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The Two Sudans: Elusive Peace?

News & Analysis

The Two Sudans: Elusive Peace?

North and South Sudan will not find durable peace so long as the marginalised population in the border states continues to die. There must be stability in Abyei, the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile, Eastern Sudan and Darfur.

It is nine months since the Republic of South Sudan became independent. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in 2005 brought an end to the brutal civil war (1955-1972; 1983-2005) that engulfed Sudan for extended periods after its independence in 1956.

An estimated two-and-half million people died and more than five million were uprooted. At present, the forceful displacement of people due to conflict, and the mortality rate resulting from various clashes in the border states and within the South, are on the rise.

The sustainability of peace in Sudan and South Sudan hinges on the resolution in, and stability of, Abyei, the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile, Eastern Sudan and Darfur.

The period between 2009 and 2011 has seen a rise in violence throughout South Sudan and the border states. Conflicts continue in eastern and western Sudan. Lise Grande, deputy special representative of the UN secretary general and resident and humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan, reported that “60,000 people have been affected by recent violence; more than 350,000 people have been displaced during 2011 by rebel militia and intercommunal fighting”.

A military invasion and occupation of the South Kordofan and Blue Nile states by the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) has “forced 75,000 people to seek refuge in South Sudan’s Unity and Upper Nile since June”.

Since December 2011, 4,636 people have been killed in South Sudan. The following four states have the largest number of people killed: Jonglei, Unity, Lakes and Upper Nile. Jonglei accounts for 42.6% of the total killed, Unity 16%, Lakes 10% and Upper Nile 8%. This prompted the Government of South Sudan to declare Jonglei “a disaster zone”.

Together, these four states account for 77% of the overall total of people killed while the remaining six states account for 22.89%. Last year was particularly deadly in the sheer number of people killed and the number of those displaced.

The immediate task for the Government of South Sudan (GOSS) is to address this escalation of ethnic violence and proliferation of armed groups. The increasing number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) from the border states and within South Sudan, and the relationship between peasant communities and pastoralists, need to be effectively managed or else violence is the natural outcome of mismanagement.

In the long term, the political challenge will be building a more equitable society that engages in peaceful nationbuilding that is democratic, law-abiding, transparent and inclusive of the diversity within the country. This challenge was noted by John Garang at the Koka Dam Conference in 1986.

The solution to the national crisis in Sudan was summarised in the concept of “The New Sudan”, a framework for a country that would be inclusive of all its multiple ethnic groups, pluralistic and embrace all nationalities, races, creeds, religions and genders.

The socio-economic disparity and structural inequalities characteristic of North and South Sudan generate armed movements that seek and demand redress of historical wrongs. So long as socio-economic disparity and structural inequalities persist, there will continue to be an incentive for armed movements throughout North and South Sudan. While the CPA resolved the armed confrontation between the SPLA/M and the National Congress Party (NCP), it has come short in resolving the fundamental problem of the Sudan.

The root causes of the conflict in Sudan are a combination of the institutional legacy of colonialism, and deliberate policies by each postcolonial government to marginalise socially, politically and economically peripheral regions.

Socio-economic disparity and structural inequalities have been the product of the colonial and postcolonial policy. Discontentment with the growing inequality and marginalisation of the mass has historically led to uprisings and rebellions as different groups in different regions demand redress of historical injustice.

Garang noted this at the Koka Dam conference: “Under these circumstances the marginal cost of rebellion in the South became very small, zero or negative; that is, in the South it pays to rebel.”

The national problem was that “marginalization in all its forms, discrimination, injustice and subordination, constituted the root causes of the conflict that could not be addressed in a piecemeal fashion by dishing out handouts and concessions to the disgruntled and rebellious groups whenever a conflict erupted in a particular region”.

Once the problem was formulated, Garang proposed the “New Sudan” conceptual framework.

The New Sudan was in fact the raison d’être of the SPLA/M from its inception. This vision has been adopted by the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) in Darfur and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) in Blue Nile and South Kordofan. The realisation that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was less comprehensive has been noted by many scholars of Sudan and policy makers alike.

This lesson was captured in a letter signed by 62 members of the US Congress, demanding a comprehensive American policy on Sudan. The letter asked the US president to move away from the current strategy of engaging in “individual mediation processes – effectively stove-piping each conflict”, instead of the root causes, treating only the symptoms of the problem.

A look at the letter shows that members of Congress failed to problematise the CPA and situate it in the larger context of Sudanese politics. They noted correctly that the three core principles in the agreement were “fairer distribution of power and wealth between the centre and the peripheries, democratic transformation, and the right of southern Sudanese to determine their own future”.

All three pillars applied to the situation in the South but cannot be said to have applied to the rest of Sudan. The CPA gave 52 and 28% of state power to the NCP and SPLA/M respectively. It distributed the remaining 20% among northern (14%) and southern (6%) political parties.

The fact that eastern, western and the border states in Sudan have all resorted to armed struggle is the clearest testimony that the CPA did not resolve their historical grievances.

Another startling fact is that the period shortly after the CPA shows that the Agreement delivered on its promise to allow South Sudan to decide its fate. The most important provision in the CPA, the Machakos Protocol, which mandated that a referendum on self-determination was to be held to decide the fate of South Sudan in 2011, was preoccupied with settling the conflict between the NCP and the SPLA/M.

This was reflected when the agreement itself was being signed and, in 2003, “a rebellion led by an alliance of three ethnic groups – the Fur, the Masalit, and the Zaghawa – broke out in Darfur”. Fearing a similar pattern of attack from other peripheral regions, Khartoum responded with a counter-insurgency campaign throughout the region in rebel villages.

Two months before South Sudan’s declaration of independence, Khartoum attacked Abyei, then followed that with occupation of Southern Kordofan and then finished up by waging a brutal war in Blue Nile State. The demands in each of the cases are indirectly reflected in the lack of clarification in the CPA about the fate of the border states.

In regard to Abyei, the CPA contained a provision to conduct a public referendum to determine its status and fate in the Sudan. Regarding Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, the CPA was vague and instead included a stipulation about popular consultation for both states. This vagueness and the SPLA’s reluctance to retaliate as it prepared to declare independence in the South gave the NCP the needed room to dismantle the local administration in Abyei and then to militarily occupy South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

In the east and west of Sudan, the problem was even more pronounced as there were separate agreements that individually lacked the muscle and comprehensiveness of the CPA. The Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) was signed in May 2005; the Eastern Sudan Peace Agreement (ESPA) was signed in October 2006. Only one faction of the divided SLA (SLAMinni) signed the Darfur Peace Agreement in Abuja, Nigeria, in May 2006.

The DPA was subsequently rejected by the main faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

From the Addis Ababa agreement to the ESPA, power-sharing arrangements in Sudan have systematically excluded the majority, making their acceptance difficult amongst those who have no stake in safeguarding or seeing a successful implementation of the agreement.

The South cannot find peace if the North is unstable; and the opposite is true for the North. The greatest threat to peace in the South, however, comes from within.

Without resolving the multiplicity of crises and finding a comprehensive political arrangement for the conflict in the border states, North and South Sudan will remain in a perpetual state of war.

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