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The Sudan IGAD peace process: Signposts for the way forward

Institute for Security Studies(South Africa)

The Sudan IGAD peace process: Signposts for the way forward




The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Peace Initiative on Sudan appears to be on the verge of achieving what other efforts and processes have failed to do in more than twenty years, namely reaching a signed peace agreement between the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) and the Government of Sudan (GoS). In the euphoria surrounding this anticipated event, however, it must be cautioned that the country is broken. The task of physical reconstruction is enormous while the transitional period will be long and will throw up many problems In every corner of the country, groups and regions are demanding that their grievances be addressed. In overcoming the first, and arguably most crucial, hurdle of a signed peace agreement, the expectations placed on IGAD by the international community, donors and the Sudanese people to successfully oversee the transitional period, the holding of a vote on self-determination for southern Sudan, and the creation of viable and democratic governments in both south and north Sudan, will be extremely high. There can be no ready-made formula for the way forward. While this paper will emphasise the accomplishments of the IGAD peace process that must serve as a base for the way forward, the tasks of the postconflict stage are markedly different and demand a different approach than that which proved successful during the first stage. In particular, it will require a shift from the elitism and exclusivity that characterised the first stage to a process informed by transparency and a commitment to democracy.

The paper will begin with a brief overview of the various peace processes that have been taken up during the two decades of Sudan’s civil war, culminating in the success of the IGAD Initiative. This serves to identify the key issues that have been considered by peace-makers, the problems encountered, the critical components of the IGAD achievement, and against this background suggest the issues that remain to be confronted. In addition, this overview will illustrate the diverging and sometimes conflicting interests of the large number of individuals, organisations and governments that have taken up peace-making in Sudan and make clear that many of those conflicting interests will continue into the post-conflict transitional period, and must be resolved.

The strength of the IGAD Peace Initiative, particularly during its later stage, has been its clarity in identifying the key issues at the core of the conflict, and then bringing to bear the necessary political and technical resources, including international pressure, specifically that of the United States (US), to encourage the SPLM/A and GoS to make the needed concessions. Crucial and worthy as this achievement is, the IGAD Initiative from the beginning was understood to involve a continuing involvement in Sudan that would not end until the terms of the peace agreement were fulfilled and the necessary stability was achieved, because only then could there be confidence that peace would be secure. And that objective in turn is not realisable unless there are significant and continuing democratic reforms. The Sudanese people must assume increasing and ultimate responsibility for a democratic transformation. The broader international community, and most significantly IGAD, must understand that this objective is an integral part of the peace process and is a core principle of the Machakos Protocol of 20 July 2002 [1].

It is not difficult to compile a list of tasks for IGAD during the transitional period. What is more challenging is to provide insight into the main tasks, their many dimensions and complexity. This paper will identify, under two main categories, what should be IGAD’s major priorities during the transitional period: first, achieving inclusivity in the peace process; and second, rehabilitating Sudan’s contentious bilateral relations. Both involve a steady expansion of democratic power and popular engagement in, and control over, the institutions of governance. It will be argued that without urgent attention to these concerns there is a real danger that the stupendous achievement of a signed agreement between the belligerents could very likely be undermined.

It must be stressed that this is not a technical paper, nor is it a paper written by an insider involved in the negotiations. Nor, given time constraints, is this analysis comprehensive in either its assessment of the varying peace processes, or in its consideration of the main elements that it proposes IGAD focus on in the transitional period. The analysis does not consider issues related to governance, and in particular the governance of southern Sudan, even though these could prove of enormous significance to the outcome of the peace process, [2] but instead focuses on the more narrowly political elements of the transitional period. In addition, this paper does not detail what IGAD should do, merely laying out the concerns that must be dealt with during the transitional period. It should also be noted that this report does not consider the obstacles to IGAD’s pursuit of the peace process, which one analyst identified as a lack of resources, capacity to implement programs, transparency and coordination, grassroots level participation and democratisation in general, as well as the problems posed by functioning in a region characterised by chronic instability. [3]Instead, this analysis will provide some of the necessary background for IGAD’s engagement in the post-conflict stage of the peace process, identify priorities on the way forward, and at all times draw the link between a sustained and expanding peace process and a democratic transformation of Sudan.

Lastly, the outbreak of a famine in Darfur, said to rival that of 1988, and the dislocation of upwards of half a million people, both a result of an insurrection launched by the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A), together with the increased military activities by the non-SPLA components of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in eastern Sudan over the past few months, should be considered a wake-up call and makes clear the multifaceted threat facing Sudan. Moreover, these political-military struggles, which are a direct product of the progress in the IGAD peace process, make clear the need to move quickly to establish democratic and legitimate institutions of governance that alone can defuse these and other crises that may erupt.


The SPLM/A insurrection broke out in 1983. With support from the Eastern Bloc and neighbouring countries it quickly became a national crisis. However, the Nimeiri regime was slow to appreciate its significance and the war proved a major cause of its removal by a popular revolt two years later. The incoming Transitional Military Council appealed to the SPLM/A and its leader, Dr John Garang, to join the government and resolve their grievances peacefully. Crucially, however, the Transitional Military Council was not prepared to accept the SPLM/A as a national party with an agenda for reconstructing the entire country, nor did it agree to the movement’s demands to freeze the Shari’ah laws introduced by Nimeiri, end defence agreements with Arab countries and hold a constitutional conference.

The next internal effort at peace-building took place in a meeting between the National Salvation Alliance (the umbrella organisation of the parties that overthrew the Nimeiri regime) and the SPLM/A in March 1986 at Koka Dam in Ethiopia, when agreement was reached on all the SPLM/A’s demands. Unfortunately the refusal of key major parties-notably the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the National Islamic Front (NIF)-to participate in the discussions undermined the achievements of Koka Dam. In July, after the holding of national elections, the Umma Party leader and Prime Minister, Sadiq Al-Mahdi, met the SPLM/A leader, John Garang, and agreed to the Koka Dam recommendations and the meeting "ended in a note of guided hope", [4] but these hopes were not realised.

Arguably the best prospect of ending the war, before the IGAD achievements at Machakos, was the DUP-SPLM/A agreement reached by their respective leaders, Osman Al-Mirghani and John Garang, in November 1988. This agreeme nt essentially affirmed all the SPLM/A’s demands, including the holding of a constitutional conference. However, faced with dissent in his ruling party, and the opposition of the NIF which was part of the coalition government, Sadik did not, or could not, implement the DUP-SPLM/A accord. Nonetheless, given enormous popular sentiment for peace and the formation of an Umma-DUP coalition government that did not include the NIF, the National Assembly endorsed the agreement on 3 April 1989. [5]

Significantly, however, the agreement was strongly opposed by the NIF, which then left the government. As arrangements for the constitutional conference proceeded, a group of army officers with ties to the NIF-and led by Lt-General Omar Al-Bashir, the current President of Sudan-seized power. This action not only dealt a death blow to the DUP-SPLM/A accord, but effectively ended internal Sudanese efforts at peace-making. As a result, subsequent peace initiatives were to be dominated by the regional and international communities. Moreover, the 1991 overthrow of the regime of Mengistu Hailemariam in Ethiopia-the SPLM/A’s foremost foreign supporter-and a schism within the rebel movement that led to the defection of Dr Riek Machar and his Nuer followers in the same year seriously weakened the SPLM/A. That confluence of events led the Government of Sudan to increasingly look to a military victory, and not peace negotiations, to bring the conflict to an end.

Out of fear that the SPLM/A was on the verge of collapse, and because of the importance of the issues of race, religion and self-determination that were at the core of the Sudan dispute, Nigerian President Ibrahim Babangida took the lead in holding peace talks in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, in May-June 1992. With a weakened rebel movement represented by factions led by Dr Riek and Dr John, an increasingly confident Government of Sudan delegation espoused majority rule, which, it held, meant that the constitution should be based on Shari’ah, although the south could be exempt from the hudud (code of Islamic punishments). Both factions of the SPLM/A pressed for a secular democratic system and the right of the south to a referendum on self-determination. Khartoum rejected secularism and would not countenance the proposed referendum. The talks rapidly collapsed.

Almost a year passed before Babangida called for a second round of talks at Abuja, by which time the SPLM/A was even more militarily weak. With very little change, Khartoum proposed power-sharing and balanced development, rejected secession, and proposed a constitution that did not refer to Islam as the state religion and exempted the south from certain provisions of Shari’ah. The SPLM/A rejected Khartoum’s federalist approach and called for a confederation and a secular, democratic "New Sudan". If this objective was not achievable, the SPLM/A said, then the south and the "marginalised territories" (the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile), together with Abiyei, should have a vote on confederation or separation. There were other differences between the parties, but the critical issues of the separation of state and religion and self-determination proved conclusive in causing the collapse of the negotiations.

In the wake of the failed Nigerian initiative, and perhaps out of fear that the 18,000 US troops in Somalia in the early 1990s could carry out a similar operation in Sudan, the GoS proposed that the Inter-Governmental Authority on Drought and Desertification (IGADD, the forerunner of today’s IGAD) take up the peace process. The countries of IGAD had a clear interest in containing Sudan’s civil war and stopping the spread of political Islam, and with the elevation of President Isias Aferworki of Eritrea and Prime Minister Meles of Ethiopia to power, the organisation had two particularly competent and dynamic leaders ready to assume the task. [6] In response, IGADD established a Standing Committee on Peace in Sudan in early 1994 and in March peace negotiations were officially launched in Nairobi. Once again, however, the issue of self-determination brought the first round of talks to a rapid end.

A second set of negotiations a few weeks later looked as if they would collapse in like manner, but at this point the IGADD mediators presented the belligerents with a Declaration of Principles (DoP). The DoP included a number of provisions relating to human rights that have never been the subject of much dispute, but it also held that the unity of Sudan be given priority, that the social and political system be secular and democratic, and resources be equitably shared. In the absence of agreement on these principles, it suggested that the south would have the right to selfdetermination through a referendum. While the SPLM/A fully endorsed the DoP, the GoS predictably could not accept the south’s right to self-determination, nor the activist role of the mediators. Again, the positions of the belligerents were clear and apparently irreconcilable. The peace talks were officially adjourned but, effectively, they had collapsed.

In response to the failure, the SPLM/A and the government turned their energies to fighting political and military battles, and positioning themselves for what would inevitably be another encounter at the negotiating table. The Khartoum government focused on reaching an internal peace agreement with the South Sudan Independence Movement of Riek Machar (this was to subsequently take form as the 1997 Khartoum Peace Agreement), and defeating the SPLM/A militarily, which appeared to be a realisable objective in the circumstances. The SPLM/A built up its relations with the NDA, a loose grouping of northern opposition forces, as a means to bring further pressure to bear on the government and gain acceptance from parties, which arguably represented the majority of the Sudanese people. For its part, IGAD turned its attention to gaining western material and political support, and this eventually took the form of the IGAD Partners’ Forum (IPF). It further endeavoured to ensure that efforts would be coordinated and that other peace processes would not be endorsed by the international community. At the same time and in response to what was held to be an Islamist threat to their sovereignty, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Uganda stepped up significantly their military assistance to the SPLM/A, and by late 1995 were sending their armed forces into Sudan.

In 1997, regional isolation, the military engagement of the neighbouring countries, SPLM/A victories in the field, and a new pragmatism in Khartoum convinced the NIF to return to the bargaining table and accept the DoP as a basis for negotiations. However, the outbreak of the Ethiopian-Eritrean war in May 1998 markedly decreased the regional pressure on the government of Sudan and the IGAD Peace Initiative began to falter. Without sustained military pressure the IGAD sponsored talks at Lake Bogoria, Kenya in October 2000 followed the same route to failure as many before it. It was becoming increasingly clear to both the IGAD mediators and the IPF that outside support and pressure, ideally led by the US, would be necessary if the peace process was not to come to a complete halt. In response to the perceived weaknesses of the IGAD Initiative a number of other peace efforts also took form at this time.

Foremost in this light was the Joint Libyan and Egyptian Initiative (JLEI), which was concerned with the lack of northern opposition participation in the IGAD efforts, uneasy at apparent African domination of the peace process, and upset at the lack of a formalised role for Egypt in the negotiations, given its considerable interests in Sudan. Lastly, and probably most importantly, this initiative also reflected opposition by Libya and Egypt to the concept of self-determination for southern Sudan, which was seen as a threat to Cairo’s access to the waters of the Nile, which flow through southern Sudan. Khartoum unreservedly agreed to the JLEI principles, which were expressed in a DoP, and the SPLM/A accepted them in principle, but made clear that it wanted the document revised to include self-determination, secularism and coordination of the JLEI with the IGAD peace process. Although the JLEI largely withered, it represented a strong statement of Egyptian fears about Sudanese selfdetermination, as well as the need to bring the northern opposition forces into the peace process. It also made clear that the engagement of Libya and particularly Egypt, which has the closest relations with Sudan and the most significant interests in the country and the peace process, should not be overlooked.

With the NDA based in Eritrea and given the latter’s major interest in the Sudan peace process, Asmara repeatedly attempted to initiate negotiations between the NDA and Khartoum. However, the weakness of the (non-SPLM/A) NDA forces and the international legitimacy given to the IGAD peace process meant that the Eritreans made little progress. Nonetheless, any comprehensive peace agreement must at some point include the opposition northern armed groups and the interests and grievances that they reflect. Further, the security of the peace process also depends on a marked improvement in the bilateral relations between Sudan and Eritrea.

Out of fear of the imminent collapse of the IGAD peace process and for the same reasons that stimulated its earlier efforts, Nigeria again attempted to promote a peace process. In the event these efforts came to naught, but it did make clear that the issues at the heart of the conflict-religion, race and regional disparities within a state-have resonance far beyond the country’s borders. Moreover, the focus of these efforts, like those of Eritrea, and in distinction to IGAD, was an inclusive process that involved the engagement of the major political forces of the north and the south.

All of these interventions suggested a growing lack of confidence with the IGAD peace process. Although the IGAD Peace Initiative had some genuine accomplishments-a well-thought-out DoP, workable relations with the belligerents, an institutional focus in the Sudan Secretariat, and international legitimacy-it had become apparent to most analysts and the belligerents by late 2001 that the process needed invigoration, and this could only come through international engagement led by the US.

Many point to the terrorist attack on 11 September 2001 to explain heightened US interest in Sudan, but if nothing else, the American bombing of the Al-Shiffa Pharmaceutical Plant in August 2000 on the basis of faulty intelligence information that it was producing chemical weapons, makes clear an earlier interest, and one that focused on the connections between Khartoum and Islamist terrorism. Moreover, it must be stressed that President George W Bush appointed special peace envoy, Senator Danforth, five days before the 11 September attack, thus demonstrating US commitment in the Sudan peace process. Interest in Sudan by a number of key constituencies-the Congressional Black Caucus, the influential Christian right, liberals, human rights activists, American humanitarian agencies, and the oil lobby upset at being denied entry into the potentially lucrative Sudan market-combined with heightened concerns about international terrorism after 11 September, all contributed to the increased engagement of the US in Sudan. Indeed, US engagement in Sudan steadily increased from President Clinton’s Executive Order of November 1997 which imposed comprehensive trade and economic sanctions, through to the Sudan Peace Act of October 2002 which stipulates further sanctions if the GoS was found to be not participating in the peace negotiations in good faith. Further pressure was brought to bear by Sudan being identified as one of seven countries on a State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism. While some have questioned the timing, ethics and one-sided American pressure on the GoS, there is little doubt that collectively these measures sent a powerful message to the government, and their removal an equally powerful impetus to bring the war to an end.

Against this background, Danforth proposed a series of confidence-building measures, comprising a cease-fire in the Nuba Mountains, zones and times of tranquillity in which vaccinations and other humanitarian interventions could be carried out, a commission to report on the issue of slavery, and an end to attacks on civilian targets-all of which achieved some, but not complete, compliance. [7] Whether or not these measures increased mutual confidence between the government and the SPLM/A is questionable, but they did suggest that there could be movement in the Sudan peace process. Probably more importantly, neither party wanted to run foul of the US, particularly given its increased interest in security after 11 September and its demonstrated willingness to use military force in the pursuit of its perceived security interests. Despite such unilateral actions and appeals from various sources to formulate their own peace initiatives, the US administration repeatedly made it clear that it supported regional efforts led by IGAD. And there can be little doubt that the support of the UK, Norway and Italy, led by the US, breathed life into the faltering IGAD peace process, and their sustained engagement proved critical to the breakthrough of the Marchakos Protocol and the continuing progress since then.

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The Sudan IGAD peace process: Signposts for the way forward
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