Orchestrating Sudan's Next Fateful Step
Orchestrating Sudan's Next Fateful Step
Sudan: A Year of War (with Comfort Ero)
Sudan: A Year of War (with Comfort Ero)
Op-Ed / Africa 3 minutes

Orchestrating Sudan's Next Fateful Step

Given Sudan's tragic history, marked by decades of civil war between the north and south, and more recent mass deaths and displacement in Darfur, it might seem hard to imagine an even more precarious future. But unless the international community moves rapidly, Sudan's future could see the division of the country into two unviable states.

The first would be a northern Islamic state ruled by an accused war criminal, lacking legitimacy and basic freedoms essential for political stability and just governance, and facing armed rebellion not only in Darfur, but in the Nuba Mountains, the Blue Nile, and the far north.

The second would be a new country in the south, likely born into "failed state' status, dependent on the tender mercies of antagonistic neighbors and international aid donors, divided by violent ethnic clashes, and also lacking even the most modest prospects for effective and transparent governance.

Sudan stands at a critical juncture, with national elections set for April and a southern referendum on independence in 2011. With a lost hope for the unity of Sudan, the northern National Congress Party under President Omer al-Bashir will probably do whatever is necessary to win the national elections, including rigging the vote and repressing the opposition. Badly damaged by the International Criminal Court's indictment of Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the party needs elections to re-legitimize itself and tighten its grip on power.

At the same time the party is trying to make the path to the southern referendum as difficult as possible, in part to weaken the potential southern state.

With its leader, Salva Kiir, openly calling for southern independence, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, dominant in the south, now cares only about moving ahead with its referendum. For the liberation movement, this means simply checking the boxes on the remaining tasks in the 2005 deal, including national elections. The party has disappointed opposition political forces by doing little for democratic transformation in the north, and it has disappointed southern unionists by doing nothing to maintain a united Sudan.

Looking nervously ahead to next year's tension, both the National Congress Party and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement are building up their armies in expectation of renewed conflict.

In this context of non-consensus, insecurity, and hostility, upcoming elections will be neither free nor fair. A credible census, independent judiciary, and impartial electoral administration are lacking. Already, there are reports of voter registration fraud.

The north-south crisis cannot be viewed in isolation. It is part of a pattern of instability involving incipient rebellions in other parts of Sudan; tensions and occasional clashes with neighboring countries, especially Chad; overdependence on oil revenues; failed economic polices; ethnic fighting; and the need for accountability for past and current human rights abuses, including adjudication of the charges against Bashir and others.

The international community is coming to accept this vision. For example, the United States is actively engaged in Sudan through its envoy Scott Gration, who has made six visits since his appointment in March. In October, the US government issued its new policy in Sudan, adopting a comprehensive approach toward the multiple challenges and moving beyond formulaic or piecemeal solutions. The African Union's Peace and Security Council adopted recommendations of its panel on Darfur, which deals with the Darfur conflict as a manifestation of broader Sudanese problems.

The international community should further unite behind this approach and speak with a common voice. It should press the National Congress Party and Sudan People's Liberation Movement to agree to implement key reforms needed to ensure that national elections and the southern referendum are free and fair. National elections should be postponed until late 2010 to allow these reforms to be put in place. Careful consideration must also be given now to future political, economic, and security relations between the north and south in the event that secession is approved, including transition mechanisms for secession.

If past is prologue, Sudan is in for a rough road ahead. International consensus and joint action can help ensure that one troubled nation is not replaced by two failed states.



Former Special Adviser on Sudan and the African Union (AU)
Former Vice-President for Multilateral Affairs

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