A peace deal and new worries

Print edition : February 11, 2005

Sudan's First Vice-President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement leader John Garang after signing the peace accord in Nairobi. - THOMAS MUKOYA/REUTERS

The peace treaty in Sudan between the government and the southern rebels brings to an end Africa's oldest civil war, but signs of new civil strife appear elsewhere in the country.

THE signing of the peace treaty between the Sudanese government and the main southern rebel group in the second week of January signals the formal end to the longest running civil war on the African continent. In 1955, the Central government, dominated by the Muslim north, rejected the demand to decentralise power, prompting some Army officers from the south to revolt. More than two million people have died since the beginning of the internecine warfare and millions more have become internal refugees.

In 1972, the government and the rebels signed the "Addis Ababa" agreement, which was honoured for more than a decade. But the introduction of Sharia, or Islamic law by the then President, Jaffar Nimeiry, in 1983 in the north of the country reignited the civil war. Many other factors too contributed to the resumption of the civil strife.

John Garang, the leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), identified himself with the progressive liberation movements that had seized power in many African countries. Garang had also shared a close personal and political rapport with Mengistu Haile Merriam, the then President of Ethiopia. However, Garang today is a changed man. The major backers of Garang and the southern revolt are the Christian Right leadership in the United States and the church groups in Europe.

THE signing of the accord on January 9 in Kenya was witnessed by dignitaries from various countries, including 15 heads of state from Africa. India, which has strong economic ties with Sudan, was represented by Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahmed. There was high-level representation from the African Union (A.U.) and the Arab League.

Under the terms of the treaty, the people of the south will be allowed to decide whether they want to continue to be with Sudan or not in a referendum to be held in 2011. In the interim period, the two sides will share power. Garang has assumed office as the Vice-President and is in charge of the administration in the south.

The two sides will henceforth be sharing oil revenues generated from the south and central regions of the country. "Today is a glorious day for Sudan and Africa, a day to alleviate the suffering and distress of our people," Sudanese President Omar Bashir said after signing the treaty. Garang said that the peace agreement "signals the beginning of one Sudan, regardless of race, religion and tribe". He, however, cautioned that the failure of the treaty would lead to the country being "dissolved amicably and peacefully through a referendum". In the 1980s Garang had sworn by a united Sudan.

SPLM/A cadre at a rally in the town of Rumbek to celebrate the peace agreement.-BEN PARKER/AFP

The treaty owes its origins to the 1993 plan put forth by Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Eritrea under the auspices of the regional grouping IGAD (Inter-governmental Authority on Development) and an Egypt-Libya initiative in 1990. The government offered autonomy to the rebels in the late 1990s. Most of the rebel groupings barring the SPLM/A and a few others accepted the terms set by Khartoum at that time.

Western oil companies, church groups and human rights organisations lobbied with the U.S. administration to wrest more concessions from the beleaguered Sudanese government, which is classified as a "terrorist state" by Washington. The Christian Right in the U. S. was actively working on behalf of the southern rebels. It even included the issue on the Bush re-election agenda last year. There is a mistaken assumption that the south is overwhelmingly Christian, but the majority of the people are neither Christian nor Muslim. They continue to practise traditional African animist beliefs - pagan in Christian and Islamic terminology.

The Sudanese economy has been affected badly by the economic sanctions imposed by the West since the early 1990s. The government desperately wanted Sudan to be a "normal" state, free of sanctions and other forms of extraneous pressures. The Bush administration, in an attempt to tighten the screws on Sudan further, appointed former Senator John Danforth as "presidential envoy" to Khartoum in 2002. Danforth later became U.S. Permanent Representative in the United Nations.

It was Danforth who lobbied successfully for a meeting of the Security Council to be held in Nairobi in November last year. It is only on rare occasions that the Council meets outside the U.N. headquarters in New York. It was at that meeting that the two warring Sudanese sides ironed out their remaining differences and agreed on the present power-sharing formula.

The Bush administration is taking much of the credit for brokering the peace deal. The Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations have applied tremendous pressure on Khartoum since the late 1990s. After the terrorist attacks on the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam, the U.S. launched missile attacks against civilian targets in Khartoum. There was not even a shred of evidence linking the Sudanese government with the terrorists responsible for the attacks against U.S. targets. An independent international inquiry commission came to this conclusion several years ago.

Despite the Sudanese government bending over backwards on many occasions to accommodate U.S. interests, the pressure from the West has been unrelenting. Khartoum cooperated with Washington in sharing valuable information regarding terrorist networks in the region. Political parties of Islamist orientation were sidelined in the country. The activities of prominent Islamist leaders, such as Hassan al Turabi, have been severely circumscribed. All this has evidently been to no avail. In fact, many Western commentators are now predicting the "inevitable" break-up of the country, the largest in Africa.

As soon as the contours of a peace deal with the southern rebels was worked out, another rebellion broke out in the western part of the country, in the Darfur region. Now there are reports coming out of yet another rebellion brewing in the north-east of the country. Garang has already started criticising the government's handling of the Darfur crisis. The Darfur rebels have enjoyed the tacit support of the southern rebels. However, Khartoum hoped that the southern leadership would change its stance once it had a meaningful stake in governance. Many smaller southern rebel groups consider Garang an authoritarian figure incapable of delegating power or fostering a democratic spirit, as the SPLA transforms itself into a political party.

As things stand today, Garang as Vice-President has a herculean task ahead of him - to bring relief and development to the south with 7.5 million people. The per capita income of the region is said to be only $90 a year. It is much higher in the North. Each region is entitled to $1.5 billion every year from the projected oil revenues. This economic bonanza should come in handy as the government tries its hand at poverty alleviation.

Danforth was unsuccessful in putting the Darfur issue on the agenda of the Security Council during the Nairobi special session. But, pressure will be kept up on Sudan on the issue. The West wants an immediate despatch of a large number of multinational peacekeeping forces while the Sudanese government has only reluctantly accepted the presence of around 3,500 peacekeepers belonging to the A.U. The Darfur rebels, comprising two groups - the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement - seem to be in no mood to enter into a negotiated settlement with the government. They are optimistic that pressure from the West will eventually force the government to give them the kind of favourable deal that the rebels in the south got.

From available indications, the government in Khartoum will have a tough time restraining the separatist tendencies that seem to be proliferating in Sudan.

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