Civil War and Peace in Sudan

By Peggy Teagle | 1991-01-01 12:00:00

Sudan has been caught in a complex civil war for 24 of the last 34 years since its independence in 1956.500,000 civilians have died between 1984 and 1989 as a result of this war. In 1988, alone, an estimated 250,000 people perished, representing the highest number of casualties of any intracountry conflict anywhere in the world over a single year period. Some 4,000,000 civilians have been displaced and now reside in squalid refugee camps outside Khartoum or have fled to Ethiopia. The military regime spends upwards of $ 1 million (U.S.) a day on the war effort, while approximately 11 million people are at risk of starvation due to widespread famine.

Even these statistics inadequately portray the cost of this war. I have just returned from the South Sudan with some vivid images directly associated with the war that continue to haunt me. I went there on a mission, sponsored by the Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC), whose purpose was to explore ways of strengthening linkages between Canadian and Sudanese NGOs and to encourage and support NGO involvement in the peace process. The first sign of civilization as we crossed the border from Kenya into the Sudan was the sight of a Topoza herdsman sauntering behind his few scrawny cattle. This is not an unusual sight anywhere in Africa, but the herdsman was stark naked and strapped to his back was an AK-47 rifle. The graffiti on the walls of shelled-out school rooms did not portray traditional youngsters' concerns, but showed the devastation this war has had on the children through their cartoons of killing, guns, trenches, and tanks. These examples illustrate the complete militarization of society in the Sudan.

Images of warfare are endless. Five and six year old children with missing limbs blown off from stepping on land mines: Young Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) soldiers on convoys, blank faces, walking for miles carrying heavy anti-aircraft guns. Most of the soldiers are themselves fourteen-or fifteen-year-old children who have known only war, who have no education, and whose only skills are those associated with killing and war. It is these young people who are the truly lost generation. These are not easy images to contemplate and digest.

Civilians are paying heavily for this war. The tribal peoples' traditional cop-mg mechanisms in dealing with famine, flooding and drought have been disrupted, thereby greatly fragmenting family and social structures. House-holds have lost their adult male members, leaving women with the extra burden of becoming bread winners as well as the care takers of their families' domestic needs. The burden is even more difficult for those people who are migrating in order to escape conflict and famine.

Sudan is now poorer, more unstable, more violent, and more divided than when this war began seven years ago. The roots of the conflict between the SPLA in the South and the Central Government in the North have focussed on two issues: (a) ethnic and religious differences, and (b) the uneven development of the country. The latter, referring to the development of the urban northern areas of the Sudan to the exclusion of other areas and sectors of society, has created great disparities in the distribution of power, wealth and resources. These disparities have been perpetuated by successive military and quasi-democratic governments anxious to retain their power at all costs.

After the initial fifteen years of protracted civil war, in 1972 the warring parties managed to arrive at peace through the negotiated settlement known as the Addis Ababa Agreement, which was regarded as a landmark in Afro-Arab relations. However, relations again began to deteriorate under the leader-ship of President Nimeiri, when the ten years of fragile peace came to an abrupt end in 1983 with the introduction of Shari'a Law. Shari'a, the historic religious law of Islam, requires that the 70% Muslim majority in the Sudan conflict conduct their affairs in accordance with the principles of Islam. For the Southerners, who are non-Muslims, this was the last straw in a growing atmosphere of distrust, isolation and unilateral action by the Government.

War has continued unabated since 1983, and the prospect of peace and development remains elusive. Sudan clearly needs peace now. Military victory cannot be achieved by either side. The only means of achieving a lasting peace is through negotiated settlement. However no less than fifteen national, regional, and international attempts at negotiated peace have been made and, as yet, no solution has been found. A number of issues stand in the way of a just peace settlement.

First, both parties in the conflict must be involved in its resolution equally. A settlement must involve all forces that have an interest in peace in the Sudan, including the Bashir regime, the SPLA, religious groups (Muslim, Christian and Ammist), international creditors and donors, the United Nations, and the people themselves. A settlement must address a wide range of issues, including power sharing and government re-structuring, equal representation in vi-able national and regional institutions, equality before the law, fair access to employment and education opportunities regardless of ethnic origin, up-holding of basic human rights, demilitarization of society, and, most importantly, the promotion of equitable and just development with fair distribution of wealth in all regions of the Sudan.

The mission team had the opportunity of spending over two hours discussing peace conditions with the Commander of the SPLA in Torit, atown in Central Equitoria province. He clarified for us the five demands that the SPLA has put forward as pre-requisites for a lasting peace agreement. They are: (1) that a Constitutional Conference should be established to settle political issues, such as the relationship between Central and Regional Governments, and formation of a just and fair legal system, (2) that the present Government should cancel all military agreements with outside governments (i.e. Libya and Iraq), (3) that free and fair elections should be established, (4) that the state of emergency in the country should be ended, and (5) that Shari'a law should not be imposed on the entire population of the country. The Government continues to impose a single system of law and government on a religiously and culturally pluralistic society.

Amnesty International and Africa Watch hold the Bashir regime responsible for the banning of independent media, trade unions and political par-ties, for arrests and detentions of thousands of civilians without trial, for restrictions on freedoms of all perceived opposition groups, and for the forced removal of displaced populations.

Because of Bashir's recent support for Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, the World Bank forecasts that the Sudan will be the African country most impacted by the Gulf crisis. Remittances from workers in Gulf countries, the major source of foreign currency for the Sudan, fell from U.S. $450 million per annum to U.S. $l20 million when Bashir seized power through a coup in 1987, indicating a great lack of confidence in the new regime. After the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait remittances have all but dried up, possibly falling as low as U.S. $40 million per annum. Conversely, expenditures for oil have increased precipitously. Based on a price of U.S. $ 30 per barrel, the cost to the Sudan of oil imports will increase by U.S. $75 million annually. Current inflation is running at 20% per month. Sudan's principal Arab donors, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, have totally withdrawn their development assistance. In default on interest payments on its U.S. $13 billion debt, the Sudan is one of two countries declared non-cooperative" by the IMF, an action tantamount to being asked to leave the Fund.

Presented with this bleak picture, the question arises about how the Canadian Government and Canadian NGOs can promote the inauguration of a peace process, given the stance of the present Sudanese Government and the demands of the SPLA. Perhaps some guidelines may be suggested. First, the Canadian Government should not continue giving support to the present Sudanese military regime through bilateral aid programs, but should, instead, withdraw all government-to-government aid programs and redirect support towards humanitarian and development programs being carried out by Sudanese and Canadian NGOs working in partnerships in the Sudan. Also, Canadian NGOs and U.N. or other multilateral organizations working in the Sudan should take every opportunity to incorporate bridge-building and reconciliation initiatives in their relief and development pro-grams. The Canadian public should be encouraged to lobby for U.N. institutional reform. The U.N. should expand its mandate to include authority to initiate peace negotiations in countries engaged in internal conflicts. Finally, and most importantly, aid and relief agencies must recognize and address the vital connection which exists between development and peace.

Canadian relief aid should not be used only for temporary relief or reconstitutional purposes, but should also be used for training and other human resources development programs which will enable the Sudanese people to take control over their own development needs, even during the period of protracted civil conflict.

Relief, rehabilitation, and development activities must go hand-in-hand in the search for peace and justice. Justice and peace cannot emerge out of the turmoil of warfare without the prospect of a social and economic framework within which peace may endure. As Larry Minear states so emphatically in Humanitarianism Under Siege (1990):

"Development cannot be achieved without peace; without development, human rights are illusory; as is peace without human rights."

We, in Canada, must continue pressuring our Government to lobby at the U.N. for the inclusion of peace negotiations as part and parcel of U.N. operations.

It is incumbent upon the Canadian public, Canadian NGOs and the Canadian Government to respond to the humanitarian needs of the Sudan, and to support the Sudanese people in their efforts at finding lasting solutions to this devastating war.

Peggy Teagle works with Peacefund Canada, a NGO working for Peace through Adult Education.

Peace Magazine Jan-Feb 1991

Peace Magazine Jan-Feb 1991, page 22. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by Peggy Teagle here

Peace Magazine homepage