Home | Comment & Analysis    Monday 22 December 2003

Can the Khartoum Regime Accommodate the Realities of Peace?


Wealth-sharing Deal Brings a Final Peace Accord Closer, But---
Can the Khartoum Regime Accommodate the Realities of Peace?

By Eric Reeves

Dec 22, 2003 — It is the central paradox of peace in Sudan: any peace agreement will oblige the National Islamic Front regime to share not only wealth, but power. And any such sharing will inevitably put the regime at acute risk, given its past dependence upon tyranny, a brutally efficient set of overlapping security services, and a monopoly on national wealth and political power. The collective dictatorship that is the inner circle of the National Islamic Front has no experience in sharing power, and it is not at all clear that the regime can survive the encounter. The demise of the NIF would, of course, be a great blessing for all of Sudan; but these ruthless survivalists are not likely to go quietly into the good night. The NIF has used only military means in dealing with the marginalized peoples of Sudan---south, east, and now west in Darfur; and we must wonder whether this vicious and cunning old dog sees any point in learning a new "trick."

There are two tests of the willingness of Khartoum to share power meaningfully---one lies in the peace talks ongoing in Naivasha, Kenya; the other is defined by the growing insurgency in Darfur, which has prompted a military response by the NIF that daily brings the region closer to a massive human catastrophe, with additional thousands of people likely to die in the near term. Will a peace agreement with the south be the catalyst for Khartoum to begin real negotiations for a follow-up agreement with the marginalized and long-aggrieved people of Darfur? or will it be only the occasion for a more concentrated and unencumbered military response? The collapse last week of peace talks between the Khartoum regime and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) is hardly auspicious.

The first test:

Assuming that a deal on wealth-sharing is concluded today (so far, only an agreement in principle on oil revenue-sharing has been concluded), the remaining issues in the talks between Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) are (a) completing negotiations on formal power-sharing arrangements in a post-war government and (b) determining the status of the three disputed areas of Abyei, the Nuba Mountains, and Southern Blue Nile. Ultimately, these issues are deeply interrelated. For if a final agreement consigns the three areas to the north, this will not only be a deep injustice to the powerful aspirations of the people of these areas, but it will reveal Khartoum’s continuing power to maintain the marginalized status of various of Sudan’s ethnic and racial groups. Most significantly, such consignment would deny Abyei, the Nuba Mountains, and Southern Blue Nile the right to participate in the self-determination referendum secured for southern Sudan in the Machakos Protocol (July 2002).

Further, the more that the "confederal" ties between northern and southern Sudan are loosened after a peace agreement---what this writer believes will be the inevitable effect of any peace that actually takes hold---the more consequential the denial of self-determination for these three areas. The people of the Nuba Mountains, for example, were left out of independence negotiations about geographical issues in 1955; they were left out again in the negotiations that resulted in the 1972 Addis Ababa peace accord; representatives of both the senior military and civil society leadership in the Nuba have made emphatically clear that they will not acquiesce in any exclusion from the present peace agreement. Given the military determination and skill of Governor Abdel Aziz, and the role of the Nuba people in making common cause with the SPLM/A for so many years, enduring terrible hardships as a consequence, it would be foolish to underestimate the importance of a just resolution of their status in any sustainable peace agreement.

It is, of course, impossible to predict what the Sudanese political landscape will look like a year following a peace agreement; this depends most upon whether peace is allowed to take hold in the south, which in turn depends upon the effectiveness of a UN peace support operation---which is nowhere near to even conceptual readiness. But the northern political landscape will be defined most by the inclusion or exclusion of other marginalized voices, not only from the south but from the east (e.g., the Beja people), the far north (e.g., the Nubians), and the west (especially the African Fur, Masseleit, and Zaghawa peoples). No doubt the two main traditional sectarian parties---the Umma and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)---will make their voices heard, given their significant followings. Hassan el-Turabi and the "Popular National Congress" party are a significant political force. And the other northern components of the umbrella National Democratic Alliance (NDA) will struggle to be heard in the political fray as well.

But all this represents the prospect of a political pluralism that is without precedent in Sudanese history. The NIF may disappear within this pluralism (they have exceedingly little popular support)---or they may use the chaos of pluralism to reassert authoritarian control. The most likely means would be a factitious "national emergency" justifying a military coup, since the NIF long ago finished a purging of the army’s officer corps and has refashioned the military in its own image. The international reaction to a military coup that brings the NIF back to dictatorial control will be loudly negative; but given the unwillingness of the international community to respond forcefully to any of the regime’s past outrages, the NIF may well calculate that international opprobrium will be less consequential than losing political power and the attendant control of national wealth.

It is at this moment, in an all too imaginable future, that two key features of the present peace negotiations in Naivasha will be powerfully tested. A military coup in Khartoum---inevitably abrogating all negotiated power-sharing arrangements---would precipitate an immediate move by the south and the three contested areas to secede. Will the present security arrangements, formalized in an agreement signed at Naivasha on September 25, 2003, be sufficient to allow the south militarily to sever its connections from a northern Sudan once again ruled by NIF tyranny in Khartoum? And secondly, what will happen to the wealth-sharing agreement that is on the verge of being completed, hinging as it does on the sharing of oil revenues that derive from production and exploration that is overwhelmingly in southern Sudan?

The answer to the first question is uncertain and depends most upon how quickly Khartoum’s present 100,000+ soldiers in the south are redeployed to the north, per the September 25 agreement. The international community would do well to put fully adequate resources into expediting this redeployment, since the September 25 agreement otherwise gives Khartoum as long as two and a half years to accomplish the task. And as long as Khartoum has many tens of thousands of soldiers in the south, not part of the "joint/integrated units" created by the September 25 agreement, the potential for a rapid resumption of full-scale civil war will be a clear and present danger. So far, the international community has again shown no sign of planning or providing resources for this critical military redeployment, one that will see negotiated terms of the security arrangements agreement actually realized on the ground. Given the large diplomatic investment in the Sudan peace process, this seems a foolish shortsightedness.

The continuity of any negotiated oil revenue-sharing agreement in a Sudan divided along a north-south border would also be highly precarious if there were a coup and a move to secession by the south. It will be extremely difficult to avoid renewed civil war, for the first impulse of many in the NIF, if a coup does indeed come, will be to seize control of as much as possible of production and exploration infrastructure in Blocks 1, 2, 4, 5a, 3 and 7 (including that of the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company). These are all mainly in southern Sudan. Only robust diplomatic efforts could preserve in a divided Sudan the terms of the oil revenue-sharing agreement that is being negotiated at Naivasha---and this would be a distinct long-shot.

To those convinced that the National Islamic Front has changed its ways, and though a bit rough around the edges is ready and willing to engage in multi-party politics, perhaps a couple of examples of current political realities will be salutary. The regime’s continuing severe press restrictions have recently been highlighted by Human Rights Watch (November 12, 2003) and Reporters Without Borders (RWB), and this was before the regime’s heavy-handed closing down of al-Jazeera satellite television bureau in Khartoum and the arrest of its bureau chief. RWB reported on December 3, 2003 that "[Khartoum’s] secret services and the state security prosecutor, Mohammed Farid Hassan, are still targeting the press." Following Khartoum’s thuggish actions against al-Jazeera, RWB declared:

"’The seizing of equipment from Al-Jazeera is just one more indication of the security forces’ unacceptable onslaughts on freedom of information, which has been reduced to a sorry state in Sudan," said Robert Ménard, secretary general of Reporters Without Borders. "Following six suspensions of newspapers in less than four months, now it is the turn of a television channel to be censored on a trumped-up administrative pretext," he added.’
(Reporters Without Borders press release, December 18, 2003)

Amnesty International provides another glimpse of the realities of political life in Sudan, reporting on Khartoum’s version of shari’a (Islamic law) and the case of a sixteen-year-old school girl, Intisar Bakri Abdulgader, sentenced to a flogging of 100 lashes for adultery (Amnesty International Index: AFR 54/104/2003, 08 December 2003, UA 359/03, "Flogging"). Depending on the fashion in which this brutal sentence is administered, it can easily be fatal. International outcry has produced a delay but not a lifting of the sentence. This case is far from unique. Sentences of cross-amputation (cutting off of the right hand and left foot) have been administered a number of times recently, and apostasy from Islam remains a capital crime in Sudan.

How, we must ask in light of such revealing examples, can multi-party political life be sustained if press freedoms remain so severely curtailed? How can political pluralism, including in the realm of jurisprudence, be nurtured amidst such an authoritarian and brutal construal of shari’a and hudud (the penal provisions of shari’a)? Will a peace agreement change these present realities? There is considerable reason for skepticism.

The second test---Darfur:

The scale of this vast and extremely urgent crisis simply cannot be overstated. Jan Egeland, UN Undersecretary-general for Humanitarian Affairs, declared in a recent radio interview that the humanitarian crisis in Darfur is, in the view of the UN, "probably the worst in the world" ("The World," BBC/Public Radio International, December 18, 2003; available at www.theworld.org). The UN’s World Food Program warned the same day that "more than one million people are now displaced by the conflict in Greater Darfur, western Sudan, and are in desperate need of food assistance" (UN World Food Program press release, December 18, 2003).

Unconscionably, Khartoum is still "systematically" (a UN description) denying humanitarian access in a variety of ways, mainly by refusing to grant travel permits to aid organizations. UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan Mukesh Kapila, in speaking explicitly of growing concerns about "ethnic cleansing" directed against the African peoples of Darfur (the Fur, the Masseleit, the Zaghawa), has pointedly noted that Khartoum’s denial of international access to the region also makes it impossible to secure first-hand information about what is occurring ("The World," BBC/Public Radio International, December 18, 2003). Even so, all available evidence points to the deliberate destruction of the African peoples of Darfur because of who they are---"as such," to borrow a phrase from the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

In addition to its immediate and dire humanitarian implications, the crisis in Darfur has highly significant military and political implications for the whole of Sudan. If a peace agreement is signed by Khartoum and the southern opposition, and there is meaningful power-sharing, the first task must be to end the war in Darfur and stop attacks on the civilian populations now perceived by Khartoum as supporting the insurgency movements. In other words, John Garang and other southerners in a national government would have the moral obligation to end the sort of brutal counter-insurgency warfare that has defined Khartoum’s war against the people of the south for decades. Will they have any success? Will their views even be allowed to be broadcast or printed in the news media?

Presently the war shows no sign of abating; indeed, the BBC today cites the views of veteran Sudan correspondent Alfred Taban that people in Darfur "are preparing for the worst and aid agencies are also pulling out" (BBC News, UK Edition, December 22, 2003). The same BBC dispatch again notes that diplomats are speaking of the fighting conducted by Khartoum’s Arab militia proxies as "ethnic cleansing" (BBC News, UK Edition, December 22, 2003). Meanwhile, Khartoum is claiming that Darfur peace talks under the weak auspices of the government of Chad broke down because of what the Khartoum-controlled press is describing as "unacceptable rebel demands for self-determination, a separate armed force and a percentage in oil revenues."

But as Mukesh Kapila, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, notes in a recent memorandum to senior UN officials Jan Egeland and Kieran Prendergast, the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) "offered a different interpretation":

"In an official document addressed to the UN, they reported that the talks collapsed due to the Government of Sudan’s refusal to adopt Protocols on relief and protection of civilians; to accept international observers’ presence in N’djamena [Darfur]; and to disarm its militias. They proposed that the Abeche [Chad] talks be coordinated with those of IGAD [the Naivasha negotiations], and requested the presence of international observers such as the US, EU, Islamic Conference, League of Arab States, African Union and neighbouring countries — in addition to Chad. They also called upon the UN to form an international committee to investigate human right violations, and requested the creation of a mechanism for the protection of civilians as well as the establishment of internationally monitored humanitarian corridors. Lastly, they called for an internationally monitored ceasefire." (Memorandum from the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, December 18, 2003)

Though the coordination of the Darfur peace process with the IGAD process is impracticable at this point, all these concerns by the SLM are perfectly just and warranted. In turn, it is diplomatically and morally intolerable to have two such completely divergent accounts of this consequential breakdown in the Darfur peace talks. Certainly Idris Deby and the government of Chad are woefully inadequate intermediaries in this situation, and reveal a desperate need for a much greater international diplomatic response to the Darfur crisis.

Moreover, if Khartoum is lying about the Darfur peace talks, as it has about virtually every aspect of the Darfur crisis, this also augurs poorly for real peace in Sudan. For mendacity is in this context but an extension of a military policy that the regime fears to have revealed for what it is: "ethnic cleansing" directed against the civilian populations perceived by Khartoum as supporting the insurgency movements. The policy is conducted by means of Khartoum-backed Arab militias attacking noncombatant populations, regardless of their proximity to military forces---and by "systematic" humanitarian aid denials that have brought "present humanitarian operations practically to a standstill."
(Tom Vraalsen, Note to the Emergency Relief Coordinator; "Sudan: Humanitarian Crisis in Darfur," December 8, 2003)

Is a regime that is guilty of ongoing "ethnic cleansing" against one group of marginalized peoples---the African tribal groups of Darfur---really going to share power in a meaningful fashion with the other marginalized peoples of Sudan?

This is the test posed by Darfur. Khartoum is failing utterly. So, too, is an international community that is making no plans for a humanitarian intervention in what is now "probably the worst humanitarian crisis in the world" (Jan Egeland, UN Undersecretary-general for Humanitarian Affairs, December 18, 2003).

Peace in Sudan is a good deal further away than signatures in Naivasha.

Eric Reeves
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063

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