“Machakos in Suspension: Time for Tough-Minded Thinking”
The current round of peace talks at Machakos (Kenya) has been suspended with very little further progress. Significantly, both the Government of Sudan and the SPLM/A have agreed to extend their suspension of offensive military activities through March 31, 2003. But though the talks are scheduled to re-start in early January (following the Kenyan elections in late December), the meager agreement signed on November 18, 2002 raises some difficult questions about whether Khartoum is genuinely prepared to make the real concessions necessary for peace. The coming weeks will tell us much—and the mediators at Machakos had best do some serious thinking about any number of threats and contingencies that may appear. Will humanitarian access to all of Sudan remain “unimpeded”? Will Khartoum use the break in talks to launch an Eastern offensive? Most fundamentally, given the lack of real progress on the key issues necessary for a just peace, the Machakos mediators need to be asking whether they are prepared to become arbitrators in the face of intransigence by either side. To prepare for this possibility, the US and its European allies must work hard to enhance the international stature of Kenya’s Lazaro Sumbeiywo, since his will be the task of leading any arbitration efforts.
Eric Reeves [November 20, 2002]
Northampton, MA 01063
The next seven weeks will likely determine whether the promise of the Machakos Protocol (July 20, 2002) is to be realized or dissipated. The decisions made by Khartoum’s National Islamic Front during this interim will be many, and virtually all of them have the potential to collapse the Machakos process. If Khartoum decides to use this as the time in which to launch a major offensive in the East—and thus to violate in extremely serious fashion the October 15, 2002 Memorandum of Understanding on cessation of offensive military actions—this could lead to a renewed escalation of fighting that may render a resumption of the Machakos talks virtually impossible. If Khartoum resumes its attacks on civilians in the oil regions, or if it reneges on its promise to allow for “unimpeded” humanitarian access to “all areas” of Sudan, such actions could also compromise any real chance for success at Machakos (see “Ending Starvation as a Weapon of War in Sudan”; ICG Africa Report No. 54, Brussels [November 14, 2002]; available at www.crisisweb.org).
At the same time, there are clear indications that some in the SPLM/A have misread the import of the Sudan Peace Act, and view the six-month time-frame envisioned in the legislation as an incentive to hold off on making necessary concessions in the peace talks. It would be extremely unwise for the SPLM/A negotiating leadership to assume that there is anything automatic about either the US State Department’s assessment of SPLM/A cooperation in the Machakos process, or in the disbursement of funds that have been authorized (though, importantly, not yet appropriated). Reports from Machakos suggest that this unfortunate misperception is in fact guiding in some ways the negotiating strategy of the SPLM/A; this has the ironic potential to make of the Sudan Peace Act an incentive for stalling rather than engaging in the peace process.
But most fundamentally, the lack of substantive achievements reflected in the November 18, 2002 agreement raises issues about Khartoum: is there any reason to believe that Khartoum will be more forthcoming when the talks resume in early January? And if not, how long does the international community think that talks that are a mere faade will sustain the present lull in fighting? Either there is real progress, or the whole Machakos process will begin to lose credibility, and the chance to fashion a truly just peace out of the present historic opportunities will gradually vanish. If Khartoum can simply string the process along, with no consequences for its recalcitrance or its refusal to compromise, the regime will do so, knowing that the ongoing stream of oil revenues is making possible the military acquisitions that will enable deployment of massive deadly force throughout the contested areas of the oil regions.
For Khartoum is, of course, rapidly acquiring very substantial new military assets with its oil revenues, even as international scrutiny of its budgetary priorities diminishes. The recent report from the International Monetary Fund (“Sudan: Final Review Under the Medium-Term Staff-Monitored Program and the 2002 Program,” June 4, 2002) is little more than a very lengthy whitewashing of this unpleasant fact. As noted previously by this source, the IMF makes virtually no mention of military expenditures by Khartoum. Instead, it speaks (in a single unhighlighted paragraph, buried on page 30) of Khartoum’s “assuring the [IMF] mission that the envisaged cuts in military spending are feasible in light of the on-going peace efforts.” What the IMF does not contemplate, even hypothetically, are the realities that will obtain if the “peace efforts” collapse. And to take at face value Khartoum’s “pledge” to reduce military spending is both spectacularly and culpably nave on the part of the IMF.
Again, whereas the November 2000 report from the IMF at least had tables, with actual figures, that clearly indicated a doubling of acknowledged military expenditures dating from the time oil began to be exported, the present report—despite a great many more tables and graphs—doesn’t speak of, or delineate, military expenditures in a single instance. This is transparently the censoring of key data and a clear indication that the IMF has decided it is just not interested in a truthful reckoning, but only in providing a financial context within which repayment can be accelerated. But even the IMF can’t hide the fact that Khartoum’s external debt is up this year to US$22.7 billion (from US$21.5 billion last year). Only massive military expenditures, premised on outright military victory and control of the oil regions, can account for a growth in debt even as oil production increases.
The international community, and most particularly the Europeans, need to confront these stark realities—especially in trade and development agreements made with Khartoum. Right now, all the wrong signals are being sent to Khartoum by European commercial interests, and this works to undermine whatever effectiveness European diplomats might have in pressuring the regime at Machakos.
The international community must also invest serious political capital in enhancing the stature of General Lazaro Sumbeiywo. For assuming that Sumbeiywo retains his lead role in the IGAD/Machakos process after the December elections in Kenya, he may very well face the prospect of moving from a mediating to an arbitrating role, at least if real progress is to be made at the negotiating table. Sumbeiywo, then, should be invited to Washington, DC and meet with President Bush and Secretary of State Powell; he should be invited to New York to meet publicly with Secretary-General Annan; and he should be invited to Oslo, London, and Rome as well. It is critically important that he be given stature that is commensurate with the very great challenges of his role.
For without an exceedingly strong show of international support, Sumbeiywo will not be able to move effectively into the role of arbitrator. And his assuming of such a dynamic role may very well be the only chance for Machakos to succeed. At the point of suspension in the talks, for example, Khartoum was willing to yield only 10% of oil revenues to the south; the SPLM/A was arguing for a figure of 60%, including significant amounts for southern reconstruction costs. It is unlikely that mediation alone will be able to move parties so far apart close enough for there to be reasonable compromise; an arbitration framework of some sort will need to be imposed after securing binding agreements from the parties to respect the results of arbitration.
Similarly, Khartoum at present thinks it adequate that the south be represented in the national government in ways that insure southerners have no real power at the center. Khartoum is, in effect, negotiating by trying to figure out which governance and ministerial scraps it can throw the south and appear to have “negotiated” what it wishes to call “interim arrangements.”
The perspective of the SPLM/A is entirely different, reflecting the belief that the system of governance that has so long been dominated by the north must change fundamentally if it is to be both attractive and fair to southerners. The respective negotiating positions are again so far apart conceptually that the issues will likely require not simply mediation but arbitration. If—as the majority of evidence suggests—Khartoum is unwilling to engage in true institutional power-sharing, then serious thought must be given to power-sharing arrangements that are regionally rather than institutionally based.
The extremely difficult issues of geography and the eventual redeployment of military forces have not yet been seriously broached in the Machakos talks, and these too give every indication of being defined by conceptual and ideological differences so great as to defy mediation that does not have muscular arbitration as a backstop.
The time between now and early January when the talks are scheduled to resume must be used wisely. It is both foolish and dangerous to celebrate what was signed on November 18 as “yet another very constructive and positive step forward in bringing peace to Sudan”—and as “very good news”—as Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Walter Kansteiner has done (State Department Press Release, November 18, 2002). Such factitious optimism is counter-productive—indeed, ironically works to convince the Khartoum that the US is more concerned about the process, and the number of signings, than the substance of what is agreed to. If we take stock realistically of this most recent agreement—with its lack of details and its penchant for fine-sounding generalities—it is difficult to see grounds for Kansteiner’s enthusiasm.
A more soberly realistic note was sounded by Peter Moszynski in “Machakos Stalemate” (Middle East International Magazine [MEI], November 18, 2002):
“Yet despite the continuing international pressure on both sides to reach an agreement there has been little meeting of minds and with the situation deteriorating both domestically and regionally, the future is looking bleak and the cease-fire more fragile than ever.”
This is the disturbing prospect that should define the efforts of those working to make the Machakos process succeed. The next seven weeks offer a window of opportunity in which to convince Khartoum that it must make real concessions to secure a just peace—and also to make clear to the SPLM/A that there will be little stomach in Washington for following up on the Sudan Peace Act if the Movement does not itself consistently engage in good-faith negotiations.
The overwhelmingly more difficult challenge lies in changing the attitudes that Khartoum presently brings to the negotiating table. Given that challenge, the augmented support for General Sumbeiywo must be vigorous, clearly international, and extend to securing for him the authority to lead arbitration efforts at Machakos if mediation fails.