Many analysts credit the CPA with bringing an end to two decades of civil war, which took over two million lives and left four million people homeless.
The plan – which had the backing of the international community – was signed in 2005 by the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), based in Juba, and the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in Khartoum.
Among other things, the CPA called for the withdrawal of northern troops from the south, national elections, a census and the sharing of oil revenues. It also called for power-sharing, and it set a timetable for a referendum on independence for southern Sudan.
Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement: Success or Failure?
Some say the CPA has fallen short of its promise.
Peter Woodward is a professor emeritus of politics at the University of Reading in Great Britain.
"The two parties have treated the CPA more like a ceasefire than a solution to their differences," says Woodward. "Far from coming together in a government of national unity, they have tended to go their own separate ways and to have pretty bad relations between them en route."
There are several reasons for what observers say is the CPA’s failure to promote unity.
They say the CPA addressed the concerns of only the two main parties, the NCP and SPLM, with little input from other political groups or aggrieved regions like the western state of Darfur.
Also, several elements of the agreements were not fully supported and others were not enacted.
For example, the CPA was designed to promote reconciliation. But critics say the government has not established a commission to investigate human rights abuses.
A South Sudanese returnee brushes her teeth on a barge traveling down the Nile, carrying about 650 returnees from North Sudan
The Honorable Ezekiel Lol Gatkuouth is the head of mission for the Government of Southern Sudan in Washington.
"We have failed to transform Sudan into a better [place] for all of us," says Gatkuouth.
"If Sudan is transformed so all of us are first class citizens, there is no reason to divide the country. But for last five years, Sharia is still there. I [as a non-Muslim in Khartoum] have to have a special status and a special commission established to protect me [from Sharia]. Women are being denied their freedom and beaten if you dress inappropriately…. So Sudan has failed to stay together. The only thing we have to do now is make sure we have a peaceful divorce so we can live in peace."
Falling short of its goals
Critics say the government has also not advanced other CPA-backed efforts to promote reconciliation and national unity.
It has not met its goal of setting aside up to 30% of the civil service for southerners and introducing far-ranging legislation to reform land ownership and settle disputes. It has also not settled boundary disputes along the oil-rich Abyei area straddling the north and south.
Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement: Success or Failure?
The UN says that two million internally displaced people have returned south but that more remain to be resettled.
Elmoiz Abunura, an economic and political consultant on Sudan based in Khartoum and Beirut, says the two sides have failed to demobilize all soldiers and end support for proxy militias meant to destabilize each other.
Abunura was a senior economist for the Sudan Ministry of Energy before a military coup led by [current president] Omar al-Bashir in 1989.
"At this moment," says Abunurra, "you can see some areas in the north where there is still the presence of SPLM or local militias linked to them and proxy armies in the south supported by the [ruling] NCP. Recently, five or six months ago, two leaders of the SPLM mutinied, and the SPLM claimed both had the support and arms from the central government in the north. So, you can’t say demobilization was successful."
Wealth sharing and development
The CPA also promised to encourage investment in chronically neglected rural areas outside the capital and main northern cities, including Darfur. Under the CPA, state treasuries would receive development money from Khartoum, including revenues from the sale of oil. In addition, 50% of oil proceeds would go to the Government of Southern Sudan in Juba, the location of most of the country’s oil wells.
Members of South Sudanese military escort accompanying returnees from North Sudan as they enter Abyei
Roger Middleton is a consultant researcher for the London-based Chatham House research center. He says support for development has been slow in coming.
"There was a Unity Fund set up under the CPA which was to take money from oil revenues to spend on projects to make unity attractive," he says. "Many people will tell you most of the activity from the fund has only started the last few months or this year. So there’s been a big missed opportunity [to have development money help build] roads, railways, schools and hospitals to show a benefit of remaining united with Sudan."
Some observers say the international community should have done a better job of monitoring the implementation of the CPA.
The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
Jon Temin is a senior program officer in the Center for Mediation and Conflict Resolution at the US Institute of Peace. He focuses on Sudan and leads the Institute's Sudan team.
"Everyone recognizes that the international community took its eye off the ball with regards to the CPA for a while when focus shifted toward Darfur," says Temin. "Over the last year or two the focus shifted back to the CPA but a lot of important time was lost."
"[For example], so many of the processes described within the CPA fell behind schedule, and there was little attention to trying to keep the parties on schedule, and there was no real pressure to encourage the parties to make unity attractive. That’s why over the last year or two, the international community has found itself in a real scramble to implement the core provisions of the CPA – the elections and the referenda."
Some say the north hesitated to fully support the accords when the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for the arrest of the President Omar Al-Bashir. According to this line of thought, Bashir would not be likely to cede power to any future government that might hand him over for prosecution.
SPLM leader John Garang and first vice president Ali Osman Taha, prominent backers of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement
Others say momentum declined when SPLM leader John Garang died a few months after the signing of the CPA in 2005. Garang enjoyed a close relationship with an influential member of the Government of Sudan, first vice president Ali Osman Taha. They shared a view of a united but decentralized national government.
John Ryle is the director of the Rift Valley Institute in Nairobi and professor of anthropology at Bard College in New York.
"John Garang was always staunchly a unionist," says Ryle. "His interpretation of the problems of Sudan was that it was not a north-south problem but a center-periphery problem. That’s why the SPLM’s position was never separatist. Even now, it’s not officially separatist…although as we approach the referendum more and more senior SPLM leaders are explicitly saying people should vote for separation. John Garang had a holistic vision of Sudan, one which he could not persuade some Sudanese to share."
That may include voters in the south, who are expected to favor independence in January’s referendum.
Political observers will be watching to see if the ideals of cooperation and inclusion that are part of the CPA will live on not only between the two governments, but within them as well.