Summary of the Conflict Prevention and Africa Project meeting with John Garang, a founding member of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) and Chairman and Commander-in-Chief; Francis Deng, UN Secretary General Special Representative for Internally Displaced People; Howard Wolpe, Wilson Center Public Policy Scholar
Sudan, geographically Africa's largest country, has been ravaged by civil war for four decades. The Sudanese war is one the longest running wars in the world, and certainly one of the world's deadliest. Since 1983, up to two million people have died from fighting and war-related famine. Today, it has the highest concentration of internally displaced people in the world, with some three million people requiring emergence assistance. As one of the world's most complex conflicts, religion, oil, race, ethnicity, and ideology have all played a role in fueling the Sudanese war. The number of issues and actors involved has produced a very complicated stew that has defied resolution all these many years, and has made difficult the creation of a sustainable peace process acceptable to all of the key parties.
Despite the recent cease-fire in the Nuba Mountains, fighting is intensifying again in Sudan's oil fields. The tragic incident in the village of Bieh a couple of weeks ago, in which a helicopter gunship mowed down two dozen people awaiting a World Food Program distribution, was a dramatic reminder that civilian suffering continues. It was also symbolic of a new phase of the war, in which the government is employing, with deadly effect, new technology it has been able to purchase through its oil revenues.
The challenge for the international community, and for the United States, is to help the Sudanese construct a viable peace process, building on and working with regional initiatives—in particular, the process initiated under the auspices of IGAD (the Inter-governmental Authority for Development). Many observers believe that a confluence of factors – the events of 9/11, oil-related economic issues, and the military situation on the ground – may have produced a window of opportunity to galvanize a sustainable peace initiative.
John Garang has seen Sudan from both sides. A former colonel in the Sudanese army, Garang was a founding member of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement and Army, and the Army's Commander in Chief since 1983. Garang studied economics at Grinnell College, and received his M.A. and doctorate degrees from Iowa State University.
For the last two decades, Garang has been a key figure in Sudanese politics, operating not only within southern Sudan, but also on the Sudanese national stage. He not only leads the SPLA/M, but also plays a key role in the National Democratic Alliance (the umbrella coalition, comprised of parties throughout Sudan).
The second speaker, Francis Deng, is one of the great African and Africanist scholars of our generation, and the pre-eminent scholar on Sudanese affairs. Deng has served as human rights officer in the United Nations Secretariat, as his country's ambassador to Canada, the Scandinavian countries and the U.S., and as minister of state for foreign affairs.
Deng has a long association with this institution. After leaving his country's foreign service in 1983, Ambassador Deng joined the Woodrow Wilson Center as a guest scholar and was subsequently invited by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund to be the first RBF distinguished fellow. He then returned to the Wilson Center as Senior Research Associate and was concurrently appointed one of the first Jennings Randolph distinguished fellows of the United States Institute of Peace. He subsequently joined the Brookings Institution as a Senior Fellow. Presently, he is Distinguished Professor and Senior Fellow at the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies Graduate Center, City University of New York.
Beyond his scholarly activities, which have yielded the production of over twenty books in the fields of law, conflict resolution, and human rights, as well as two novels, Deng has served as the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative on Internally Displaced Persons for several years.
Garang's message, delivered consistently during his visits to the United States and Europe, involved: 1) Stressing that the government in Khartoum has not changed despite cooperation with the United States. According to Garang, the government is still linked to terrorist activities and is perpetuating domestic, regional and international terrorism. 2) Offering an alternative to the current structure, a multi-government formed by the National Democratic Alliance. 3) Saying that the SPLA/M is willing to negotiate with the government. 4) Promoting windows of opportunity via Peace through Development, or educational programming.
Presenting various models representing the future government of Sudan, Garang said that the only viable solution would be through a confederation or commonality approach, in which a negotiated political settlement would be followed by a vote for self-determination and an interim government period. The type of political settlement in Sudan would depend on the outcome of the armed struggle and popular uprising or intifada. Second, diplomatic international pressure and political negotiations would further define the settlement.
While the civil war in Sudan has been viewed primarily as a North-South, Muslim-Christian conflict, this reflects perception more than reality, Deng said. Identity is built on self-perception and the North has generally projected it reality onto the entire country. Marginalization of the non-North and and non-Arabs is counter-productive, Deng said. In his opinion, peace in Sudan can only be achieved when people choose to build on their cohesive traits instead of capitalizing on their divisive qualities.
During the discussion, an audience member asked Garang why the SPLA has not signed the peace agreement. The recent cease-fire, designed to protect civilians and civilian targets and negotiated by U.S. Special Envoy, John Danforth, is a step in the right direction to bring peace to Sudan, but the rebels will continue to attack oil installations in the center of the country. According to Garang, the Sudanese government has interpreted the agreement as meaning that the oil installations, which help finance the government's war effort, are now immune from attack. Noting that government makes about $400 million yearly from oil revenues, Garang said: "We are on record that we will shut down these oil installations, because they are a weapon of war ... This is blood oil. It is being used against our people. That has been clarified. They are not included in the agreement," he added.
UPI Reporter Jonathan Wright noted in a later story that a U.S. official confirmed Garang's account of the terms, saying that any civilians killed in attacks directed at oil installations could be considered "collateral damage," according to the usual rules of war. Oil revenue has enabled the Khartoum government to acquire new weapons, while human rights organizations say the government continues to evict people from the oil-producing areas.
Garang said that once the issues have been resolved, the SPLA will sign the agreement. To begin their alternative programs such as Peace for Development, the SPLA will introduce its own currency, the New Sudan pound, in the south of the country this year. Garang said that this currency should not be interpreted as secessionist intentions. Regarding a question from Human Rights Watch on the issue of slavery, Garang said that redemption is not the answer to ending slavery and urged that rights group continue to pressure the Sudanese government to reduce abductions between tribes.
Anita Sharma, Deputy Director, Conflict Prevention Project, 202-691-4100
Howard Wolpe, Public Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center, 202-691-4046