Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 9 October 2003

Generals, politicians can’t maintain peace


By Tajudeen Rahman, published by Ugandan newspaper The New Vision

KAMPALA, Oct. 09, 2003 — Month after month, the state of the Sudan peace process has been ’critical’."

This is the opening statement in the latest issue of Sudan Briefing, produced by my colleagues in Justice Africa, Yohannes Ajawin and Alex de Waal, undoubtedly the most authoritative chroniclers, analysis and evaluators of the now-on-then off-on- again Sudan peace negotiations over its many years.

They noted, "The parties have engaged in serial brinkmanship" but are optimistic that: "This time it is true. The summit meeting between John Garang and Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha in Naivasha since 4 September has been as crucial as was anticipated. It yielded a major result in terms of the security arrangements framework agreement. Doubtless the parties knew that if this meeting did not result in a breakthrough, then peace in Sudan would have been improbable for many years to come."

Therefore it is realistic to expect that peace will soon break out in Africa’s largest state (before Nigerians shout, largest in terms of geographical size, not population!). The 25 September ’workable’ agreement signed between Col Dr John Garang, chairman of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and commander-in- chief of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA) and Alhaji Ali Uthman Taha, the vice-president of the National Islamic Front (NIF) government of Sudan in Naivasha, Kenya, represents the most important stage in a full and comprehensive settlement of the violent conflict that has dogged Sudan since the mid-1950s with periods of ’bad peace’ (Anyanya 1 of the 1970s) and then resumption of open hostilities for most of the past 20 years.

The Sudanese peoples both in the north and the south, east and west, Muslim and non-Muslim, African and non-African and the millions in between are war-fatigued and desire a lasting peace with dignity and justice. Also the regional and international situation has significantly altered and is altering even more that neither tactical nor strategic victory to any of the warring parties can be ensured on a permanent basis. Therefore, a negotiated settlement, through which everybody gets something, loses some but save their honour was the only way out. The fact that a war is unwinnable has never been enough to stop many militarists on this continent where even many unjust and senseless wars are being waged.

The war in Sudan has always had legitimate and justifiable causes and aims. However, even in a legitimate struggle, a time must come when one has to seek war aims by other means. The patience and determination of the regional states (through the Igad [Inter Governmental Authority on Development] peace process) despite competing and sometimes contradictory objectives, distrust and suspicions, has been crucial in maintaining a forum and platform for negotiated peace.

Their consistence helped in convincing many of the extra- continental powers and interests impinging on the conflict to rally around a negotiated resolution. Whatever the leverages neighbours and foreign powers have on the situation negotiation would not take place if the key actors were not persuaded.

So, Dr John Garang and Mr Ali Uthman Taha (and the SPLA and NIF government) need to be congratulated for their ability to grasp the historic moment and make a bid for peace thereby providing an opportunity for turning guns into ’ploughshares’. A lot has been achieved but more needs to be done for peace to break out. The political cost to either the SPLM/A or NIF of becoming the villain of the peace is now so high that the only option on the table is continuing with the peace wagon but reversals are still possible. The Sudan peace process should not be like many of the peace process in Africa where once agreements are signed the warring parties are supposed to ’get on with it’.

It requires a long-term commitment from the region and the international community. Igad needs the help of the UN and other international actors. For once, the US government, even if reluctantly, has been acting in a multilateralist way in Sudan and needs to remain so. Outstanding issues include the details of power sharing, elections during the interim period, the final agreement on the marginalized areas (the Nuba mountains, Abyei and Southern Blue Nile), wealth sharing (especially the oil resources), status of Khartoum in the interim but more importantly, the referendum in the south whether it seeks divorce, confederation or union marriage on the basis of equity, equality, respect and full democratic rights for all Sudanese.

The negotiations have been in (of necessity) in secrecy and done essentially between armed groups. Both sides now have to sell it to their constituencies, north and south and other Sudanese and all Sudanese in their various political formations. The role of civil society, the unarmed battalions in the north and south and the whole of Sudan is most essential now.

Peace is too important to be left in the hands of generals and politicians.

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