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.
It is difficult to reconcile de Waalâ€™s claims in this post:
â€œThe 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.â€
But the self-determination referendum of February 2011 depends upon successful national elections in February 2010. If, for example, the National Congress Party/National Islamic Front (NCP) rigs the national elections in ways that are all too predictable, we will never see a referendum a year later that would allow for the peaceful secession of South Sudan. Among the many possibilities available to the regime, the Parliament might be stacked so as to create the necessary majority to re-write the terms of the CPA. A â€œstate of emergencyâ€ could be declared. The army and security forces could be deployed in ways that either determine the elections, or serve as guarantor of results promulgated by the NCP.
Certainly there is no current evidence that al-Bashir and his cabal will allow the national elections to be the occasion for a peaceful transition of political power. One must credit the men who orchestrated al-Bashirâ€™s re-election with an 86% majority in 2000 with an â€œelectoral conversionâ€ to believe this might happen.
So how can it be, with the power and inclination to engineer national elections to its satisfaction, the NCP has neither the â€œtime nor the resources to settle the problem on its own termsâ€?
â€œThe NCP has neither the time nor resources to settle the problem on its own terms (which would entail a â€œbuy inâ€ 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.â€
No doubt the second claim is accurate, but the first seriously underestimates the NCPâ€™s resources as well as its machinations since the signing of the CPA, almost four and a half years ago. And without this first assumption, the argument here about the self-determination referendum either misses the point or simply falls apart.
You don’t understand. First, the NCP’s problem is not the elections. The problem is the exercise of self-determination. Setting the elections is not the same as settling the issue of who dominates Sudan. The NCP is not able to do this on its own terms at the current time. It cannot do it in Darfur, although it has managed the Arab mutiny for now. It cannot do it in the South despite the SPLM’s mishandling of the GoSS.
From a distance, no doubt, the NCP looks like a well-oiled Machiavellian machine of total control. From close up it is anything but that. The tendency to blame everything that happens in Sudan on some central conspiracy of the NCP is an error. Remember Margery Perham’s description of the Ethiopian monarchy? To paraphrase (I’m in Khartoum and far away from my library): it’s a total despotism, and it’s rule doesn’t extend one mile beyond the gates of Addis Ababa.
The exercise in self-determination is as much a problem for the SPLM as for the NCP, albeit in different ways. The idea that self-determination is, in itself, a solution to anything is not correct.
You will recall that I made a similar argument in The New Republic a few months ago. http://www.tnr.com/politics/story.html?id=b7d34c62-b093-4887-9e32-b9e00404945d. The purpose of that discussion was to propose a policy for the Obama Administration. I made my proposal: your contribution was full of critique (http://www.tnr.com/politics/story.html?id=6f4929f2-dafa-4fb7-8f65-5f66ad9c4dfc) but short on proposals.
In your piece you also made the claim, the day after the expulsions of the NGOs from Darfur, “Darfur’s grim genocide by attrition will continue, with huge increases in mortality.” I offered an open invitation to you to contribute two pieces, one to justify the claim that “genocide by attrition” is continuing, and the second to propose a policy. That invitation still stands.
I think it is better to omit the “un” from the following (undoubtedly) in your statement “the majority of southerners undoubtedly favor separation”.
In the past, the Late John Garang needed to unite the Southern tribes under one SPLM flag. So he worked hard to make them face their sole enemy in the North. Now things are different, tribal clashes are everywhere in the South. A lot of Southern tribes are afraid that the Dinka will dominate them if the country is divided. The Dinka tribe dominates the SPLM leadership and GoSS, while other tribes are marginalized. Dinka tribesmen are supported by the SPLA in its clashes against other tribes. GoSS disarmed adversaries to the tribe only. The only guarantee for all communities in the South against Dinka dictatorship is to stay in a united country.
The SPLM is now more skeptical that its power in the South would be contested by other Southern factions. The mismanagement and corruption of the leadership distanced it from its people. The movement put restraints on the political activities in its region to suppress other political powers. Its power has been militarily challenged by many tribes like Nuer and Murle in the South. Sharing power with the NCP is the only guarantee for it to keep its recent grip.
In the past, it was a north versus south conflict and now it is tribe versus tribe in the south.
Also, the NCP is using the SPLM to strengthen its grip in the North. Neutralizing the SPLM after signing the CPA is a gain that in the interest of the party. The political opposition in the North was rendered weak after the CPA. So it is not in favor of any party to opt for separation. The referendum will be postponed year after year. Unity is now more attractive than in the past as dangers arising from separation are insurmountable for all. Eruption of civil conflicts in different parts of the country is a possibility that is not defused by either separation or unity.
For Alex de Waal:
Iâ€™m afraid it is you who donâ€™t understand. The NCPâ€™s problem is quite clearly the national elections: if they fail to prevail in a decisive way, they lose their current monopoly on national wealth and power. They would also lose the power to control the southern self-determination referendum. However defective in certain respects the NCP machinery may be, it is clear from many conversations Iâ€™ve had with those intimately familiar with that machinery that it is still capable of running in high gear, and still controls the army and security services. There are internal tensions, to be sure, many deriving from the ICC arrest warrant for al-Bashir. But there is also no truly acceptable candidate in the event of a â€œpalace coup.â€ Ali Osman Taha may appear the most likely, but is opposed by the army and Nafiâ€™e Ali Nafiâ€™e. The NCP and its tyranny will not simply melt away with elections.
The rather obvious syllogism you seem to misunderstand is that if the NCP controls the elections, rigs the results, and changes the terms of the CPA—or simply decides to abort the self-determination referendum—there is nothing that can stop them. The fecklessness of the international community certainly provides an open invitation. The South may declare independence, but this will simply be a declaration of war, that is if war hasnâ€™t already been triggered by the national elections of next year. Presumably you have read the spate of recent assessments of these elections, including comments on the recent â€œlegislationâ€ that has direct bearing on these elections, as well as comments on Khartoumâ€™s purposeful delay of an extremely complex electoral calendar. While there are efforts to search for optimism, most of these assessments read as wide-ranging explanations for why the elections are a setup for failure. If the NCP uses whatever means are necessary—including the exclusion of results from Darfur—to rig the election results, this too will trigger war. Brute force may be just as effective as a â€œwell-oiled Machiavellian machine,â€ and brute force the NCP has in spades.
No: part of this is a genuine misunderstanding. I am not saying that the elections are unproblematic. On the contrary there are many problems with the elections–but the result by now is pretty much a foregone conclusion. The NCP will navigate the elections without difficulty. (It is sad but true that on 14 July last year, the ICC Prosecutor sentenced Pres. Bashir to life in the presidential palace.)
In addition, there are many in southern Sudan who consider the elections as no more than a distraction from the central issue of self-determination. In fact, during the CPA negotiations, neither the SPLM nor the NCP initially wanted these elections.
My point is simply that the centre of gravity of the problem is the exercise of self-determination, and the other problems are derivative from that.
As long as the Sudanese opposition, and the junior partners in the Government of National Unity, identify themselves as victims, and do not engage actively in political processes, but rather rely on hopes of salvation from abroad, they will always remain victims.
Of course, De Waal’s argument is flaw, especially as he is trying to downplay the NCP’s strength and capabilities to plan things way in advance. The history of the regimes in Khartoum is clear, they come to power to stay. Once their power is threatened, they do what they know best, which is resorting into violence in order to stay in power.
It is, therefore, natural then that in order to carry acts of violence so as to stay in power, the NCP must has plans and capabilities to succeed in violence. For example, is it by accident that a man who is responsible for orchestrating violence in Darfur is strategically appointed as governor in South Kordofan state, a place which will most likely be the next war front or a place where the next war will start?
We all know what Haroun specialty is, which is ability to mobilize tribes to fight proxy war on behalf of the government in a manner and style he has successfully done in Darfur. Now it appears that the task is to do likewise in Kordofan where the next war may likely starts. The deployment of Khartoum armed forces in the region including in South Sudan, the arming of civilians in the region, the provocation of violence, and appointment of key people such as Haroun in strategic positions are all part of that NCP plan that one can call conspiracy if you like. Of course, the conspiracy do not have to be to complicated and elaborate such as in James Bond movies in order for it to be considered conspiracy. So, the plans are there, the intention and will is there and the capabilities are there for NCP to succeed staying in power.
For Alex De Wall,
I have a rather simple question for you, because it was left entirely unclear in the article. If you posit that the self-determination issue is center of gravity, what do you think the international community, especially the United States, should pursue as a policy towards this fundamental issue?
It is implicit in the participation of all these international actors in the promulgation of the CPA that they will support whatever outcome it is of the referendum vote in the South. But do you think a more explicit affirmation of the right of the Southerners to vote for a separate state that will be recognized by the US and others is called for, and that any violent rejection by Khartoum of that choice would be unacceptable to the international community? I think such a policy prescription might clear up some of the yearnings among the NCP and their supporters that Southern independence can be forcibly crushed without cost as outlined by Dr. Reeves above. Maybe even a US sponsored UN resolution affirming the legitimacy of the 2011 plebiscite no matter the outcome should be pursued, even though I know the Russians and Chinese will probably not countenance such a move.
there is merit in Dr. Reeves point that the elections are a precursor for an NCP scheme to weasel out from the commitments they signed in the CPA, and therefore even if the referendum vote is the main center of gravity in the whole scheme, it is threatened by what happens as early as this coming February. Allowing the NCP to steal the elections and stack the parliament with Islamists bent on repealing the CPA will only precipitate outright war all over again.
You make a good point. I think the elections are tremendously important, but we can only understand their significance in the light of the referendum of 2011. There is already sufficient dispute over the accuracy of the census and over whether any elections will be possible in Darfur, to cast doubt on the legitimacy of any electoral result. I am sure that if the outcome of the elections were to be a new assembly and executive, with reduced southern representation or which was seen to be packed with supporters of the status quo, which decided to postpone the elections, the legitimacy of that new government would instantly evaporate in the eyes of the southern Sudanese. As you say, that is a recipe for violent conflict.
We face a real conundrum. There’s no doubt that in the four years and five months since the CPA was signed, far too little has been done to make unity attractive. Time is desperately short. Yet as Khalid Yousif points out, separation is also not so attractive to a lot of people. Blame for this must be shared between Khartoum and Juba. The solution must also come from Khartoum and Juba.
Since last July, the primary function of the NCP has become to give President Bashir a mantle of legitimacy. For the history of the Sudanese nation, that is a far less important issue than whether Sudan remains one country or becomes two. That’s the main reason why I thought the ICC arrest warrant was such a bad idea.
I don’t have an answer to what position the US and others should take on unity or separation. It’s not for me to decide: it’s for the Sudanese. But it is clear to me that we should focus on the problems surrounding self-determination as a priority. Other issues like Darfur, democratization and southern governance are also very serious and urgent, but I do not believe they can be resolved without clarifying the issue of self-determination first. It’s not a question of being soft on the NCP or playing up or down its capacities. Still less is it a verdict on the president as an individual. It’s a question of the future of the Sudanese nation and the need for the Sudanese people to have a proper debate on their future and make their decision in a legitimate, consensual and orderly manner.
I have one question for you. Why do you continue to insist on always combining the NCP’s former name with its current one? You, as far as I recall, always say “National Congress Party/National Islamic Front” when referring to the ruling party. Anyone one who has any knowledge about the current make up of the ruling party in Sudan knows that it can no longer be associated with its predecessor. Yes, indeed most of the officials that were a part of the previous NIF government still remain in power, but the reality is that the NIF is dead, simply because its figurehead and mastermind, Hassan Al-Turabi is gone. Also, the ideological basis for the NIF, that of Islamization and Jihad against the South, can seriously be relegated to the era pre the 1999 split. Believe me, I am neither in favor of the moribund NIF nor the NCP. Recall after all, it is the NCP that adopted a pragmatic position against the south and sat down with Garang and gave birth to the CPA.
For the sake of brevity: Please explain why you feel it necessary to continue to associate the NCP with NIF.
I don’t think I have ever heard such a poignant and sobering remark as yours:
“It is sad but true that on 14 July last year, the ICC Prosecutor sentenced Pres. Bashir to life in the presidential palace.”
You seriously hit the nail on the head! Thank you for your hitherto on point analysis!