Sudan has been a country continuously embroiled in war since 1983, leading to the deaths and displacements of millions of Sudanese citizens. Fortunately, the Machakos Protocol, signed in July of 2002 between the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) and the government of Sudan, opened the door to peace for the people of Sudan. The Machakos agreement set out to grant the South a referendum on secession after a six-year interim period. However, fighting was renewed shortly after the protocol was signed. Now Sudan is again on the verge of peace because of renewed negotiations mediated by Kenya under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). The Vice President of Sudan, Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha and the leader of the SPLM/A, John Garang, have resolved the contentious issues of how security forces will be structured and deployed during the interim period, and how oil revenues will be shared. However, several issues remain unresolved.
It is against this backdrop that panelists Gerard Gallucci, Chargé d'Affaires of the US mission in Khartoum; John Prendergast, Special Advisor to the President of International Crisis Group; and Kate Almquist, Advisor on policy to USAID Administrator Natsos convened to discuss the current state of the Sudanese peace process and the future of Sudan. The panel was moderated by distinguished Sudanese scholar and Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars fellow, Jok Madut Jok.
Each panelist weighed in with distinct perspectives on the peace process in Sudan. Gallucci focused on the process of change in Sudan from his vantage point in Khartoum; Prendergast, who has been closely following the IGAD talks, underlined what he called the "spoilers for peace": negotiations over the three contested areas (mainly Abyei) and the Darfur conflict; and Almquist discussed USAID priorities in Sudan. The panelist's remarks were followed by a number of audience interventions regarding different aspects of the Sudanese conflict and peace negotiations.
Gallucci began the discussion with two questions, "has Sudan changed and is Sudan changing?" According to Gallucci, there is one answer to both: "No. Not yet." But Sudan is on "the doorstep" of significant change. The key, Gallucci said, has been three events within the international environment: the direct engagement in the Sudanese peace process of the United States and other international actors; the post-Cold War environment, in which the United States has emerged as the sole remaining superpower, with other governments now adjusting to this new reality; and the 9/11 terrorist attacks that have redirected the international community's eye toward Islamic states like Sudan. Another change has been the recognition by both sides of the Sudanese war that a military victory was not possible. All of this means that Sudan will change in some way over the next several years. However, the direction of that change is unclear.
There has also been a new and positive approach by the Sudanese actors, according to Gallucci. However, there are still signs of the "old" Sudan with practices such as obstruction of press freedom, freedom of movement and religious toleration. These are issues "that will determine how quickly the US will normalize its relationship with Sudan" in the coming period. According to Gallucci, the Government of Sudan has taken some steps to address these issues: formally ending government press censorship, promulgating new rules and regulations for freedom of movement for members of the international community, and opening dialogue about religious toleration. Nevertheless, according to Gallucci, newspapers are still being closed, media personnel are still being put in prison, NGOs still have difficulty moving around the country (especially in Darfur), and religious background is often still a deciding factor in getting jobs and good benefits.
Still, Gallucci said the process of change in Sudan is irreversible and the country is unlikely to go back to the way it was. The peace agreement, Gallucci explained, will change the relationship between the North and the South whether the outcome is unity, a division of the country, peace, or renewed war. The peace process over the past three weeks has made major progress and Gallucci feels that a peace agreement will be signed soon. However, resolution of the status of the "contested areas" is critical to an over-all settlement. Gallucci is confident that as soon as a peace agreement between Khartoum and the SPLA is reached, other forces, which have wanted a role in the negotiations, will be brought into the process. Political leaders in Sudan and some outside of Sudan are ready to work together for the future of the country.
Gallucci observed that most northerners believe there is a high chance the South will eventually break away, but feel the peace process is worthwhile because it will end the war. Some northerners in fact take the view that the south should be allowed to separate; then Khartoum can, using its oil resources, run the north the way it chooses.
Queried about which factors in Sudan are the most significant in influencing US policy toward Sudan, Gallucci identified three objectives that the United States government has in making policy decisions about Sudan:
1. that Sudan remain a non-threatening state in the United States current war against terrorism;
2. that the peace process remain in tact, as a breakdown could cause renewed war;
3. that colonial borders be preserved. The United States government fears that a break-up of the Sudan could open the Pandora's box of challenges to existing boundaries of African states.
ICG analyst, Prendergast identified the agreement on power-sharing and the unresolved status of the "contested areas" as the two principal unresolved issues still on the negotiating table. However, if the status of the contested areas can be successfully negotiated, a power-sharing agreement will be easy to secure. The IGAD process was flawed, in Pendergast's view, by its acceptance of the Government's insistence that IGAD not be the forum for negotiating the status of the three contested areas (Abyei, Southern Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains). The process was partly rectified, Prendergast said, when the current Sudanese administration agreed to include these areas in the peace process.
Negotiations about the contested areas are ongoing between SPLM/A leader, John Garang and first Vice President Taha. Still, they have only focused on the Southern Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains and despite the fact that these talks are nearing conclusion, some questions regarding who will administer these areas still remain unanswered. Moreover, there is an apparent impasse regarding the status of Abyei, with the government wanting to retain administrative control. According to Prendergast, the government argues that there are environmental causes at the forefront of the conflict (fighting between the Dinka and the Misseriya over water as well as land), and that these can be resolved by development rather than by a change in its constitutional status. However, Prendergast believes the government's position is fuelled by the 500 million barrels of oil reserves discovered on "block four" where Abyei is located. The SPLM/A conversely believes that the area should be returned by presidential decree or by referendum with only the Dinka voting.
According to Prendergast, the Abyei issue is very crucial to the peace process and could be a "deal breaker." If there is no agreement on Abyei, the final resolution of power-sharing arrangements will become a problem.
However, the most significant immediate threat to a durable peace agreement, according to Prendergast, is the conflict in Darfur. Prendergast explained that the security situation in all three states of Darfur is rapidly deteriorating. Government-supported militias known as the Janjaweed (of Arab descent) have been targeting people of African descent. These attacks have been escalating since September. Prendergast said that the armed violence is taking two forms:
1. War between the government of Sudan and the two indigenous rebel groups in the area;
2. Brutal government-supported militia attacks on the citizens of Darfur.
Prendergast believes that the international community should intervene in this situation because the conflict has become so polarized that the community is on the verge of all-out ethnic warfare. The new government of Sudan doesn't have time to waste in addressing the fiery conflict in Darfur and further ignoring the situation will seriously threaten long-standing peace in Sudan. However, complicating the situation is Chad's role as the mediator. Khartoum is believed to have significant leverage over Chadian security agencies, and Chad's involvement is clouded by a perceived pro-government bias. Prendergast urged that consideration be given to having Chad partner with another international entity so as to strengthen the credibility of the mediation.
Other problems that could compromise the prospects for a durable peace, according to Prendergast, are continuing South/South tensions, and continued government support for various southern militias. When asked whether the recently announced 50/50 oil-sharing agreement was realistic, Prendergast answered affirmatively. The 50/50 division refers only to southern resources. These are substantial so the south can live with this allocation; and since northern resources are not touched, Khartoum is appeased.
USAID'S Almquist focused her remarks on USAID's humanitarian and development agendas. USAID is eager to get more access to the southern areas of Sudan for humanitarian assistance and to aid in the repatriation, resettlement, and reintegration of Sudan's estimated 4.5 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), refugees, and demobilized soldiers.
USAID has administered $1.7 billion in humanitarian assistance to Sudan since 1983. Almquist said that with the signing of the peace agreement, USAID would like to begin more development work, particularly in education and agriculture. However, Almquist reiterated the other panelists concerns about Darfur and the potential of the fighting there to disrupt the peace process. Security must be established in Darfur, Almquist said, to allow needed humanitarian assistance to the estimated one million conflict-affected people in Darfur's 6-million person population.
The current USAID program in Sudan is a $210 million program that is significantly humanitarian in its focus, but with a sizeable increase in transitional development assistance. Almquist explained that the new program seeks to impact on governance in the North and on self-governance in the South. Additional programs are focused on the health sector, water sanitation, economic recovery, promotion of civil society and assistance to disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. Almquist said that, as in the past, so in the near future USAID's work will be primarily in the South. However, USAID is hoping that in the long term there will be more of a balance of in its assistance effort as between the North and the South.
Almquist concluded her remarks by describing USAID's plans for increasing donor involvement in Sudan. A donor conference following the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement is being planned by USAID – hopefully in April or May. Also, a joint assessment mission, co-chaired by the World Bank and UNDP, is now being organized to assess the country's development needs. During an interim period, before more formal structures are in place, it is contemplated that USAID will work with a transition team comprised of the government of Sudan and the SPLM/A. When questioned about the role of civil society, Almquist affirmed its importance and said that although current talks haven't really included substantial civil society involvement, USAID is prepared to set up programs that would facilitate information sharing and strengthen civil society structures.
Responding to the critique of the Khartoum government's performance that had been presented by Charges d'Affaires Galluci, the Sudanese Ambassador to Washington argued that the image of his government had been so tarnished that it was difficult for observers to say anything good. Sudan, he said, needed to be understood in terms of its historical and cultural context. From this perspective, what is happening in Sudan is more than cosmetic change. With the emergence of independent papers, and with a number of opposition figures able to function freely in Khartoum, real change is in the air – and should be commended.
Nicole Rumeau, Program Assistant, 691-4097
Talal Ouazzani Chahdi, Intern
Howard Wolpe, Program Director