Moments of crisis are also moments of opportunity. Sudan at the present has all the dimensions of an imminent crisis that could unravel the major achievements of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the uncertain progress towards democracy.
The sharpest manifestation of the crisis is the SPLM’s suspension of its participation in the Government of National Unity, announced on October 11. As well as an attempt to push through an overdue cabinet reshuffle–held up by President Omar al Bashir–it was a signal that caught the attention of the international community, especially the U.S., which had been neglecting the CPA. But it was also a risky step, especially insofar as the SPLM does not appear to have had a clear plan for how to follow it up. The SPLM action may yet generate its own momentum, with unforeseeable consequences.
A disturbing and unanticipated event was Monday’s press conference by vice president Ali Osman Taha, in which the NCP’s leading proponent of the CPA angrily condemned the SPLM, and also implied that the U.S. was complicit in the withdrawal. It is hard to read exactly what compelled Ali Osman to make this statement, but we should be worried that it could prefigure a retreat by the NCP leadership into a fatalistic bunker mentality, in which it assumes that the western world is out to destroy it, and therefore rejects any external attempts to solve Sudan’s problems. Their attitude: we survived pariah status in the 1990s, when our neighbors and the U.S. were out for regime change, and we can do so again. For a divided government, such as this, the default option is always to reject.
Meanwhile, the imminent Darfur peace talks in Libya are looking even more perilous. Whatever propitious conditions existed are evaporating. Many of the movements’ leaders are demanding more time to work out their common position, and others are arguing that there is little point in talking to a government that is in crisis, without the SPLM. This is not an auspicious moment to begin peace talks, yet the AU and UN are pressing ahead. The number one lesson from the Abuja peace process, clearly iterated in Laurie Nathan’s chapter “The making an unmaking of the Darfur Peace Agreement” in my recent edited collection is that artificial deadlines are dangerous. Does this lesson have to be re-learned?
The crisis is, however, an opportunity. The thread that links the stalling of the CPA, the efforts to achieve a settlement in Darfur, and the fast-enveloping crisis in Kordofan, is the SPLM. It is the SPLM that has brought the Darfurian leader together in Juba; that needs to develop the strategy for escaping from the current crisis of the CPA; and which is acutely aware of the need to include Kordofan. (In fact, the leader of the Kordofan Alliance for Development, an influential political grouping in the region, is consulting with the SPLM and Darfurians in Juba.)
The crisis is a Sudanese crisis and if it is resolved, it will be resolved according to the rhythms and methods of Sudanese politics. These may be frustrating to members of the international community who desperately want clean processes and quick results. The focus of effort in the coming few weeks should be on Juba, where these different but inter-linked threads of the national problem converge right now.