July 20, 2003
As if the Machakos peace process for Sudan were not sufficiently endangered by recent destructive comments from US special envoy John Danforth, and by a Khartoum regime that is expediently working to make a just peace agreement impossible, Egypt has chosen this critical moment to intrude forcefully its own narrowly self-interested view of Sudan’s conflict. Determined at all costs to prevent a meaningful self-determination referendum for the south from ever becoming a possibility, Cairo is insisting that the Machakos process abandon the draft peace accord tabled by chief mediator Lazaro Sumbeiywo at Nakuru during the last round of talks (officially, the “Draft Framework for the Resolution of the Outstanding Issues”). For as details of the draft Machakos accord continue to emerge (it was published in the London-based Arabic-language newspaper al-Shark al-Awsat on July 18, 2003), it becomes ever clearer that the Draft Framework does indeed take the security concerns of southern Sudan seriously. This makes perfect sense, of course, since only adequate security arrangements insure that a self-determination referendum six years out from the signing of a final agreement will remain a viable possibility.
For its part, Egypt is determined to undermine any peace agreement that works to provide the meaningful security arrangements that would prevent Khartoum from simply abandoning its agreement to allow a self-determination referendum. What is the evidence that this is Egyptian policy? and that these policy views were conveyed to Danforth during his recent stop in Cairo? Why, in turn, has the Sudan Council of Churches “expressed concern about the negative interference of some Arab countries such as Egypt in Sudan’s affairs” (Catholic Information Service for Africa; Nairobi, July 18, 2003)? There are all too many answers and all too much evidence of Egyptian obstructionism.
In assessing present Egyptian efforts to derail the Machakos process, as anchored by the Draft Framework, we should first recall that Egypt’s views on a southern self-determination referendum have long been clear. At the time of the widely hailed Machakos Protocol, the agreement of July 2002 that has created the present chance for peace in Sudan, the state-controlled Egyptian press quickly went to work excoriating the diplomatic breakthrough. For example, a strident but representative editorial appeared on July 29, 2002 in Al-Wafd newspaper. 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.”
Such outrageously inciting language found its echo in numerous comments from various other state-controlled news media, government officials, and (in somewhat moderated form) from President Hosni Mubarak. Significantly, at the time US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner would not publicly affirm that the Machakos Protocol did indeed allow for the right of self-determination, even as the language of the agreement could not be clearer:
“At the end of the six-year Interim Period there shall be an internationally monitored referendum, organized jointly by the Government of Sudan and the SPLM/A, 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)
Egypt has been rather more quiet in recent months, but its views of the Machakos Protocol and the document they wish to see emerge as a final peace accord have been unchanging. Certainly US special envoy Danforth would have heard during his recent trip to Cairo (significantly, his first stop in the region) a thoroughly explicit rehearsal of these views, couched in the language not only of regional interests but of Egyptian strategic interests. Al-Hayat newspaper reports today (July 20, 2003) on comments from the Egyptian Ambassador in Khartoum, Mohammed Asim Ibrahim. Ibrahim declared that Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher told Danforth that Cairo had many reservations about the Draft Framework and considers it “unsuitable as basis for the negotiations and problematic and must be completely re-written.”
It is difficult to imagine a more arrogant and destructive position for Egypt to take at this critical moment, even as there is nothing surprising or without clear precedent in the view expressed. At the same time, such a view would go a long way toward explaining Danforth’s own undermining comments while in Cairo. Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) reported (July 16, 2003) that “[Danforth] assured the Egyptian side that the document presented by the IGAD was ***only a draft*** [emphasis added] and was subject to further negotiations.” This comment seriously misrepresents that status of the document that chief IGAD mediator Lazaro Sumbeiywo presented at Nakuru during the last round of Machakos talks. As Sumbeiywo has put it:
“[Sumbeiywo said] the draft proposal is balanced. ‘They [Khartoum’s negotiators] have a right to suggest what they want,’ he said. ‘My proposal is fair and the international community agreed with me that it was fair. I am very impartial, and they [Khartoum’s negotiators] have acknowledged [so] themselves on many occasions, including today.” (Voice of America, July 13, 2003)
The Draft Framework may be a draft, but not “only a draft”: it represents the best efforts of international negotiators to craft a just and balanced peace accord that can serve as the basis for final negotiations.
Danforth will have also heard from the Arab League about its views of the document that is supposed to anchor the Machakos talks at this key moment. Though there has been some lip-service from the Arab League about respecting the outcome of a self-determination referendum for the south, the present diplomatic hardball realities have been made perfectly clear by Arab League chief Amr Mussa (notably, the former Egyptian foreign minister): Mussa “urged mediators from the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to withdraw its draft peace accord” (Agence France-Presse, July 14, 2003).
Meanwhile, a meeting of senior Egyptian and Sudanese diplomats suggests that whatever tension there may be between Khartoum and Cairo on other issues, at this moment their interests in killing the Machakos document coincide fully. Egyptian Prime Minister Atef Ebeid left for Khartoum yesterday (July 19, 2003) to meet with the National Islamic Front’s extremely powerful First Vice President, Ali Osman Taha. As Agence France-Presse notes (July 19, 2003):
“The visit comes amid deadlock in efforts to end Sudan’s 20-year civil war after Khartoum rejected US-backed peace proposals accepted by the southern rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Egypt, which is concerned about the possible secession of south Sudan after a promised referendum on independence, on Wednesday called for more ‘balanced’ proposals to be put forward by east African mediators.”
There will no doubt be a good deal of coordinating of diplomatic strategy, even as the main theme is caught in a dispatch by Associated Press (July 19, 2003):
“Egyptian Prime Minister Atef Obeid, who led the delegation, said on his arrival that Egypt backs all peace efforts with the goal of ‘bringing together the sons of the united Sudan and chasing away the ghost of division.'”
The unmistakable import of this comment received an ominous echo in the comments of Taha, the member of the NIF perhaps most adamantly opposed to a peace agreement:
“‘Cooperation between Sudan and Egypt is now taking new dimensions that bypass formalities and bureaucracies and go deep to the joint interests for the two people.'”
The upshot of all this is clear: Egypt is more than willing to see the talks collapse rather than create a just peace that would guarantee the viability of a meaningful self-determination referendum for the south. Moreover, Egypt knows (as do Taha and other members of the NIF) that real justice in any peace agreement must allow the people of the south to be their own guarantors of security. The exceedingly poor recent performance by the US-led Civilian Protection Monitoring Team, along with the failure of the US and the rest of the international community to insure timely and substantial deployment of a Verification and Monitoring Team (per the February 4, 2003 “Addendum” to the October 15, 2002 cease-fire agreement) demands that the south be allowed the means to provide its own security guarantees.
It should also be noted in this connection that the people of the south have certainly not been encouraged by the refusal of the US and others to declare what many and various extremely informed sources in southern Sudan have been reporting for over half a year: that Khartoum has been steadily redeploying significant military forces in clear violation of the October 15, 2002 cessation of hostilities agreement. Clear, unambiguous aerial photographic evidence of these redeployments is available to the US State Department. The Civilian Protection Monitoring Team, under its previous leadership, also provided substantial evidence of Khartoum’s military redeployments (Section 3, “CPMT Final Report: Military Events in Western Upper Nile, 31 December 2002 to 30 January 2003,” February 6, 2003).
If such blatant and continuous violations of a signed accord—violations that directly affect the military balance of power in southern Sudan—go unremarked by the US and others, how can those who maintain this silence be trusted to insure the security of the south? This is a question asked by all in the south and for which there is no good answer.
To be sure, there are those who argue with honesty and integrity that a united Sudan must be given a chance if the diplomatic process is to succeed. Reports from the International Crisis Group (ICG), for example, have stressed this perspective, even as they have honestly assessed the needs of the south. Moreover, these reports (at www.crisisweb.org) are adamant in insisting that Khartoum must demonstrate that unity is preferable to secession. But even ICG recognizes that unity must be preferred by, not dictated to the south. Given Khartoum’s despotism and tyranny, it is very difficult to imagine that in six years a fair self-determination referendum could eventuate in a vote for unity. And it is even more difficult to imagine that the Khartoum regime, if unchanged, will abide by its commitment to a referendum. Hence the need for security arrangements as they have been reported in the draft peace accord tabled at Nakuru during the last session of the Machakos talks.
It is to these security provisions of the Draft Framework that Cairo most strenuously objects, along with the degree of autonomy apparently granted to the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile (Abyei is apparently to hold its own self-determination referendum some time before the end of the six-year Interim period). In short, the Egyptians will not accept an agreement that makes it possible for the forces of the SPLM/A to guarantee a self-determination referendum as stipulated in the Machakos Protocol.
So what does this augur for the future of the Machakos peace talks? Notably, the resumption of talks has apparently been pushed back from the previously scheduled July 23, 2003 date to August 6, 2003—a delay of two weeks. (The delay according Khartoum’s al-Ayam (July 20, 2003], citing official sources, may be indefinite; this possibility was partially confirmed by Khartoum’s foreign minister, Mustafa Ismail [Agence France-Presse, July 20, 2003]). Yet even as the resumption of talks has been pushed back, there has been no qualification from Bush administration diplomats of the bizarre comments by Danforth in Nairobi on the relative difficulty of outstanding issues (issues addressed, of course, in the Draft Framework):
“[Danforth noted] that the main bones of contention had been settled a year ago and that remaining thorns—‘power- and wealth-sharing and the status of the capital’—were minor in comparison.” (Agence France-Presse, July 19, 2003)
“[Danforth said] wealth-sharing, power-sharing, security (and) the status of the capital’ were ‘in my opinion, very solvable.'” (Reuters, July 18, 2003)
What are we to make of these fatuous comments? Is it simply ignorance of the fact that no substantial progress has been on any of these key issues in the year since the signing of the Machakos Protocol? How can Danforth fail even to mention the critical issue of the three contested areas (Abyei, Nuba, Southern Blue Nile)? Though Danforth appears quite capable of such ignorance, the real explanation seems more ominous. By suggesting that the outstanding issues are not as difficult as they have been universally described (or even as numerous), Danforth is most likely suggesting implicitly that the work of consensus diplomacy that went into the Draft Framework presented by Sumbeiywo is nothing special, and thus that the issues can be readily addressed in some other document.
If the case, such expediency on the part of the US envoy would hold the clear potential to collapse the talks. If Danforth has in fact been urging the SPLM/A to abandon the Draft Framework because it has proved so objectionable to Khartoum, the Arab League, and Egypt, then US credibility will be vastly diminished. By way of context, we must here remember that in speaking with Danforth in Cairo, the Egyptians will surely have played forcefully their Middle East card (“you badly need us for any Middle East peace deal”) and touted its power and standing within the Arab world (“you need us now more than ever in the wake of your war on Iraq”). The implied quid pro quo would entail the US abandoning the Machakos draft accord.
But even as US expediency may be responsible for pushing back the resumption of talks—to permit the drafting of a new document, acceptable to Egypt—Danforth is simultaneously declaring that time is running short:
“‘The two sides are going to have to come together and reach agreement on these points and I believe they can in a very short period of time,’ said [Danforth]. ‘Right now the United States has been keenly interested, (as have) the British, the Norwegians, the Italians. That interest cannot be sustained for ever.” (Agence France-Presse, July 19, 2003)
Time is short, it would seem, but not so short that a new draft document can’t be forced to emerge from the Machakos mediators. The question of the moment is whether Sumbeiywo will allow himself to be dictated to by the US (and by Egypt and the Arab League in support of Khartoum’s position of outright rejection of the draft accord). Having characterized so positively the Draft Framework he prepared, in consultation with other IGAD and “troika” (US, Norway, UK) diplomats, can Sumbeiywo simply submit to such rejection of his best good-faith efforts? We should know shortly. Certainly if he submits to this dictate, Sumbeiywo will lose the confidence of the SPLM/A.
Meanwhile, Khartoum—which has made no effort to hide its contempt for Sumbeiywo and his efforts—is sending chief negotiator Ghazi Saleh el-Din Atabani to Kenya to meet not with Sumbeiywo, but with President Mwai Kibaki:
“A top Sudanese official is on Monday expected to discuss with the Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki ways to resolve the current standoff in Sudan’s peace process, the Sudan News Agency (SUNA) reported Saturday. Ghazi Salah El Din, peace advisor to Sudanese President Omer El Beshir, is also expected to deliver a message from the Sudanese president to his Kenyan counterpart on the latest developments in the peace process.” (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, July 19, 2003)
Rather than deal with the IGAD mediators, Khartoum is attempting to strong-arm the process by means of the new Kenyan government, which seems to be taking less interest in ending Sudan’s conflict. The attempt is obviously to cut an independent Sumbeiywo out of the diplomatic picture. This is quite possible since he is regarded with some suspicion by President Kibaki, and he has lost his old power base (his connection to President Moi and his position as head of the army). Now he has only his experience to support his position—experience which of course includes successfully overseeing negotiation of the Machakos Protocol. But this is likely not enough. With Khartoum, the Arab League, and Egypt—and apparently the US—all bearing down on his Draft Framework, he must either capitulate or resign.
But if Egypt has in fact weighed in so consequentially and so self-interestedly—and without confronting forceful US diplomatic support of the Machakos Draft Framework—it is difficult to imagine that Sumbeiywo or anyone else can draft a new document that still preserves what seems by all accounts the justice reflected in the present document.
Justice, however, seems not of much concern at this moment of truth for Sudan’s peace process—a state of affairs all too familiar for the people of Sudan.
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