As reported from Machakos and Nairobi (Kenya), peace talks between Khartoum’s National Islamic Front and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) have yielded major success. The fundamental issues of self-determination and separation of religion and state have been tackled and evidently to the satisfaction of the SPLA/M, judging from the public comments of spokesman Samson Kwaje. But neither the full text of the agreement nor an official SPLA/M press release is yet available. The communique contained in Khartoum’s state-run wire service (SUNA) is wildly vague, and we are thus for the present obliged to wait and see what has actually been said by Khartoum’s rulers and those who have been close to the talks in Nairobi. A synthesis of what is presently available and some of the most informed opinions that have been so far reported is offered herewith.
Eric Reeves [July 22, 2002]
Northampton, MA 01063
Seasoned observers of Sudan’s war have already weighed in with some tellingly optimistic assessments. Today’s Independent (London) reports Dan Eiffe, a longtime aid worker with close ties to the southern opposition, as declaring: “This is a major breakthrough. I believe the war could be over in a matter of months.” Justice Africa’s Alex de Waal, who has written regularly and trenchantly about Sudan’s crisis for years, is quoted in today’s Financial Times (London) as saying: “It’s a big surprise. We were just expecting a deal papering over the cracks.”
And the comments from SPLA/M official spokesman Samson Kwaje are also strikingly optimistic. Reuters (July 20) reports Kwaje as indicating that “several issues, including a cease-fire, remained outstanding but that he was hopeful they could be resolved at the next round of talks, scheduled for mid-August.” Most importantly, Kwaje is quoted by Reuters as saying: “[agreement had been reached on] the right of self-determination for southern people, exercised through an internationally supervised referendum at the end of six years.”
Adrian Blomfield of the London Daily Telegraph begins today’s article (with a Nairobi dateline) by asserting that the agreement stipulates a “six-year transition period culminating in a referendum offering Christians and animists in the south independence from the Muslim-dominated north.” Mark Turner of the Financial Times (London), also with a Nairobi dateline, refers to “a referendum, offering secession to the south, [that] will be held six years after the deal’s completion.”
It is here that we must await the actual text to see if Blomfield’s and Turner’s assessment is correct. But it is certainly worth recalling the recently published comments of Ghazi Salah al-Din Attabani, the lead negotiator for the National Islamic Front regime at the Machakos talks. On June 19, in The Nation (Nairobi), he declared explicitly:
“My government will consider any number of constitutional arrangements that will allow the South a high degree of self-determination and autonomy. ***What is unacceptable*** is the creation of a new Southern Sudanese state” [emphasis added].
It is exceedingly difficult to reconcile this highly authoritative statement with the reported achievement of agreement on a self-determination referendum as specified in the IGAD “Declaration of Principles.” Khartoum will have had to modify its declared negotiating posture dramatically if the Machakos agreement is the success being reported.
And there are of course other reasons for tempered optimism, if not skepticism about the agreement. As John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group wrote last month: “Any proposal which envisions separate constitutions for the north and the south without a clearly reformed centre will not succeed.” Nothing in what is being reported gives a clear sense of a reformed center, and without such, an interim of six years offers Khartoum vast opportunities for reneging on its agreements, as it has so often done in past decades.
Moreover, nothing has been reported about the geographic fate of the Nuba Mountains region or Southern Blue Nile, long allied with the southern opposition.
Notably, there is also no agreement on a cease-fire, which is not surprising, since it has always been the position of the SPLA/M that a cease-fire would come at the end of a comprehensive negotiated settlement. This—along with power-sharing, wealth-sharing, and interim arrangements—will be on the August agenda when the Machakos talks resume. These are not minor matters, though Kwaje asserts, rightly, that the two greatest issues—self-determination and separation of religion and state—have been put first on the agenda, and if resolved give a huge boost to the chances for peace.
But the fighting will continue. And it will bear close watching to see if one or both sides in the conflict attempt to strengthen their negotiating hands with military successes in the present interim. It should be recalled that it was just under a year ago that the SPLA mounted a successful attack on Heglig, nerve center of the oil operations for Talisman Energy and its Greater Nile partners. Having withstood Khartoum’s dry-season offensive, the SPLA is poised to inflict major damage on oil development infrastructure (it has already forced the abandonment of all oil development activities south of Bentiu).
Even more significant will be the military actions of the Khartoum regime. Will it continue with a campaign of aerial assaults against civilians? If it does, this will be an ominous sign, for such attacks have been part of a war of attrition against southern civil society. Such a war of attrition inevitably suggests a military time-line much longer than that for the peace process, and may very well be sign that the regime is still bent on military victory rather than negotiating a just peace. Will Khartoum cease blocking humanitarian aid to the desperately needy populations of southern Sudan? The denial of food and medical aid has also long been a savage part of Khartoum’s war on civilians.
Civilian destruction in the oil regions should also be especially closely monitored: is the regime continuing its campaign of scorched-earth warfare and civilian clearances? Will helicopter gunships continue their deadly assaults on villages, fleeing civilians, refugee camps, and humanitarian relief? If so, this will also be a sign of longer-term military ambitions incompatible with a determination to reach a just peace at the August resumption of the Machakos attacks.
These latter considerations belie the preposterous claim, already emanating from apologists for oil development in Sudan (including those in Khartoum and Calgary), that Machakos has somehow vindicated oil development. For the fact that so much of the threat to success in the present peace negotiations derives from fighting in the oil regions, and disagreement over revenue-sharing of the oil wealth, makes clear that if peace is achieved, it will be despite oil development, not because of it.
There is nothing in what may have been achieved at Machakos that in any way vindicates companies like Talisman Energy, Lundin Petroleum, Petronas (Malaysia), China National Petroleum Corp., and others. Their willing complicity in the brutally destructive development activities that have come to be the focal point of Sudan’s war will be recorded in history as one of the most despicable episodes of corporate rapacity in Africa.
It must also be said that any assessment of the chances for peace will have to take full account of Khartoum’s record of shameless prevarication and continual reneging. The regime has constantly been caught out in lies, whether about military developments, civilian attacks, humanitarian access issues—and previous peace “agreements.” Leaving aside a previous Khartoum regime’s violation of the 1972 Addis Ababa accord that was the catalyst for renewed fighting in 1983, the National Islamic Front regime has also distinguished itself by reneging, for example, on the “Khartoum Peace Agreement” of 1997 that drew southern leader Riek Machar into the government. To be sure, this was never a meaningful peace agreement in the first place, but the contemptuous abrogation of its “terms” is an appropriate measure of the regime as a negotiating partner.
The opportunity for peace, if it is genuinely present, should be pursued with all possible vigor and international support. If circumstances have indeed brought Khartoum to agree to a self-determination referendum that comports with the terms of IGAD’s “Declaration of Principles,” then the international community should make sure that Khartoum has no room to turn away from this historic commitment. The US in particular should use its unrivalled influence and power to seize the moment and follow through in the Machakos negotiations.
If this is the moment of truth, and peace, we must pursue every possible means to assist in its realization.