Tension continues to rise between the Sudanese government in Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). The SPLM says President Omar al-Bashir’s administration is refusing to implement key provisions in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). In 2005, the CPA ended a devastating 21-year civil war between North and South Sudan, and established a Government of National Unity (GNU). But the SPLM recently pulled out of the GNU in protest against what it sees as Khartoum’s deliberate disregard of the CPA. In signing the document, President al-Bashir agreed to launch several democratic reforms. But the SPLM says the government is not keeping its promises. In the first part of a series focusing on the latest developments in Sudan, Darren Taylor reports on the disagreement around the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
Both the SPLM and President al-Bashir insist there’ll be no return to conflict. Yet, even as the feuding parties re-dedicate themselves to peace, Khartoum is preparing to mobilize its militias and the former rebels say they’re ready to defend themselves.
According to analysts, relations between the North and South are at their lowest ebb in years.
SPLM leader and Sudan’s First Vice President Salva Kiir says President al-Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP) intends to “kill the CPA” and to “dishonor” the national interim constitution, which makes provision for reforms in Sudan that, if implemented, would result in democratic change.
One of Kiir’s advisors, Anne Itto, says: “The laws, which contravene the interim national constitution, are still there; most of them are there. They have not been repealed. And NCP is stalling on them.”
She says the reasoning behind the government’s refusal to allow democratic change is clear.
“If these laws were indeed in place, it would actually amount to the NCP simply giving away their power, and then working themselves out of the presidency, out of the government. So they are moving very, very slowly on that, so that we don’t actually prepare the ground for democracy and a free and fair election.”
In a recent statement, Mr. al-Bashir also said he would ignore a recommendation by a boundary commission that called for the border of the oil-rich Abyei province to be modified. If this happens, the South will receive land it says was originally stolen from it and will be entitled to a greater share of the oil wealth.
In removing itself from the Government of National Unity, the SPLM also cited Khartoum’s failure to withdraw its troops from certain areas of the South, lack of transparency in management of the oil sector, political detentions and President al-Bashir’s balking at important preparations for free and fair national elections in 2009, such as the conducting of a census and voter education.
Deng Deng Nhial, SPLM representative in Washington, insists that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement is the “epicenter of peace” in Africa’s largest country.
If it collapses, he warns, there’s a danger that violence will again break out, and will affect all countries neighboring Sudan.
Roger Winter, the United States deputy secretary of state’s special representative to Sudan from 2001 to 2006, says the SPLM withdrew from the Government of National Unity because Mr. Al-Bashir’s party is still not willing to share power with the Southerners.
He adds that the rulers in Khartoum, despite their signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, are deeply afraid of democracy, which they see as the gravest threat to their wealth. And, he says, they have a long history of signing agreements, and then not implementing them.
“They will hold desperately to their positions. They will prevaricate. They will stall. They will stretch. They will agree to anything, if pushed in a corner, and not do it. But when that happens is they’ve usually bought six months,” Winter explains.
He says the al-Bashir administration, under pressure from the international community, signed the CPA with no intention to implement it. As soon as the international brokers had “turned their backs” and the “United Nations went to sleep,” he says Khartoum began refusing to institute democratic reforms.
Sudanese government officials did not respond to numerous requests for comment regarding this VOA series.
With all eyes on the ongoing violence in Darfur, says Winter, the international community has largely forgotten about Southern Sudan and the CPA. But the former special representative says this is a “big mistake” because the issues are related.
“…. Darfur and the South and the other conflict areas and in fact all of the marginalized populations in Sudan are all joined at the hip. They’re all in the same boat, because they have the same problem. The problem is governance in Khartoum, which is in the control basically of one party….”
The fundamental problem underlying the current CPA impasse, maintains Winter, is that President al-Bashir’s Islamic-Arabic government still doesn’t consider the black ethnic groups of the South to be “their people.”
By his analysis, the roots of Khartoum’s attitude toward the Comprehensive Peace Agreement can be traced back to a day in 2005 when now-deceased SPLM leader John Garang visited Sudan’s capital and several million people from all Sudan’s different ethnic groups turned up to cheer him.
“It is my belief that the six or seven million people that showed up in Khartoum to greet Dr. John…scared those guys that had power in their own hands. Because they saw that the man that the CPA and the interim constitution made the first vice-president of the country was popular everywhere,” Winter says.
He says the reason for the popular support was the CPA, a document that provided for the delivery of new governance: “Governance that is not in the hands of a few self-chosen by violent means, but a system that reflects the will of the population itself.”
But, Winter explains, the NCP received an unexpected boost when Garang was killed in a helicopter crash in Uganda shortly after his triumphant Khartoum visit, and it has been “disrespecting” the CPA and the current SPLM leaders ever since.
But he says the prospect of truly democratic elections in Sudan remains a “dagger in the heart” of President al-Bashir’s authoritarian administration. Many analysts are of the opinion that, were free and fair polls to be held in Sudan, the NCP would have little chance of winning.
So far, there’s little sign that Khartoum is moving to prepare the way for democratic elections. Boundary disputes remain unresolved, voter education isn’t happening, and there’ve been no preparations for a census that would be necessary for the polls to happen.
Winter says: “It is my view that they (the NCP government), feeling threatened by the potential of democratic national elections, not more than say a year and half from now, are doing these things not because they’re not smart enough, not because they don’t have the money. They’re doing these things because they see elections as a credible threat.”
His message to the international community is: “Save Darfur, but also save the CPA.”
If the historic peace agreement is not rescued, says Winter, its failure could set the tone for renewed and bloody outbreaks of violence in Sudan, and there’ll also be no solution in Darfur.
It’s his view, however, that the Sudanese government is preparing to “make a very logical case” for the postponement of the elections.
“They’d say the necessary machinery isn’t in place, there’s been no census, there are still millions of displaced Southerners in Khartoum, and Darfur is still on.”
Winter’s convinced that the international community will largely turn a blind eye to this situation – especially if it unfolds in the middle of US elections next year.
In terms of the CPA, Southern Sudanese have the option of voting to secede from Khartoum in a referendum scheduled for 2011. But, at this stage, the SPLM continues to be faithful to John Garang’s oft-articulated vision, which was for Sudan to remain one nation.