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Beyond a North-South Settlement: Addressing problems of marginalization in Sudan
by Gary Kenny

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This analysis of the present situation in Sudan by Gary Kenny is at the centre of a report he gave as part of the NGO-Canadian Government dialogue, "Surviving the Peace: Better Canadian responses to post-conflict transition needs in Africa".1 In it, he makes the key point that the struggle is not simply north versus south, Muslim versus Christian or Arab versus African. It is about marginalization, an attempt by the Sudanese Government to keep control of regions and their resources.

Transition interrupted

In June 2004, with the signing of the Nairobi Declaration by the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), and the completion of the historic Naivasha Protocols, Sudan seemed finally on the verge of peace.2 The peace process begun in 1994 under the auspices of the regional Inter-Governmental Authority in Development (IGAD), although long and fraught with difficulties and delays, was near fruition (see Appendix for an annotated timeline of the IGAD peace process for Sudan). With that recognition attention turned expectantly to the post-conflict period and transition needs.

But celebration, we now know, was premature. Subsequent talks in July to negotiate specific details of the Protocols collapsed in disarray. To complicate matters further, conflict and associated human displacement in western Sudan reached such a scale as to draw the international political and diplomatic focus away from Naivasha and squarely onto Darfur, the site of what the UN has called the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. The Naivasha process, so near completion, was sidelined and according to some analysts placed at great risk. Increasingly sceptical of the Government’s intentions in view of Darfur, the U.S. and EU have put on hold promises of large development funding and “peace dividends”. Confidence is waning in the IGAD process, and confusion is growing about the way forward. A number of troubling developments, in particular evidence of a Government troop build up in the south, underscore the seriousness of the situation. Many are beginning to fear a descent into renewed conflict the likes of which Sudan has not yet seen. Talks to resolve the conflict in Darfur are proceeding under African Union (AU) auspices, but fitfully.

Solving, not merely settling, the conflict

Dissent had been growing among the people of Darfur throughout the Naivasha talks. While the roots of conflict in the region are deep and complex, Darfuri leaders reacted strongly to what they perceived as a “national” peace agreement that effectively excluded other marginalized areas including Darfur.  Since the Naivasha talks began in 2002, many groups had been saying that Sudan’s war is not simply between north and south, but pivots on a centre-periphery. A truly comprehensive settlement, they argued, had to make provision for the grievances of marginalized populations in other parts of Sudan, south and north.

"Many groups had been saying that Sudan’s war is not simply between north and south, but pivots on a centre-periphery."

Dr Chris Abong’o, who teaches diplomacy and international conflict management at the University of Nairobi, says the emergence of armed insurgency groups in Darfur exposes a basic shortcoming in the Naivasha peace agreement. “In any conflict management attempt, we must take stock and analyse all the actors in a conflict no matter how minor you think they are,” he says. “If that does not happen, that conflict is only settled, not solved, and a conflict settled is like putting a lid on a volcano - after some time, it erupts.”

Dissention by Darfuri heated up and finally erupted in February 2003 when two main rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), were formed. In a bid to quell the insurgency, and drawing on tactics used extensively during its war with the south, the Sudanese Government armed Arab militia in the region who began attacking and burning the villages of African Darfuri, often with the Government’s military air and ground support. To date some 50,000 people have been killed (some estimates put the death toll at 200,000),3 1.45 million have been displaced internally, and 200,000 have fled the violence into neighbouring Chad. (UN figures)

The crisis in Darfur signals just how fragile and conflict prone Sudan will remain even with peace in the south. Dynamics and disgruntlement in other parts of the country, not only Darfur but also eastern Sudan and possibly even the Nubian north, will continue to fuel instability. In the aftermath of any north-south peace agreement efforts will need to be focused on these political dynamics to ensure a workable, durable, comprehensive peace.

Road to peace goes through Naivasha

Rapid conclusion of the IGAD process and Naivasha agreement remains the most promising way to peace in all of Sudan. Emphasising this point the Norwegian Minister of International Development recently stated that “[T]he road to peace in Darfur [and all conflicted regions in Sudan] goes through Naivasha.” An agreement promises several immediate benefits. It would trigger implementation of the protocols on wealth and power sharing and security arrangements, including a new national structure with a time line for democratic elections. Wrapping up the agreement would also lay the groundwork for further understandings with the umbrella opposition group, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and begin the process towards democratization and national elections.

More importantly, an IGAD agreement would provide models for a Darfur resolution. The issues underlying the conflicts in southern Sudan and Darfur are closely related and need to be dealt with equally and urgently. The draft agreement negotiated at Naivasha contains provisions that can assist a political solution in Darfur and other marginalized areas, such as the agreement for state autonomy on the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile. It can therefore be used as a vehicle to address governance problems throughout Sudan. International partners should take full advantage of this opening.

"An IGAD agreement would provide models for a Darfur resolution. The issues underlying the conflicts in southern Sudan and Darfur are closely related and need to be dealt with equally and urgently."

Unfortunately, the IGAD and AU mediation teams have complementary goals but little coordination. The AU in particular has resisted linkages despite the benefits it could draw from tapping into the IGAD Secretariat's experience of negotiating with the Government of Sudan. As a result, the processes exist in complete isolation from each other. With attention shifted onto Darfur, Khartoum's strategy appears to have shifted with it - to tie an IGAD agreement to a cessation of the support it says the SPLA gives the rebels and de-escalation of sanction threats. However, unless current dynamics change, and the UN Security Council puts more pressure on the Government and SPLM to conclude the IGAD agreement, war could soon resume across the country.

The need for sustained pressure  

If the Government of Sudan chooses to delay conclusion of the peace agreement when the IGAD negotiations resume, as many analysts suspect, the six protocols already signed but not yet in force may well begin to unravel - under pressure from regime “hardliners” and intellectuals in the North who argue that too many concessions were made to the SPLM/A, and from elements within the SPLM/A who never trusted the regime to keep its word and believe it has been weakened by Darfur.4 If this happens, new fronts in a war that has already cost two million lives could emerge in the Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile and the east.

If the Government chooses cooperation, peace in Sudan could be secured before the end of the year.5 Indications are, however, that the regime is leaning toward further intransigence. The signals it is sending on IGAD are mixed at best, suggesting it is stalling in an effort to persuade the international community to relax its Darfur-related demands. Khartoum appears to calculate that commercial and sovereignty considerations will ensure that most countries and international institutions will apply no more than rhetorical pressure. It encourages the perception that if serious pressure is applied, it would be counter-productive, giving advantages to putative “hardliners” or even causing the regime to crack, leaving a failed state in its wake. These tactics have served the Government well since it seized power in 1989. The lesson of those 15 years, however - and this is a critical point - is that when the Government has been the target of serious pressure with a specific objective, it has modified its behaviour. It is a pragmatic regime that will do what it has to in order to survive, including choosing cooperation rather than attempting to impose unilateral solutions.

"When the Government has been the target of serious pressure with a specific objective, it has modified its behaviour. It is a pragmatic regime..."

Diplomatic pressure must therefore be escalated to produce a swift conclusion of the IGAD process. The Security Council needs to state clearly that if the parties do not make progress when they resume the IGAD negotiations, and fail to conclude a final agreement by the end of the year, it will assess responsibility and take appropriate decisions. Other issues also must be addressed, particularly the complications presented by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), the Ugandan insurgency force whose depredations have often been supported by the Government of Sudan in pursuit of its war aims in the south.

Ultimately, the Government must understand that meaningful penalties can only be avoided or removed if it acts quickly and constructively on both the IGAD agreement and Darfur. It should not be allowed to pick and choose which issues, or parts of issues, it wishes to move on, playing these off against others.

Peace agreement benefits not guaranteed

The benefits of an IGAD agreement, of course, are not guaranteed, and implementation will be complicated, especially while the Darfur crisis lasts. The inevitable - and correct - withholding of aid to the Government until Darfur is resolved means the expectations many have for peace benefits will need to be postponed. Nevertheless, the international community should use the resumption of Government-SPLM talks in October to re-engage as intensely as before the Nairobi Declaration. It should use coordinated pressure to push the parties to stay at the table until there is agreement, and to encourage leaders of both sides to also discuss a political solution for the conflict in Darfur.

"Lasting peace in Sudan would reverberate throughout Africa, the Arab world, and globally."

Lasting peace in Sudan would reverberate throughout Africa, the Arab world, and globally. But signing an historic peace agreement will not guarantee successful post-conflict reconstruction in Sudan. Several critical openings must follow - with expanded roles for the Sudanese people and their international partners. In particular, Sudanese combatants from both sides will need to integrate into joint military units that defend Sudan’s borders and gain capacity to deal with internal rogue elements. A robust chapter VII mandated international security presence, along with carefully conditioned security assistance and effective Development, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programs, might be a necessary and key part of achieving those aims.

Also, Sudanese politicians must expand the opportunities for fresh and excluded voices to participate in Sudan’s governing structures (north and south, national, regional, and local) and its political processes. Benchmarks against which international assistance is measured could help guarantee this need, as would an inclusive constitutional drafting process. Sustained economic assistance and forward-leaning decisions on reducing Sudan’s debt burden will help move Sudan on the path to economic growth. At the same time, international pressure must be brought to bear on the Sudanese to ensure that revenue streams - particularly oil - are handled transparently and for the benefit of Sudan’s people, not its leaders.

Uncertainty, hatred, and mistrust run deep within Sudan. Partners must focus on building connections among the Sudanese and bringing communities together around common goals. The past focus on north-south issues should give way to more inclusive programs that begin to address the political and economic marginalization that is fuelling discontent and conflict in Sudan’s peripheral regions. Lasting peace will require not just changing attitudes within Sudan, but shifting outside practices to better confront the enormous challenges that will complicate reconstruction efforts.

Sudan’s coming peace presents an opportunity to move beyond almost 40 years of civil war. The United States, the United Nations, Canada, and other friends of Sudan must now consolidate and capitalize on that opportunity. Canada has an obligation to play a prominent role in the transition period. It is an obligation that flows logically from years of investment in humanitarian aid programs and the IGAD peace process. Canada is also strategically placed to play a helpful role. Its expertise in governance issues, peacekeeping, human rights and human security, make it a leading candidate for intensive and long term accompaniment of the Sudanese people.

"Canada has an obligation to play a prominent role in the transition period. It is an obligation that flows logically from years of investment in humanitarian aid programs and the IGAD peace process."

Preventing Renewed Conflict  

Ending the north-south war is just the beginning. An agreement is only the opening gambit in a six-year interim period (and pre-interim period of six months) that promises to be a high stakes game that will culminate in a referendum on self-determination for southern Sudan. Although this time frame allows considerable time for political and economic reforms, it will be a tense period during which myriad events could tempt the parties to renege on their commitments. This is particularly true of the Government of Sudan, which has exhibited an almost pathological disposition toward breaking promises and ignoring agreements. The possibility that this six-year experiment will end in a chaotic, failed state scenario or the creation of two autocratic, one-party states cannot be ruled out.

The Sudanese people have suffered egregiously and are tacitly united by a weariness of war. The international community cannot - must not - return to “business as usual” once a peace accord is signed. But thus far, it is unclear that international partners are planning to commit the level of human and financial resources, diplomatic engagement, and peacekeeping support needed to ensure that security is maintained and peace is won.

The primary goal for the post-peace period in Sudan should be the creation of a more peaceful and open society in which the spirit of the Machakos Protocol and the elements of the peace process are fulfilled. The reconstruction needs of Sudan are vast, and this short paper does not address all of them. Instead, it focuses on the immediate priorities that must be addressed by the international community, and Canada in particular, to help achieve this goal.

Stabilizing post-war Sudan

Once a final peace agreement is in place, stabilizing Sudan and moving ahead with post-war reconstruction and development will be a critical priority but a daunting challenge. Hatred, mistrust and uncertainty run deep among the Sudanese, and yet major issues may be deferred or left ambiguous as the parties move through the negotiated endgame. There are vast asymmetries between the north and the south - as well as between Khartoum and the rest of the country, as Darfur is demonstrating - in terms of human and institutional capacities. The south has little administrative and intellectual capacity - a tragic result of decades of war and lack of education - to begin an effective form of southern self-rule, as envisioned in the draft peace accord. It will inherit virtually no institutions or infrastructure from which to begin delivering services.

Potential spoilers to a successful peace include numerous armed militias, hardliners on both sides, and potentially meddlesome neighbours. Within both northern and southern Sudan, there are multiple hotspots involving garrison towns, cantonment areas, and movement home by internally displaced persons that will require military or police responses, and will have dramatic humanitarian and political import. Compounding the challenges is the parties’ history of poor governance, manipulation of donor assistance for political or military gain, and mismanagement of resources. On a per capita basis, Sudan is one of the world’s poorest, least developed, and most highly indebted countries.

In addition, where long-term, country-wide peace is concerned the peace agreement does not speak to the full complexity of ongoing conflict in Sudan. In the northern periphery regions - most notably Darfur - Muslims are waging war on Muslims. And in the south ethnic groups - such as the Dinka and Nuer - have battled over issues of land and water rights and political and economic power. In this extraordinarily diverse country of 37 million people, it is difficult to speak of a common regional identity, let alone a common national one.

Conclusion: strong, sustained partner engagement

Whether the draft Government-SPLM/A peace agreement embodies the successful formula for a long-term peace is uncertain. Internally, much rests on the political will and capacities of the two signatories to interpret and implement the agreement in good faith, and the broad engagement of the Sudanese people. Externally, success depends on sustained, robust, high-level engagement. Various countries have made sustained diplomatic efforts to end Sudan’s war including the United States, Britain, Norway (the “troika”), and Kenya. Other so-called “middle power” countries such as Canada, working more on the periphery, have supported these efforts with funds for the formal peace process, peace building and diplomatic initiatives at various levels, and humanitarian aid. This unique multilateral model, provided it continues to facilitate rather than dictate outcomes, should be expanded and sustained in the reconstruction phase. Not only does it best serve Sudan’s interests - it could also signal a renewed international commitment to multilateralism. It must involve continued high-level engagement in national capitals and expanded staff numbers in Sudan, where the day-to-day details of peace implementation will be worked out.

"Internally, much rests on the political will and capacities of the two signatories to interpret and implement the agreement in good faith, and the broad engagement of the Sudanese people. Externally, success depends on sustained, robust, high-level engagement."

Major issues may be deferred or left ambiguous in the final peace agreement, in the belief that they can be resolved in the interim period. But as the experience of the past 50 years shows, Sudan’s peace will not flow simply by virtue of a peace agreement being signed. The emerging agreements call, inter alia, for managing militia groups, revision of the constitution, applying transparency to revenue streams, and assurance of improved human rights. But they do not include detailed provisions to achieve these aims. It is expected that some progress will be made in defining implementation plans during the six-month pre-interim period. Partner engagement and vigilance will be essential to the success of such plans – and to the longer-term challenge of addressing the serious problems of marginalization experienced by many Sudanese people, north and south.


  1. The original paper on which this article is based was entitled “Sudan Case Study: Preventing a Descent into Renewed Conflict, Strengthening the Peace, Responding to the Needs of Transition”. It was prepared for an NGO-Canadian Government dialogue held in Ottawa on October 15, 2004. The paper incorporates policy analysis and options that have been developed over the past several years by the Sudan Inter-Agency Reference Group (SIARG), a forum of Canadian civil society organizations, as well as individuals associated with the SIARG. It also draws on the work of several organizations with a Sudan speciality, in particular, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the International Crisis Group (Center for Strategic and International Studies,“To Guarantee the peace: An action strategy for a post-conflict Sudan,”January 2004). The paper is not, however, an official SIARG document nor does it represent the views of all SIARG member agencies. Also, the paper does not pre-judge the result of a referendum on self-determination for southern Sudan. Regardless of that outcome, the goal of a more peaceful and open Sudan in which the spirit of Machakos Protocol and the elements of the peace agreement are respected remains the same. But there are several critical elements that the international community, Canada included, and the Sudanese people must address. Failure to do so could result in autocratic or failed state scenarios, and the continuation of debilitating internal conflict with adverse regional consequences.
  2. The six protocols are the Machakos Protocol, of 20 July 2002; The Agreement on Security Arrangements during the Interim Period (25 September 2003); The Agreement on Wealth-Sharing during the Pre-Interim and Interim Period (7 January 2004); The Protocol on Power Sharing (26 May 2004); The Protocol on the Resolution of the Conflict in Southern Kordofan/Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile States (26 May 2004); and the Protocol on the Resolution of the Conflict in Abyei (26 May 2004).
  3. “Darfur mortality update: Current data for total mortality from violence, malnutrition, and disease,” Eric Reeves, October 8, 2004.
  4. Center for Strategic and International Studies, “To Guarantee the peace: An action strategy for a post-conflict Sudan,” January 2004.
  5. International Crisis Group, “Sudan's Dual Crises: Refocusing on IGAD", October 5, 2004.

Appendix: An Annotated Timeline of the IGAD Peace Process for Sudan 

Since the formation of the SPLM/A and the resumption of war in 1983, numerous rounds of peace talks have been initiated but all have failed. Both the Government and SPLM/A clung to the belief that a military victory was possible. In recent years, however, both sides have come to take peace more seriously. They have done so for several reasons including military stalemate, increasing political pressure in the form of UN and U.S. sanctions, and diplomatic estrangement on the world stage.

Various individuals and groups have been associated with recent progress made. They include Kenyan mediator Lt. Gen. Lazaro K. Sumbeiywo, working under the auspices of the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) regional body, a group of donors including Canada known as the IGAD Partners Forum, and the so-called “troika” countries of the United States, the United Kingdom and Norway which have emerged as intimate collaborators in the process. The troika placed substantial pressure on both sides to make a deal, with promises of a “peace dividend” if an agreement is signed, and threats of severe penalties if it is not.

The pressure has appeared to work, and as of early summer 2004, the signing of a final peace agreement seemed imminent.  Mediators talked jubilantly about having a final peace agreement in hand by July. Northern and southern Sudanese, foreign governments and the plethora of international humanitarian organizations for whom Sudan had been a focus of emergency relief work for decades now talked expectantly of the post-conflict transition period to come.

The turning point had come on July, 2002 when the two parties signed the Machakos Protocol, a framework designed to facilitate the achievement of a comprehensive peace agreement. Key Elements of the Protocol are:

  • Peace implementation will be conducted in ways that make the unity of Sudan attractive.
  • The southern Sudanese have the right to govern affairs in their region and to participate equitably in the national government.
  • The southern Sudanese have the right to self-determination, including through a referendum to determine their future status.
  • A democratic system of governance will be established.
  • There will be a national constitution that guarantees freedom of religion and an inclusive constitutional review process during the interim period.

The sources of law for national legislation in states outside southern Sudan will be Sharia and the “consensus of the people.”

Peace implementation according to the Protocol included the following elements:

  • A six-month “pre-interim” period.
  • A six-year “interim period” during which mechanisms and institutions provided for in the agreement will be operationalized.
  • An independent assessment and evaluation commission to monitor peace implementation, to include Sudanese and outside representatives.
  • An internationally monitored referendum in the south to confirm the unity of Sudan or vote for secession, at the end of the six-year period.

The Machakos Protocol, and the talks and agreements that followed including an agreement on security arrangements signed in September 2003, were widely viewed as representing a new commitment to peace and a shift away from past patterns of failure. The breakthrough is centred on two crucial components. First, at the end of a six-year “interim period” following a comprehensive agreement, the Government and SPLM/A will jointly organize an internationally monitored referendum in southern Sudan that will allow southern Sudanese to confirm Sudan’s unity or vote for secession. Second, in states outside southern Sudan, Sharia - Islamic law - will be the source of law for national legislation. For southern states, their source of legerdemain shall be popular consensus and local customs.

In the wake of the Protocol’s signing a series of talks sought resolution on a broad array of issues. The most critical were:

  • A mutually agreeable formula for sharing the nation’s natural resource wealth;
  • A mutually agreeable formula for sharing political power between the Government and the SPLM, and to a lesser extent with other opposition groups;
  • The status of the Government and SPLA armed forces (i.e., two standing armies and their relations to a national integrated force);
  • Whether and how Sharia law will apply in Khartoum given the Machakos’ agreement on respect for the country’s religious diversity; and
  • The status of the so-called “marginalized areas” - the Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile, and Abyei. These areas have significant ethnic southern populations but lie north of the 1956 north-south line. Each in its own way seeks to preserve special treatment within the context of a peaceful Sudan.

On May 26, 2004, the parties signed what were to be three final protocols: on power sharing; on the disputed regions of Abyei; and on the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile. This ended the “political” negotiations, and on June 5, the Nairobi Declaration was signed, reconfirming all six protocols. It was to pave the way for two final “technical” phases on modalities of a comprehensive ceasefire, security arrangements and implementation. The Nairobi ceremony gave a false sense that the process was, in effect, complete. However, the international community underestimated, not for the first time, the remaining difficulties.

Lower level talks on security arrangements in June and July made some progress but were not brought to closure.  Khartoum rebuffed IGAD efforts in July and August to bring the principals back to conclude negotiations on the grounds that it was too busy with Darfur. Political negotiations between the government and the two main Darfur rebel groups have proceeded fitfully under African Union auspices - the latest round in Abuja saw protocols signed on November 9, but they have already been broken by the rebel side. Complicating matters, the Government has begun a third negotiating track, with the umbrella opposition body, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), of which both the SPLA and the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A), the larger of the two Darfur rebel groups, are members.

Gary Kenny is a participant in the Sudan Inter-Agency Reference Group. He works in the Justice Global and Ecumenical Relations Unit of the United Church of Canada. He is also the NEPAD/AU Editor for AfricaFiles.

AfricaFiles select bibliography and links:

  1. AfricaFiles: Sudan page (many articles on Sudan).
  2. "Behind the Red Line: Political repression in Sudan" Africa Watch (1996).
  3. "Children in Sudan: Slaves, street children and child soldiers" Africa Watch (1995).
  4. "Civilian Devastation: Abuses by all parties in the war in southern Sudan" Africa Watch (1993).
  5. "Corporate Immunity for Oiling Repression? Talisman in Sudan" by Gary Kenny (ICCAF Human Rights Brief on Sudan, 1999).
  6. "Darfur's Turning Point" Africa Confidential (27 August 2004, vol. 45, no. 17, p. 5)
  7. Emma's War (An aid worker, a warlord, radical Islam and the politics of oil - a true story of love and death in Sudan) by Deborah Scroggins (Pantheon Books, 2002).
  8. "Good Neighbours, Bad Neighbours" Africa Confidential (24 September 2004, vol. 45, no. 19, p. 4).
  9. "How Can We Name the Darfur Crisis: Preliminary thoughts on Darfur" by Mahmood Mamdani (editorial in Pambazuka News).
  10. "Murder by Any Name" Africa Confidential (9 November 2004, vol. 45, no. 23, p. 6).
  11. The Root Causes of Sudan's Civil Wars by Douglas Johnson (2003).
  12. "Spinning on the Edge" Africa Confidential (24 September 2004, vol. 45, no. 19, p. 3).
  13. War of Visions: Conflict of identities in Sudan by Francis Deng (1995).

Forum Discussion

      "It seems to me that [marginalization] is also the problem with the Canadian Government's response to our Aboriginal Peoples."
       — Jean Lee
       Toronto, Canada

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Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s) and not do necessarily reflect the views of the AfricaFiles' editors and network members. They are included in our material as a reflection of a diversity of views and a variety of issues. Material written specifically for AfricaFiles may be edited for length, clarity or inaccuracies.

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