Sudan's Best Chance for Peace: How Not to Lose It

17 Sep 2002

47pages PDF

On 1 September 2002, two weeks into the second phase of the peace negotiations in Machakos, Kenya, the Sudanese government suspended its participation in the talks being brokered by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD). This followed the capture, after a series of battles, of the southeastern Sudanese town of Torit by the Sudan People?s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLA). The Machakos talks represent the best chance for peace the Sudanese people have had since the beginning of the war nearly two decades ago, and the interruption is dangerous. The government has reached an historic fork in the road as it deliberates next steps. Two scenarios are possible. Either those officials benefiting from the status quo will torpedo the peace process and intensify the war, or those who see the far greater benefits of peace will ensure that the government returns to the table and seeks a negotiated end to the war. The rebel SPLA movement, bedevilled by competing tendencies towards war and peace, faces a similar moment of truth. If an attitude persists that without peace on their terms war should continue, the outlook is bleak. Forceful diplomacy by the mediators and the application to both sides of increased international leverage will be required to bring the parties back to the negotiating table and to forge an agreement to end one of the world?s most intractable conflicts. The first order of business should be to arrange mutual informal commitments to cease major offensive actions for the next half-year to break the dangerous battlefield dynamic and give negotiations a chance. Despite widespread international scepticism, IGAD scored a major breakthrough during the first phase of talks. The parties reached agreement on the ?Machakos Protocol? of 20 July 2002 for dealing with one of the most important issues driving the conflict, self-determination for southern Sudanese, by means of a referendum that will pose the alternatives of continued national unity or secession for the South at the end of a six-year interim period during which laws in the North will be based in part on Sharia law while those in the South will be secular. (The basis of law for the central authority that will also exist during this interim period is still disputed, as is the legal status of non-Muslims in the North.) These are not new positions for the parties. What is new is that they have incorporated them in a jointly signed document in the context of a serious peace process from which it will be difficult to backtrack without significant diplomatic costs. It is a significant achievement for the partnership between the IGAD mediators, led by General Lazaro Sumbeiywo of Kenya, and involving envoys from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Uganda, a quartet of active international observers representing the U.S., UK, Norway, and Italy, and the United Nations. The government?s early agreement to a self-determination referendum with an independence option surprised almost everyone. Its possible motivations are varied, even partially contradictory. They range from a survival decision driven by calculations about the need to make inroads into the constituencies of the larger sectarian parties by showing it can deliver peace, oil and prosperity, through a desire to obtain greater oil revenues and debt relief, to uncertainty about U.S. intentions in possible further stages of its ?war against terrorism?. They may also include tactical judgements, at least among the harder line elements of the regime, that early agreement on a single big issue provides an opportunity to split the SPLA from its northern allies or to paint the SPLA as the intransigent side responsible for the eventual breakdown of the negotiations. The signing of the Machakos Protocol had a catalytic effect on internal political dynamics, not all of it positive. While grassroots support for a comprehensive peace is growing across the country, the government, the SPLA and the northern oppositi