Challenges for Sudan in the CPA’s Fifth Year
Four years on from the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Nairobi, is a good moment to reflect on the spirit of the CPA and the challenges of 2009″”the year in which the fate of the Agreement, and hence the future of Sudan, will be decided.
The CPA was heralded as Sudan’s “˜second independence’, its last and best chance for unity. It entailed two immense challenges, either one of which would have strained the capacity of a poor and ill-governed country. One challenge was preparing for an exercise in self-determination for southern Sudan, in the hope and anticipation that progress during the six-year interim period would “˜make unity attractive.’ The second challenge was democratizing the country. Mid-term elections were proposed by the internationals (initially against the wishes of both parties), with the primary aim of legitimizing the CPA and the exercise in self-determination, and the secondary objective of accelerating the transition to democracy, with both goals to be achieved by including other opposition parties in the Government of National Unity.
It took three years of near-continual negotiations between the NCP and SPLM to come up with the CPA’s detailed formulae. This was much longer than expected, and one of the results was that the documents are far more detailed than would have been ideal, with a much more intrusive role for the international community than either party originally envisaged. Yet when the Agreement was finally signed, all acknowledged that it was just 10 percent of the work””the remaining 90 percent was in the implementation. Success would demand resolute focus on the key objectives of the CPA, not only by the NCP and SPLM, but also by the internationals.
In Arabic, “˜comprehensive peace’ was translated as al salaam al shamil, which carried echoes of the totalizing projects of the 1970s and 1990s. Many Sudanese skeptically interpreted it as an exclusive peace deal. For the NCP leadership it was a “˜total’ agreement in the senses that it defined the Party’s continuing rule and set limits on the claims of others to shares in national power and wealth. For the SPLM leadership, by contrast, the CPA was the moment at which the struggle for a New Sudan was transferred from the military to the political realm.
During the summer of 2004, the question of whether to include Darfur within the CPA was raised. The decision was taken that, rather than jeopardize the within-grasp agreement between NCP and SPLM by bringing in others, to pursue the CPA and then, with the SPLM in government, turn attention to Darfur. With John Garang at the helm of the SPLM, it seemed a viable approach””especially as, by coincidence or design, the CPA was signed in the same month as major hostilities in Darfur came to an end. The mid-term elections were also seen as a mechanism for ensuring that in just three-to-four years, the Darfurians would be guaranteed their share.
Without the late John Garang, and without the resolute focus on the CPA by both national and international leaders, it is unsurprising that the CPA has languished, and that the provisions of the Agreement are now implemented (or not) in a very different spirit to that of early 2005. The vision of a new political compact that includes all Sudanese in a new national project now looks like a fading dream. With little progress towards making unity attractive, the fundamental question is whether the referendum on self-determination will take place and if so, how it will be managed. If the process or outcome are contested, few have any doubts that the result will be a violently-contested partition of the country. A new war of this kind would not only be a humanitarian disaster but would scar the political futures of both north and south Sudan, and drag the entire region into the conflict in one way or another.
In the shadow of the ICC Prosecutor’s efforts to have President Omar al Bashir arrested on charges of genocide, the mid-term elections are no longer an exercise in giving popular endorsement to a new, broad-based Government of National Unity. Instead they are becoming the occasion for tactical manoevering around the politics of survival. Some NCP leaders want to use the elections to secure a mandate for President Bashir to remain in office, mobilizing the voters to defy the ICC. Only a minority in all parties–including the unionist bloc within the SPLM–genuinely believes that the elections can be the trigger for a political transformation in Sudan.
The Sudanese political system operates at a pace which cannot easily be hurried. It takes a certain amount of time for formal decisions to be made (e.g. the National Assembly passing legislation and technical exercises such as the national census being conducted and the results analyzed). It also takes time for political bargains to be struck among the elites. The number of political decisions to be taken in the next two years is beyond the capacity of the political apparatus as it currently operates. Sudan cannot put in place the requirements for free and fair elections, hold those elections, form a new government, resolve the Darfur crisis, resolve the outstanding issues between NCP and SPLM and between north and south, hold the referendum and agree on the result, all in twenty-four months. Above all it cannot do this if the primary preoccupation of the NCP leadership is personal and political survival, under the shadow of the ICC. If the Sudanese political system is forced to accelerate in this way, it will most probably come off the rails.
Over the last four years, rather than maintaining a focus on the core national issues correctly identified in the CPA, the international partners have expended most of their energies on other issues. Darfur has been treated as though it were not part of Sudan, and excessive attention has been lavished on secondary issues in Darfur such as peacekeepers and the ICC. Now is a good moment for this distortion to be corrected, and for domestic and international attention to shift back to the priority issues. The Darfur crisis should be treated solely within the Sudanese national context, and the politics of national survival–whether as one nation or two–should be front and center.
With just two short years of the interim period remaining before the referendum date, the immediate priority must be averting the catastrophe of a contested partition of the country. As the January 2011 deadline comes closer, it will take on a dominating logic of its own. Everything else including the mid-term elections, the Darfur peace process, the ICC process, and the functioning of UNMIS and UNAMID should be made secondary and supportive of the objective of achieving a political consensus on a civic way of handling the future of the country. Should the current unfocused approach continue, with its multiple competing goals, none of them sufficiently cogent to count as a priority, and the distracting efforts at micromanagement from afar, the result will be a continued drift in the Sudanese political process. If an exercise in southern self-determination is conducted without a true sense of Sudanese ownership of both the process and the decision, it will not be regarded as legitimate and will not be respected. That would be the greatest misfortune in Sudan’s history as an independent nation.
During 2009, Sudan will make historic decisions about its future. Those decisions should be made by deliberation rather than default. The decisions should be made by Sudanese — that is the true spirit of self-determination. The role of the internationals is to facilitate Sudanese ownership of their future — and in other respects, to take a step back.