“Where does the US stand on self-determination for southern Sudan?”
It’s time for some straight answers from the State Department. For there are many threats to the Machakos Protocol of July 20, and the people of Sudan have a right to know just how much support for the agreement the US offers. This is especially true in light of a response to a question at yesterday’s State Department press conference. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Walter Kansteiner fielded a question about the role of Egypt in obstructing the peace process for Sudan. By way of an answer, he offered the following reading of the Machakos Protocol: “it really is just a framework agreement that involves autonomy for the South, not independence for the South.” But the language of the Machakos Protocol could not be clearer on the options of a self-determination referendum: “confirm the unity of the Sudan by voting to adopt the system of government established under the Peace Agreement; or to vote for secession.” So the inevitable question for Mr. Kansteiner is, “Just what is the difference between ‘secession’ and ‘independence'”?
Eric Reeves [July 30, 2002]
Smith College firstname.lastname@example.org
Northampton, MA 01063 413-585-3326
This is not a question that permits of Kansteiner’s all too familiar vagueness and indirection. It goes to the heart of the US role in a peace process fraught with pitfalls and threats from various quarters. None of these is more dangerous than Egyptian objection to southern self-determination. So yesterday’s semantically obtuse—or disingenuous—response from Kansteiner demands clarification. Does the US support an internationally supervised southern self-determination referendum, with secession (i.e., independence) as an option—or does it not?
Certainly we should recall the language of John Danforth, the Bush administration special envoy to Sudan: after declaring that the view of self-determination contained in the IGAD Declaration of Principles would be “exceedingly difficult to achieve,” Danforth asserted that it would be “preferable” for the people of southern Sudan to “live under a government [i.e., a Khartoum regime] that respects their religion and culture.” “Preferable,” Mr. Kansteiner? Or more “acceptable” to Cairo?
The Egyptian government, of course, feels that it has many cards to play in confronting the US over the peace process in Sudan. It has the “Middle East card” which it has long threatened to play. For example, in June of 2000, Mohamed Asim Ibrahim, Egyptian ambassador to Sudan, viciously excoriated the very idea of southern self-determination as specified in the IGAD Declaration of Principles. Ambassador Ibrahim also declared ominously that “[Egypt] possesses pressure cards it has not yet used for preventing the separation of south Sudan” [Agence France-Presse, June 20, 2000]. The reference to Egypt’s key role in Middle East peace talks has just as much resonance today as it did two summers ago.
And of course with the clear prospect of a US attack on Iraq, the State Department is already cultivating Arab countries that will be needed to blunt regional criticism of such an attack. No country bulks larger in this effort than Egypt, and the geo-strategists in the Bush administration may have decided that Sudan’s interests will be sold out to secure tacit approval from Cairo for the Iraq campaign.
Egypt is already angry that the so-called Joint Libyan-Egyptian Initiative has been sidelined by the success at Machakos (the Initiative is transparently a diplomatic ploy to take southern self-determination off the negotiating table). As the BBC’s Cairo correspondent Nick Price wrote on July 28, “Egypt and Libya in particular are upset that their own three-year peace initiative to end the civil war in Sudan appears to have been pushed aside in favour of a US plan.”
A strident, but no doubt representative, editorial appeared yesterday (July 29) in Egypt’s Al-Wafd newspaper in Arabic (the press is of course tightly controlled by the Egyptian government). Written by Chief Editor Majdi Muhanna, the piece declared:
“the separation of the Sudanese south from its north ***is against the core Egyptian interest*** [emphasis added], even if the Sudanese accept it. In case they decide to establish two states, one in the north and one in the south, Egypt will live in fear that Israel, America or any other may act against its interests by tampering or threatening to tamper with its rights and share of the Nile Waters.”
To be sure, most Egyptian officials have spoken in a simple code: instead of publicly opposing the self-determination referendum negotiated at Machakos, these officials declare their eagerness to preserve Sudan’s “unity,” i.e., to oppose any democratic exercise that could result in the secession of southern Sudan. For example Arab League Secretary-General, and former Egyptian foreign minister, Amr Moussa recently made clear that “Arab states were eager to preserve Sudan’s unity, after a peace deal offered the prospect of the south seceding through a referendum” (Reuters, July 24, 2002). Reuters cites Egypt’s official Middle East New Agency (MENA) in characterizing Moussa’s position:
“Moussa affirmed the keenness of the League on the Arab fixed position
concerning the unity of Sudan and the integrity of its territory.”
BBC Monitoring of Radio Sudan reports (July 29, 2002):
“For his part, the Egyptian prime minister, Dr Atif Ubayd, said Egypt was committed to the stability of Sudan and its unity.”
We should be looking for ever more insistent calls for Sudan’s “unity,” and ever more pressure from Egypt to abandon the Machakos Protocol, with its explicit language on self-determination, guaranteeing:
“an internationally monitored referendum, organized jointly by the Government of Sudan and the SPLA/M, for the people of South Sudan to: confirm the unity of the Sudan by voting to adopt the system of government established under the Peace Agreement; or to vote for secession” (Machakos Protocol, 2.5).
So again the question for Mr. Kansteiner: do you really mean that “independence” (i.e., a democratic exercise by which the people of southern Sudan choose to secede) is off the table? Is this your reading of the Machakos Protocol, Mr. Kansteiner?
The people of southern Sudan have a right to know.