Home | Comment & Analysis    Monday 28 July 2003 (Date first published: 28 July 2003).

Sudan war about God, wealth and power

New book says protagonists’ guns and diplomacy now aim to scuttle the peace talks

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By Ken Opala

Nation (Nairobi)

July 28, 2003

God, Oil & Country is part of the apt title of a book published recently on the Sudan conflict.

It says the war in the Christian-dominated, oil-rich south is about religion, resources and power.

Often, the blend of God, oil and power has been the perfect recipe for war, and so the antagonists in the conflict are not just scrambling for the three quantities. Their guns and diplomacy now target also peace talks to scuttle any likely compromise.

This happened especially after last week’s news report about the Kenya-backed peace initiative.

The report claimed that the Khartoum regime had rejected a key document crafted by Kenyan mediators to redeem a country devastated by a 19-year-old civil war that draws the Christian and largely animistic south against the Muslim north.

Incongruous it may have been, but it helped raise questions about the future of the Igad-mediated peace talks.

"The major peace efforts have not been coordinated and have succeeded only in undermining one another," says the International Crisis Group in God, Oil & Country: Changing the Logic of War.

"None is a peace process in the sense of continuous negotiations; in fact, there is no real negotiation in any of them, only a trading of well-worn positions and the obligatory release of duelling Press releases".

It adds: "The warring parties simply do not believe that any has a chance of success".

One diplomat is sarcastic in summing up the negotiations: "It is like going round in circles." Yet the spectre of renewed conflict appears imminent.

"If they do not (support the document) and choose the path of war, they will be responsible (for the outcome)," the rebel leader, Col John Garang, said in Nairobi last Tuesday, hours after talks with Kenyan Foreign Affairs minister Kalonzo Musyoka.

"The Igad mediators have issued a framework that is the road map for the resettlement of the conflict. Khartoum appears to walk away from this arrangement".

Two days later, a top Sudanese official discounted the news report, arguing that it implied his government was pulling out of the ceasefire talks which had faltered for more than a decade without any feasible signs of compromise.

"The story was not correct," Mr Dirdeiry Mohamed Ahmed, the Sudanese deputy ambassador to Kenya and the country’s resident delegate to the talks, told the Nation on Friday.

"The government is still engaged in the Machakos and Igad peace process. It is committed wholly".

The Machakos protocol provides the framework for the cessation of hostilities and lays the ground for the southerners’ peace and self-determination.

It says in part: "At end of the six-year interim period there shall be an internationally monitored referendum, organised jointly by the government of Sudan and the SPLM/A, for the people of south Sudan to either confirm the unity of the Sudan by voting to adopt the system of government established under the peace agreement or to vote for secession."

It provides for the creation of a national government to enact national laws. The SPLM/A-controlled south is to draw laws from consensus, values and customs of the people of Sudan, while other states are to administer the Sharia law.

According to Mr Ahmed, the Khartoum regime supported the peace process as outlined in the Machakos protocol, but was opposed to a charter released recently by chief mediator, Kenya’s Lazarus Sumbeiywo, that lays the foundation for wealth and power sharing in the troubled south.

The Nakuru draft, he says, "violates Machakos protocol which assumes the unity of the country will continue for six years, whereas the draft says we shall run the country in form of two watertight compartments and practically putting the unity on hold until the issue of southern Sudan is decided in six years."

On the other hand, SPLM finds the draft a reflection of the talks and agreements.

Analysts see the clash between Khartoum and SPLM/A as evidence of a peace process that may not produce much in the end. Mediation is all about compromise, but in the Sudan case, compromise is not in the vocabulary of the warring factions.

The current stalemate raises questions about the future of a stuttering process that seems to lack the goodwill and commitment of the antagonists.

SPLM sees Khartoum’s position as a "divide-and-rule tactic" aimed at scuttling the peace process.

Sudan is a complex story. The multiplicity of peace initiatives is in itself a statement of the confusion and lack of coordination that have kept stalling the process. Besides the Nakuru talks, the initiatives include efforts by Egypt and Libya, Nigeria, Eritrea, the US and several European nations, all which have produced little in terms of peace on the ground.

Interestingly, analysts say the whole scenario is characterised by competing interests. There are those who claim that the Libya-Egyptian initiative takes care of the interests of the Khartoum regime, while the Igad bends towards SPLM/A.

"The Egyptian-Libyan joint initiative was launched in 1999, largely to undercut support for the Igad Declaration of Principles emphasising self-determination, says the International Crisis Group.

The lobby adds that, at the local level, the mediating countries — Egypt and Kenya — have competing interests in the crisis.

"Egypt continues to seek to maximise gains from Khartoum’s political weaknesses. Kenya wants to ensure that it can continue to skim off profits from the humanitarian assistance that flows from (relief agencies) and maintains its appearance as the peace broker in Sudan," says the book.

Take, for instance, the current impasse over the Nakuru draft. Col Garang, despite his key role in the negotiations, is already convinced that little will emerge from the talks. "(The rejection of the draft) is a divide-and-rule tactic. Their idea is to scuttle Igad," he told a news conference in Nairobi on Tuesday.

"It’s a serious development. The document incorporates concerns of both parties."

The peace initiatives have fumbled in the past, with the Khartoum government walking out on any plan paving the way for power sharing. The Igad negotiations began in 1994, yet they have been called off three times.

According to Col Garang, Khartoum’s decision has been motivated by "the fears of possible power sharing". Yet this is the crux of the matter, say analysts.

SPLM/A is interested in secession and any position tangential to this thinking will always be opposed by the rebels. On the other side of the divide is President Omar el-Bashir, who maintains that the vast country’s unity is what is important and should guide any peace overtures. The much Mr Bashir can do is give in to federalism.

This explains Khartoum’s disdain for the Nakuru draft. "It violates the Machakos protocol which assumes unity will continue for six years," says Mr Ahmed.

Last week, Mr Bashir dispatched his adviser on the peace affairs to Nairobi to meet President Mwai Kibaki, according to sources. The meeting between President Kibaki and Dr Ghazi Salahudin Atabani centred on Sudan’s rejection of the Nakuru draft. Sudan also said it was committed to the Igad peace brokering.

"He told the President that the Nakuru proposal should be thrown away and be replaced by the Machakos protocol," said a source privy to the talks.

Contacted, Mr Ahmed confirmed the meeting, but was quick to rebut claims that the Sudanese official had requested the withdrawal of Mr Sumbeiywo, who drafted the Nakuru document,

"When he came here, he did not present any application to disqualify Mr Sumbeiywo. He came to ask the Kenyan Government to withdraw the proposal and come out with a more balanced and acceptable one.

"We have no quarrel with Sumbeiywo or the Igad," he said.

Whereas the Nakuru draft is yet to be made public, its architects claim it is hardly different from the Machakos protocol. Those who reject it say it provides for the creation of two independent governments, one in the south controlled by SPLM/A and the other in the north administered from Khartoum.

Meanwhile, the negotiations are scheduled to resume in Nanyuki on August 3.



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