“Prospects for Peace in Sudan: The Challenge of the Machakos Process”
“Global Dialogue” (South Africa), Fall 2002
by Eric Reeves
The long and tortured peace process for Sudan, conducted for a number of years under the auspices of IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority for Development), shows critically important signs of possible success, even as it remains fraught with dangers and pitfalls. The talks are presently ongoing in Machakos (Kenya), guided most importantly by the Kenyan chair of the IGAD Peace Secretariat for Sudan, Lazaro Sumbeiywo. General Sumbeiywo replaced the ineffectual Daniel Mboya in 2001 and has brought to the job important political support from President Moi. With Kenyan elections scheduled for December, it is worth bearing in mind that Moi’s successor (if not Uhuru Kenyatta) may replace Sumbeiywo. This would be highly unfortunate, given Sumbeiywo’s skill, determination, and clear understanding of the difficulties of the peace process.
Sumbeiywo was, by all accounts, the driving force behind the extraordinary breakthrough at Machakos on July 20th (embodied in the “Machakos Protocol”). This breakthrough took the form of an agreement between the Government of Sudan (GOS) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) on the enormously contentious issue of a self-determination referendum for southern Sudan. The referendum is scheduled to be held six and a half years after conclusion of a final peace agreement.
The self-determination issue was widely regarded as one of the most difficult, and thus likely to be deferred until the end of the peace talks. That agreement was secured by Sumbeiywo so early in the process is testimony both to the support of IGAD Partners Forum members (chiefly the US, Norway, the UK, and Italy) and the relentless determination of Sumbeiywo not to allow the parties to walk away from the peace process without being held accountable for the collapse that would have ensued.
Also part of the Machakos Protocol is an agreement on shari’a, or Islamic law, that (most consequentially) frees the south from governance on this legal basis, even as its permits legislation and the legal code in northern Sudan to draw upon the shari’a tradition. The consequences for the more than 2 million southerners in the north (living largely as Internally Displaced Persons in the areas around Khartoum) are unclear.
Despite this very significant achievement, the road to peace hardly seems secure. Not only do numerous highly contentious issues remain, but the military situation on the ground in Sudan constantly threatens to undermine further progress. The GOS angrily broke off peace talks on September 1, 2002 following the SPLA capture of the strategically important town of Torit in Eastern Equatoria (no truce or cease-fire was in effect at the time, and the GOS had conducted major offensives in other parts of the country, notably the oil regions of Western Upper Nile). Torit eventually was recaptured by the GOS (October 8, 2002), with the US State Department evidently signaling to Khartoum that it was willing to countenance the recapture as a means of inducing the GOS to resume talks at Machakos.
But with the fall of Torit imminent, the SPLA and the National Democratic Alliance (an umbrella for northern opposition groups, as well as the SPLM/A) struck in the northeast of the country, around Kassala. On October 2 5, several government garrison towns fell, and the military situation threatened to derail peace talks entirely. General Sumbeiywo, again with strong support from the US, Norway, the UK, and Italy, finally secured on October 15 an agreement providing for the cessation of offensive military actions by both sides (this agreement was anticipated by a proposal from the SPLM/A on September 23rd, but was refused by the GOS because Torit had not been recaptured).
The truce agreement was flagrantly violated by the GOS on October 17, 2002, minutes after it was to have gone into effect. An ineffectual, but still significant offensive was mounted against SPLA/NDA positions around Kassala. General Sumbeiywo protested strenuously about the implications of this attack for the Machakos process:
“I have confirmed through independent means that the government [of Sudan] did indeed break the truce. I am terribly frustrated by this action. Any further fighting which could lead to the loss of a town could jeopardize the talks. It is pointless to sign a contract and then you fail to commit to it.” (Reuters, Oct 17, 2002)
As of October 29, 2002, GOS military assets are being re-deployed to the Kassala area, and a major offensive is expected. The GOS claimed first that Eritrean soldiers were involved in the military actions in the East (a claim belied by reports from independent foreign journalists in the area who could find no evidence of an Eritrean presence) and subsequently that the truce agreement did not apply to northern Sudan. Since the language of the truce agreement is explicit—referring to a “cessation of hostilities in all areas of the Sudan”—the further violation that seems imminent could hardly be more threatening to the Machakos process.
General Sumbeiywo needs immediate and public diplomatic support in his condemnation of the GOS truce agreement violation, and continued support if he is left with the unenviable task of trying to pick up the pieces if the GOS does indeed launch a major offensive. The threat of spiraling military activity will make peace negotiations exceedingly difficult. The SPLM/A will inevitably conclude, as General Sumbeiywo has, that “it is pointless to sign a contract and then you fail to commit to it.”
The lesson for the diplomatic community is that Machakos can only be as successful as the international guarantees and guarantors secured in a final peace agreement.
At Machakos itself, there continues to be good progress for the moment. This is especially true of negotiations on revenue-sharing (from the oil wealth that derives from oil production that is largely in southern Sudan) and interim governance arrangements. The two most difficult issues, actually complex of issues, remaining are geographical and military in nature.
Geography: Three areas that are in northern Sudan (as determined by the map at independence ) are nonetheless militarily, culturally, and politically allied with the south. These are the Nuba Mountains (southern Kordofan), Abyei (an area of the Ngok Dinka, also in southern Kordofan), and southern Blue Nile Province. Each presents particular challenges. The GOS is determined to keep them fully within northern control (politically and militarily); the SPLM/A seems just as determined to see that they are not abandoned in the peace process, having so long supported the southern cause, especially the cause of southern self-determination. It is doubtful that a peace can be secured that does nothing to recognize the special status of these areas.
Military redeployment: This is likely to be the singularly difficult issue in concluding an agreement. The SPLM/A will insist that GOS forces re-deploy to the north, and that SPLA forces take control of the major southern garrison towns (e.g., Juba, Wau, Torit). The GOS will begin by demanding that the SPLA disband or be integrated into a national armed force. Given the bitter experience of southerners following the Addis Ababa peace agreement of 1972 (which entailed precisely such incorporation of southern forces into a northern-dominated army), this will be an unacceptable outcome. Mediators and third-party negotiators will have to steer a delicate line between simply severing the country between the two (military) powers represented at Machakos and avoiding what southerners, from all constituencies, would regard as betrayal were Khartoum to retain military control over the south. Notably, a recent conference of northern and southern civil society groups meeting in Entebbe (Uganda) recommended that there be no integration of armies. This is a clear recognition that the surest guarantee of the peace process, and any peace agreement, is a strong independent army in southern Sudan
The prospects for success at Machakos depend to a very considerable degree upon the commitment of the international community in the near term. It is imperative that General Sumbeiywo and the IGAD process receive full, decisive, and very public support in these exceedingly difficult circumstances. Sumbeiywo must be encouraged to make clear to both parties that if he concludes either is responsible for the collapse of the Machakos process, he will render his judgment in a fully public fashion.
The GOS appears dangerously fractured at present, and it is not at all clear that President Omer Beshir has the political support for a comprehensive peace agreement that would inevitably begin a process of political reform and democratization that would ultimately threaten the National Congress Party (formerly the National Islamic Front) and its control of all military and political power in the north. There are clear signs of serious tensions between Beshir and his chief negotiator (Ghazi Salah al-din Atabani) on the one hand, and First Vice President Ali Osman Taha, Qutbi al-Mahdi, Nafie Ali Nafie, and increasingly Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail on the other. The loyalty of the army, which Beshir had formerly counted on, seems very much in doubt.
This fractured state of the regime makes pressuring Khartoum difficult, as there is no single or unified authority to pressure. Still, it should be clear from the government’s long history of dishonoring and reneging upon negotiated agreements that only sustained multilateral pressure can encourage the regime to engage in good faith at Machakos.
Prospects for peace will be enhanced if the SPLM/A engages in meaningful consultations with both the National Democratic Alliance and southern civil society groups. The talks are presently being conducted, out of necessity, by the warring parties. But the many and various voices of the south must be heard if a peace agreement is to be generally owned by these long-suffering people. The voices of the northern opposition are also important for the long-term political viability of a negotiated settlement.
The next few weeks may very well hold the key to success or failure in the 19-year pursuit of peace for Sudan. It is incumbent upon all with influence with either of the warring parties to support the Machakos process—very likely unique as a negotiating opportunity—and to make as clear as possible the rewards of peace.
[The best and most comprehensive analysis of the Machakos process is to be found in the thorough and extremely thoughtful report by the International Crisis Group: “Sudan’s Best Chance for Peace: How Not to Lose It” (September 17, 2002):
[Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts; he has written extensively on Sudan.]