Sudan in 2012: Asking New Questions
The scenario exercises by Clingendael and USIP are extremely useful, both in the possible futures that they pose, and in the questions they oblige us to ask. The comment and elaboration by John Ashworth, which portrays the CPA as no more than a truce in a war of separation that is, implicitly, generations old, concentrates the mind. Could Sudan go down the disastrous course to a new and bloodier war? Recurrent experience with Sudan’s politics gives us the answer: yes it could.
What do they tell us?
The key message from the scenarios is that avoiding a new war between north and south””with all the repercussions that entails””is the single biggest challenge in Sudan. A secondary message is that even if war is avoided, there will be serious governance challenges in both north and south. “˜Serious governance challenges’ could mean large human rights violations and a breakup of the country.
The scenarios did not focus upon Darfur, but the implications of the outcomes are that Darfur is a relatively lesser issue and solutions should be approached through this national lens, rather than the north-south issue being approached through a Darfur lens.
Another implication is that time is desperately short. There is a great deal of political business to be transacted in the few remaining months of the CPA. In fact, at the current pace of political business in Sudan, only a small amount of what is needed will be completed, a factor which could allow any party to challenge the legitimacy of the outcome. The recent call by leading Sudanese civil society figures and academics to concentrate on the key points of the CPA, makes a lot of sense.
There is a big question over whether elections are a good idea or not. The “˜mid-term’ elections were introduced into the CPA text by the international partners against initial resistance by both NCP and SPLM. The rationale against is that (a) they are a burdensome and complicating factor, and (b) the new GoNU will require a great deal of political negotiation and if the signatories to the CPA are not in a dominant position then the remaining provisions of the CPA are in question. In addition, given that the elections can no longer be considered “˜mid-term’ but are coming close to the end of the interim period, the wisdom of electing a new GoNU just a few months before that government is dissolved by the south voting for secession, is questionable. There is a resource question too: elections are expensive (though far cheaper than either war or peacekeeping).
The rationale in favour is that the government that presides over the exercise in self-determination must be a legitimate (i.e. elected) government that includes the major political stakeholders that were not part of the CPA. The major challenge to the legitimacy of the CPA negotiations at the time was the exclusion of the northern Sudanese political opposition, principally the NDA parties but also the Darfurians, and also to a lesser extent the southern parties other than the SPLM. The experience of the 1970s was that the exclusion of these parties from the Addis Ababa agreement meant that when they later joined the government, the gains of the Addis Ababa peace were reversed. The aim was therefore to achieve the democratization of Sudan and the legitimation of the CPA, through inclusivity, during the interim period itself. As Ashworth stresses, the elections are the key benefit of the CPA for northern Sudanese.
The question of whether Darfur can be included in the elections has since arisen. There are strong arguments on both sides. One particularly persuasive argument repeatedly expressed in Darfur is that if the elections are held and Darfur is not included, then this will be a strong signal to Darfurians that they are not full citizens of Sudan. In the same way that the incomplete elections of 1965, 1968 and 1986 (in which the south was underrepresented due to some constituencies being war zones) helped discredit the elected governments and the growth of separatist sentiment in the south, the selective exclusion of Darfur would be an invitation to Darfurians to demand self-determination or secession. (Especially if southern secession took place under a government without elected Darfurian representation.)
A scenario exercise is only as good as the information and assumptions that are put in, and the questions that are asked. The four drivers identified in the USIP exercise are sound and useful. I suspect, however, that these drivers underplay the importance of inter- and intra-elite patronage in the working of Sudan’s political system. This is something everyone knows about, but no-one talks about in public. It is a factor that both drives and constrains southern separatist sentiment. It drives secessionism insofar as “˜Jellaba politics’ is a source of resentment: southerners see how northern elite patronage and divide-and-rule tactics keep the south in a subjugated position. It constrains separatism insofar as southerners struggle to construct their own unified political institutions, and consequently there are always opportunities for Khartoum-based patronage networks to expand their reach.
Sudanese political life can be seen an ongoing bargaining process, over both substantive political questions (such as unity or separation, Islamism or secularism, etc.) and also over the material rewards for participation in patronage systems.
Most experience and analysis suggests that there is no realistic prospect of the Sudanese political elites coming to agreement on the question of unity or secession, or on whether there is scope for agreement on the reform of the governance system in favour of a more equitable “˜New Sudan’ model. Moreover, there does not appear to be a means of getting to a consensus. The CPA “˜one country two systems’ compromise is no more than a middle point between the positions held by the main players in north and south. Whatever arguments can be marshaled in support of this position, and however much international support is given to the CPA system as a blueprint for the future, it remains a minority position within Sudan. Rather, the northern parties see the CPA as awarding too much power to the south within a united Sudan, while most southerners see it as merely the waiting room for independence.
On questions of the “˜New Sudan’ the Sudanese political elites have a wide distribution of positions and are open to greater flexibility. But there is no consensus, and nor is there likely to be one in the foreseeable future. The “˜New Sudan’ agenda has been undermined, perhaps fatally, by the agenda of southern separatism.
International influence on any outcome in Sudan is modest. Especially as the likelihood of a major political confrontation or war approaches, the Sudanese parties’ focus is on one another, and the opportunities for international leverage decline. International (especially U.S.) support for the south in a new confrontation may strengthen the south but is unlikely to deter the north, while international support for Khartoum will not swing the positions of the southern nationalists. The diversity of international interests in Sudan, and interpretations of the situation and prospects, also detracts from influence.
In Sudan, bargaining over resources, especially finance, typically produces rapid agreements, though not very durable ones. The patronage system, with its primary centre in Khartoum, has operated as a glue that keeps the country from fragmentation. Almost all of the elites are either already part of this system, to a greater or lesser degree. Within this system, “˜making unity attractive,’ does not entail improving the lot of the ordinary people of the south or making them feel valued citizens””it means paying off the elite. The basic flaw in the Khartoum governance strategy is that it has relied on patronage as the only glue, instead of using it as the basis on which to build a wider political strategy that can build deeper loyalties rather than negotiable elite financial interest.
How will this patronage system (or political marketplace) develop over time? Four drivers are important: (1) the amount of money available to the central system; (2) the ability of the Government of South Sudan to establish a cohesive centre of patronage; (3) the strategy followed by other patrons (e.g. neighbouring states, the international community); and (4) the relationship between elites and their constituencies.
The extent and speed of the unification of any patronage system depends on the amount of money in the system. With a sufficiently high oil price and large amounts of largesse to dispense, the ruling coalition in Khartoum might be able to bring most elites within a single network. Importantly, this would unify today’s rival centres of power within Khartoum, and thereby make the patronage system more efficient, freeing up resources for other uses. With a low oil price and a budget crunch, the existing situation of several different competing centres of patronage will be sustained.
Juba has emerged as a secondary patronage centre in Sudan. The viability of southern efforts to build a state that can challenge the north depend critically on the ability of the Government of South Sudan to establish a coherent patronage system of its own, centralizing its financial management. Up to now, it has not been very effective at this, both because of internal mismanagement and rivalry, and also because the Khartoum patronage networks extend into the southern elite, partly because of the SPLM presence in the national government. Many southerners hope that with independence, the northern system can be shut out and the disarray will reduce or end.
The political marketplace in Sudan, and the greater Nile Valley, has been irreversibly internationalized. We cannot expect a return to the days of a purely domestic set of patronage systems. At present, there are agreements are in place to limit Sudan’s involvement in Chad and vice versa, and to reduce Libyan involvement. Eritrea has also been reduced to a subordinate actor, and the east African governments are relatively inactive. This all makes short-term agreements more likely, for example over Darfur. However, in the event of a war of partition, we would expect many of these governments to re-enter the Sudanese affray.
Lastly, it is possible to bring elites into a compact, and then find that this has overlooked the importance of their constituents. The case of Abyei provides an interesting example: the decision of the Abyei tribunal was more-or-less satisfactory to the political elites, but the NCP had not prepared the Missiriya constituency for accepting the decision, as a result of which it faces a new political dynamic which it has so far not contained. Southern sentiment for separation is such that any of their leaders who sell them short on this, on the basis of an elite bargain in the marketplace, will face a local revolt.
This analysis suggests that the financial arrangements governing oil sector revenues during and after self-determination will be crucial. The location of the oil in the south and the pipeline through the north provides a unique opportunity to leverage an agreement, as both sides need the oil to flow. The financial arrangements could become the driver, not only of the likelihood of conflict, but also of the viability of the GoSS efforts to construct a unified patronage system that is sufficiently independent from Khartoum’s.
What makes Sudanese political life so fascinating, so turbulent, and so hard to predict is that the divisive political issues coexist with the centralizing patronage dynamics.
What could change?
Scenario exercises are highly dependent upon the starting assumptions. What happens when one of the base assumptions changes? There are a number of possibilities.
“¢ The Darfur conflict could be resolved in time for the elections, in such a way that the electoral dynamics are shifted decisively in favour of a “˜New Sudan’ political coalition with the SPLM, especially its northern sector, playing a more prominent political role. It is almost certainly too late to alter the sentiments of the southern electorate. But might the pro-unionist bloc in the SPLM leadership be invigorated and able to explore options such as a “˜sovereign association’ between north and south that would avert the otherwise-likely political demise of the SPLM in the north?
“¢ The financial crisis of the GoSS, with its reverberations through the patronage-governance system, has yet to play itself out. Current scenarios assume that the capacity and legitimacy of the GoSS are on an upward trend. This may not be the case.
“¢ The fact of a southern decision in favour of secession, and the way in which that decision is made, will have far-reaching impacts and create unanticipated new scenarios, including new questions. It is possible that if some major political issues, including the financial interests of the south (and especially southern elites) in the north, are settled in advance of a decision, then that decision will pass off without significant conflict””and indeed without any major disturbances to existing relationships. On the other hand, the strategies of the two parties for managing the decision, and in particular their respective internal governance challenges in the wake of the decision, will be critical. The immediate aftermath of the referendum will be a volatile period and it will not be possible to anticipate all the issues that will arise.