Stabilizing Sudan's Transition to Peace: Regional States Have a Role to Play
Stabilizing Sudan's Transition to Peace: Regional States Have a Role to Play
Sudan: A Year of War (with Comfort Ero)
Sudan: A Year of War (with Comfort Ero)
Op-Ed / Africa 3 minutes

Stabilizing Sudan's Transition to Peace: Regional States Have a Role to Play

The shock of John Garang’s death in a helicopter crash along the Uganda/Sudan border is still reverberating throughout East Africa.

Nations rarely face such dramatic highs and lows as Sudan experienced last month.  On 9 July, just three weeks before the crash, Garang had returned to Khartoum after 21 devastating years of conflict between his rebel movement -- the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) -- and the Islamist government. He was sworn in as Sudan's 1st Vice President in the new Government of National Unity.  The joy that accompanied Garang’s arrival in Khartoum -- more than 1.5 million people filled the streets  -- turned to sorrow on 6 August in Juba, where he was laid to rest before thousands of mourners. Rioting triggered by the circumstances of his death left 130 people dead and hundreds more wounded in Khartoum, Juba, and other towns in north and southern Sudan, at times taking the form of communal clashes. In Garang’s wake, multiple spoilers threaten to derail the peace process, and regional states must remain engaged to prevent a return to widespread civil war.

The signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Naivasha on 9 January was a great achievement for the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and chief mediator Lt. General Lazaro K Sumbeiywo. The prospect for a stable, prosperous Sudan has never been greater, so long as Garang’s Movement can stay unified in his absence. Initial signs are positive: the Movement’s leadership moved swiftly to name Salva Kiir as Garang’s replacement and Riek Machar as his deputy.  By staying in line with existing hierarchy, the SPLM sent a clear signal of its intent to continue down the path that Garang had set forth.

Regional actors have also stepped forward and asserted themselves. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni immediately called for an emergency IGAD summit, and made public statements to assure Sudanese refugees in Uganda that his government would fulfil its responsibility to protect them. However, the Ugandan government’s recent statements about the cause of the crash are less reassuring.  Rather than sending mixed messages, regional states can and should do everything they can to prevent further violence and to keep implementation of the Agreement on track.

Radical Islamists within the ruling party and in other fringe factions remain hostile towards the Agreement which they see as a threat to the application of Islamic laws in the country. The government’s use of ethnically-based militias -- known collectively as the South Sudan Defence Forces -- to destabilize the South could quickly undermine the delicate peace. The devastation in the western region of Darfur offer yet another reminder of the unacceptable human cost of Khartoum’s policy of fighting insurgencies by proxy through the use of ethnically based militias. Regional states should maintain pressure on the hardliners in Khartoum to cease all efforts to recruit and arm new factions and cease inciting clashes in the south.

While militias in the south pose the most immediate threat, the SPLM’s own internal troubles are cause for serious concern.  The Movement remains far behind on its timetable for reorganising its guerrilla forces into a new army, and weak institutional structures and capacity have limited its ability to fulfil the multitude of tasks it faces. Recent oil deals signed by some members of the Movement to develop oil concessions in the south demonstrate how the Movement’s exclusiveness and lack of transparency can potentially unravel the Agreement.

In addition to these shady deals, confusion and disagreement continue between the parties over the actual north-south boundaries in oil producing areas. This dispute could further delay the disbursement of oil revenue from the central government to the government of Southern Sudan at a time when these institutions need this revenue to fulfil the terms of the Agreement. Oil remains an emotional issue for many southerners, and extended government delays in disbursing revenue could destabilize the agreement.

Regional states can prevent problems in the oil sector from further eroding the limited good faith between North and South. First, regional states should urge SPLM leadership to publicly cancel recent oil deals.  Second, regional states should press the parties to establish a border commission -- modelled upon the recently completed boundary commission for Abyei -- to delineate north-south borders in the oil producing areas and help them to set it up.

More broadly, the IGAD Secretariat must be given authorization to work with the Joint National Transition Team established by the Agreement as the focal point for monitoring the implementation of the peace accords. At present, the Secretariat is involved in implementation on an ad hoc basis, but lacks a formal mandate to continue providing facilitation. Given that the other bodies created by the Agreement to serve this function are not yet operational, the parties should formally mandate the IGAD Secretariat to help fill this role.

The broad spectrum of Sudanese who took to the streets to celebrate Garang’s entrance into Khartoum politics signalled the rejection of the old regime and a hope that the new Government would usher in genuine reforms. Yet the inter-communal fighting following the announcement of Garang’s death demonstrates that tensions still simmer violently beneath the surface. If Sudan’s post-war government fails to heed calls for a future of peace, inclusiveness, and economic prosperity, these crowds could again return to the streets in frustration and anger. This is a situation that regional states must work to avoid.

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.