For the second time in a month, the Machakos (Kenya) peace talks for Sudan have broken off with no progress on the key issues being negotiated. On March 19, 2003 the talks were suspended when no agreement could be reached on the three contested areas (Abyei, the Nuba Mountains, and Southern Blue Nile). Yesterday (April 16, 2003) the talks were suspended after no agreement could be reached on the critical issue of security arrangements during the interim period contemplated in the Machakos Protocol (July 2002). Given the absence of anything like a specific agreement on issues of oil revenue-sharing, and given the various unresolved issues of power-sharing (including the nature of the executive office, the allocation of government positions during the interim period, and the religious status of the capital city), it is exceedingly difficult to see what lies behind recent comments by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner, who has suggested that a diplomatic “touchdown” has already been achieved, one that makes possible a peace agreement by June (Agence France-Presse, April 14, 2003). But General Lazarus Sumbeiywo, chief IGAD mediator at the Machakos talks, has assessed the matter rather more honestly and yesterday declared that no peace deal could be reached by June (Reuters [Nairobi], April 17, 2003). So what lies behind Kansteiner’s obviously contrived optimism? In four days the Sudan Peace Act obliges a Presidential determination as to whether the Khartoum regime has negotiated in good faith at Machakos, and whether it has “unreasonably interfered with humanitarian relief.” Kansteiner has already indicated that there will be a positive certification for Khartoum (Agence France-Presse, April 14, 2003), and so the State Department, and Kansteiner’s Africa Bureau in particular, are busily finalizing a report that will “justify” such certification for Khartoum. But there is clearly an ominous “editing” process now underway on this report, one that will distort in serious ways the realities of both the Machakos negotiations and the humanitarian situation in Sudan over the last 14 months. It is on this basis that the Secretary of State and the President will be making their decision and fulfilling their obligations under the Sudan Peace Act.
Eric Reeves [April 17, 2003]
Northampton, MA 01063
The Machakos process should of course not be casually allowed to wither; it still represents the best opportunity for peace in twenty years of war. But Machakos has meaning only if there is a strategy for compelling Khartoum’s National Islamic Front regime to negotiate in good faith. No evidence of such a strategy has been in evidence since the apparent breakthrough agreement represented in the Machakos Protocol (July 2002). There simply must be clear benchmarks, a clear time-frame—and an equally clear willingness to assess responsibility for lack of progress and consequences for the intransigent party. This basic logic has so far escaped Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner, and as a result his policies and decisions continue to undermine the chances for success at Machakos.
Put somewhat differently, Kansteiner evidently does not have the vision to see that the Machakos process is not furthered by a State Department report that will seriously misrepresent both the diplomatic and humanitarian situation in Sudan. On the contrary, Khartoum will judge this forthcoming report—with its critical omissions, its downplaying of Khartoum’s various offenses, its expedient editing of humanitarian aid denials, its imbalances in assessing diplomatic good faith—as suggesting that the regime has nothing to lose by continuing with the stagnant diplomatic status quo.
And it is the status quo that preserves Khartoum’s ability to augment its strategic military advantages. Substantial military assets continues to be purchased with a steady stream of oil revenues; in turn, these offensive assets continue to be redeployed throughout the south, including to Wau, Juba, Adok, Bentiu, and other key locations. The oil road running south from Bentiu to Adok on the Nile is virtually complete and already heavily militarized, thus opening the way for Lundin Petroleum (Sweden), OMV (Austria), and Petronas (Malaysia) to resume operations in this now brutally depopulated region. This will ultimately produce greater oil income for Khartoum, and thus greater military purchasing power.
The status quo—a Machakos process that convenes and disbands without achievements or prospects for such, a peace process that produces no compliance by Khartoum in fulfilling critical agreements already signed under the auspices of Machakos—is not progress, and it is most certainly not peace. For Khartoum may simply continue, during extended and fruitless negotiations, to use its massively asymmetrical advantage in military logistics and equipment to prepare for a renewed war on the people of the south. To be sure, this is a clear violation of the October 15, 2002 cessation of hostilities agreement, and the February 4, 2003 “Addendum” to that agreement. But neither the US nor IGAD has made any real effort to see that the terms of these agreements are respected.
In short, there is for Khartoum no penalty for intransigence, no cost for delaying tactics, no consequences for failure to abide by agreements made in the course of negotiations. And at any time Khartoum may simply announce that the unresolved issues “cannot” be resolved, and that the regime is therefore pulling out of the Machakos process. Alternatively, the regime may simply allow the negotiations to go on indefinitely, with no single moment of collapse—just a slow withering into diplomatic irrelevance as the attention span of the international community is exhausted.
Nothing prevents Khartoum from then abandoning diplomacy altogether and resuming war at a time of the regime’s choosing, when its growing military advantage is judged greatest. This terrible scenario can be avoided only by concerted international pressure on Khartoum, led by the US. Instead, Kansteiner and the US State Department seem prepared to offer an accounting that not only finds Khartoum negotiating in good faith, but fails to create any sense of urgency or accountability. This is a formula not for peace but for an inevitable resumption of war.