Sudanese scenarios for 2011 and After: Introduction
Sudan faces two momentous events in the next fifteen months. The first is the general election, intended as the first multi-party nationwide elections in the nation’s history (earlier multiparty elections in the 1960s and 1980s did not include war-affected areas in the south, an exclusion that doomed the resulting governments). The second is the referendum on self-determination in southern Sudan, which if indications of southern opinion are reliable, will lead to a decisive vote for secession. With all the attention on “˜CPA implementation'””which consists of safely getting to the point of the referendum””there has been far too little attention to what happens afterwards.
Two reports on scenario exercises, by the Clingendael Institute in the Hague and by the U.S. Institute of Peace have filled that gap in the public discourse. Over the next weeks, we will be debating these on this blog.
The authors of the two reports will outline the findings of their exercises and we have invited some of those who contributed, and who have thought about these issues, also to contribute.
Let me begin with a word about scenario methodologies. As those who organize scenario exercises will emphasize, a scenario is not a prediction. It is an exploration of the possible and plausible on the basis of the assumptions and information held by those who participate in the exercise. However, despite the caution of scenario specialists, scenario reports are invariably read as anticipations of possible futures. A good scenario obliges decision makers and analysts to reconsider their assumptions and strategies.
A scenario exercise is only as good as the information and assumptions that are put in, and the questions that are asked. If key questions remain unasked, or important dimensions of the problem remain unanalyzed, then the exercise cannot take account of them. Because scenario exercises feed back into decision-makers’ strategies, they can potentially run the risk of becoming self-reinforcing about the nature of the problem.
Another limitation of scenario exercises is that they are based on human processing of information about the current political landscape. People who are familiar with the subject””in this case Sudan””may have sound intuitions and reasonable expectations about the current configuration of politics and reasonable trajectories. But almost everyone, including experienced political operators, are very poor at anticipating outcomes when a major factor changes. The scenarios for Sudan changed markedly when Dr. John Garang died in July 2005. Very quickly thereafter, Sudanese and Sudan analysts mentally adjusted to the new realities. But if they had been asked beforehand about scenarios in the absence of Dr. John, the results would have been little more than guesswork. The ICC arrest warrant against President Bashir also changed the political landscape, ruling out the scenario of a head of state other than Omer al Bashir after the elections. Similarly, there are likely to be dramatic events around the time of the referendum, whose impacts are very hard to anticipate. No-one, for example, is examining what might happen if there is a powerful movement for self-determination in Darfur, or if a renewed north-south war brings in other governments in the region as belligerents.
What the two scenarios succeed admirably in doing is laying out the key drivers of the future of Sudan, as they exist today, and the possible outcomes. The bleaker outcomes are sadly more probable than the more optimistic ones. The scenarios help us focus attention on the key strategic choices to be made, and the most important dangers to avoid. They have come not a moment too soon.