Some context for today’s “historic” agreement on a prospective peace deal between the Khartoum regime and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army: a return to January 2004—
November 19, 2004
[excerpt from analysis of January 22, 2004]
Some very recent history [bearing on progress in the Naivasha peace talks]. First there was a missed December 31, 2003 deadline for concluding an agreement—a deadline demanded by the US, and to which both Khartoum and the SPLM/A committed themselves. Even as the deadline was passing, however, President Omer Beshir was reported as declaring emphatically that:
“a definitive peace deal with the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army [would be reached] next week, the official daily Al-Anbaa reported Tuesday. ‘Next week could see the signing of a final agreement on the questions of sharing of power, sharing of resources and the three contested areas,’ Beshir was quoted as saying.” (Agence France-Presse, December 30, 2003 [Khartoum])
Though Khartoum did nothing to see this prediction into reality, the same general, if troublingly extended, time-frame was promulgated by NIF foreign minister Mustafa Ismail the week following the completion of a wealth-sharing agreement between the two sides on January 6, 2004. Speaking in Cairo, Ismail declared,
“‘I am optimistic that in a short while we will manage to sign the peace accord,’ he said, adding the time-frame proposed up until now was the end of January. ‘We are continuing to hope (to be able to respect the deadline), but in my opinion, even if we exceed this date, it will not take much time’ to conclude a settlement, the minister said. ‘I’m not speaking of months, but perhaps weeks.'” (Agence France-Presse, January 13, 2004 [Cairo])
But of course the day after Ismail’s pronouncement President Beshir precipitously declared that the last major issue outstanding—the status of the three contested areas of Abyei, the Nuba Mountains, and Southern Blue Nile—was not within the purview of the Naivasha negotiations, despite the fact that such status was precisely what Khartoum’s negotiators acknowledged they were then discussing, and despite Beshir’s own earlier (December 30, 2003) reference to negotiations on this very subject (see above). But Beshir’s disingenuous and peremptory comments again retarded the diplomatic process and commandeered what news attention was being garnered by the peace talks.
Now, following this pattern of clear delay, misdirection, and obfuscation, the key negotiator has decided out of the blue that he will depart on January 24, 2004 for Mecca. Taha no doubt counts on the fact that the Haj is an act of Islamic religious devotion, and will thus insulate him from criticism that this is an inappropriate time for religious observance, given the extraordinary urgency of peace for Sudan. But there is good reason for skepticism about the genuineness of Taha’s religious urges. This pilgrimage on his part was not announced in any fashion, or even known of, prior to its becoming expediently useful. Indeed, as the comments above on peace agreement deadlines by Beshir and Ismail make clear, there was nothing on the horizon as represented by the NIF even ten days ago.
In short, Taha’s Haj has come without any warning, without any explanation, even as he would certainly have known that his absenting himself from Naivasha would force a suspension of the peace negotiations (a fact baldly acknowledged on January 21, 2004 [Reuters] by Ahmed Dirdeiry, the NIF deputy ambassador in Nairobi who broke the news of Taha’s Haj). How likely is it that, knowing of the extremely consequential nature of his Haj, Khartoum’s key negotiator would have said nothing earlier to the man who is leading the IGAD talks, Kenya’s Lazarus Sumbeiywo?
Indeed, Sumbeiywo was incredulous when confronted by Reuters with the news of Taha’s Haj:
“The chief mediator of the talks, Kenyan Lazaro Sumbeiywo, said Taha had not mentioned any upcoming absences or a break in the talks and cast doubt on the comments [about the Haj] out of Khartoum. ‘He hasn’t told me of any break that is coming up,’ Sumbeiywo said. ‘I don’t think he would want to leave without an agreement. It would mean that he is not serious, and yet I know he is serious in these talks. There are two camps in Khartoum: those who want to get an agreement and those who don’t,’ Sumbeiywo said. ‘This claim that he is going for the Haj could be from those who are against.'” (Reuters, January 20, 2004)
Sumbeiywo has it exactly right: Taha’s leaving for his Haj “would mean that he is not serious” about the peace talks—that this is the action of someone who “doesn’t want” a peace agreement.
November 19, 2004:
Khartoum has signed an agreement committing the regime to reach a final peace agreement by the end of the year. Yet it refused from May until October of this year to engage in negotiations over the remaining technical issues (all issues of substance had been negotiated, and codified in protocols signed on May 26, 2004).
The National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum counts on short international spans of attention. It has been richly rewarded in such presumption.