Accessibility links

East Africa in 2002 Strove to End Years of Fighting

The year 2002 has been groundbreaking for Sudan, where combatants have laid down their arms for the first time in nearly two decades. Burundi and Somalia have also taken some small steps toward ending their civil wars, though an end to those conflicts appears much further off.

Observers are predicting that Sudan's warring parties will sign a comprehensive peace agreement in 2003, following up on the significant achievements they made in 2002.

Osama Mahjoub Hassan of the Sudanese Embassy in Nairobi said most of the key issues that led rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) to take up arms against the Sudanese government in 1983 have already been settled. "We can say that the year 2002 is the year for peace in Sudan," he emphasized. "We established a solid base and solid ground. I think now it is easy for us to sail with the other issues. Everything is prepared. Issues are identified. So we are very optimistic about the future of the peace process in Sudan."

Peace talks had stalled for a decade over two key issues that were finally settled in July, with the signing of the Machakos Protocol, named after the Kenyan town that hosted the negotiations.

In the protocol, the government agreed to two rebel demands: to exempt southern Sudan from Islamic Sharia law and to allow a referendum on independence for the south after a six-year interim period.

Another major achievement came in October, with the signing of a ceasefire. However, there are also reasons to temper the optimism as each side has accused the other of violating the cease-fire.

SPLA spokesman George Garang noted fighting is continuing in western Upper Nile and Bahr el Ghazal, near Sudan's valuable oil fields. "It has not become easier because the government of Sudan, through its affiliated militia forces, are still harassing our population in southern Sudan," he said. "The government garrison has been attacking local villages, burning houses, stealing cattle. All these acts are contrary to the memorandum of understanding."

However, the SPLA acknowledges that fighting has stopped everywhere else in the country.

David Mozersky, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, an independent research organization based in Brussels, attributes the sudden breakthrough to renewed international concern following the terrorist attacks on the United States. "Immediately after September 11, when there was a greater possibility than there currently is that American reaction towards the attacks could possibly turn toward Sudan as well, certainly brought greater interest and seriousness in Khartoum than there has been in the past," he said.

Sudan's government has been anxious to cooperate in the war on terrorism and shake off its reputation as a country that harbors terrorists. That reputation dates back to the early 1990s, when Sudan's radical Islamic government hosted Osama bin Laden, the leader of the al-Qaida terrorist network.

When the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed in 1998, the United States blamed al-Qaida for the attacks and retaliated by bombing Sudan's capital, Khartoum.

Sudan's government has worked hard to make sure no such action followed the September 11 attacks. Yet it is still on the United States' list of states supporting terrorism.

Such international pressure is likely to ensure that further progress is made on the road to peace when talks between the Sudanese government and the SPLA resume in January.

While Sudan seems to be moving closer to peace, the prospects are dimmer in another east African country, Burundi, where rebels belonging to the Hutu majority are attacking a government they say is dominated by the Tutsi minority.

There were, however, some positive developments this year. Under intense pressure from regional leaders, three out of the four Hutu rebel groups signed a cease-fire. The largest rebel group, the Forces for the Defense of Democracy, signed the cease-fire on December 3. But fighting has continued.

Burundi's army complains that it is difficult for its forces to observe the cease-fire because they cannot distinguish between the three rebel groups that agreed to the cease-fire and the one group that didn't, the National Liberation Front.

In an effort to get the Liberation Front forces to sign, regional mediators have been threatening to impose sanctions on them.

According to Burundi analyst Jan van Eck, this kind of pressure is unlikely to succeed. He said dialogue is the best way to win them over. "The worst thing that could be done is to terminate all contact with them and to completely write them off," he said. "I think then they will become even more difficult. We have no choice but to continue engaging them and to see when the opportunity arises for them to also participate in the process."

Peacemakers in East Africa are also working to end the anarchy in Somalia, which has been without a central government for more than a decade.

Since the overthrow of President Siad Barre in 1991, control of the country has been divided among warlords who have carved out parts of the country as their own fiefdoms.

Previous efforts at re-establishing the rule of law have failed because of the difficulty of including all of Somalia's myriad warring factions in the talks. Rivalry between neighboring Ethiopia and nearby Arab states for influence over the new regime has also hindered peacemaking efforts.

But after months of delays, the latest round of talks opened in the Kenyan town of Eldoret in October, with most, if not all, of Somalia's 20 plus factions represented. To everyone's surprise, the delegates soon agreed to a cease-fire.

The Kenyan president's special envoy for Somalia, Elijah Mwangale, who is the head mediator at Eldoret, pointed out that the cease-fire is holding.

"It actually involved all the faction leaders or warlords as they are known," he said. "So they signed that declaration and from that time, to a very large extent, they have been able to observe the cessation of hostilities, except maybe in a few skirmishes in Baidoa and also between Puntland and Somaliland. But essentially it has been very, very effective on the ground."

In the current phase of talks, 300 Somali delegates are trying to settle key issues, including disarmament, federalism and property rights. These negotiations are expected to take until the end of January.

After which, the plan is to establish a transitional, federal power sharing government to implement the decisions made at Eldoret.

The hardest part, according to analysts, will be finding a formula for sharing wealth and power that satisfies the 20-plus Somali factions.

As with Sudan, the war on terrorism has led to increased international interest in rebuilding Somalia. The United States, among others, has recognized that failed states serve as ideal havens for al-Qaida operatives.

While international pressure and financial assistance have played an important role in this year's peacemaking efforts in East Africa, analysts also say that the outside pressure would not have succeeded if there was not a strong determination by regional leaders to find African solutions to African problems.

The decision by Kenya's retiring president, Daniel arap Moi, to dedicate his remaining years to the search for peace reflects this spirit of self-reliance.