The Two Sudans Are Dangerous Minefields

Credit: International Crisis Group - Photo: 2011

The Two Sudans Are Dangerous Minefields

By Jerome Mwanda
IDN-InDepth NewsReport

NAIROBI (IDN) – A new era of protracted civil war in Sudan is “a real possibility” if key international actors do not succeed in containing it. In fact, fighting could quickly expand both within Sudan and spill over into South Sudan, a prestigious international think-tank has warned.

“To the resurgence of war in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile will likely be added an escalation in Darfur, especially now that the leader of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) has returned from Libya and re-joined forces in Darfur,” says the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

To make things worse, both Sudan and recently established South Sudan have intensified rhetoric and are blaming each other for supporting rival’s insurgents. The government of Sudan claims that the military action by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) is a grand plan to topple the regime in Khartoum, an agenda supported by external elements including the government of South Sudan. Juba claims the war is a northern affair and accuses Khartoum of supporting South Sudan rebellions.

“The situation will escalate if the international community is delayed or disjointed in its response,” warns the Crisis Group.

The Group’s report points out that Khartoum’s most recent military offensive – this time in Blue Nile state – adds to fresh fighting between government and opposition forces in Southern Kordofan and recent hostilities in Abyei. “With hundreds of thousands of people displaced, at least 20,000 of whom have fled into Ethiopia from Blue Nile in recent days, the growing war on multiple fronts poses serious dangers for the country, for its future relationship with the Republic of South Sudan and for the stability of the region as a whole,” says the report.

The study traces the recently renewed conflict in these three areas to unimplemented provisions of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between Khartoum’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and the SPLM, which ended a two-decade-long north-south civil war in Sudan that cost millions of lives. The provisions yet to be translated into practice include the failed democratic transformation of Sudan, stymied popular consultations, and the unresolved status of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) forces indigenous to the North.

The CPA – premised on three major principles: fairer distribution of power and wealth between the centre and the peripheries, democratic transformation and the right of southern Sudanese to determine their own future –was intended to lay the foundation for a new reality in Sudan, end chronic conflict and make continued unity attractive.

The CPA also granted the people of the states of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile to conduct popular consultations to rectify the document’s shortcomings on their areas and to redefine their relationship with Khartoum.

General elections were scheduled half way through the six-year interim period (that is, by 2008), so as to widen participation in governance. In the period after the elections, the new representative government was to build on those foundations in order to consolidate reconciliation, start the popular consultations, continue review of constitutional arrangements and establish conditions that would affirm the rights of all the people of Sudan and encourage Southerners to choose continued unity of their own free will.

After the end of the CPA, however, rather than negotiate with Sudanese opposition forces, NCP hardliners have opted for a military solution. It is not an unusual policy response for the regime when confronted with opposition. However, it is pushing Sudan’s disparate rebel movements and opposition forces together and could trigger a wider civil war for control of the country, the think-tank, headed by Louise Arbour, former UN Human Rights Commissioner.

New Approach Needed

According to the report, the CPA period is over, and there is no coherent political framework to deal with the many remaining challenges in Sudan. It regrets that the international community largely underestimated the impact of secession on the North and attention was focused on safeguarding South Sudan’s referendum and independence.

The International Crisis Group says: “New thinking is required to take into account a Khartoum regime now in the hands of SAF (Sudan Armed Forces) generals, a unifying opposition that seeks regime change, and an international community that seems to be losing the ability to engage coherently on Sudan’s problems.”

It adds: Continuing with the current ad hoc approach to negotiations and short-term arrangements to manage crises will not address the underlying causes of conflict. The various issues – North-South negotiations, Abyei, Darfur Peace Process, and Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile – are interrelated and efforts should be made to ensure coherence in resolving them.

“What is urgently needed is a new approach – supported by the key external actors, including friends of Khartoum – to deal with the internal crisis in the North and the conclusion of post-CPA agreements between the North and South. The AU (African Union) and UN should continue to support North-South talks, and both parties should be brought back to focus on the key agreements that must be reached, most immediate being economic arrangements,” advises the Crisis Group.

In the meantime, it says, the international community should unite behind a single approach to begin addressing internal Sudan crises. A sustainable solution to these can be found only by focusing on a cessation of hostilities and an inclusive national dialogue. Such a dialogue should consist of “renegotiating the relationship between the centre and peripheries, and agreement on decentralisation”. Also a redistribution of power leading to a new constitution is necessary, on the basis of which a referendum and new elections should be held, stresses the Crisis Group.

The report points out that a negotiated settlement of disputes is in the interest of all parties. Neither the SAF nor the SPLM-N can achieve an outright military victory. “The Sudanese President Bashir and SAF generals must be made to understand that the current military strategy of using tribal militias, ethnic cleansing and allowing insurgencies to fester, only increases the risk of fragmentation and prolongs international interference,” says the Crisis Group.

“Likewise, the newly aligned opposition will face similar military challenges; the NCP regime is weakened but not powerless, and an alliance of the disparate opposition groups is unsustainable in the long-term. Widespread instability in North Sudan would not only exact a great toll on the Sudanese people but jeopardise the future of South Sudan. The parties should be helped by their international partners to recognise the imperative of a non-military solution,” adds the think-tank.

The think-tank calls for convening of an international conference under the auspices of the African Union to build consensus on a new international strategy for Sudan. The conference, it says, should comprise a group of people representing all different blocs with a stake in Sudan and should include the IGAD, Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Turkey, China, India, Malaysia, Brazil, South Africa, Ethiopia, as well as the European Union, UN and members of the troika – USA, Britain and Norway. [IDN-InDepthNews – October 09, 2011]

2011 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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