An event on 9 January 2007 to celebrate the second anniversary of Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in Juba, the capital of southern Sudan, provided vivid evidence that the full resolution of the twenty-two-year civil war in the country was still incomplete. At the gathering, Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir and his vice-president Salva Kiir – who is also southern regional president – traded public accusations over responsibility for Sudan’s peacebuilding failures.
The open disagreement – which followed serious north-south clashes in the key southern Nile town of Malakal in late November 2006, when hundreds of people were killed in fighting – signals a serious rift between the partners in Sudan’s post-conflict government. The question it raises is: do these political rivalries form the prelude to a resumption of widespread armed conflict?
The mechanics of peace
Between 1983 and 2005, Sudan’s civil war resulted in the deaths of around 2 million people, the displacement of 4 million more, and the destruction of whatever basic infrastructure existed in south Sudan – which today ranks alongside northern Uganda, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and rural Liberia as one of the most dilapidated post-conflict places on earth.
The government of national unity in Khartoum comprises the two main antagonists in the civil war, who became signatories to the CPA:
- the National Congress Party (NCP), formed by the military-Islamist cabal that staged the National Islamic Front coup in 1989
- the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), the Marxist-authoritarian movement from the predominantly Christian south which relaunched its war in 1983 after the proposal that sharia law was to be implemented across Sudan’s multi-ethnic and multi-religious society.
The CPA explicitly recognises the southern right to self-determination – a significant concession wrought from the NCP by the type of concerted international pressure sadly absent from past or current attempts to resolve Darfur’s conflict.
The CPA instituted an asymmetrical federal government in Sudan, pending the 2011 southern referendum on remaining part of Sudan or seceding. As a result of the agreement, a devolved regional government for the south was established. Most of Sudan’s political parties benefited from weighted representations in the governing institutions; 80% of positions in executives and legislatures at national, southern regional, and state levels were reserved – pending elections – for the NCP and SPLM/A.
Two years on, key aspects of the agreement, such as militia disbandment and disarmament, oil-revenue sharing, and the future status of disputed regions along the oil-rich north-south border – which itself awaits demarcation – have not been implemented quickly enough. Vital aspects of security reform remain unfinished or embryonic, although 10,000 United Nations peacekeepers are in the south and Khartoum.
Parts of the agreement are stillborn. There is no electoral law or Political Parties Act and 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.
Between north and south
The National Congress Party dominates bureaucracies at national level. Omar al-Bashir cited SPLM/A slowness to fill positions in national ministries as a signal of southern apathy toward implementing the national aspects of the CPA and retaining Sudanese unity. But during its period in the national government, the SPLM/A has done little of value in terms of pressuring its NCP partner to amend its hard line on UN peacekeepers in Darfur or to curb the depredations of the janjaweed.
Sudan is scheduled to hold national elections in 2009. Their prospect already overshadows current political machinations – and increases NCP reluctance to allow UN peacekeepers into Darfur. The two referenda due in 2011 are also part of the current political climate of uncertainty (as well as the southern-status plebiscite, the still-to-be-determined residents of the disputed oil-laden Abyei region will vote on whether to be in the northern part of Sudan, or the southern.
These referenda, then, open the possibility that Abyei could choose to join southern Sudan while the south votes simultaneously to become a sovereign state. In that case, Abyei’s oil would be lost to Khartoum. The Abyei boundary commission issued a judgment on the demarcation of the area in September 2005. The Sudanese government (or rather its dominant NCP component) has refused to implement the decision, in direct contravention of the January 2005 agreement.
At the heart of Sudan’s economic boom is its 650,000 barrels-per-day of oil production, most 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% of revenues (as mandated by the CPA). Sudan’s oil revenues fund the NCP security forces and allied southern militias – and the military-paramilitary nexus of destruction in Darfur.
The potential danger of losing the south and ceding oil revenues, and permitting an open political environment, means that the NCP will not easily relent on Darfurian rebel demands – especially as the regional Justice & Equality Movement has linked itself to the now-estranged 1989 coup Islamist ideologue Hassan al-Turabi, and is using Darfur as a platform to undermine NCP rule (at least in north Sudan).
After a history of one-party rule since the 1989 NIF military coup, the NCP is unsure of how it will fare in a truly democratic polity. Some restrictions on political activity have been lifted since January 2005, but the NCP retains the means to undermine the peace agreement if this is tactically necessary to retain power. The NCP runs an intricate security-intelligence apparatus and can undermine the surface political process in the coming years. The fighting on 27-29 November 2006 in the southern town of Malakal between the SPLA and local Sudanese army troops and allied southern militias is an indication of problems that could lie ahead.
Opposition parties in the north have splintered, or as in Turabi’s Popular Congress, boycotted the CPA process in favour of murky agitation and alliances with former eastern and current Darfurian rebels. But Sudan’s historic northern parties, the Umma and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), retain their core structures and could retain sufficient popularity to contemplate a coalition. Their most likely partner would be the SPLM/A – provided it is not already committed internally to southern secession – to form an alternative government to the NCP.
The Sudanese army funds and provides weapons to southern militias. This policy accelerated after a former southern militia ally – the South Sudan Defence Force (SSDF) – aligned formally with the SPLA in the January 2006 Juba declaration. The SSDF-SPLM/A alliance represented a potential landmark in southern Sudanese politics, and augured well for the future. However, this has not been translated into effective political action at national level.
The south remains riven by ethnic animosity. The SPLM/A is perceived by other southerners, particularly those in the Nuer-dominated SSDF, as a Dinka-dominated movement seeking to set up a one-party state in the south after 2011. The SPLM/A was an autocracy under John Garang (who died on 30 July 2005, to be replaced by Salva Kiir), but has facilitated an internationally-funded civil society and free press since the CPA was signed.
But southern ethnic groups and their militias are open to the NCP tradition of divide and conquer, only now with oil-fuelled largesse to disburse as post-conflict recovery slowly attempts to create basic economic alternatives to violence. In the absence of such an alternative, violence remains a possible – even probable – recourse for contending groups.
A volatile region
The NCP and SPLM/A, and concerned external parties, invested a great deal of time and money in making the CPA happen. But the agreement, despite its detail and complexity, is not nearly as “comprehensive” as its title suggests, and its implementation is a laborious and politically-fraught process.
Darfur’s conflict eludes resolution despite its peace agreement (DPA) in May 2006, and a recently-signed Eastern Sudan Peace Agreement attempts to bring that region into the CPA fold. Sudan’s uneven development, regional inequalities, history of one-party rule, conflict and displacement, as well as two foiled Islamist and secular pan-ethnic socialist projects leave a legacy of political fractiousness that cannot be managed by any agreement.
The stakes are high for Sudan, and the region, which is riven by an arc of active and frozen conflict stretching from northern Nigeria through Chad, the Central African Republic, Darfur, Eritrea, Ethiopia, northern Uganda, eastern DR Congo and Somalia.
Southern Sudan is at the centre of this fractured region. If the CPA is not consolidated and made to work, war could return to the south, with potentially even more devastating consequences than before.