Looming behind the humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur is Sudan’s other, older, bigger war – the 1983-2005 north-south conflict that claimed over two million lives and displaced over four million people. The conflict was resolved, on paper at least, by the January 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA); that agreement is now in jeopardy.
At an event held in South Sudan’s regional capital, Juba, on 9 January 2007 to celebrate the CPA’s second anniversary, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Vice-President Salva Kiir — also South Sudan’s regional president — traded public accusations over responsibility for Sudan’s peace-building failures. This followed the deaths of hundreds in serious north-south clashes in the key southern town of Malakal in November 2006.
The CPA set up a Government of National Unity in Khartoum. This comprises the two main antagonists in the civil war: the National Congress Party (NCP), formed by the military-Islamist cabal in power since their 1989 coup, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), the Marxist-authoritarian movement from the partly Christian south that launched its war in 1983 after Khartoum proposed that sharia law be implemented across a poly-ethnic and poly-religious Sudan.
Two years on, key aspects of the CPA, such as militia disbandment and disarmament and the future status of disputed regions along the oil-rich north-south border — which itself awaits demarcation — have not been implemented fully. Security sector reform remains unfinished or embryonic, although 10,000 UN peacekeepers are in South Sudan and Khartoum. Transparency in the crucial oil sector is lacking. A myriad of commissions and agencies remain mere words on paper. Distrust between the two main signatories is rife, and the NCP dominates national bureaucracies.
The CPA recognises South Sudan’s right to self-determination — a concession wrought from the NCP by the concerted international pressure sadly absent from past or current attempts to resolve Darfur’s conflict.
In 2011, South Sudan will vote on whether to remain part of Africa’s largest country or set up its own sovereign state encompassing an area the size of Germany.
As well as the southern-status plebiscite, the disputed oil-laden Abyei region will vote on whether to be in the northern part of Sudan, or join South Sudan. If Abyei votes to join South Sudan, and South Sudan succeeds, Khartoum will lose Abyei’s oil.
At the heart of Sudan’s economic boom is its 650,000 barrels-per-day of oil production, much of which is sold to China and mined by Chinese, Indian and Malaysian investors. This oil, with its revenue-sharing provisions, remains a sore point between north and south, with a lack of transparency hindering southern efforts to secure its 50 per cent of revenues (as mandated by the CPA).
The NCP runs an intricate and lethal security-intelligence-patronage apparatus in Darfur and in South Sudan — funded by oil money — that can undermine the surface political process. The late November fighting in Malakal illustrated this and is an indication of problems that could lie ahead.
Before the referenda, Sudan is scheduled to hold national elections in 2009. In a truly open political environment, the NCP would be in real danger of losing power and all its lucrative trappings. This prospect overshadows current political machinations and increases NCP reluctance to allow UN peacekeepers into Darfur. Potentially losing South Sudan and the reduction of oil revenues means that the NCP will not easily relent on Darfurian rebel demands or willingly suffer the half-hearted pressures loosely applied by the international community. The prospect of being removed from power through democratic elections is least palatable of all.
For its part, the SPLM is seeking to convene a pan-Darfur conference in Juba this July to reunite the various rebel factions from that region. While this may contribute to peacemaking in Darfur – the stated objective of the conference – the SPLM is acting with the 2009 elections in mind. Despite not having much success or apparent interest in altering Sudanese government actions in Darfur since the 2005 agreement, the SPLM is now trying to bring Darfur’s militias and parties on board and develop strategic alliances in advance of the proposed 2009 elections.
The NCP however, does not have a track record in letting such developments go unchallenged.
The CPA counts as one of George W. Bush real foreign policy successes – it illustrated that real international pressure and the right balance of carrots and sticks could have an influence over the inscrutable and stubborn regime in Khartoum.
This is a lesson not learned it seems, with regard to Darfur. Since 2003, the world has dithered in putting together the necessary political response to the crisis there. The latest “breakthrough”, with the Sudanese government consenting to a hybrid UN-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, comes after years of stalling by Khartoum and half-hearted efforts by the international community.
But there is another lesson to be learned: in the light of backsliding by the NCP, the CPA can be seen as merely a tactical retreat by a regime resolutely opposed to ceding power. If elections and referenda mean losing power and access to oil money, there is no compelling reason to expect the NCP to stick to the rules.
All but 11 years of Sudan’s independence since 1956 have seen violent conflict across this vast country, the interface between Arab North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. Despite the various recent peace agreements in Sudan – another was signed in October 2006 between the government and the Eastern Front, yet another coalition of disaffected groups from Sudan’s east – the political and economic realities point to a conflict-wracked future in Sudan and the continuation of the suffering of millions.
Simon Roughneen has worked as a journalist in Sudan and across Africa, as well as with GOAL and the UN Mission in Timor-Leste. His ‘Between Power and Empowerment: Politicised Insecurity in Sudan’ will be published in ‘Beyond Settlement’ (Associated University Press) in 2007. Views expressed here are his own.Show