and shown the utmost hospitality as outsiders.  I realised the increasing pressures of General Majoub’s office as Darfur became a protracted and highly publicised international humanitarian crisis.  I recall General Majoub and I clashed once on rape as I confronted him after a visit to Darfur, pressing him to recognise and act against such atrocities. He remained adamant that there was no rape in Darfur, this was the firm line of the Sudanese Government.   Of course, part of my job was to try to understand the politics, but I continued to advocate against human rights abuses. This was not just my official line, but also my moral obligation.  However, I also understood that raining judgements would not help the situation and would only result in closing a door that had only just cracked opened to foreign engagement.  My overarching aim was to keep the door open and not have myself declared persona non grata, the fate of many international at that time!

Garth and I finally managed to get the Security and Justice Programme approved – DFID’s first such programme to both countries following the CPA. We then moved briskly to procuring a commercial service provider to manage implementation.  Bizarrely, as it appeared to others perhaps, Garth and I felt strongly that both Sudan and Southern Sudanese partners should be invited to participate in the tender moderation process.  Of course, we faced opposition from some colleagues who did not see the point in going to such lengths, but we insisted and made a convincing case to travel with a delegation of both Sudanese and Southern Sudanese to London.  We commandeered a room on FCO King Charles Street and even organised an evening Reception to conclude the visit.  This trip was instrumental in deepening trust and confidence on all sides.  An image ingrained in my memory was Southern Sudanese and Sudanese officials walking along Whitehall holding hands.  I realised that both sides welcomed the chance of peace and hoped politicians  would allow it to mature.  On my return to Sudan, I felt the door had opened a fraction more allowing a good dialogue to develop, through a Programme Steering Committee and informally over more sweet tea and treacherous visits to the South, as we prepared for implementation to commence. 

For both Garth and I, the priority was to build and sustain relationships, so we invested in getting to know our national partners on both sides, without bias. It was clear that security sector engagement is inherently political, not just technical, so we made sure we were visible and accessible to beneficiaries.  It was important to understand that our partners wanted to see the faces of those representing the government they were working with, not just our contractors. I have heard this operating principal echoed throughout my career and also seen clear evidence that failure to adhere, resulted in failure to deliver good results.  It took a great deal of effort, particularly in the case of Southern Sudan, which involved having meetings under mango trees (they did not have offices at the time), surrounded by soldiers with rusty weapons, who had spent a lifetime fighting in the bush and now intent on protecting their leaders at all cost.  I certainly made sure to make no sudden moves!
We slept in tents, unsafe hotels with sporadic electricity and government guest houses (this was long before the joint donor office and its accommodation came into existence). But somehow, we did not feel afraid or at risk. These days, we have become (quite rightly) more aware of the risks and insecurities we are likely to encounter in the line of duty and adhere to guidelines.  At that time, we were more engrossed with just getting the job done.   I recall taking the sample police uniform down to Southern Sudan in my ruck sack to show IGP Deng for his sign-off before proceeding with procurement.  I remember thinking gosh this is a surreal experience. How many people get to do stuff like this – literally kick starting a police force from my ruck sack!  

Also, the thought of buying uniform, boots, belts, stationary, bicycles and vehicles for the police, the full caboodle, might seem quite bizarre today, particularly as it is hard to imagine this dreadfully dire situation years later after the country became awash with oil money. However, at that time it was really just about getting Southern Sudan started and giving its citizens some sense of security following decades of conflict. The timeframe for delivery mattered to us, of course we experienced delays with procurement, and the final products once delivered were not quite according to the specifications, but we stayed engaged with beneficiaries making sure they understood our operating challenges. These days, we often get wrapped up in our own internal bureaucracy, forgetting beneficiaries are waiting for our assistance. We then expect these same beneficiaries to own and sustain whatever assistance we eventually decide to deliver.  

This was the first on many experiences working together with Garth, but the most profound as we discovered that despite our background differences we were extremely like-minded on many issues which affect the quality and impact of development assistance. Certainly, as I returned to work in South Sudan in 2012, many of the relationships formed in 2005 still endured. Apart from being astonished by the rapid pace of development in Juba, including the development of the South Sudan Police Service, it was almost like I had never left.  

Sonia Warner, with members of Sudanese and Southern Sudanese delegations and other colleagues