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Sudan: Last Steps in the Peace Process

Presentation on The Sudan: Last Steps in the Peace Process, with perspectives from the government of Sudan, represented by Ambassador Khidir H. Ahmed; the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army, represented by Steven Wondu; and the International Crisis Group, represented by John Prendergast, who just returned from Khartoum and Nairobi.The Sudan peace process has reached a critical juncture. Both parties and the international community are facing difficult choices, with the threat of a return to war and an escalation of pressure by the U.S. Congress looming in the background. The speakers explored the dynamics of the peace process as well as the regional and international context in which it is situated.The session will be moderated by Dr. Howard Wolpe, Director of the Africa Project at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Date & Time

Sep. 3, 2003
2:00pm – 3:30pm

Sudan: Last Steps in the Peace Process

Sudan is a country that has seen almost non-stop civil war for close to fifty years, from 1954-1979 and again from 1983 until today. Over the years, tensions between Northern and Southern Sudan have led to the deaths of millions of Sudanese citizens and the internal and external displacement of millions more. The two main opposing groups are the Government of the Sudan (GoS) and the Southern-based Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). The Machakos Protocol of July, 2002 seemed to be a major step towards the end of the period of violence that began in 1983. However, shortly after the end of the first Machakos negotiations, fighting resumed on both sides.

The Machakos Protocol calls for a six and a-half year interim period during which a "federal" system of government would be in effect with three layers of local, provincial and national government and two national chambers, including an upper house in which the 26 provinces of Sudan would all be represented. At the end of this interim period, there would be a referendum to decide whether the South wishes to stay unified with northern Sudan or to secede.

The latest document to come out of the Sudan peace process is the Nakuru Draft Framework, which has been proposed to both parties by international mediators in Nakuru, Kenya. The Nakuru document was meant to be a framework for the resolution of outstanding issues arising out of the elaborations of the Machakos Protocol. This document became particularly controversial when responses to the draft from both sides were publicly released on July 11, 2003. The GoS strongly rejected the document stating that the draft "recklessly abandons the language of the Machakos Protocol." The GoS argued that the Nakuru Draft deviates from the idea of unity in Sudan, giving too much autonomy to the south, which would in effect have its own president and maintain a separate army. The SPLM/A's response to the document was more affirmative, stating its "acceptance of this Framework as the basis of negotiations with the Government of Sudan on all the issues contained therein."

It was against this contentious backdrop that the Center's Africa Project co-sponsored with the International Crisis Group (ICG) a review of the Sudan Peace Process, featuring representatives of the Sudanese government and of the SPLM and independent ICG analyst John Prendergast.

Sudan Ambassador to the United States, Khidir H. Ahmed, began the discussion by affirming his government's continuing desire to make peace for all of the Sudanese people. As an example of this commitment, Ahmed cited the trip of Vice President Ali Othman Muhammad Taha, to Nairobi to meet with SPLM/A leader John Garang where, "he is waiting for him now." Ahmed gave a short history of the Sudanese Peace Process starting in 1993 with the GoS appeal to the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) for help to end the war through mediation. That resulted in the Declaration of Peace in 1997 and, later, in the signing of the Machakos Protocol. Ahmed then leveled a severe critique of the Nakuru Framework which, he said, came "out of the blue" and is contributing to the break-down of the peace process. The Nakuru Framework, according to the GoS, is a corruption of the ideas set forth in Machakos. In terms of the presidency, Ahmed said that the Nakuru document allowed the Northern President no power because the Southern Vice President would be given full veto power over all decisions that the President would make. It abrogates the federal formula, he said, and again proposes two separate autonomous entities. He claimed that it gives the south "a full monopoly" with a disproportional share of wealth and power, including 50% of future oil revenues and more seats in parliament. It amounts to a "blackmail" attempt by the SPLM/A, Ahmed said. Ahmed added that the document also inappropriately revisited the sensitive issue of State and religion. The GoS was willing to view the Nakuru Framework as a discussion paper and debate its contents, but he warned that the mediators' use of a document that has only been approved by one side is a "deliberate sabotage of the peace process." He mused that responsibility for a breakdown in the peace process, if that should occur, will unfairly be placed on the government.

According to Ahmed, special interests such as Christian groups that are backing SPLM/A and the Congressional Black Caucus, which "illegally" sought out "biased information" in SPLM/A controlled areas in the south to relay to the US public, are prolonging the war and aiding in the collapse of the peace process. The "so-called" Sudan Peace Act of the US Congress is a "time bomb," Ahmed said, and is not helpful. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, he claimed, has himself identified the U.S. policy toward Sudan as an obstacle to the peace process.

Steven Wondu, the SPLM/A representative, rebutted Ambassador Ahmed's claims that the Nakuru Framework separates the North and the South and departed from the Machakos Protocol. Wondu stated that the veto power of the Vice President is narrow, limited only to such matters as the declaration of a state of emergency, the summoning of parliament, and the appointment of certain officials. Nakuru promotes inclusiveness, he said, as all parties are included. Shari'a Law is not mentioned, Wondu said. He also disagreed with Ambassador Ahmed's suggestion that the Nakuru document will sabotage the peace process, observing that it is only "a guide for negotiating the last corner on the path to peace." According to Wondu, the lack of progress towards peace in Sudan is because the government always finds a way "to shut down the peace process." Each time the process comes close to fruition, the GoS backs away because its policy is one of "jihad, apartheid and racism." The Nakuru Framework is the result of the Machakos Protocol, he said, which is an agreement that both sides signed and it represents the best efforts of all the international mediators -- South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, the United States, and the United Nations. The SPLM/A believes that the document should be accepted as a "basis for negotiation and not a final decision" because all issues are still open to discussion.

Wondu identified five major issues that must be resolved if there is to be peace in Sudan. The first issue is that of the Presidency. The SPLM/A feels the Presidency has been too strong and has proposed a Botswana-like executive model, but is prepared to discuss further the role and duties of the President. The second issue is the Cabinet which must not have reserved positions for northerners or Muslims. In the past, he said, southerners were given only the "Ministry of Wildlife." The third issue requiring resolution concerns the identity of the national capital. Where it is located is not an issue to the SPLM/A. But President Beshir has said he "will fight to the death" to keep Khartoum a Muslim city and this would not be acceptable. The fourth issue involves security arrangements in Sudan. The SPLM/A stands firm on its position that during the interim period the SPLM/A must maintain its institutional integrity and thus must retain its armed forces. This is a "life or death" issue for us and the "two-army" principle is accepted in the Nakuru Framework, Wondu said. The only questions open to discussion relate to how command will be coordinated, where forces will be deployed, and how they will be monitored. According to Wondu, the integration of forces is a "post-referendum issue." The fifth issue of concern relates to the economic and legal treatment of the south. Development is "urgent" but there must be a meaningful development program that is decentralized and "owned" by the people. Of even greater importance is the handling of land ownership. The rights and responsibilities of different levels of government when referring to land ownership must be defined, including the distribution of revenues from mineral resources. Since land is communally owned in Southern cultures, communal ownership must be inscribed in law.

Wondu concluded by stating that the content and substance of the upcoming peace agreement will not only impact Sudan, but will have a large impact on the whole of Africa. The international community needs to support IGAD and the ongoing talks. The SPLM/A wants to reach an agreement but it must be a just agreement that will stand the test of time. Khartoum has flaunted UN resolutions in the past and must be warned by the international community that to continue to "stand in the way of peace will have serious consequences."

John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group had just returned from a regional visit, including Nairobi, and he provided a more detached perspective on the peace process. Prendergast said that the parties were 85% on the way to an agreement on the substance of the issues. However, if there is no agreement or real progress towards one by the end of the year, he fears the government may launch a new dry weather offensive and there would be a return to serious military confrontation. He observed that the SPLM/A does appear excessively rigid on the Nakuru Framework document as constituting the basis of talks but believes the SPLM/A really does want a peace agreement and is not committed to a military option. "The parties are ready to deal", he said, but they could still "slip back into war mode" if an agreement isn't forthcoming.

On the GoS side, Prendergast noted a sharp division between President Bashir and Vice President Taha because Taha is trying to undercut the perception he is a hard liner and to maneuver himself into the peace process leadership, causing competition between the two. An example of Taha's desire for leadership in the peace process is his current trip to Nairobi to meet with Garang.

According to Prendergast, this moment in the peace process can prove to be a particularly dangerous one because of hardliners on both sides of the conflict. There are hardliners in the GoS who still believe that the oilfields can be pacified through continued military operations. Similarly, there are those within the SPLM/A that see the Darfur insurgency as the product of government weakness and who believe that war in peripheral areas of the Sudan will eventually lead to the collapse of the Sudanese Government.

Prendergast discussed three sets of issues – procedural, political and substantive -- that are crucial to the success of the peace process in Sudan. The procedural issues concern whether or not negotiations should be based on the Nakuru Framework and how the contested areas of Abyei, the Nuba Mountains, and South Blue Nile should be incorporated into the agreement. Prendergast strongly believes the parties will eventually find a solution to these procedural issues. The political issue concerns emerging political alignments, with the SPLM/A seeking to forge an SPLM/A and National Congress Party partnership during the interim period. These alignments, according to Prendergast, will eventually determine future elections and are of the utmost importance for the future governance of Sudan.

On matters of substance, Prendergast distinguished seven issues:

1. the identity of the capital: on this the GoS can't compromise but the cost of GoS intransigence is high;
2. the Presidency: should there be one or two Vice Presidents?
3. the extent of the vice-president's veto power;
4. power sharing: the percentage that will be allocated to non--SPLM/A groups in the interim arrangements;
5. security arrangements;
6. international monitoring of oil revenues, with the GoS resisting the establishment of an international mechanism to insure greater transparency in the management of oil wealth;
7. the application of Shari'a.

In his conclusion, Prendergast emphasized the importance of continuing multilateral international pressure on all parties to make the final compromises required for a sustainable peace. The United States, he said, is key to the success of the peace process in Sudan. Pressure should be applied from the US and other countries on both parties. That would mean the application of sanctions and international isolation of the SPLM/A if the rebel movement withdraws from the peace process. And, if it should be the GoS that is responsible for a breakdown in the process, all development assistance should be halted and the government should be reminded of its vulnerability to war crimes prosecution.

SPLM/A Representative Wondu observed that the future unity of Sudan would be linked to development. Time could change the views of those pressing for the autonomy of the south if regional development occurs. The SPLM/A, he said, believes in unity but the GoS advocates a political system based on religious, racial and gender supremacy," a policy with which the SPLM/A can't agree. While the SPLM/A can accept international monitoring during an interim period, at the moment its "ultimate defense is military might"; therefore, their armed forces must be kept intact. Wondu added that that Shari'a law is not an issue for the south. If the north wants to retain Shari'a, it can do so, but it will not be applied to the south. The focus should be on development and health issues, including malaria, HIV/AIDS, and pre- and post-natal maternal care.

Ahmed concluded by stating that the Machakos protocol has solved the problems regarding the north/south formula and that his government adheres to the protocol's tenets. The GoS wants to stop the "circle of violence" and has no intention of renewing its military drive in the approaching dry season or any other time. The GoS, he said, does not see Shari'a law as an important issue. Shari'a is a fairly new practice in Sudan (it commenced in 1983) and does not have to be practiced in the South. It has been interjected as a peace issue by the SPLM/A to get international sympathy, he said.

Pendergast closed by repeating that the international community, particularly the United States, must apply pressure at the highest levels because this is the last chance for peace and the "moment of truth" is at hand.

Nicole Rumeau, Project Assitant
Howard Wolpe, Director, 202 691 4046

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The Africa Program works to address the most critical issues facing Africa and U.S.-Africa relations, build mutually beneficial U.S.–Africa relations, and enhance knowledge and understanding about Africa in the United States. The Program achieves its mission through in-depth research and analyses, including our blog Africa Up Close, public discussion, working groups, and briefings that bring together policymakers, practitioners, and subject matter experts to analyze and offer practical options for tackling key challenges in Africa and in U.S.-Africa relations.    Read more


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