Sudan: Election Crisis Reveals a Country Lurching Toward War
Eric Reeves | November 9, 2009
With growing inevitability, Sudan has begun what the evidence suggests is a final lurch toward renewed North-South war—and the likely spread of intense fighting to other marginalized areas, including Kordofan, southern Blue Nile, Kassala and Red Sea states, Nubia, and most ominously Darfur. For the Darfuri rebel groups will certainly see the outbreak of war between Khartoum’s forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army as an occasion for overcoming the prevailing military stalemate in the west. War will begin when Khartoum decides that it has nothing further to gain from its merely nominal commitment to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA)—or when Southerners become convinced that the bedrock principle of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement—a Southern self-determination referendum guaranteed in the Machakos Protocol (July 2002)—will not be honored by the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party (NIF/NCP) regime. Whether in the form of a unilateral abrogation of yet another agreement by Khartoum or a unilateral Southern declaration of independence, the moment of most desperate truth for millions of Sudanese will have arrived.
In the short term Khartoum may still decide that its interests lie in making temporary concessions on the referendum legislation that was to have been passed more than two years ago. But recent public comments, from both the Southern political leadership and Khartoum officials, suggest that this is growing less likely. Moreover, several other key issues impinge on the final meaning of the self-determination referendum, including a demarcation of the North-South border; the final status of Abyei (which is to have its own self-determination referendum, with the choice of joining the South); the role of a deeply compromised census favoring Khartoum on virtually every demographic issue; and the use to which the regime will put the April 2010 national elections, which have already been delayed twice and now lie only five months off. Further delay would push these elections into the rainy season and make an already overwhelming logistical challenge utterly impossible.
Moreover, Khartoum’s manipulation of the electoral results has already begun in earnest, reflecting an understanding that neither party to the CPA can now afford to be seen as initiating a call for further delay of the elections. The SPLM in particular would be inviting postponement of the self-determination referendum with any call for delay, a point recently made by long-time Sudan observer John Ashworth in a powerfully informed report on the CPA (“CPA Alert No. 1,” IKV Pax Christi, September 2009 at http://www.ikvpaxchristi.nl/news/?v=2&cid=1&id=780&lid=3 ). Ashworth goes on to note:
“A further danger lies in recent statements by the [NIF/]NCP ‘that any action to stop the next year elections would threaten the political stability in the country and endanger the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement’ in response to calls from opposition parties to boycott the elections. This is a very worrying statement as it could be seen as a precursor to a State of Emergency and other drastic security-led actions in the name of ‘political stability,’ and could be an excuse to put implementation of the CPA on hold ‘temporarily.'” (page 16)
Given the virtual certainty that Southerners—if afforded the chance—will vote for secession, and by a margin likely in excess of ninety percent, urgent negotiations should begin now on the terms with which the new country of South Sudan will be established. Facilitating such negotiations between Khartoum and the present Government of South Sudan should have been central to the highly belated Sudan policy announced by the Obama administration on October 19. Clear recommendations should have been made for diplomatic roles by Sudanese parties (including non-CPA signatories), the African Union, the European Union, and the US itself. Instead, the State Department’s “comprehensive” policy document of October 19, 2009 speaks only vaguely of
“implementation of the North-South CPA that results in a peaceful post-2011 Sudan, or an orderly path toward two separate and viable states at peace with each other,”
“with international partners to support the parties in developing a post-2011 wealth-sharing agreement and other post-2011 political and economic issues.”
(“Sudan: A Critical Moment, A Comprehensive Approach,” Office of the Spokesman, State Department, Washington, DC, October 19, 2009)
But there are a great many such “political and economic” issues, and it is not at all clear that the Obama administration understands just how difficult negotiations will become as the deadline for the referendum looms closer. Division of oil wealth will surely prove the most contentious issue, even as it has been the primary reason for the long delay in resolving the status of the Abyei region, and the continuing failure by Khartoum to negotiate and demarcate the North-South border. Most of the oil reserves lie in the South and along the border, even as the oil pipeline and infrastructure lie in the north; some equitable sharing of oil wealth will have to be established if the border region is ever to be stabilized, but this will require both time and good will, both of which are diminishing quantities. The newly announced US policy speaks of quarterly interagency assessments of progress. But one quarter hence and the April 2010 elections will lie only two months further off; the self-determination referendum itself will lie less than a year off.
There are other extremely difficult bilateral issues to be negotiated, none made easier by the increasing compression of the electoral calendar: customs, tariffs, and immigration regulations must be determined; overland and air transport arrangements finalized; the terms of citizenship for Southerners in the North decided; the massive external debt the NIF/NCP has run up (much used for military acquisitions) fairly apportioned; and a military stand-down overseen by an international peacekeeping force (the present UN force—UNMIS—will need substantial reconfiguration and redeployment). All will demand near-term and intense negotiations if a “soft landing” is to follow the inevitably wrenching effects of secession. For the truth could not be clearer: Khartoum has failed miserably in “making unity attractive” to the people of South Sudan.
Perhaps of greatest concern is that this failure has been deliberate—part of Khartoum’s ongoing effort to convince the world that ethnic strife, endemic violence, and poor governance will be the defining features of an independent South Sudan. It is hardly surprising that recent comments from senior officials of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) have made explicit the prevailing views of Southerners. Pagan Amum, Secretary General of the SPLM, has spoken of a unilateral declaration of independence by the South in the event that Khartoum refuses to bring to the National Assembly enabling legislation for the referendum during the present session. Recently Deng Alor is reported to have said in Khartoum, “Let us make it a peaceful divorce, [ ] let us part ways peacefully and remain as neighbours and friends.” And President of the Government of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, has declared:
“‘When you reach your ballot boxes the choice is yours: you want to vote for unity so that you become a second class in your own country, that is your choice,’ Kiir said addressing worshippers Saturday [October 31, 2009] at Juba cathedral. ‘If you want to vote for independence so that you are a free person in your independent state, that will be your own choice and we will respect the choice of the people,’ he stressed.” (The Sudan Tribune [dateline: Juba], November 2, 2009).
Although there were efforts by the SPLM to “walk back” Kiir’s statement, to point out his debt to a speech by the late SPLM leader John Garang, his words too clearly speak a fundamental truth felt by Southerners.
Southern passion for secession is but one reason to regard the role of US Special Envoy Scott Gration with deep suspicion. It is not simply the dangerous foolishness of his assessment of how to confront the machinations of the NIF/NCP (“We’ve got to think about giving out cookies. Kids, countries, they react to gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes, agreements, talks, engagement”), but his willingness to compromise on the CPA itself:
“This week [Government of South Sudan President Salva] Kiir disclosed that an unspecified US official hinted to him that postponement of the 2011 referendum might be needed but said that he [Kiir] rejected any such proposal.” (The Sudan Tribune, August 12, 2009)
One highly reliable source reports that the US official was Gration himself; in any event, it is certainly the case that such a consequential proposal—delay of the Southern self-determination referendum—could never have been made without the explicit approval of Gration. There are other reliable and well-informed reports that Gration is attempting not to secure compliance from Khartoum on implementation of the terms of the CPA but rather opening up issues that were in fact resolved by the CPA.
The immediate task of the Obama administration should be to move from the abstract formulations of the October 19 policy announcement to a specific set of publicly articulated demands and expectations of Khartoum concerning the April 2010 national elections. In the absence of Khartoum’s meeting a clear set of benchmarks, the US should refuse to accept the election results, and should deal with the NIF/NCP regime only as a party reneging on its commitments to the CPA, which will have been fundamentally violated if present trends continue. The greatest risk of accepting the elections as engineered by Khartoum—a risk now recognized by many—is that this will inevitably confer an undeserved legitimacy, and make easier the regime’s task of aborting the Southern self-determination referendum. The means may be legislative (with a sufficiently large majority in the National Assembly, the NIF/NCP may simply revise the terms of the CPA and self-determination referendum, as well as the Interim National Constitution)—or military (declaring on the basis of a “security threat” a state of emergency in the oil regions, and preemptively moving forces to secure concession areas and infrastructure). Either will trigger war.
NATIONAL ELECTIONS, APRIL 2010
What we cannot doubt is that the NIF/NCP regime is brazen enough to engineer, by any and all means, a national electoral victory that it believes will serve its strategic purposes. We see signs of this brazenness in the present obstruction of international election monitors, who have not been accredited individually to oversee the voter registration process that began November 1 and runs through November 30. The Carter Center, based in Atlanta, Georgia and the primary monitoring organization for Sudan’s elections, has
“expressed concerns about the obstacles facing election observers, including delays in finalising their accreditation procedures and delays in election preparations, as well as continued reports of harassment of political party and civil society activity.” (Agence France-Presse [dateline: Khartoum], November 3, 2009)
Aly Verjee, deputy director of the Carter Center’s election monitoring mission in Sudan, offers a revealing account of the bureaucratic obstacles Khartoum has perfected over many years:
“Verjee [ ] says that despite having been formally invited to observe the election process, the national election commission is not being fully cooperative. ‘On an individual person-by-person basis, nobody has accreditation. The organization itself has been invited, but officially no individual has the right to observe registration at this point,’ he said.” (Voice of America [dateline: Nairobi], November 3, 2009)
Of course the fundamental problems run much deeper than bureaucratic obstructionism. As Human Rights Watch observed in a recent press release:
“Although Sudan is scheduled to hold national elections in April 2010, the country currently lacks conditions for free and fair elections. The armed conflict in Darfur is ongoing. In addition, over the last year the National Congress Party-led government has stepped up repressive tactics against civil society throughout the northern states with arbitrary arrests and detentions, as well as censorship and harassment of activists and journalists.”
“Human Rights Watch documented these trends in its October 2009 report, ‘The Way Forward: Ending Human Rights Abuses and Repression across Sudan’ ( http://www.hrw.org/en/node/85924 ). ‘The United States should not support an election process that is unlikely to be free and fair just so they can check it off their list, [Africa Director Georgette] Gagnon said. ‘The US should make it absolutely clear that Sudan needs to improve human rights now, ahead of elections.'” (October 19, 2009)
This assessment was echoed by the London-based African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies, which notes in a recent report an
“increasing crackdown on freedom of expression in Sudan, targeting public discussion of, and preparation for, the elections. Since the beginning of August , Sudanese authorities have systematically targeted any activities, symposia, public rallies or lectures related to the elections.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [dateline: Juba/Nairobi], October 2, 2009)
[ In additional to HRW’s “The Way Forward: Ending Human Rights Abuses and Repression across Sudan,” several recent reports highlight the particular forms of human rights abuses and their impact on the electoral process, including:
[ “An Opening for Expression or Shifting Tactics: Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Expression in Sudan,” (African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies,” 1 January 2009 – September 2009, at http://acjps.org/ )
[ “Report of the [UN] Panel of Experts, Established Pursuant to Resolution 1591 (2005), Concerning the Sudan,” October 29, 2009 at http://www.un.org/sc/committees/1591/reports.shtml )
[ For my own earlier assessments of Sudan’s elections and the human rights environment in which they will be conducted, see:
[ “Khartoum’s Strategic Assault on Southern Self-Determination Referendum, August 25, 2009, at http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article248.html
[ Sudan Elections and Southern Self-Determination: At Growing Risk,” June 28, 2009, at http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article246.html ]
Early reports on the registration process bear out fears that fraud, intimidation, and bureaucratic obstruction will be the essential tools of a NIF/NCP victory. There are already numerous reports from the ground of electoral registration fraud. A Reuters dispatch ([dateline: Khartoum], November 8, 2009) reports on recent allegations:
“Opposition political party monitors told Reuters they had evidence of intimidation, buying of votes and other irregularities by Sudan’s dominant National Congress Party (NCP), headed by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.” [ ]
“‘The (NCP) are using government resources for their campaign,’ said opposition Umma Party official Mariam al-Mahdi. She told Reuters her observers had seen many cases of faked papers and other fraud. ‘We are going to double up efforts in the coming week to collect this (evidence),’ she said.” [ ]
“Registration made a slow start on November 1 with an information blackout in Khartoum and confusion outside the capital. The SPLM said the [NIF/]NCP was bussing in hundreds of people without identity cards to register at centres where they are not resident. An SPLM monitor had been offered a bribe to turn a blind eye and had refused to take it.”
The UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) reports from Juba (November 5, 2009):
“Sudan has started registering voters for presidential, legislative and regional elections, but officials in the south and international observers say the process has begun on a flawed note. ‘This process could easily be referred to as “dead on arrival,”‘ Anne Itto, secretary-general for the south of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), said on 3 November.” [ ]
“‘In the context of Southern Sudan, where you don’t have [telephone] networks, where you don’t have roads, where you don’t have public transport, it is very unrealistic to expect registration to be completed by 30 November,’ Itto told reporters in the Southern capital, Juba. Should the National Election Commission fail to take immediate and drastic action, warned the SPLM, fewer than 10 percent of eligible voters in the south would be able to register and vote.
‘If things go the way they are going now, I believe less than 10 percent of the total population will be registered,’ Itto said.”
The radical flaws in the 2008 census only magnify the implications of Khartoum’s efforts at manipulation; John Ashworth again provides a useful overview, one deeply informed by the views of Southern civil society:
“It is generally accepted that the results have been rigged in favour of the north. Various conditions made the census in the south difficult, particularly logistics, weather, availability of personnel and census forms, and availability of funding for census personnel. Anecdotal evidence from workshops suggests that more than 40% of the southern population may not have been counted.” [ ]
“The census did not include questions on religion or ethnicity. Since identity (both religious and ethnic) is one of the main root causes of the conflicts in Sudan, it seems incredible that this was omitted. SPLM was outmanoeuvred by NCP into allowing the papers to be printed without these questions. One week before the census was due, SPLM dug in its heels and cancelled the census, but by this time it was too late and eventually it had to back down and allow the census to take place a week late.
“After the census, the southern census body freely shared its raw data with its northern counterparts, but those in the north refused to reciprocate. It is generally believed that this is the point where the census was deliberately rigged, with northern statistics being changed in the light of southern figures. The southerners involved were mistakenly treating it as a technical rather than a political exercise.” [ ]
“Nobody in the north or south believes the elections will be free and fair. The [NIF/]NCP held two sham elections during the war, and is experienced at rigging them. The conflict in Darfur will make elections there extremely
difficult. Within the south there is a strong perception that the elections have already been rigged as a result of the census, which will be used to prepare the election and particularly constituency boundaries. Given the census claim that only 20% of the population is in the south (instead of the more widely accepted 33%), there is a strong possibility that even in a ‘free and fair’ vote, northern parties would win a large enough majority to be able to change the constitution and potentially derail the CPA.” (pages 14-15)
In short, national elections now loom as a threat to the process of “democratic transformation” that is so often and uncritically invoked in discussions of any electoral exercise that may occur in Sudan. Whatever might have been true a year ago—and the signs from the census exercise should have given serious cause for alarm—evidence now at hand makes clear that elections controlled by Khartoum will have the opposite effect: consolidating the NIF/NCP stranglehold on national wealth and power, providing the legislative means for aborting the Southern self-determination referendum, and affording the veneer of legitimacy that is all that many in the African Union and Arab League are concerned to see preserved (the unctuous language of the Report of the African Union High-Level Panel on Darfur [October 29, 2009] reveals all too clearly that no serious thought was given to the implications of national elections in the region or for Sudan as a whole).
CONDUCTING NATIONAL ELECTIONS IN DARFUR
Conducting national elections in Darfur represents an even more daunting challenge and, if conducted, a flagrant abuse of the electoral process, given the displacement of some 3 million civilians (approximately 2.7 million Internally Displaced Persons and more than 250,000 refugees in Eastern Chad). An environment of brutal intimidation prevails in many areas, including IDP camps, preventing any secure participation in the registration and electoral processes; hundreds of thousands are in rebel-held territory or areas too insecure for voter registration. Khartoum’s census results are particularly distorting of Darfur’s demographic realities. And yet the decision by the regime to proceed with elections in Darfur has yet to receive appropriate criticism from international actors claiming to support the people of Darfur. There is of course an understandable desire that the people of Darfur not be disenfranchised; but a vote taking place under the circumstances that will prevail five months hence simply cannot be credible or representative.
Precisely because of the these circumstances, the regime has pushed forward with plans to include Darfur’s electoral results (or at least selective results), and to include the outcomes from geographic constituencies where concerted gerrymandering is already in evidence. The likely nature and circumstances of the electoral exercise in Darfur are aptly reflected in findings by the UN Panel of Experts in its October 29, 2009 overview of the human rights situation in Darfur, as well as the obstruction experienced by Panel members in their efforts to identify violations of the weapons and munitions embargo imposed on all armed actors in Darfur by UN Security Council Resolution 1591 (March 2005). All of these observations have direct bearing on any potential election monitoring as well as the voting behavior of those threatened by violence and abuse:
“The Government of the Sudan, while demanding respect for its privileges as a sovereign State, also falls short in exercising transparency and accountability. Government officials often object to inquiries made by the Panel under its mandate and offer lip service while committing sanctions violations. Restrictions placed by the Government of the Sudan on the freedom of movement of UNAMID flight operations have had a direct impact on the Panel’s ability to conduct some of its independent monitoring missions.” (page 3) [ ]
“The Government of the Sudan remains intransparent and unwilling to account for its efforts to disarm and control its various auxiliary and formerly affiliated forces, in particular combatants commonly referred to as members of Arab tribes or as Janjaweed. Many individuals identified by internally displaced persons as Janjaweed continue to carry arms and engage in frequent violent behaviour against and harassment of internally displaced persons and, according to the Panel’s findings, enjoy impunity for their offences. This remains one of the major reasons cited by internally displaced persons in describing their lack of physical security.” (page 4) [ ]
“In the aftermath of the issuance by the International Criminal Court of an arrest warrant against the Head of State of the Sudan, the Panel has received reports of severe violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, involving the harassment, persecution and torture of collaborators and individuals opposed to Government policies.” (page 4)
“The crackdown by the security apparatus of the Government of the Sudan on the rights of Darfurians and their sympathizers to political affiliation, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly has manifested itself in violations of a catalogue of human rights and fundamental freedoms. These abuses, some of which have been documented by the Panel, were further exacerbated in the aftermath of both the Omdurman attacks [May 2008] and the issuance of the arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court [March 2009], and have resulted in the departure from the Sudan of scores of activists and human rights defenders.” (page 5)
REFORM OF THE NATIONAL SECURITY LAWS
Beyond controlling the armed forces, Khartoum depends for its political power chiefly on the 1999 National Security Forces Act, which grants the National Security and Intelligence Services (NSIS) sweeping powers of arbitrary arrest and detention. NSIS is active throughout Northern Sudan, including Darfur and Eastern Sudan, and the capital area, and political opposition has long been suppressed by this fearsome and ruthlessly efficient organization, which by law enjoys complete legal immunity for crimes committed in the name of “national security.” This immunity stands in clear violation of the Interim National Constitution that is an integral element of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and legislation to reform the NSIS has been a high priority for both the SPLM and Northern political opposition.
But all too predictably, the NIF/NCP is unwilling to forego this potent tool of self-preservation and refuses to allow reform legislation to move forward; this in turn has led the SPLM to boycott the current session of the Legislative Assembly, the last session prior to the April 2010 national elections. For the power of the National Security Forces Act precludes precisely the conditions necessary for free, fair, and open elections. The hopeful talk of “democratic transformation” that has so long defined discussions of these elections is finally starting to dissipate, and even the feckless Ban Ki-moon is obliged to note in his most recent report to the UN Security Council that “the new National Security Bill of 2009, a critical step towards a credible electoral process, has yet to be passed” (“Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Mission in the Sudan” [S/2009/545], October 21, 2009). And judging by the lack of progress to date, it is increasingly unlikely that meaningful reform will emerge.
The present Assembly session is also one of the last opportunities to pass legislation that will govern the Southern self-determination referendum. This legislation is critically important, and at present the source of deep and rancorous disagreement between the NIF/NCP and the SPLM—disagreement that seems only to harden. US Envoy Gration left Sudan on November 8, unable to bridge the differences on two key elements of the referendum: the quorum for Southern participation necessary to consider the referendum vote binding, and the percentage of votes for secession that will constitute a decision. The willingness of the parties to compromise seems to have been exhausted, with Khartoum cleaving to an unreasonable 67 percent participation as the quorum. Such a turnout would be impressive in many developed Western democracies, but as a quorum for Southern Sudan it is almost inconceivable: illiteracy, lack of voting experience, faltering registration, inadequate transport to polling stations, poor communications, intimidation by Khartoum’s proxies, and other difficulties abound. The necessary percentage of those voting for secession is also disputed: Khartoum at one point was demanding a 90 percent vote for secession to be legitimate; the SPLM is declaring that a simple majority should determine the outcome.
But Khartoum is very likely prepared to see the current Assembly session proceed without either reform to the security law or enabling legislation for the Southern self-determination referendum. For its part the Obama administration has made no specific statement about the consequences for Khartoum if it fails to reform the security law that will serve as a primary instrument of electoral fraud and intimidation. In turn, Special Envoy Gration seems unable to move the parties closer to agreement on the terms of self-determination legislation, and is rapidly losing credibility as an interlocutor, both among Southerners and Darfuris. To date, the new Sudan policy he represents is mere hortatory language with no effect on regime behavior.
It certainly doesn’t help that the Europeans have committed even less to an effective multilateral Sudan policy, and it is intensely dismaying that EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana should have presumed to judge what is best for the people of South Sudan:
“Javier Solana said shortly after holding discussions with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that he favors a united Sudan.” (Voice of America, September 3, 2009)
But Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, head of South Sudan’s mission to the United States, rightly observes that this is deeply presumptuous:
“‘The statement is not in line with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement spirit because in the CPA one of the options is united Sudan and another option is separation of the south to be an independent state. So, yes all of us have agreed that we are going to make unity attractive to the southerners so that they can vote for unity in 2011. But if the unity is not attractive to them at all, then they also have another option, which is separation,’ Gatkuoth said.”
Europe may find it convenient to accommodate Egypt on this issue (the Cairo regime is dead-set against Southern self-determination, despite conciliatory words of late), but by pre-judging the referendum, the EU is denying itself any role in arbitrating between the two parties. This in turn creates even greater need for a US policy that maintains pressure on Khartoum—something that runs directly counter to Gration’s “smiley faces” and “gold stars” approach.
THE NEXT WAR IN SUDAN
What will war look like in the event that the Southern self-determination referendum is aborted or its results are not accepted by Khartoum? The answer lies primarily in the geography of oil reserves and infrastructure, including the location of many all-weather roads constructed by the Chinese and Khartoum’s other oil development partners (these dual-use—construction/military transport—roads are in both Unity State and eastern Upper Nile State). The roads will allow for an unprecedented projection of mechanized military power by Khartoum into the South, even during the rainy season. But the task of creating a defensive perimeter for continuing oil extraction and transport activities is enormous, and the vulnerabilities of the 900-mile pipeline running to Port Sudan on the Red Sea will be exploited relentlessly by the SPLM.
Ashworth again provides an authoritative overview of the “third southern civil war” (key excerpts):
“Both parties are clearly preparing for the possibility of war. ‘We don’t want war,’ southern President Salva Kiir says, but ‘we will be prepared to fight if it comes.’ ‘I will not be the one to take this country back to war, but if war was to be imposed on us we can all feel assured that we are capable of defending ourselves.'”
“The third southern civil war in Sudan will be more terrible than the first two, and will have some very different characteristics:
“Both the previous wars began with the northern government controlling the south. The liberation movements began in the bush and had to fight to control territory gradually. The third war will begin with the SPLA in control of virtually the whole south, except perhaps parts of the oil fields which are still occupied by northern security forces.
“Organised fighting [ ] will begin on the north-south border. Depending on the scenario, either northern forces will invade, and may quickly capture
some of the towns close to the border, or SPLA will attempt to reoccupy southern territory being held by the north.
“SPLA will maintain its hold on most of the south, giving it secure rear bases and an undisputed border with friendly neighbours. It will be able to reinforce its forward bases rapidly and maintain its military logistics flow.
“A limited war to annex the oil fields of Greater Upper Nile and the rich agricultural lands of Renk, Kordofan and Blue Nile may be all that Khartoum wants, but southerners will not rest easy while any of the south remains in northern hands. And next time round they might go the extra mile to secure a referendum for their comrades-in-arms in the contested areas too.
“This time it will be the north which uses insurgents in the bush in the south. These will be made up of ethnic groups and militia such as those who supported the north in the last war, and LRA.
“Southerners have vowed that they will take the third war to the north. Both previous wars were fought in the south, apart from Abyei, the Nuba
Mountains and southern Blue Nile. When Kurmuk, a town which the northerners perceive as northern, was taken in 1987 and again in 1997, there
was consternation throughout the north.
“SPLA will have air power during the next war. ‘Air power’ does not have
to be very sophisticated. In the second civil war Khartoum found itself unable to make effective military use of its jet fighter bombers and helicopter gunships as they got shot down by ground fire too easily. In fact its air power had very little military value at all. Helicopter gunships were used in support of militias against civilians in various ethnic cleansing exercises, and the notorious Antonovs bombed civilians for several years; both these activities continued in Darfur. The north theoretically has air-to-air and ground-to-air interception capability, but in the 2.4 million square kilometres which make up Sudan’s air space it is likely that SPLA Antonovs and gunships will have plenty of opportunity to cause panic amongst civilians in the north.
“Both sides are preparing for war. In the two previous civil wars, the south was unprepared, and its liberation armies began from very small ad hoc forces. This time the south will begin with a large standing army and with arms and materiel which it could never have dreamed of before. The north will probably have more sophisticated weaponry and will have more of everything, but it lacks committed troops. Much of Khartoum’s front line army consisted of southerners and westerners; it is by no means certain that they will do their master’s bidding a third time. ‘Real’ northerners have shown a marked reluctance to get their hands dirty in real fighting. The Popular Defense Forces, a mixture of mujahidiin and reluctant conscripts, has not proved too effective as a fighting force. Much of the real fighting was done by militias, and their loyalty cannot be guaranteed in the next war. SPLA troops, on the other hand, will be fighting on their home ground to defend their own nation. Their morale will be high.” (pages 20-21)
On the issue of weapons in the arsenals of the North and South—and the arms flow throughout Sudan—an excellent new study has recently been published by the Small Arms Survey (“Skirting the Law: Sudan’s Post-CPA Arms Flow,” by Mike Lewis, September 2009, at http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/ ). It details what we know about the role of various international actors, primarily state actors, in providing weapons to both Khartoum and Juba, and thus provides a snapshot
“of what is known about arms transfers to Sudan’s state forces since the signing of the CPA, as well as the distribution and circulation of weapons to non-state armed groups. [This report] argues that arms flows to and within Sudan remain substantially characterized by patterns, actors, and methods established during the second Sudanese civil war.” (page 12)
China continues to be the dominant arms supplier to Khartoum as it prepares for renewed war in the South, even as Chinese weapons and munitions predominate in Darfur (notably, the UN Panel of Experts establishes that a great deal of the Chinese weaponry and ammunition in Darfur was manufactured after the date of the arms embargo established by the UN Security Council in March 2005). But in an important finding, “Skirting the Law” declares that:
“Evidence indicates that the government’s acquisitions of heavy weaponry as well as small arms and light weapons are embedded within military governmental relationships established during the NorthSouth civil war in the 1990s. Yet these involve much more international, commercialized, and, crucially, ***Europeanized*** [italics in original text] networks of supply actors than has been acknowledged by many humanitarian and human rights advocates.” (page 22)
Despite a nominal EU arms embargo on Sudan, the report “presents new evidence that EU nationals and companies continue to be involved in the supply of military equipment, including small arms and light weapons, to SAF and SPLA forces” (page 21).
Given Khartoum’s penchant for conducting war by proxy, a further finding of the report is not surprising:
“arms originating from the Sudan Armed Forces [Khartoum’s regular military forces] and its regional and international suppliers dominate the holdings of armed groups on all sides in both Southern Sudan and Darfur.” (page 15)
There are many reports from the ground, including from church and civil society groups, that current violence in South Sudan has been deliberately fueled by Khartoum’s profligate distribution of weapons to particular ethnic groups and to militia forces defined on an ethnic basis. “Skirting the Law” certainly provides additional support for such reports.
This important account also details the growing arms flow to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), but does so in the context of two critical considerations:
 “Commercial documentation and informants close to SPLA arms procurement [ ] indicate that in fact negotiations for major new SPLA arms acquisitions began in early to mid-2006, forming part of a longer-term process of developing the SPLA’s post-war capacities. The extent of the 200709 arms shipments to the SPLA illustrates the considerable scale of the arms build-up on both sides since 2005. The symmetry of this build-up should not be overestimated, however: despite their substantial new arms acquisitions, the SPLA’s capabilities remain dwarfed in comparison to the sustained and increasing flows of military equipment to the SAF since 2000 [ ].”
And most significantly,
 “Post-2005 SPLA rearmament must thus be understood in terms of the SPLA’s assessment of its capability needs as a force charged with responding to internal armed security threats in Southern Sudan as well as its aspirations to become a national force capable of protecting Southern Sudan’s territorial integrity. Recently arrived arms shipments form part of a long-term SPLA procurement plan rather than an immediate response to the deterioration of the CPA since 2008.”
Despite the enormous expenditures on weapons and military salaries as a percentage of both the national budget and GDP, the Government of South Sudan rightly believes that the SPLA alone can serve as military guarantor of the security arrangements negotiated in the CPA. There will be no military assistance of real consequence from other international actors in the event that Khartoum abrogates security agreements, and the South will have only itself to count on. An earlier report from the Small Arms Survey makes this point emphatically:
“The Government of South Sudan’s security planning continues to be driven by the belief that a future confrontation with the North is likely, andthis orientation constrains its ability to address insecurity and conflicts emerging within the South. GoSS faces a combination of internal divisions and external pressures from an increasingly hostile National Congress Party (NCP) in the North; numerous violations of the CPA have been left unresolved, and there has been associated violence in a number of areas throughout Southern Sudan.”
(“Conflicting priorities: GoSS security challenges and responses,” Small Arms Survey, May 2009, at
THE ELECTIONS DILEMMA
Should the international community attempt to shift gears and work to postpone national elections in Sudan? Should the empty rhetoric of “democratic transformation”—which would celebrate the mere occasion of elections in Sudan, no matter how fraudulent they are in the event—be replaced by clear demands for an end to the tyranny of the state security apparatus and its comprehensive censorship of news and political discourse? Should elections be supported in the absence of concrete and measurable commitments to observe international humanitarian law and to disarm proxy militia forces in Darfur? Do uncritically supported national elections pose a near-term threat to implementation of key elements of the CPA? Is there any international will to address these concerns? Even to enumerate the issues is to see how very little commitment exists, and why support for national elections and their putatively “transformative” effects has been the default diplomatic position of so many. But elections held in April 2010 simply cannot fulfill the ambitions to reform the Khartoum regime; on the contrary, they are almost certain to be used as a means for the NIF/NCP to claim legitimacy and perhaps even a legislative majority sufficiently great to alter the terms of the CPA.
Should the international community then work to delay the elections until some of the key benchmarks in Darfur and the South have been met? The great danger, of course, is that this is a slippery slope: if the national elections can be postponed, the regime will declare, then so too can the Southern self-determination referendum. And once a firm date for the referendum has begun to slip, it will be exceedingly difficult if not impossible to re-set a firm deadline. The CPA spells out clearly that enabling legislation for the referendum was to have been drafted and passed into law over two years ago; it remains uncertain whether this legislation will be tabled during the current session of the National Assembly.
Whether to proceed will be a difficult national discussion, particularly since the views of Sudanese in Darfur, in other parts of Northern Sudan (including the Nuba Mountains and southern Blue Nile), and in the South are guided by very different perceptions of what lies in their own interest. But on matters of human rights, ending impunity for those committing the most egregious of international crimes, and bringing a close to the reign of intimidation and brutality that is Sudan’s security state, Sudanese in the marginalized regions have much they can agree on. But without vigorous international pressure on the regime in Khartoum, of a sort that seems less and less likely, this national discussion will have no resonance, no force, and no chance of avoiding the worst of outcomes: elections in April 2010 that end up deeply compromising the self-determination referendum of January 2011, whose slim chances of being realized should now be clear to all.