Peace in Sudan: Priorities and Constraints
The central challenge facing Sudan is the exercise of self-determination in southern Sudan. If business as usual continues, the default scenario is violent contest over the partition leading to major disaster. Little time is left for averting this. Fortunately, the key policymakers in the U.S., Europe and Africa are at the point of consensus in their analysis, which is a major step forward towards effective action.
The Sudanese problem is fiendishly difficult. It is resistant to external diktat and can only be resolved by agreement among the Sudanese””and moreover that agreement has to be sufficiently strongly grounded in domestic realities that it will survive loss of interest or policy changes by major foreign powers such as the U.S. The NCP has neither the time nor resources to settle the problem on its own terms (which would entail a “buy in” solution on the basis of patronage) and has neither the capacity nor the will to make the substantive concessions necessary to achieve a credible consensus with its adversaries. While the majority of southerners undoubtedly favor separation, the SPLM is not in a position to handle the process of self-determination without facing major internal problems which could easily lead to a disastrous split. Meanwhile, the Darfurian opposition, which is hopelessly badly led anyway, has little incentive to come to an agreement with a government that they believe is about to implode.
In these circumstances a mechanical approach to “CPA implementation” is not in fact a policy: it is a substitute for a policy. It is an approach geared to keeping up appearances, while also doing useful political work (fixing a number of important contested issues), while the major underlying political issues are addressed. On this blog, Abd al-Wahab Abdalla has warned of the “fetishization” of the CPA. The danger for Sudan is that the south chooses secession by default, and the process is non-consensual and disorderly, and its legitimacy is disputed, both north and south. The danger for the U.S. is that the southerners will regard America as its guarantor, externalizing their problems and postponing their own internal political actions to resolve them, and landing the Obama Administration with ownership of an intractable issue half way through its first term, that will drain the administration’s foreign policy energies in the way that Darfur did for George W. Bush’s second term.
The customary Sudanese manner of dealing with apparently insoluble issues is delay, in the hope that the complications will resolve themselves in due course. Delay is not an easy option given the international investment in the CPA timetable and the time-limited legitimacy of the current political dispensation among southern Sudanese. Delay would be workable only if actively supported by southerners in the context of credible efforts to resolve the outstanding issues.
Many of Sudan’s political problems arise from political mismanagement, including gross inequity in resource distribution and readiness to use force in pursuit of political goals, by the central government. By the same token that the problems originate in Khartoum, the solution must also come through Khartoum. There is no alternative government in waiting and no alternative but to dealing with the current powerholders. The experience of the last decade demonstrates an elementary rule of foreign relations: the Sudan government will only engage in a serious search for solutions when it is confident of the ground rules for dealing with its major international partner/adversary (the U.S.).
At the same time, U.S. policies should be guided by three basic realities. One is that international engagement can only influence Sudanese outcomes at the margin. The U.S. is not going to be so stupid as to try to use military force, and the level of political and financial resources it can bring to bear can never match those mobilized by the Sudanese domestic actors. Second, winning international consensus and coordination is half the game. That is now in serious prospect. Third, Sudanese political processes are severely constrained””and becoming more so as the critical decision points approach. There is not a lot of latitude.
In this context, any useful international effort to resolve the key issues requires ruthless prioritization. The shopping list or micromanagement approach, combined with saber-rattling, that has been the hallmark of the last four years has dissipated energy, sown confusion and set back the search for solutions. Far better is to focus the main effort on the centre of gravity of the Sudanese problem (self-determination), treating the resolution of issues such as Darfur, democratization and southern governance as secondary and derivative. For a U.S. political leader to follow this approach requires some courage, because there is a domestic price to be paid, with sadly predictable catcalls of “compromise with evil” and the like.
It is heartening to see a meeting of the minds among the most influential international stakeholders, including the U.S. government, on a common analysis of the major issues in Sudan. This kind of consensus is a rare and precious commodity and deserves to be nurtured. The strategy adopted by the U.S. Special Envoy General Scott Gration is not only the only game in town today, but there are no credible competitors. Taking his approach requires political will. Persisting with it in the face of frustrations in Sudan and naysaying at home will demand political courage.