Reinforcing Peace in the Sudan

By Dave Mozersky | 2002-10-01 12:00:00

Estimates are that two million have perished through violence and famine since the battle's second phase began in 1983. Millions more have been displaced -- because of violence, in search of food and as they are pushed from lands used for oil exploration and extraction. Famine has been widely used (by both sides) as a weapon in this war and the enormous influx of oil revenues reaped by the Northern government adds fuel to an already blazing fire. Factions involved are numerous but the two key actors are the Government of Sudan (GOS) in the north and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) in the south. Renewed commitment to peace in the region comes at a vital moment for international security as Sudan ranks among the United States' list of supporters of terrorism.

The ongoing Sudanese peace talks taking place in Machakos Kenya provides the first glimmer of hope in ending a war that has dragged on for nearly 20 years and killed an estimated two million people. The July 20th Machakos Protocol, signed between the government of Sudan and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), is the first significant breakthrough in the peace process since its commencement in 1994.

Multilateral Efforts Are a Break from the Past

The talks are taking place within the framework of the InterGovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional body for the Horn of Africa which has housed the Sudan peace process since 1994. The Protocol, which includes agreements on religion and state and self-determination for the south, is a substantial step toward a comprehensive peace agreement. How ever, both issues have been the subject of a great deal of discussion by the parties in the past, and disregarded agreements clutter the history of negotiations in the Sudan. Nonetheless, the agreements are significant for several reasons. Unlike previous negotiations between the government and the SPLM, this round of peace talks included international observers from the United States, Britain, Norway and Italy, in addition to the regional representatives from the IGAD sub-committee. The international investment in this process will make it substantially more difficult for either party to disregard its commitments. As well, the agreed-to referendum on self-determination will provide the best leverage to insure that Khartoum fully implements its part of the agreement, in order to make unity attractive to the south.

The compromise reached provides for a referendum on self-determination for the people of south Sudan after a six year interim period, in which the choice will be either unity or secession. The right of self-determination is enshrined in the 1994 IGAD Declaration of Principles (DOP), to which both parties are signatories. Although the DOP provides the basis for the current negotiations, the other significant aspect of the Machakos Protocol contravenes the DOP. Whereas the DOP calls for a secular, democratic Sudan, the agreement reached allows for Sharia to remain the basis of legislation for the northern states, while the south will be exempt from national religious legislation.

This breakthrough is even more as-tounding given the state of the IGAD peace process prior to the signing of the Protocol. Since the Sudanese peace talks shifted from the Nigerian/ Organization for African Unity (OAU) led process to the regional process in 1994, little of value had been achieved through the IGAD forum. The revival of the IGAD process is due to a variety of factors, primarily the increased involvement and interest of the international community in finding a solution to the conflict in Sudan. Spurred on by the events of September 11, the United States has led the international partners involved in forming a serious, productive process that is finally forcing the parties to seriously consider a post-conflict Sudan. Another major factor was the appointment by President Moi of General Lazaro Sumbeiywo as the Kenyan Special Envoy to the IGAD process in November 2001. Aided by the increased international interest, General Sumbeiywo also succeeded in re-integrating the regional partners in the process, in contrast to the increasingly unilateral Kenyan process that had emerged over the past few years.

Signing of Protocol Shocks Observers

The signing of the Protocol came as a shock to many observing the process. The decision by the government to accept an internationally monitored referendum with secession as an option this early in the negotiation process, signals a willingness to compromise that has been absent previously. Similarly, the SPLM's acceptance of Sharia in the north was a shift from their historical call for a secular, democratic Sudan, which would have essentially required the dissolution of the ruling National Islamic Front, now called the National Congress Party. Despite the success in the first round of talks, and the hopes that peace will eventually return to the Sudan, there is a great deal of work ahead. The remaining issues to be discussed will constitute the actual details of a comprehensive agreement. The second round will focus on power sharing, wealth sharing, human rights, security arrangements and a ceasefire, and international guarantees for an agreement. Although the parties have sat at the negotiating table together numerous times in the past, they have never before moved beyond the issues of religion and state or self-determination. Therefore their positions on other issues are less well developed, and will take a longer time to negotiate.


At stake in the second round of negotiations is the structure of the new country, should an agreement be reached. Although the government and the SPLM are the two main parties to the conflict, they are not representative of the majority of the country, and there exists a real danger that any agreement not incorporating the other major political parties will be unsustainable in the long run. Principally, the northern opposition umbrella group the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the formerly democratically elected Umma Party need to be incorporated into the negotiating process. There are a wide range of opinions on the role these parties should play, but the fact that their primary objective in any negotiations will be the widening of the political process in Khartoum, and hence the dissolution of the current regime's power, the government has been ardently opposed to any widening of the peace process. General Sumbeiywo chose to maintain IGAD as a bilateral forum, which in turn allowed the SPLA to accept certain compromises that went against the nature of their alliance with the NDA. Although the exclusion of a larger group of Sudanese actors helped facilitate the Machakos Protocol, it remains critical that the process is made more inclusive at some point. One opportunity within the framework of the current process for widening participation is the "inclusive constitutional review process" called for in the Machakos Protocol. If this can be translated into action, and allow meaningful participation for larger Sudanese society, it could help establish the sort of widespread ownership that this agreement will require if it is to be sustainable. The government may be persuaded to accept this, as many of the decisions regarding the structure of the country will have already been decided through the bilateral negotiations with the SPLM. There would therefore be less opportunity for the other northern parties to undermine the government's grip on power, yet would still allow meaningful input in the process, and would be a first step toward broader democratization.

Potential Pitfalls

Multiple potential pitfalls still exist that could derail the process. Amongst the outstanding issues at the negotiations, security arrangements could prove to be the area where the two parties have the toughest time reaching an agreement acceptable to both sides. The SPLM are adamant that the government withdraw its troops from the south after an agreement, arguing that the best way to insure that the referendum occurs, and the result respected, is a strong, autonomous SPLM military presence in control of the south. Conversely, the government is ex-tremely hesitant to withdraw from its positions in the south, where it controls most of the large towns and several small garrisons, in case the agreement breaks down during the implementation stage and the parties return to the battlefield. Perhaps an equally difficult issue is the definition of the south for the purposes of the referendum. IGAD has historically used the boundaries of south Sudan as of independence in 1956 as the definition of the south, which includes the provinces of Upper Nile, Equatoria, and Bahr-Al Ghazal. The government accepts this definition, but the SPLM struggle has expanded since it began in 1983 to incorporate "other marginalized areas" into its fold, namely the Nuba mountains, Southern Blue Nile, and Abyei. The SPLM would like these areas to be included as part and parcel of the south, whereas the government will be hard pressed to expand their definition to include areas they consider to be in the north. Finally, Egyptian opposition to the agreement has been growing since the signing of the Protocol, and could prove very dangerous in the implementation stage of the agreement. Egypt opposes any possibility that the south could become independent, as it would create a new country along the White Nile, which feeds into the Nile, and could potentially lead to further destabilization within the region. Unless Egypt can be brought on board by the international community, led by the United States, it is in a position to apply pressure on any government in Khartoum to derail the process before it reaches the referendum stage.

More International Involvement

In order to insure that an agreement is enforced several things must happen. First, the planned self-determination referendum must be strengthened, with international involvement and guarantees and will provide the best leverage over Khartoum to insure that they implement their part of the bargain, in order to make unity attractive to southerners after the interim period. Second, as mentioned above, the process must be made more inclusive. Finally, the international community needs to raise its involvement in the process, by coordinating leverage to help push the parties to a final agreement, and by detailing the exact consequences for either party if they prove to be the stumbling block to achieving an agreement. The international community must also provide concrete guarantees to insure that the final agreement is respected and implemented.

A successful partnership between the regional actors and the world

The Machakos Protocol is a positive step towards achieving a comprehensive, lasting peace agreement in the Sudan. The revived IGAD process forms a successful partnership between the regional actors and the broader international community. However, there is still a great deal of work to be done, and the outstanding issues will prove far more difficult to negotiate then those in the first round. As well, the international community must raise its level of involvement, in order to minimize chances of the process derailing, and insure that points of agreement are implemented. Nonetheless, this is the best opportunity yet to end Africa's longest-running war, and finally provide a peaceful future for the people of south Sudan.

Dave Mozersky works for the International Crisis Group's Sudan Project in Nairobi.

Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2002

Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2002, page 25. Some rights reserved.

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