Home | Comment & Analysis    Monday 3 November 2003

Peace, Conflict and Mediation in Africa: An Historic Opportunity in Sudan


By The Honorable Walter H. Kansteiner III, The Heritage.Foundation

WASHINGTON, Nov. 22, 2002 — The history of Sudan is strewn with the wreckage of failed attempts at foreign intervention, be it for conquest, to help suffering people, or to mediate conflict. The civil war in Sudan is the longest running conflict in the world-and one of the most bloody. I am, therefore, pleased to be able to say that we have an historic opportunity to achieve peace. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell are deeply committed to this effort. Today I will lay out for you our policy and discuss the prospects.


As one of his first acts in office, President Bush made bringing peace in Sudan a priority for the Administration. Doing so is clearly in the national security interest of the United States for several reasons, and those reasons define the objectives of our Sudan policy:

- First, ending the conflict in Sudan will contribute to regional stability in the strategic Horn of Africa and will send a positive message to the people of the Middle East that even the most intractable conflicts can be resolved.
- Second, we have made clear to the Sudanese government that we expect it to cooperate fully against terrorism. Sudan is on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list. Bringing about a peace settlement with a bill of rights which protects the fundamental freedoms of all Sudanese will contribute to the evolution of a more moderate Sudanese government and complement efforts to obtain cooperation against terrorism.
- Third, we want to ensure that humanitarian assistance is provided to all needy populations in the country. Achieving peace will help end massive human suffering and promote human rights, particularly by addressing the legitimate grievances of southerners.


The President emphasized his strong interest in Sudan when, in early September of last year, he appointed former Senator John Danforth as Presidential Envoy for Peace. Earlier, the President had named U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Andrew Natsios as the Special Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan. It is important to note that Senator Danforth was named prior to September 11, but those events added a new sense of urgency to achieving our policy objectives on Sudan. Leading and coordinating these efforts have been my highest priority as Assistant Secretary.

Sudan has demonstrated one truism about conflict intervention: that it can work only if the parties themselves are committed to achieving peace and if the countries of their region are willing to work for peace. That is why we strongly support the African-based and African-led negotiations under the auspices of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

Our intensified focus reflects our assessment that the government in Khartoum and the rebel Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) have each concluded that peace is both possible and in their best interests. Both sides realize that neither can win militarily. The government devotes a huge proportion of oil revenues to support the military, yet cannot gain a strategic advantage. The government knows that it is internationally isolated and that failure to achieve a just resolution to the civil war will only deepen its isolation. Both recognize the depredations that the prolonged war has wrought on infrastructure and the population.

This situation has nurtured growing constituencies for peace in the North and South. Leaders on both sides seem to appreciate this. In the North, President Bashir has publicized peace efforts, which are extensively covered by the media. In the South, Chairman Garang has kept the population extremely well-informed through regular congresses and other public meetings. Ordinary people on both sides are talking of their plans once peace is achieved. Small businessmen in the North are excited by prospects to expand their enterprises. One southern general told us of his desire to return to his family and continue his education. Traditionally marginalized areas look forward to development projects. Throughout the South, people long for better education and access to health care.

The top leadership of both sides have staked their futures on a peace deal. While neither leader is held accountable in a democratic framework, they know the tremendous disappointment, and potential loss of legitimacy and discontent, which will follow if this historic opportunity is not seized.

We have worked hard to ensure that the combatants also understand the implications of failure. The government in Khartoum understands that normalization of relations with the United States will occur only if it cooperates to reach and implement a comprehensive peace deal, cooperates fully against terrorism, and allows unrestricted humanitarian access to needy populations. The SPLM knows that our continued close relationship is premised on cooperation to achieve a just and comprehensive peace. Both sides know that peace will result in a huge peace dividend.

I believe that the Sudan Peace Act strengthens our message to both sides by underscoring broad bipartisan interest in achieving a peace settlement. The substantial interest of American non-governmental groups and the Congress in Sudan constitutes a strong lobby for U.S. engagement. I welcome this high level of interest. I hope that those working on Sudan remain involved in order to help implement a peace settlement once it is achieved. While we may sometimes differ on tactics, we share the same strategic objectives.

And we share an overarching view of the conflict: that there is no moral equivalency between the government in Khartoum and the SPLM. The people of the South are the aggrieved party. They have legitimate historic grievances which must be addressed as part of a comprehensive, just peace settlement. Our efforts are aimed at encouraging a negotiation which brings this about by addressing the core problems that continue to fuel the conflict, ranging from human rights abuses, to religious persecution, to inequitable development, to slavery and political oppression of the South, among others.

We have exerted strong leadership with our partners, the United Kingdom and Norway, to support the peace process led by Kenya on behalf of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development. We have provided several million dollars to sustain the talks, and we have provided experts to assist Kenyan mediator General Sumbeiywo and the IGAD secretariat. I want to take this opportunity to compliment the general on the superb job he has done and to assure him of our total support as he continues these efforts in such a tireless and dedicated fashion. We appreciate President Moi’s strong leadership on the peace process. We have demonstrated political support through high-level visits to the talks and through the presence of a senior-level observer at Machakos. In regular contacts with President Bashir and his team, and with Chairman Garang and his team, we have laid out what we expect.

We have helped achieve major progress towards peace. The Machakos Protocol signed in July is unprecedented in stipulating that southerners have the right to self-determination, including the option of secession, after a six and one-half year interim period, and that they must not be subject to shar’ia law. The parties agreed that they would resume negotiations to reach a comprehensive accord through agreements on power-sharing, wealth-sharing, the status of the three marginalized areas of Nuba, the Upper Blue Nile and Abyei, and a formal ceasefire.

The round of talks which adjourned November 16 made substantial progress. Two memoranda of understanding were signed. One extends through March 31 the cessation of hostilities and provisions for unrestricted humanitarian access. The other reaffirms the parties’ commitment to negotiate a comprehensive peace settlement and identifies 15 areas where general agreement has been reached on power-sharing issues. The parties have agreed to resume negotiations in early January.

Both sides have shown some willingness to compromise, though very sensitive issues remain to be discussed. Arrangements on wealth-sharing, particularly with respect to petroleum revenues, will be crucial to ensure equitable distribution to southerners and are, therefore, a key element of power-sharing.

Handling the issue of the three marginalized areas will not be easy, but it is a reality that these areas have been integral to the conflict and to the broader cultural and ethnic differences within Sudan. We do not have a recipe, but believe that arrangements acceptable to the respective populations must be worked out and folded into a comprehensive peace accord.


I believe that both sides understand the downside of not reaching an agreement-a disastrous scenario of intensified war, devastation, and famine. Because that prospect is so terrible, peace is the only rational alternative.

As an incentive to both sides, we have accelerated our planning for peace, with USAID leading this effort. We have formed a working group with the UK and Norway for this purpose. We will soon reach out to the United Nations, the international financial institutions, and other potential donors to encourage development of a coordinated plan to greatly expand development and relief efforts once there is peace. We will sit down with each side to delineate this "peace dividend."

The South is in greatest need, and that is where we will concentrate the bulk of our efforts. We are already heavily engaged in the South; USAID has a $42 million development program focused on agricultural production, education, and local community projects. Assuming full cooperation against terrorism and in providing unrestricted humanitarian access, once a peace deal is achieved and implemented and all existing legal obstacles are cleared, the Sudanese government can look forward to a process of normalization of relations with us and the international community, with appropriate assistance offered as part of that process.


The success of the Nuba Mountains cease-fire is a positive example to both sides. This initiative of Presidential Envoy Danforth has stabilized a war-torn area and has shown both sides the potential benefits of peace.

The agricultural project being carried out by the humanitarian faith-based non-governmental organization Samaritan’s Purse with USAID assistance is a shining example of what can be achieved. The region is once again producing food. The sight of thousands of acres freshly planted is a source of hope. Some internally displaced persons have started to return, and people are slowly starting to exercise their right to travel freely within the Nuba.

We provided $5 million to support the Joint Military Commission (JMC), which is monitoring and enforcing the cease-fire that has held since last May. We expect both sides to renew the cease-fire when it expires in January, and we will continue to support this important operation.


From the outset, ensuring respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms has been a key objective.

The peace process is dealing with these issues. The Machakos Protocol states that "the people of Sudan agree to work together to establish a democratic system of governance taking into account the cultural, ethnic, racial, religious, and linguistic diversity and gender equality of the people." In the context of Sudan, this is a powerful, even startling statement and establishes a clear goal for both sides to work towards.

The draft power-sharing agreement contains a specific requirement that the government comply fully with its obligations under international human rights treaties. The right to individual freedom; the abolition of slavery; freedom from torture; the rights to freedom of thought and religion, expression, assembly and association, and movement, among others, are specifically guaranteed. We are urging both sides to enshrine these liberties in a bill of rights for all Sudanese, whether from the North or South, East or West.

That said, we must frankly recognize that neither side currently has democratic structures. Real power-sharing will open up the political process for broad participation in a way that will force leadership on both sides to seek power not by right of arms or conquest, but by seeking the consent of the governed. That is as it should be. We want a peace agreement to pave the way for the people of Sudan to choose their leadership through transparent elections. Encouraging the development of nascent civil society in the North and the South will be a key part of this process.

As a complement to the peace process, we have undertaken two other initiatives proposed by Presidential Envoy Danforth and aimed at protecting human rights.

- We provided $5 million to establish a Civilian Monitoring Mechanism led by retired U.S. General Herb Lloyd. His 20-member team has deployed to Khartoum and Rumbek, and has started to conduct investigations of alleged attacks against civilians. This unit will produce reports which will be made public and will help hold accountable those responsible for such atrocities.
- With U.S. funding, an Eminent Persons Group carried out a detailed investigation into slavery and forced abduction in Sudan. We are working with USAID to implement the recommendations of the Group.
I would also note that this year we co-sponsored the resolution at the United Nations General Assembly condemning human rights violations by the Sudanese government.


Over two million persons have lost their lives during the course of the tragic civil war in Sudan. The fact that such suffering continues as we speak is a sobering reminder of the magnitude of the problem with which we are dealing. I am pleased that over the past 10 years the United States has provided more than $1 billion in humanitarian assistance to needy populations in Sudan, and we are leading the donor efforts.

Getting assistance into Sudan has not been an easy process. Insecurity sometimes makes relief flights impossible, but the real impediment has been obstacles posed by the government in Khartoum. Despite having signed the Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) agreement in 1989, the government has consistently denied access to certain areas, putting hundreds of thousands of persons at risk.

We led the international donor response to press the government to honor its commitment to unrestricted access. As a result, the OLS operations are proceeding without major hindrances this month, and the OLS is expected to expand relief operations next month. USAID, with our strong diplomatic backing, has done a superb job.


Early on in our efforts, we laid out to Khartoum clear expectations of cooperation from them against terrorism. There has been substantial cooperation, including the rendering of suspects and sharing of information. We are concerned about the presence of certain terrorist groups in Sudan, and we will remain engaged in Khartoum to pursue that agenda. Until there is full, proven cooperation, Sudan will remain on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list.

Some have speculated regarding the relationship and potential trade-offs among our three objectives: achieving a peace deal, cooperation on terrorism, and ensuring unrestricted humanitarian access. I have no doubt Khartoum may have initially thought that cooperating on terrorism would lead to an improvement of bilateral relations and perhaps buy room to maneuver on the peace process or humanitarian relief. That is not the case.

I want to reiterate that we have made clear that the Sudanese government must deliver on all three of these objectives if there is to be a normalization in our relationship. We will not trade one for the other. We are looking for actions, not rhetoric. The degree and speed with which we proceed to normalize relations will depend upon good-faith implementation of a peace agreement, results of cooperation against terrorism, and unrestricted humanitarian access.


A central premise of the negotiations is that a unified Sudan will promote the well-being of the Sudanese people better than a divided country. President Bashir and Chairman Garang have publicly and privately expressed this view as a strongly held belief.

The parties are, therefore, seeking a comprehensive agreement resulting in a government of national unity. It is the U.S. government’s conviction that a united Sudan will be stronger economically and more politically viable as a pluralistic, democratic state. A unified Sudan will help promote regional stability. It will send a strong example to the rest of Africa and to the Middle East that even the most intractable conflicts can be resolved.

We believe that southerners must, as the aggrieved party, have the right to self-determination, including the right to secede. We also believe strongly that the international community should work with southerners and northerners to demonstrate the tangible benefits of a durable union. In order to be viable, the peace accord must result in real power-sharing and real wealth-sharing. Giving southerners a fair proportion of representation in the national legislature, a major role in the executive, and a large degree of autonomy in running their region in accordance with their customs and beliefs will help promote unity.

The dividends of peace include development and reconstruction assistance, which will be implemented in consultations with southerners and northerners in order to encourage unity. Egypt, along with the Arab League, wants to see a unified Sudan, and they can play substantial roles by working to rebuild Sudan.

A peaceful, unified Sudan will prosper from increased revenue from petroleum exploration and investment in agriculture, hydroelectric development, and other areas. Sudan is one of the poorest countries in the world, and a great deal of international attention is needed to enable the country to begin to pull itself out of poverty status. If there is a just peace, we are determined to make that a priority. Together with the international community, we have a major responsibility to demonstrate results while the six and one-half year interim period unfolds.

I am convinced that a peaceful, unified Sudan can have a prosperous future and become a linchpin for stability in the Horn of Africa. The prospect of peace remains a big "if" but is now clearly within the grasp of Sudanese leaders on both sides if they can muster the necessary political will.

We must all be hopeful that they will demonstrate the vision to seize this historic opportunity. If they do not, we and the world will have no choice but to walk away. That is not in our interest or theirs. Let us remember that millions of lives are at stake. They need our engagement and our prayers.

*The Honorable Walter H. Kansteiner III is Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.

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