Sudan: Unresolved Conflict Risks War Beyond Darfur – World Politics Review


Instability could jeopardise even small-scale rebuilding projects, such as this one at Malakal, Upper Nile State (Simon Roughneen)

Instability could jeopardise even small-scale rebuilding projects, such as this one at Malakal, Upper Nile State (Simon Roughneen)

The world has dithered in putting together the necessary political response to the humanitarian catastrophe that has ensued in Darfur since 2003. The latest “breakthrough,” with the Sudanese government consenting to a hybrid U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, comes after years of stalling by Khartoum, and half-hearted efforts by the international community.In any case, the 20,000 troops will not get on the ground before 2008, and the peace agreement that they are meant to be enforcing remains a dead letter. So not much is likely to change for the traumatized people of Darfur anytime soon, despite French President Sarkozy”s nouveau conflict resolution drive.

Sudan”s other, older war — the much larger 1983-2005 North-South conflict, which claimed over 2 million lives and displaced over 4 million people — was resolved, on paper at least, by the January 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). But that agreement is now in jeopardy.

At an event held in South Sudan”s regional capital Juba on Jan. 9, 2007, to celebrate the CPA”s second anniversary, Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir and Vice President Salva Kiir, who is 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 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 that has been 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, which launched its war in 1983 after Khartoum proposed that Shariah 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 U.N. 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 recognizes 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 to set up its own sovereign state encompassing an area the size of Germany. In addition to the southern-status plebiscite, the disputed oil-rich Abyei region will vote on whether to be part of northern Sudan, or join South Sudan. If Abyei votes to join South Sudan and South Sudan secedes, Abyei”s oil will be lost to Khartoum.

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 extracted by Chinese, Indian and Malaysian investors. The country”s oil, and the revenue-sharing provisions that govern its sale, remains a sore point between north and south, with a lack of transparency hindering South Sudan”s efforts to secure its CPA-mandated 50 percent share of revenues.

The NCP runs an intricate and lethal security-intelligence-patronage apparatus in Darfur and in South Sudan, funded by oil money, and can use it to undermine the legitimate political process. The late-November fighting in Malakal illustrated this and is an indication of problems that could lie ahead.

Before the 2011 referendums, 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 U.N. peacekeepers into Darfur. For fear of losing South Sudan and its oil revenues, the NCP will not easily comply with Darfurian rebel demands or give in to the pressure applied by the international community. The prospect of being removed from power through democratic elections is least palatable of all for the NCP.

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 little success and an apparent lack of 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 record of letting such developments go unchallenged.

The CPA illustrated that real international pressure and the right balance of carrots and sticks can have an influence over the inscrutable and stubborn regime in Khartoum. A lesson not learned, it seems, with regard to Darfur. 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 referendums mean losing power and access to oil money, there is no compelling reason to expect the NCP to stick to the rules.

All but eleven years of Sudan”s independence since 1956 have seen violent conflict across the vast country that is an 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, and for the U.N. Mission in East Timor. His chapter “Between Power and Empowerment: Politicised Insecurity in Sudan” will be published in the book “Beyond Settlement” (Associated University Press) later this year.

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