Why back to arms?
October 30, 2007
The October 11, 2007, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) suspended its participation in Sudan’s putative government of national unity. The move does not necessarily mean that the south is going “back to arms” once again, but it is a significant step in that direction. The supposed national unity regime had been established by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) for southern Sudan, signed in Nairobi on January 8, 2005. That agreement is now at risk, and the prospect of war again looms over the south. How did this come about?
The primary responsibility lies with the government of Sudan (GoS), which has refused to morph into the true Government of National Unity (GoNU) that was supposed to be born from the CPA. Over the last two and a half years, the old Islamist-based GoS has systematically procrastinated, finessed, lied, and tactically maneuvered in order to strategically undermine the spirit of the CPA while superficially appearing to respect its letter. It has done so with respect to all the important and relevant chapters of the CPA. The Abyei Border Commission was set up by a protocol to the CPA in order to determine the north-south boundary in a particularly sensitive region, but the GoS has refused to acknowledge its findings, released in July 2005. The GoS has reduced the joint Petroleum Commission, created by the CPA to review and approve oil contracts, to a permanent talk show. The CPA provisions for military evacuation have been gutted by a GoS policy of evacuating the unimportant areas of the south while retaining a military presence through the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) or indirectly through militias in the oil-producing areas. The GoS has procrastinated endlessly in its dealings with the North-South border Commission in order to avoid a determination of precisely which oil wells are to be classified as “northern” (and therefore not open to the sharing of oil revenues) and which as “southern” (and therefore used as a basis for calculating the sharing of the oil money). In applying the power-sharing provisions of the CPA, GoS assured that the ministerial and administrative positions given to the SPLM were emptied of their real power and reduced to hollow positions. Within the empty shell of GoNU , the old GoS core lived on, largely unchanged.
The secondary responsibility lies with the SPLM itself, which did not rise to the occasion and let the GoS run away with the ball. Many of the people provided by the SPLM to occupy the positions opened up by the CPA were not capable of fulfilling meaningfully the jobs at hand. This came from the late SPLM leader John Garang’s lack of confidence in the educated southern Sudanese diaspora and his practice of favoring field commanders and younger, devoted, but often uneducated movement cadres for positions. They found themselves out of their depth when sitting in Khartoum, surrounded by the well-trained and experienced GoS personnel. Lam Akol, holding the post of Foreign Minister for the SPLM, was perfectly capable but decided to put his capacities to the service of his former enemies rather than defend the positions of his movement. (He was finally moved to a less influential position by Sudanese President Omar Bashir on October 17.) Most other SPLM personnel were not of the necessary caliber, and none had the benefit of a clearly defined political strategy which would have enabled it to make the necessary strategic choices when confronted with GoS sabotage . Too often, SPLM personnel were left rudderless by the movement’s leadership while confronting dedicated and purposeful political adversaries they did not know how to check. Meanwhile the massive corruption of the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) administration in Juba deprived those cadres of the political justification and moral purpose which would have been necessary for them to hold their own in Khartoum. The intended “cooperation” between former GoS and SPLM personnel too often veered into a deceptive game of political hide-and-seek, which mostly left the Southerners in a position of reacting, too late and inadequately, to the concerted tactics of their northern “partners”.
The third responsibility in the present ongoing breakdown belongs to the international community which has shirked both its moral obligations and its technical promises. The international community never acted as a political guarantor of the CPA it brokered. It simply watched as things deteriorated, looking the other way, hoping for the best and letting the benchmarks it had set for the Agreement’s implementation slip by without reacting. Obsessed with the Darfur crisis – which it had refused to factor into the CPA when there was still time – the international community took the CPA for granted and refused to see that the SPLM had neither the will nor the means to act. Moreover, by choosing the World Bank as the implementing agency for the Multi-Donor Trust Fund (MDTF) set up in Oslo in April 2005, donors condemned reconstruction in the south to complicated bureaucratic procedures completely inadequate for the quick disbursement of the already insufficient funding they had earmarked for the effort. In two and a half years, the MDTF has managed to allocate only $279 million for various projects, and disbursement has been so slow that it had to set up an emergency fund of $60 million last year to answer the most pressing needs . Meanwhile, in the name of non-interference, there was no serious checking of the use of the oil revenues paid to the GoSS by Khartoum – a practice that discouraged the honest members of the Juba administration and indirectly rewarded its most corrupt elements. An attitude of “see no evil, hear no evil” enabled evil practices to develop unabated . The insufficient funding and poor management practices of the MDTF deprived the international community of the moral high ground in overseeing this calamitous situation. The southern public, left to suffer the consequences, was perfectly aware of the situation and sank into a mood of angry and belligerent resentment.
Meanwhile, the GoS bought new arms; solidified its strong diplomatic, commercial and military partnership with China; and through endless procrastination, promenaded the international community around an evanescent solution to the Darfur crisis. Thus, the GoS sense of its own superiority and invulnerability was reinforced. Meanwhile, following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, U.S. foreign policy sank into the Iraq quagmire and the Americans came to rely on the cooperation of GoS in the “Global War on Terror.” This left the GoS free to pursue its domestic policies unencumbered by any obligation to justify its actions. The militant initiatives of Darfur activists in the western countries paradoxically reinforced Khartoum’s hand by focusing media attention away from the slow disintegration of the CPA.
There might still be a limited window of opportunity for preventing the complete collapse of the peace agreement and for stopping a return to full scale war . But it is limited and would require immediate action of the utmost energy. The recent cabinet reshuffle granted by President Bashir to his southern “partners,” manifested in the change in Lam Akol’s portfolio, is only a partial solution. The fundamental issues – Abyei , the GoS military presence in the south, the failure to establish a real government of national unity, and the lack of progress on wealth sharing remain – despite an SPLM deadline of January 8, 2008, the third anniversary of the CPA, for their resolution. The SPLM has temporarily withdrawn to a defensive posture from where it glares at the damage done; tempers are frayed and the rhetoric is biting even if neither of the parties wants to be seen as responsible for a break up of Sudan. The two sides push and shove toward confrontation, all the while protesting their supposed desire for accommodation. But fundamental trust is lacking and the time for cosmetic measures is quickly running out. _________________________________________________________________
Gerard Prunier is a researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Paris and Director of the French Center for Ethiopian Studies in Addis Ababa. The title of this essay is borrowed from Lazurus Leek Mawut, The Southern Sudan: Why Back to Arms? (Khartoum: Saint George Printing Press, 1986).
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