Sudan between war and peace

Gérard Prunier
1 November 2007

Two recent events - the withdrawal of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) from Sudan's "government of national unity" on 11 October 2007, and the opening of the Darfur peace talks in Sirte, Libya, on 27 October - have propelled the Sudan crisis to its highest level of emergency since the so-called "comprehensive peace agreement" (CPA) was signed in Nairobi in January 2005. Where does that leave the prospects of settling the current violent conflicts in the country, and of preventing new ones from bursting open?

This brief article sketches the background of these developments, and looks at their implications for the next period in Sudan's political history.

Sudan's reviving divide

The fundamental reason the SPLM left the government in Khartoum is that the comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) is not working. In turn, the CPA is it not working because the pre-agreement government of Sudan has tried to turn its finely crafted hundred-page-plus document into a "confidence trick" to enhance its own power. The ingredients of the scam are that the SPLM would stop the war and accept the promise of distant (2009) elections and an even more distant (2011) self-determination referendum - in exchange for 50% of southern oil revenues and 28% of Khartoum government positions, alongside a series of excellent promises over the composition of Sudan's judiciary, military and administration, which were ostensibly designed to level the political playing-field.

Gérard Prunier is research professor at the University of Paris and director of the French Centre for Ethiopian Studies in Addis Ababa. He is the author of The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide (C Hurst; 1998), Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide (C Hurst, revised edition, 2007), and From Genocide to Continental War: The Congolese Conflict and the Crisis of Contemporary Africa (C Hurst, 2006)

Also by Gérard Prunier in openDemocracy:

"Darfur's Sudan problem" (15 September 2006)

"The DR Congo's political opportunity" (14 March 2007)

"Chad, the CAR and Darfur: dynamics of conflict" (18 April 2007)

"Chad's tragedy" (7 September 2007)The sting for the SPLM is that these promises have remained just that - either broken or (when they were nominally complied with) emptied of real content. Among the manifold problems that ensue, six are worthy of mention.

First, many government or civil-service positions have not been meaningfully filled. In fairness, although the "old" (or "real") Sudanese government has not pressed seriously for movement in this respect, the SPLM too has frequently failed to propose competent candidates.

Second, a typical case of non-compliance is in the area of wealth-sharing. The previous Khartoum administration has kept complete control of the ministry of energy and the petroleum commission, thereby paying to the government of South Sudan in Juba what it chooses rather than what the CPA specifies it should have.

Third, the non-delimitation of the north-south border is a key example of the failure to implement the CPA. This issue matters enormously, for two reasons: the self-determination referendum is supposed to take place in the "south", and the equal sharing of oil wealth applies only to this region (whereas the revenues of oil-wells located in the north go to Khartoum only). Most of Sudan's oil is in the "south"; but where exactly, if that entity is not legally defined?

Fourth, the administrative task-sharing between the Sudan People's Liberation Movement and its putative Khartoum partners is a further blockage to progress. Most important matters are decided unilaterally by the pre-CPA Islamist governing elite, leaving the SPLM to learn about them later (usually through the press). This was the case in August 2007, for example, when Khartoum expelled Canadian and European Union representatives from Sudan; and when Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, repeatedly insisted that the joint United Nations-African Union "hybrid force" of peacekeepers (Unamid) to be deployed in Darfur (and designed to be operational by January 2008) would be composed exclusively of African soldiers.

Fifth, the massive non-compliance with CPA provisions extends from electoral planning to finance and security issues. The problems include Khartoum's delays in financing its share of the census costs (without census no electoral lists and without electoral lists, elections become arbitrary and/or fraudulent); its failure to evacuate its soldiers from the south's oil-producing areas (on grounds of "protecting" the facilities); its support for illegal armed militias in the south; and its imposition of customs duties on the import of humanitarian aid.

Sixth, the Abyei border dispute is acutely contentious. The oil-rich area around Abyeiis culturally southern but was assigned by the British to the "north" in colonial times (indeed, the very administrative distinction dates from the British period); this dubious decision was confirmed during the independence negotiations in 1955. As a result the SPLM asked in 2004 during the negotiations that would lead to the CPA the following year for the creation of an Abyei border commission (ABC); Khartoum then agreed to abide by its expert judgment.

When the commission reported in July 2005, however, the old Khartoum government rejected its conclusions, and refused even to make them public. It was in the end a private, London-based NGO - the Rift Valley Institute - which made the report available by publishing it on its website. The problem involves control of oil resources and political power as well as ethnic sensibilities: the Abyei area is very likely to secede from Sudan alongside the rest of the "south" if it is recognised as being part of that region.

Khartoum's manoeuvres

The Sudan government's tactics have been straightforward: never say "no", procrastinate, obfuscate, protest loudly when accused, promise every kind of compliance when challenged, brandish cosmetic examples of compliance when asked to comply, insist on permanent negotiation of everything even when the terms of negotiation are so completely empty of meaning that they discourage all Sudanese, and - finally - resort to threats of Islamic fundamentalist violence in the event the issue is forced.

So far they have worked wonderfully - especially with the international community, whose belief in negotiated solutions seems touchingly impervious to any form of learning-curve.

Also in openDemocracy on Sudan, Darfur and the region:

Stephen Ellis, "Darfur: countdown to catastrophe" (9 June 2004)

Lyndall Stein, "Darfur journal" (18 November 2004)

Alex de Waal, "Darfur's fragile peace" (4 July 2006)

Suliman Baldo, "Darfur's peace plan: the view from the ground" (23 May 2006)

Simon Roughneen, "Darfur: between peace and delivery" (25 June 2006)

The "real" Sudanese government has kept operating since its creation in September 2005, inside the protective shell of the "government of national unity". It has signed three "peace agreements" in these years - the comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) itself in January 2005, the Eastern Sudan peace agreement (EPA) in June 2006, and the Darfur peace agreement (DPA) in May 2006; each has been marked by Khartoum's failure to take responsibility for changing the underlying dynamics of conflict, and its repeated pattern of non-compliance / denial (of accusation) / tactical acceptance / more non-compliance.

At the same time, behind the scenes the government's core group has been busy buying massive quantities of weapons, accruing huge amounts of oil money, watching the South Sudan government flounder in its own maladministration and corruption - and "negotiating" the Darfur quasi-genocide into a quagmire of endless talks about non-existent results.

All this came to an abrupt stop on 11 October. It is yet not possible to know whether this moment is the prelude to an honest new dispensation or whether it has started the countdown for a return to war.

Darfur's unending saga

Alongside the slow disintegration of the 2005 settlement, The slow agony of the western Sudanese region of Darfur continues. During the weeks leading up to the Sirte conference on 27 October, violence there has both sharply escalated and become multi-dimensional. Seven developments illustrate this.

First, Darfuri guerrilla elements - in a bid to discourage the African Mission in Sudan (Amis) from what they alleged was cooperation with Khartoum, attacked an Amis outpost in Haskanita and killed ten African Union peacekeepers.

Second, Arab groups turned on each other, fighting over control of the agricultural lands abandoned by the black Africans whom violence had forced into the camps for "internally-displaced people" (IDPs).

Third, increasing numbers of Arab fighters - some of them former janjaweed- have begun to attack government forces in the neighbouring province of Kordofan; thus completing the transformation of the war from a racial into a regional conflict. The result is that even more Darfuri are now hostile to Khartoum, regardless of whether they are "Arab" or "African".

Fourth, the harassment of IDPs in the camps has increased steadily to the point where frequent skirmishes now occur between marauding janjaweed and armed refugees.

Fifth, several drivers of humanitarian convoys have been shot in cold blood.

Sixth, Khartoum government forces have launched new attacks on Darfuri guerrilla positions, massacring civilians in the process.

Seventh, Darfuri guerrillas have begun to raid the oil installations around Heglig, a region in southern Sudan. This marks a blending, even a "globalisation", of the various conflict situations.

These accumulating developments turned the Darfur peace negotiations in Sirte into a charade long before they got underway. Seven of the eleven Darfur guerrilla factions, which together comprise around 90% of the fighting forces on the ground, followed the lead of Abdul Wahid Mohamed Nur (head of the main section of the SLA) in refusing to go to Libya. Even more damagingly, the IDP population of the camps squarely supported the "refusenik" stance.

Meanwhile, the "hybrid force" - designated under United Nations Security Council resolution 1769 in July 2007 to succeed Amis in leading peacekeeping activities in Darfur, and which established its first base on 31 October 2007 in the town of El-Fasher - is handicapped by three serious difficulties.

First, several non-African countries (Sweden, Denmark, Thailand, Indonesia) have offered troops for the force, but Khartoum still insists that only African soldiers will be acceptable .

Second, the force (planned to compose 19,555 military and 6,432 police personnel at full strength, as against Amis's 7,000) has been offered enough soldiers, but has no ground-transport and airborne capacities (including combat helicopters).

Third, its budget is still far from consolidated.

A region's bleeding

Where, in light of the above, does the situation go from here?

Nobody knows but everybody pretends. The official roadmap - discussions for the resumption of SPLM participation in a reconstituted national-unity government, accompanied by a continuation of Darfur peace negotiations - does not look promising . The Khartoum cabinet reshuffle of 20 October has broadly satisfied some of Juba's most pressing demands: the southern turncoat Lam Akol was demoted from minister of foreign affairs to become a presidential advisor, to be replaced with SPLM stalwart Deng Alor; the veteran diplomat Mansour Khalid was given a half-slice of foreign affairs by becoming minister for external trade; and Telar Deng was promoted to assistant minister for justice.

This was not Juba's ideal slate - Yasser Arman was kept out and Mansur not fully empowered - but it remained acceptable enough for the SPLM's secretary-general Pagan Amun who now increasingly appears to be the South Sudan government's strongman (Salva Kiir seems increasingly out of his depth as the crisis unfolds).

But nothing fundamental has been resolved. A slow polarisation continues: on 1 November 2007, South Sudan's vice-president Riek Machar said that the SPLM might withdraw its representatives from the parliament in Khartoum if the Sudanese government did not make more progress in meeting the movement's demands.

More broadly, the SPLM has given Omar al-Bashir the deadline of 8 January 2008 to settle the outstanding CPA issues. But after many years of "success", during which it has managed to manipulate both the Sudanese public and the international community, the "real" government of Khartoum now seems to be increasingly playing a kind of political version of The Picture of Dorian Gray. Comforting illusions are dissolving, nice pretences are cracking, while ancient sins rear their heads. The result is that Darfur continues to bleed, sub-regional strife spreads, and now the south of Sudan is threatened by a return to the tragic violence which resulted in 1.5 million deaths between 1983 and 2002. It is hard to be optimistic.

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