Relations between former rebels in Southern Sudan and the Khartoum government continue to deteriorate, despite both parties rededicating themselves to peace. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) recently withdrew its officials from the Government of National Unity in protest against what it sees as Khartoum’s refusal to implement important parts of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). In 2005, the CPA ended a 21-year civil war that had killed and displaced millions of Sudanese. However, since then, President Omar al-Bashir has failed to institute reforms the SPLM says are essential to democracy in Sudan. But the organization also acknowledges that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement has resulted in some positive changes in the country. In the second part of a series focusing on the latest developments in Sudan, Darren Taylor reports on some of its recent achievements.
Dr. Anne Itto, SPLM deputy secretary general and advisor to party leader and Sudan’s first vice president, Salva Kiir, has called on all Sudanese to embrace the floundering peace agreement as their manifesto for a better future.
She emphasizes that the fact the administration of President al-Bashir appears to be ignoring it doesn’t mean it’s a “totally discredited” document.
In signing the CPA more than two years ago, Khartoum agreed to several reforms, such as “open and transparent” sharing of the country’s oil wealth with the SPLM, the withdrawal of government troops from areas in the South and preparations for free and fair elections, such as a census and voter education. But the party says the government is stalling.
Nevertheless, Itto insists, Sudanese continue to benefit from some of the CPA’s “major achievements” and she says these will ensure that Sudan “will never be the same again.”
The greatest benefit of the agreement, according to Itto, is also the most obvious: the peace that’s reigning in Sudan…except, of course, in Darfur.
“This is also the first time that the government of South Sudan is having a constitution that determines and governs as to how the South is to be ruled. The first time each state has a constitution that they can call their own, that they can use for directing their destiny,” Itto adds.
Contained within that constitution is a bill of rights.
“It guarantees freedom, justice and equality. It’s a big achievement,” Itto says.
She does, however, acknowledge that many of the gains secured by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement exist “on paper only” and that the Khartoum government has largely failed to implement key reforms.
“Of course, the challenge is when and how you can get the relevant laws (in place) that would allow you to apply the constitution,” Itto agrees.
She also acknowledges that while Kiir is Sudan’s first vice president, most of the “true executive power” still lies with President al-Bashir.
“The NCP is suffocating the ideas, the interests of other political parties,” she says.
But Itto remains unfazed by criticism that the CPA is, due to government intransigence, effectively a lame duck.
“For the first time in the history of Sudan, more resources have been transferred to the government of South Sudan, and the 15 states in the North. They are benefiting from the requirements of the CPA. They are even sure as to how much is coming to them, every month, from the central government. That way they can at least plan, unlike before.”
She says Juba, the capital of South Sudan, has been transformed as a result of the peace deal.
“When I came to Juba in 2005, the hospital had cobwebs running down (the walls). The parliament had goats moving around. The market was very dry; there was nothing. Food was flown by military traders. People could only eat one meal a day. Some were even going without a meal. But if you go to Juba today: Juba has increased in size from a town which should have been having 300,000 to about a million. You find literally everybody from any corner of the world: Chinese, Indian, Americans, Rwandese, Kenyans, Ugandans; all!
There are so many businesses going up. Roads are being constructed. The potential for investment in South Sudan is just unbelievable.”
According to Itto, many Southern Sudanese towns that were “oppressed” during the war are “coming back to life.”
She says people living in northern Sudan have also benefited from the peace agreement.
“It is also visible in Khartoum…. People can dance without permission; people can hold parties without permission, and they’re drinking alcohol-free beer…. Things are moving!”
Mr. Al-Bashir’s authorities maintain tight control over Sudanese society in the North, governing it according to strict Islamic principles.
But Itto says: “The vision of the South has engulfed the whole Sudan. Nobody in Sudan is saying today that the CPA is only a gift to Southern Sudanese. Everybody today is talking about a new Sudan. The CPA has made all Sudanese hungry for freedom, and it’s this hunger that is scaring the Northern rulers.”
In addition, she credits the peace document with providing the SPLM with the basis for holding talks with the Darfur rebels, who are split into many factions, in a bid to end that conflict.
“We are confident of soon uniting the rebels to end the Darfur tragedy,” Itto told VOA.
She says the Comprehensive Peace Agreement has not ended only one war – that in Southern Sudan – but is also partly responsible for the cessation of hostilities between the Lord’s Resistance Army and Ugandan state troops. Because of the SPLM’s experience in negotiating the peace deal, Itto says, the organization was able to broker peace in northern Uganda – despite being advised by various countries in the international community not to get involved.
“People called from all over the world saying: ‘Don’t please start (talks with) these people; they are too dangerous!’ And some were saying, ‘You will never succeed; just leave them alone.’ Even the ICC (International Criminal Court), who put a price on these people, did not know how (LRA leader Joseph) Kony looked like, until SPLM got them out of the bushes of Congo.”
But, while she stresses that the CPA has provided “good ground for development and democracy,” she agrees that there are “grave challenges” to overcome before a “new Sudan” reaches fruition.