Peace talks held in Kenya to end long-running civil wars in Somalia and Sudan have figured prominently in 2004. Cathy Majtenyi from VOA's East African Bureau in Nairobi looks at where peace negotiations stood as the year ended - and at the challenges that lay ahead.
The ceremonies at which Somalia's new government officials were sworn in, during the last few months of 2004, were the final results of two years of a convoluted and at times volatile peace process.
Ever since Siad Barre was ousted in 1991, there has not been a central authority that has governed the whole of Somalia. Instead, some 23 factional leaders and their clan- and sub-clan-based militias have battled one another and civilians for control over certain parts of the country.
This latest peace process is Somalia's 14th attempt to stop the fighting and bring about stability and order.
Analysts say this latest peace process is different than the others, because virtually all factional leaders, as well as most sectors of Somali society, were involved.
The presence of factional leaders in the new government is a point of contention for some. But the United Nations' Special Representative to Somalia, Winston Tubman, says being in a formal, centralized government may entice factional leaders to stop their fighting.
"The fact now that they will be in the public service of Somalia will put upon them responsibilities that before it was difficult to bring them to answer for," he said. "It's not the perfect solution, but sometimes you have to deal with people who may have had criminal activities in their past in order to bring them to a new way of behaving."
In the new year, challenges abound for the new Somali government, which has to build its institutions virtually from scratch, in a still-volatile environment.
A senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, Matt Bryden, applauds the formation of the new government, but says it is only the first step to bringing a lasting peace to Somalia.
"All Somalis are agreeing on right now is that they would like to have a government and some kind of return to normalcy," he said. "That's easy - everybody actually agrees on that. Making that work, and sustaining it over the long term - building the institutions that will manage it and underpin it for the next generation, 20, 30, 50 years - that's the challenge."
The United Nations is calling for international donors to give some $164 million to help fund everything from emergency food relief to health care in efforts to rebuild the country.
While the Somali peace talks have ended, another set of negotiations drags on. The Sudanese government and the south's main rebel group, the Sudan People's Liberation Army, are still fine-tuning the details of a peace deal to end 21 years of war between them.
The rebels are fighting against what they say is economic, political, racial, and social repression by the northern government against southerners.
Investigations throughout the years have blasted the government for chasing southerners away from oil-rich lands, forcing southern Christians to conform to northern Arabic customs, discriminating against southerners for government positions, and other violations. The SPLA has also been censured for committing human rights violations.
The two sides began negotiations more than two years ago on how to share the country's wealth, power, and a joint security system. They have signed a number of framework agreements that form the foundation of the final deal.
For over a year, the parties have been making - and breaking - deadlines to sign the final agreement. They have now promised to complete a comprehensive peace agreement by this New Year's eve.
A Sudan analyst with the South African-based Institute of Security Studies, Richard Cornwell, says that, although it appears that the two sides are very close to signing a final agreement, it is the details that are slowing down the process.
"One has to remember that the agreements that were signed were framework agreements," he said. "An awful lot of the detail remains to be worked out, and there are certain ambiguities with the framework agreement[s] which really would allow room for re-negotiation. So there is still a lot of horse trading. A lot will now depend on the willingness and ability of the principles from both sides to continue making concessions."
Mr. Cornwell says he doubts the Sudanese government and the rebels will sign a final deal by the end of the year as promised, and that the ultimate success of the peace deal will depend on whether or not the parties in Sudan will stick to what they have signed in Kenya.