Home | Comment & Analysis    Sunday 18 February 2018

The Position of the SPLM-N on Relief Delivery Same Wine, Old Bottles!


By Elwathig Kameir

On January 19, 2017, I published an article titled “Armed Struggle and Civil Resistance in Sudan: Catch 22,” from which I quote the following opening paragraphs (from i to iii):

i. (The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) issued a press statement, on Jan. 17, declining to accept a US initiative (of which I have a copy) for the delivery and distribution of humanitarian relief. In a letter to the US special envoy, Donald Booth, (of which I am also in possession of a copy) on Jan. 12, the chairman of SPLM-N set out six preconditions to be met before accepting the American proposal. The SPLM-N reiterated its position, during a meeting between some of its leaders with international envoys, including the US, British, French, Norwegian, and representatives of USAID, in Paris on Jan. 17.

ii. In my opinion, the rejection of the US initiative is a miscalculated step on the part of the SPLM-N’s leadership, starting from its intentional delay in the announcement of its position on Jan. 13, the date that the US administration fixed for declaring its stance regarding sanctions on Sudan. Perhaps, the leadership of the SPLM-N has mistakenly assumed that since the term of the Obama administration was approaching its end, it would not dare to lift the sanctions before. Thus, the whole matter will soon be in the hands of President Trump’s administration, allowing the SPLM-N a large margin for manoeuvre and room for disrupting the negotiation process, hoping, perhaps, for the outbreak of Al-intifada or a swing in the mood of the international community in favour of the opposition. In addition, the declaration by the President of the Republic, on the First of January, of a ceasefire for a month, which was followed by the Council of Ministers’ resolution extending the truce for another six months, with effect from January 30, has confounded the calculations of the SPLM-N’s leadership, especially since the government will be praised by the international community for agreeing to the US initiative for the delivery of aid, thus restricting the options of the SPLM-N outside the context of negotiations.

iii. In fact, this position raises many legitimate questions about the position of the SPLM-N towards the citizens of the Two Areas, particularly when the bulk of the humanitarian aid is largely medicines and medical equipment. Added to which, the proposal commits the US government to determine the origin of the humanitarian relief and the appropriate routing for delivery to the areas under the control of the SPLM-N, after clearing the intended assistance with the Sudanese customs/immigration at some point within Sudan’s borders. The fundamental question, which I have never ceased to repeat, concerns the viability/feasibility of armed struggle, in a situation where the Movement is unable to protect its own, is innocent civilians, and is also incapacitated to provide food for the victims of the war) (Armed Struggle and Civil Resistance in Sudan: Catch 22, Sudnatribune.com, 19 January 2017).

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since the declaration by the SPLM-N’s "Tripartite” leadership (Chairman, Deputy Chairman, and Secretary General) of its position regarding the delivery of humanitarian aid to the areas under the Movement’s control. Thus, with the suspension of the negotiations sponsored by the African High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP), under the chairmanship of former South African President Thabo Mbeki, the SPLM leadership is no longer the same one. Following his resignation in March 2017, Commander Abdul Aziz Al-Helu became the Movement’s new Chairman. This came after the decisions of the regional Nuba Mountains Liberation Council and its counterpart in the Blue Nile, which were endorsed by the extraordinary SPLM-N National Convention, in Kauda in October 2017.

Negotiations only resumed on 1st February 2018 in response to an invitation from the AUHIP. Thus, the first round of negotiations was convened between the Government of Sudan and the delegation of the SPLM-N, under its new leadership and altogether new delegation, with the aim of reaching an agreement on the cessation of hostilities and the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the areas under the Movement’s control. After bilateral talks between the mediators and each delegation separately, and plenary sessions, which continued for four days (1-4 February 2018), the head of the AUHIP decided to indefinitely suspend the talks after the failure of both delegations to reach an agreement.

In this first round of negotiations, the new leadership of the SPLM advanced the same old position, notably the terms and conditions necessary for reaching an agreement on aid delivery. The first reservation is the need for the external crossing or corridor for the evacuation of the sick and the wounded, in view of the lack of confidence in the relief emanating from government-controlled areas and secondly setting custom and inspection posts outside the areas under the Movement’s control, and thirdly setting practical procedures for determining the location of troops.
Paradoxically, these are the same reservations, among others, that were raised by the then Chairman of the Movement, Commander Malik Agar, in his letter to the US Envoy on 12 January 2017. I am not aware as to whether the American proposal for relief delivery was raised during these negotiations, although this it does not make much difference. Indeed, it is the same wine in the same old bottles!

If my opinion in January of last year was that not accepting the US initiative, which addressed the Movement’s fears, was a misjudgment on the part of the "tripartite" leadership, here once again is the "new" leadership committing the same error a year later. I cannot but repeat what I had said then: "Against this background, barring the occurrence of dramatic changes, in my opinion, the leaders of the SPLM-N are accountable for the fate of hundreds of thousands of citizens, and exposing them to a dire humanitarian situation. This political and moral responsibility dictates the acceptance of the US proposal, as long as the government had agreed to it, thus reaching an agreement on cessation of hostilities. This is an important step for restoring and putting the political process back on track, after the collapse of the initial round of negotiations, which immediately followed the signing of the African roadmap by the armed movements and the National Umma Party, on 15 August 2015" (Elwathig Kameir, 2017, ibid).

On the one hand, the failure to reach an agreement to deliver humanitarian assistance to the areas under the Movement’s control has disappointed the citizens of South Kordofan and Blue Nile — the real victims of this war — by prolonging their suffering and depriving their children of education, health and dreams of a secure future. Truly, the necks of the citizens of South Kordofan and the Blue Nile have turned towards Addis Ababa, which hosts the negotiations about their destiny and the future of their children, in anticipation of hearing good news and positive results from there — contrary to the sad outcomes that have characterized the previous fourteen-plus negotiation rounds that have extended over seven unfruitful years.

On the other hand, the Movement’s position pertaining to the perpetual postponement of reaching a decision regarding the delivery of humanitarian assistance is not likely to garner sympathy, whether from the African Union, in its role as sponsor of the negotiations, or the international community. In fact, on the eve of the publication of my article mentioned above, Donald Booth, the special US envoy for Sudan, in a lecture at the US Institute of Peace, on 17th January 2017, said: "I have found that some of the leaders of the Sudanese opposition, especially those with guns, are more than willing to ignore the interests and well-being of ordinary civilians, in favor of their long political ambitions.” He added: "the SPLM-N’s rejection of the U.S. offer of humanitarian assistance at a meeting in Paris was a huge missed opportunity to advance peace negotiations and help the people they claim to be helping.” The envoy continued: “Even though we hold the government to its commitments to peace, we must also demand that the opposition set aside personal political ambitions and put their people first."

At the same time, the Troika countries (Norway, the United Kingdom and the USA) issued a statement urging the SPLM-N to swiftly accept this proposal and facilitate the delivery of life-saving assistance to those in need in the Two Areas. The joint statement emphasized that “the U.S. proposal was intended to facilitate humanitarian assistance to the affected populations in the Two Areas, in line with AUHIP efforts for broader negotiated humanitarian access.” I do not think that these countries will change their position in the absence of any new developments over the past year, except for internal turmoil in the SPLM-N that might lead to weakening the leadership of the Movement and to its regional and international standing.

No doubt, the disappointment in the Movement’s rejection of the US proposal has extended to many of those, including the government itself, and its allies, who expected to reach a swift agreement for delivering humanitarian aid with the new leadership of the SPLM-N. This is an expectation that must be read in a broader context, which includes the government’s perception, and the hopes of the optimists, on the understanding that the removal of the Movement’s Chairman, and more specifically its Secretary-General, would necessarily mean excluding national issues from the Movement’s agenda — a big relief for the government’s negotiators. Guided by such understanding, it was thought that negotiations might prove easier, and less complicated, to arrive at a peace agreement as long as the issues are confined to those relating to the two areas of Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states. Let us hope that coming negotiations rounds would result in putting an end to the war and fulfilling the hopes of those aspiring for peace.

More importantly, the failure to accept the US proposal in January 2017 under the old leadership of the SPM-N — and delaying the delivery of humanitarian aid following the failure of the recent round of negotiations in February 2018 — strongly challenges the credibility of the leadership regarding its own outcry for addressing the humanitarian disaster in areas controlled by the Movement. Moreover, there is no doubt that this position raises many legitimate questions about such a position to address the demands and aspirations of the citizens of the Two Areas: Does the leadership have a hidden agenda through insisting on an external outlet from Ethiopia? Is the Movement’s leadership betting on the outbreak of the popular uprising, against the backdrop of recent protests following the imposition of severe economic austerity measures? Does the leadership expect that the African Union will change its skin, or that the international community will revise its convictions in favour of the opposition forces? Does the new leadership wish to convey a latent message to the outgoing leadership that they did not compromise, but rather lifted the ceiling of reservations, thus there is no room for expediency in their position on the delivery of relief?

Or is the new leadership reinventing the wheel by seeking to revive the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), a fragile and short-lived alliance, with meagre political results and little contribution to advancing the process of change? (Joint statement by the SRF and the SPLM-N, February 4, 2018). Whatever the case, in my opinion, it is not politically sound for the SPLM-N to slow the flow of humanitarian aid to the needy and put a wrench in the wheels of hostilities cessation and re-launching the political peace process, to the detriment of the population of the Two Areas and the Sudanese people at large.

Dr. Elwathig Kameir is a former university professor of Sociology and consultant with numerous regional and international organizations. He is reachable at kameir@yahoo.com.

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