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God, Oil and Country: Changing the Logic of War in Sudan
God, Oil and Country: Changing the Logic of War in Sudan
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Report 39 / Africa

God, Oil and Country: Changing the Logic of War in Sudan

Few countries are more deserving of such attention than Sudan, where the scale of human suffering has been mind numbing, and where the ongoing civil war continues to severely disrupt regional stability and desperately inhibit development.ICG launched a Sudan project in 2001 because we felt the country was at a crossroads,and that now was the time when concentrated attention by the international community could make a decisive difference.

Executive Summary

The International Crisis Group (ICG) works to prevent and contain deadly conflict through a unique combination of field-based analysis, policy prescription and high-level advocacy. Few countries are more deserving of such attention than Sudan, where the scale of human suffering has been mind numbing, and where the ongoing civil war continues to severely disrupt regional stability and desperately inhibit development. ICG launched a Sudan project in 2001 because we felt the country was at a crossroads, and that now was the time when concentrated attention by the international community could make a decisive difference.

As this report shows, a small window for peace has opened. The reasons for this include the shock effect of the 11 September terror attacks in the United States (U.S.) and their aftermath on policy debates within the

Khartoum government; the military calculations of the government and its main opposition, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) insurgency; a difficult economic situation; and the increasing desire of the Khartoum authorities to escape international isolation and enjoy their new oil wealth. Importantly also, the U.S. government, by appointing distinguished former Senator John Danforth as Special Envoy, is showing some willingness to become more engaged.

Progress, nonetheless, will not be easy. This report makes clear that the Sudan situation is far more complex than normally port rayed in the media, or by advocates of particular causes. It is a struggle, to be sure, between a northern government that is largely Arab and Muslim and a southern insurgency that is largely black and significantly Christian , but it is also increasingly a contest between a non-democratic centre andhitherto peripheral groups from all parts of the country. It is a contest over oil and other natural resources , but also one about ideologies, including the degree to which a government's radical Islamist agenda can be moderated and a rebel movement's authoritarianism can embrace civilian democracy.

The Sudanese government faces stark choices, brought into sharp relief since 11 September. It can build on the progress that has been made on counter - terrorism and commit itself to negotiate peace seriously. Or it can try to pocket the goodwill it has gained and intensify the war while remaining shackled to the ideology that was the inspiration of its 1989 coup.

The Sudanese opposition faces difficult choices and challenges of its own . The SPLA can remain a relatively limited rebel group, with a restricted geographic base and a low - risk minimalist partnership with its allies in the National Democratic Alliance, including a number of northern political parties . Or it can deepen its commitment to a hearts and minds campaign in the south and its cooperation with National Democratic Alliance partners around a credible peace agenda .

Among the main conclusions we reach, and recommendations we advance are:

  • A comprehensive peace may be possible but only if the international community for the first time makes its achievement a significant objective, and commits the necessary political and diplomatic resources;
     
  • There will be no success if the parties can continue to play one initiative off against another, which means the major existing efforts -the Egyptian - Libyan Joint Initiative , and that led by Kenya in the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) - must either be unified or a single new peace process created;
     
  • A unified peace process should be built around the vital element of IGAD's Declaration of Principles, namely self-determination, recognising all the room this leaves for creative negotiation on context, detail and timing;
     
  • A unified peace process needs to be energised from outside: the ideal team to coordinate both incentives and pressures for the parties to negotiate seriously would include the U. S ., indispensably, and key Europeans — ideally the UK re p resenting the European Union (EU) joined by Norway — with a meaningful degree of buy-in from key neighbours and other concerned states such as China, Malaysia and Canada;
     
  • Concerned members of the international community should pursue vigorously and concurrently four major interests in Sudan: stopping the war, laying the ground - work for democracy, protecting human rights and winning cooperation in the fight against terrorism; and
     
  • The top priority should be a comprehensive peace, grounded in the restoration of democracy, which is the circumstance most likely to bring both fundamental human rights improvements and guarantees against backsliding on terrorism.

ICG developed this report , as always, through extensive fieldwork. The primary author, Africa Program Co-Director John Prendergast, made three trips between June and November 2001 and conducted many scores of interviews in Sudan - both Khartoum and war - torn areas of the south - as well as in Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Europe and North America .

Many others on the ICG team helped with writing and production, including Mirna Galic, Regina Dubey, Philip Roessler, and Macgregor Duncan. ICG Senior Adviser John Norris played a major role in the editing process, supported by ICG Vice President (Programs) Jon Greenwald and, at the production stage , by Research Analyst Theodora Adekunle and Francesca Lawe-Davies. I thank them all for invaluable contributions.

This book-length report is not the ICG's last word on Sudan. It will be followed by a series of further, shorter, field-based reports as we stay engaged with future developments . We hope very much that an end to Sudan's agony is near, and that this report will help the international Policy community to accelerate that process.

Brussels, 10 January 2002

Internally displaced persons (IDP) fleeing from tribe clashes in Balela locality arrive at Kalma camp in Darfur, Sudan, on 24 July 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
Briefing 128 / Africa

A New Roadmap to Make U.S. Sudan Sanctions Relief Work

By 12 October, Washington will decide whether the steps Sudan has taken qualify it for lifting some U.S. sanctions. But to push forward afterwards will require a new roadmap that ties further sanctions relief and improved bilateral relations to political reform and human rights.

I. Overview

By 12 October, the U.S. will decide whether to permanently lift economic and trade sanctions it suspended since January 2017. As Crisis Group argued in its June 2017 briefing, Time to Repeal U.S. Sanctions on Sudan?, the administration faces a hard choice, but on balance lifting those sanctions remains the wiser course. Many disagree, raising concerns about any move that might appear to rehabilitate President Omar al-Bashir or suggest an easing of pressure on Khartoum to improve its human rights record. But the benefits to conflict prevention and humanitarian access attributable to Sudanese performance under the so-called “five-track plan” represent a tangible, if modest, step in the right direction. They are too important to let slip away by returning to an outdated sanctions regime. If it were to decline to lift sanctions now, the U.S. risks losing considerable future leverage with Sudan and reinforcing Khartoum’s deep-seated belief that Washington cannot be relied upon to honour its commitments.

Should the administration decide to lift the sanctions, however, such a decision ought to be viewed not as the end of a conversation about the future of U.S.-Sudan relations, but rather as its beginning. Washington should use the remaining sanctions to encourage further positive steps, both on areas covered by the existing roadmap for improved relations and on new ones, including notably political reform and human rights. In other words, the usefulness of a repeal decision only can be fully realised (and its risks appropriately managed) if the U.S. follows up with an approach aimed at pressing Sudan for more progress. This in turn will require empowering a senior U.S. official of appropriate stature and background who will be responsible for the next phase of this effort.

II. Lifting Some U.S. Sanctions, Leaving Others in Place

In January 2017, the U.S. announced that it would suspend certain specified sanctions against Sudan based on positive actions that President Bashir’s government had taken over the preceding months, and would repeal them permanently if progress were sustained over the subsequent six months. This decision marked the culmination of a policy of cautious engagement since 2015, after decades of hostile relations.

Washington defined criteria for lifting sanctions along five tracks: Sudan’s cooperation on counter-terrorism; addressing the threat from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA); ending hostilities in the “Two Areas” (South Kordofan and Blue Nile) and Darfur; improving humanitarian access to those areas; and ending negative interference in South Sudan. Last June, Crisis Group argued that although Khartoum’s progress on some of these was at best partial, it had done enough to warrant the permanent lifting of suspended sanctions. It also argued that failure to lift the sanctions risked undercutting those in Khartoum pushing for reform along the lines of U.S. demands and playing into the hands of hardliners.

The U.S. administration instead opted last July to delay its decision for three months. Although angered by the decision, Sudanese officials – pressed by their Gulf allies, Saudi Arabia in particular – stuck to the process, encouraged by belief that the delay at least in part reflected the U.S. administration’s Africa team was not fully in place and by hope that this delay would be the last. Officials in Bashir’s government who say they counselled patience in Khartoum claimed to Crisis Group that they faced an uphill battle but their arguments ultimately carried the day.

Measured engagement, with positive rewards held out in return for improved behaviour, is [...] more likely to induce positive change from Khartoum than continued attempts to isolate the regime.

The reasons Crisis Group cited in favour of lifting the sanctions are still valid today. Measured engagement, with positive rewards held out in return for improved behaviour, is in our view more likely to induce positive change from Khartoum than continued attempts to isolate the regime. The geopolitical winds that have shifted over the past few years in Bashir’s favour and allowed him to shore up support from new allies, particularly in the Gulf, make this all the more true.

Perhaps of central importance, lifting sanctions would not leave the U.S. bereft of powerful political and economic tools to continue to press for change. In fact, one could argue the opposite is true: the administration, by showing it is prepared to reward better behaviour, could gain additional leverage from those sanctions that still are in place. Those are far from insignificant: these include the U.S. designation of Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism, as it requires Washington to veto international debt relief that Khartoum is particularly keen on securing. At the same time, the U.S. should signal that if Khartoum backslides in its behaviour, Washington would aim for a new series of targeted sanctions against key figures.

The U.S. administration raised another issue during this round, namely Sudan’s alleged military dealings with the North Korean regime. From a U.S. perspective the crisis with Pyongyang clearly overrides any interest it might have with Sudan and thus felt justified in adding this requirement. Senior Sudanese officials told Crisis Group that they immediately complied with the U.S. request. Assuming the claim is accurate, Khartoum’s compliance with this late breaking request will only fuel its sense of grievance should the U.S. government choose not to lift sanctions.

III. The Next Phase of U.S.-Sudan Engagement

Lifting sanctions should not, however, be the end of the conversation. Rather, it should usher in a new phase of engagement with Khartoum aimed at using U.S. influence and that of other foreign powers – notably, the UK, Norway, the Gulf monarchies and China – to nudge Bashir’s government toward further positive steps. This means coupling the lifting of sanctions with a discussion of the next phase of the roadmap: further normalisation of relations, including potentially returning a permanent ambassador to Khartoum, lifting the terrorism designation and enabling debt relief, in return for concrete Sudanese measures.

The U.S. should concentrate now on areas where the Sudanese government has made partial progress but could do much more, namely continuation of the ceasefire in the Two Areas, improved humanitarian access there and in Darfur, and playing a more constructive role in South Sudan. Importantly, a new phase of engagement should include improvement of Sudan’s dismal human rights record and ultimately the dismantling of militia groups in Darfur, responsible for much insecurity and violence against civilians in the region. For example, the recent killings of at least five people in the Internally Displaced People camp in Kalma, South Darfur, during clashes between security forces and camp residents, should be investigated.

A. War in the Two Areas

A first set of additional steps upon which the U.S. could insist relates to conflicts in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, where Khartoum has been fighting the rebel Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) since 2011. For now prospects of a breakthrough in talks between the sides, currently suspended, are gloomy. The SPLM-N is in the midst of a bitter leadership fight, lacks significant external support and thus has little military clout. Khartoum is reluctant to offer concessions to a group it believes to be on its last legs.

Still, Sudan could and should take immediate steps to improve the situation, including, first, maintaining its current ceasefire beyond the latest end-date in October; and, secondly, that it cooperates fully with talks on humanitarian access to rebel-controlled areas. Both these measures would diminish the suffering of people in conflict-affected areas and de-intensify conflict dynamics. The first step would be to reconvene a new round of the African Union-mediated peace talks to ensure both sides remain in dialogue.

B. Darfur

With rebel groups weakened and driven almost entirely out of the country, the government has been less concerned about the presence of aid organisations, and the possible diversion of assistance, and thus more open to humanitarian access. Relief workers report better, although not complete, access to Darfur’s Jebel Marra region, now mostly held by government forces. They note, too, improvements in their interactions with the government’s Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC), particularly with respect to travel notifications in non-conflict areas (generally granted within one day), visas and technical agreements (more readily approved).

That said, improvements are far from comprehensive. African Union-UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) personnel still face visa delays and officials continue to obstruct the entry of supplies into the country. Addressing such issues could be part of the package of additional demands the U.S. and others make of Khartoum. The Sudanese government also should cooperate with UNAMID in establishing a new temporary operating base in the Jebel Marra (this reportedly was recently approved by Khartoum), which would provide greater security for humanitarian relief efforts while the mission begins its draw-down in other areas.

C. South Sudan

Khartoum largely has refrained from destabilising South Sudan via proxies, though the recent, if limited, uptick in cross-border activity could test U.S. resolve. Crisis Group remains concerned that Sudan could exploit its links with Riek Machar, leader of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement/Army-In Opposition (SPLM/A-IO). Machar currently is in exile in South Africa and Khartoum should not take any steps that would allow him to undermine any efforts by a new SPLM/A-IO leadership to seek a political settlement with Juba, or to establish a political movement that would seek to challenge the ruling Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM). Sudan could be tempted to do this to pressure Juba to stop hosting Sudanese armed groups, make concessions on disputed border territories and maintain the deal on transit fees (an important source of hard currency) for South Sudanese oil exported through a pipeline to Port Sudan. Continuation of Khartoum’s relative restraint in South Sudan is a priority; it should be measured not only by the absence of arms and ammunition supplied to South Sudanese rebels but also in its willingness to renegotiate revenue sharing with the south.

For its part, Juba should be pressed to make good on its commitment to cease to host and give safe haven to Sudanese rebel groups, some of which have fought for it and contributed to conflict and insecurity in South Sudan. The expulsion of Darfuri SLM-MM units from South Sudan in May 2017, which precipitated an unwelcome, if short-lived round of fighting in Darfur, showed Juba beginning to uphold its side of the deal. It now must fulfil similar commitments regarding the Darfuri Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which without a safe haven outside Darfur is more likely to engage in the peace process. Juba also should continue to limit its support to and involvement with the SPLM-N. Without significant external supply of arms, ammunition and fuel, the group likely will be unable to increase the conflict’s intensity; this in turn will lessen the risk that Khartoum channel arms and ammunition to South Sudanese rebel groups.

IV. Conclusion

The unease many in Washington feel about appearing to reward Khartoum is well founded. President Bashir’s government is guilty of political repression and extreme violence in the country’s neglected peripheries. The small positive steps it has taken are still a far cry from those needed to improve its governance and end its wars.

Any lifting of U.S. sanctions currently suspended should not be presented as an implicit stamp of approval for President Bashir or mark Khartoum’s diplomatic rehabilitation in Washington. Rather, it should be seen as a first step along what will continue to be a long and difficult road. It reflects belief that cautious, time-bound demands, tagged to proportionate incentives, can achieve more than the continuation of the outdated sanctions regime.

Lifting sanctions should mark the beginning of a new phase of U.S. engagement, focused on nudging Khartoum – as well as Sudanese rebel groups and Juba – toward measures that are both within reach and would do much to improve the lives of Sudanese and South Sudanese people. This will require the U.S. administration to follow up vigorously, empower officials charged with carrying out this effort and signal to Khartoum both that real progress will lead to normalised relations and, conversely, that Sudan’s backtracking will trigger the imposition of targeted sanctions focused on Sudan’s leaders, not its people.

Washington/Nairobi, 29 September 2017