The future of Sudan is uncertain. At present the international community, governments, international organisations and civil society groups are primarily focused on stimulating implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and making sure an election and referendum take place. Consequently, until recently little time was given to thinking strategically about the period after 2011. What will happen in 2012 was barely touched on.
This has started to change with the completion of two scenario exercises: one by USIP “Scenarios for Sudan: avoiding political violence through 2011“; and one conducted by the Clingendael Institute and commissioned by Cordaid and IKV Pax Christi “Sudan 2012: Scenarios for the future“. The latter exercise is the basis for what follows.
The scenarios are based on input from a broad range of local and international non-governmental organisations, faith groups, politicians, government officials, civil society organisations and others, and the material was mainly gathered during workshops in Malakal, Juba, Bor and Khartoum in May and June 2009.
Four possible scenarios for the future of Sudan are described, defined by two key uncertainties: 1) In 2012, will Sudan be united or will the North and South have gone separate ways? 2) In 2012, will there be a new war between the North and the South, or will there be no war? The answer to neither question is known; they both, theoretically, have two equally possible answers.
The scenarios unfold along two dimensions giving rise to four combinations: War””No War and United””Secession. In the War-United Sudan quadrant is “˜The Last War Revisited.’ In the War-Secession is “˜Border Wars.’ The combination of United Sudan-No War is “˜CPA Hurray!’ and No War-Secession is “˜Be Careful What You Wish For: Somalia?’
The four scenarios are:
1. The Last War Revisited? (War – United Sudan): Disillusioned by the continually problematic cooperation with Khartoum, Southern Sudan decides to declare itself unilaterally independent without the organisation of the referendum. It starts a war to liberate what it calls the Southern territories under Northern control. In the international arena, however, this struggle is only supported by a very limited number of countries. Just as in the last war, Khartoum uses tribal discord to manage the rebellion. The current Government of Southern Sudan and the SPLA fall apart and splinter as a result of Khartoum’s the divide and rule strategy . As a result the North is able to control the Southern Sudan.
2. Border Wars (War – Secession): The current negative spiral continues and the elections take place in a polarised atmosphere. As a result, the status quo more or less remains the same and in the referendum the South chooses independence. It appears the choice of the South to go its own way is not acceptable to Khartoum, which decides to start a military offensive. The South manages to unite itself in the face of a common enemy and keeps the Northern forces at bay. Subsequently, the war continues mainly in the border region. It is in this area, however, that the main oilfields are located. Consequently, oil production comes to a standstill and both the Northern and Southern economies collapse.
3. CPA Hurray! (No War – United Sudan): As a result of a renewed mediation process by the international community the peace process is rejuvenated. The elections are won by the SPLM and the Northern opposition. They subsequently form a coalition with the current rulers in Khartoum. The new president is a Southerner. This new government starts a process of further democratisation and redistribution of power and income. As a result most groups no longer need to take up arms against Khartoum. Moreover, the atmosphere in the Southern Sudan changes and the population regains confidence in the unity of the country. The referendum is no longer deemed necessary as the result would surely be that the region would choose to remain part of Sudan.
4. Be Careful What You Wish For: Somalia? (No War – Secession): Even before the South declares independence, different groups anticipate the coming redistribution of power. In the North the conflicts in Darfur and other regions intensify, while the South faces an increasing number of tribal conflicts. After the referendum, in which the South chooses independence, the balance of power is lost. The South splinters into smaller parts, which are controlled by warlords. The North on the other hand also loses its coherence.
Main findings from the scenario exercise
Five main findings have arisen from the scenario exercise:
First, it is very likely that the current situation will deteriorate and that violence and armed conflict will continue in Sudan. Conflict may be between the North and the South, and divide and rule strategies may also stimulate North-North or South-South conflict. Even if the North and South separate peacefully, they are likely to each have their own internal conflicts. In fact, even in the most peaceful “˜CPA Hurray!’ scenario, small-scale conflicts are still likely. Given the likelihood of continuing armed conflict, it may not be wise to direct all long-term attention to developmental rather than humanitarian assistance.
Second, although in theory all four scenarios are possible, the “˜CPA Hurray!’ scenario – the only one that promises a less violent future – appears less plausible. However, as it represents the most positive outcome, it is worth pursuing as a strategy, while at the same time preparing for what might happen if it fails.
Third, the organisation of free and fair elections is essential, not only to guarantee peace, but as the only peaceful way to bring about unity, as in the “˜CPA Hurray!’ scenario.
Fourth, continuous outside mediation and pressure is needed to get all parties to implement the CPA and to make unity attractive. For this to be possible, the time horizon needs to be extended beyond 2012. This is only possible to a limited extent, because the flexibility of the Sudanese system has reached its limits and deadlines, such as for the referendum, cannot be postponed indefinitely. The Sudanese need to talk about the post-2012 period, and also make the pre-2012 period more manageable by entering into discussions, for example, about what unity might look like.
Fifth, the critical difference between a successful and unsuccessful outcome will to a large extent be determined by whether the South has a stable, cooperative and confident leadership.
It is remarkable how much similarity there was in how the different groups participating in the workshops in Malakal, Juba, Bor and Khartoum described each quadrant. Most differences were merely in accent and emphasis. For example, groups in the South described “˜Be Careful What You Wish For: Somalia?’ as a more peaceful, “˜fantasy’ scenario. But in response to the question whether there would be conflicts in that scenario and, if so, between whom, existing internal southern conflicts always entered the debate.
In theory, all four scenarios are equally possible. In practice, the likelihood of each scenario was regarded differently in the North and the South. In the workshops in the South, the participants deemed a renewed war between the North and the South next to unavoidable. Their argument was that the North would never let the South become independent and that war would be the result. At the same time, Southerners found it hard to imagine that the South could freely choose unity. As a result, they argued that “˜Border Wars’ especially, but also “˜The Last War Revisited?’, were the most likely scenarios. At the same time, they preferred a scenario of secession and no war, while hoping that the South remains united. The scenario “˜CPA Hurray!’ was deemed a very beautiful but unrealistic dream.
In the North, a renewed war between the North and the South was regarded as less likely. It was argued that the North is war weary and that most Arabs no longer want to send their sons to a far and distant part of the country with which they have little in common. They argued that “˜Be Careful What You Wish For: Somalia?’ is a very likely outcome, although they clearly preferred “˜CPA Hurray!’, which they saw as a romantic but possible scenario. In fact, many argued that all efforts should be directed at ensuring that “˜CPA Hurray!’ becomes a reality, because the other options should not be regarded as viable alternatives. In government-related circles, the “˜CPA Hurray!’ scenario was clearly preferred, although they hoped for a large stake for the NCP.
In the North, a fifth scenario (a second one in the United and Peace quadrant) was identified, on the basis of a third key uncertainty – will there or will there not be elections and a referendum? In this scenario, called “˜Stagnation’, the elections and the referendum never take place because the elites in power in Khartoum and Juba have little to gain from them, and prefer the present situation to continue. The Sudanese and international actors would muddle through, continuing to “˜band aid’ the Sudanese system together. There would be close cooperation between the Khartoum and Juba-based elites. Although the country would formally still be one, in the North, marginalised areas – such as Darfur – would rebel against Khartoum, while in the South the marginalised areas would fight the Southern centre, Juba. Again, this scenario is very chaotic and violent, partly because ever since the signing of the CPA the parties have been muddling through and using “˜band aid’ solutions to keep the process on track. As a result, the system has lost most of its flexibility and few further adjustments are possible within the context of the CPA framework. Deadlines become increasingly more difficult to meet. With CPA implementation becoming more and more patched together, continuing with a muddling through and “˜band aid’ approach might end up with the patient having passed away. Some parts of the Southern elites, especially, will not accept further muddling through. Although this scenario is certainly plausible, in its essence on the ground it is not very different from “˜Be Careful What You Wish For: Somalia?’
Jaí¯r van der Lijn is Senior Research Fellow at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’ and Assistant Professor at the Radboud University Nijmegen.