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Sudan’s Southern Kordofan Problem: The Next Darfur?
Sudan’s Southern Kordofan Problem: The Next Darfur?
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Sudan’s Interest in South Sudanese Peace
Sudan’s Interest in South Sudanese Peace
Report 145 / Africa

Sudan’s Southern Kordofan Problem: The Next Darfur?

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended Sudan’s generation-long North-South civil war in 2005 is at risk in Southern Kordofan state, where many of the same ingredients exist that produced the vicious Darfur conflict.

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Executive Summary

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended Sudan’s generation-long North-South civil war in 2005 is at risk in Southern Kordofan state, where many of the same ingredients exist that produced the vicious Darfur conflict. Both parties to that agreement, the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), who together form the Government of National Unity in Khartoum, have been guilty of mistakes and misjudgements there as they manoeuvre for partisan advantage in advance of national elections scheduled for 2009. Any strategy for addressing the problems must recognise that time is short. Concrete progress on integration and reform is essential to address the prospect of what could be a devastating new conflict. Rapid interventions are needed, well before the national elections.

Southern Kordofan is a new state, created by the CPA, in the critical border area between North and South, a zone of ethnic interaction between Arab (mainly Misseriya and Hawazma) and indigenous African (mainly Nuba) tribes. Inadequate implementation of the CPA’s special protocol relating to the region has led to insecurity and growing dissatisfaction. Tribal reconciliation based on negotiation of a common agenda, establishment of an efficient state government administration and adherence to the CPA’s principles of power and wealth sharing have to be fostered from Khartoum and pushed forward by the international guarantors. There has been some limited recent progress, but much more is urgently needed.

The state’s inhabitants were mobilised by the opposing sides during the North/South war and despite the CPA remain deeply scarred by that conflict, polarised and fragmented along political and tribal lines. They are armed and organised and feel increasingly abandoned by their former patrons, who have not fulfilled their promises to provide peace dividends. Return of internally displaced persons (IDPs), development projects and creation of an integrated state government administration have all stalled. Hundreds of people have died in disputes over land and grazing rights, with no comprehensive or sustainable local or national response. Efforts by the NCP and SPLM to co-opt Arab and African tribes, respectively, prior to elections by politicising development policies are aggravating tensions.

Tribal and communal reconciliation to foster peaceful coexistence is a daunting but essential task. More is at stake than the prevention of a local conflict. The fate of peacebuilding in this front-line state will say much about the viability of Sudan’s entire peace process and in particular whether the CPA genuinely offers an effective framework for resolving the Darfur conflict and satisfying all those in the country who do not belong to core SPLM and NCP constituencies.

Moreover, if peacebuilding fails in the transitional areas of the 1956 North-South border, where the majority of the two armies’ troops are still concentrated, it is highly unlikely the secession option the CPA gives the South can be implemented peacefully. Though more than half the six-year transition period has already been lost, there is still time to implement key steps to calm the situation prior to national elections, which may have to be postponed to 2010. In addition to producing an integrated state administration, the NCP and the SPLM need to accelerate the integration of combatants within the Joint Integrated Units provided for by the CPA and otherwise pursue disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programs, including for the many militias. They must also immediately release the accumulated 2 per cent share of oil revenue for Southern Kordofan so major development projects can be carried out, based on an inclusive consultative process involving tribal authorities.

The Nuba are bitter at their SPLM allies, believing they did not negotiate a better deal for them in the CPA because they prioritised getting Abyei territory and its oil and an independence referendum commitment for the South. But the special protocol provides for a public consultation to be held after the elections to consider revision of the peace agreement’s terms for the new state and address unresolved issues (for example, land ownership and use). Financial aid is needed for the organisation of inter-tribal dialogue aimed at fostering reconciliation and producing a common agenda for that consultation. Discussions should be held in particular on creation of a formal state mechanism dedicated to resolving tribal disputes over land use and livestock migration (transhumance) routes, such as the Southern Sudan Peace Commission created for the Southern states, and on identifying principles for the commission that is supposed to address the deep land grievances accumulated by the Nuba, in particular since the early 1970s.

The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) and other members of the international community have vital roles to play in the stabilisation of the new state. UNMIS should not just observe and register violent incidents, but also follow the example of the Joint Military Commission (JMC) established in the Nuba Mountains after the 2002 ceasefire agreement and become an active partner in local conflict prevention, in cooperation with the tribal authorities. If its local leadership is incapable of this, it should be replaced. Simultaneously, the CPA’s international guarantors and Sudan’s bilateral partners should press the national unity government to pay more attention to peacebuilding in the state. It is not yet too late to show the front-line populations that a new war is not the way to address their grievances.

Khartoum/Nairobi/Brussels, 21 October 2008

Op-Ed / Africa

Sudan’s Interest in South Sudanese Peace

Originally published in Sudan Tribune

Sudan and South Sudan’s relationship is of vital importance to resolving conflicts in both countries. Khartoum, and other countries in the region, clearly benefit from a stable South Sudan.

Once-fraught relations between the two countries have improved in recent years, helped by substantive discussions over shared interests, including oil exports, support for armed groups, and border security. Khartoum should now use its influence in Juba to seek better regional cooperation and a peaceful resolution of internal and cross-border conflicts.

Once-fraught relations between the two countries have improved in recent years

A more sophisticated Sudanese approach that ensures southern armed groups are part of a more inclusive, and thereby stable, government in Juba, is in Khartoum’s own best interests. A constructive Khartoum-Juba relationship is likely to be significant, for instance, in the U.S. government’s mid-2017 assessment of its recent decision to ease sanctions on Sudan.

Do not support South Sudanese armed groups

There is currently fighting in several parts of South Sudan, a disaster for those in the affected areas. But violence is not on the scale of the 2013-15 civil war, and is unlikely to escalate dramatically, partly thanks to Khartoum’s refusal to support rebel groups.

When the former First Vice President of South Sudan, Riek Machar, arrived in Khartoum after fleeing fighting in Juba in July 2016, the Sudanese government severely restricted his capacity to re-start his rebellion. He then left for South Africa, and was subsequently denied re-entry to Sudan in November 2016; he was eventually obliged to return to South Africa.

Khartoum should continue resisting requests from South Sudanese opposition leaders to arm or provide other forms of support to rebel fighters

Khartoum’s actions are central to determining whether South Sudan moves towards sustainable peace or falls back into a complex and multi-layered conflict. Ending armed rebellion in South Sudan is the primary responsibility of South Sudan’s transitional government who must reach out to armed groups to make peace. Yet violence in South Sudan is most deadly and protracted when warring parties receive support from neighbouring states.

Khartoum should continue resisting requests from South Sudanese opposition leaders to arm or provide other forms of support to rebel fighters.

Political rather than military support

Sudan can go further by using its influence with Juba to implement relevant parts of the Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS), to which Sudan was a signatory and guarantor in August 2015. Sudan should also work with other Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD, a regional body) member states – notably Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya – to support Juba’s commitment to conduct a national dialogue with opposition political parties and armed groups.

Sudan’s visible engagement with these processes is critical to overcoming the trust deficit between Juba and armed groups.

As well as supporting peace in South Sudan, Khartoum should accept that there is no military solution to its own domestic conflicts in in the Two Areas (South Kordofan and Blue Nile states) and Darfur. These conflicts have cost billions of dollars and Sudan should seek a sustainable political resolution, supported by regional actors, including Uganda.

For recently improved relations between Khartoum, Juba and Kampala to translate into real regional harmony, Sudan should honour its commitment to a Cessation of Hostilities in both Darfur and the Two Areas and reconvene negotiations on humanitarian access to South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

To help peace take hold in frontier areas, Sudan should also consider innovative approaches to border security that are based on the complex realities of armed groups and ethnic communities in both countries. Leaders are drawing from examples such as the 2010 agreement between Chad and Sudan which halted support for one another’s rebels.

Without such measures, improved relations with Juba will not be sufficient to resolve Sudan’s own internal conflicts, which have domestic drivers, require their own political solution, and are not simply the expression of a Sudanese proxy war with South Sudan.

The benefits of better relations with Juba

Overall, Sudan can benefit from improved relations with Juba in three ways.

First, by agreeing that it will not support South Sudanese rebel groups, it can continue to demand that Juba, in turn, deny support to Sudanese rebels in the Two Areas and Darfur.

Secondly, improved relations will bring much needed economic benefits. December’s three-year oil deal profits both sides and improves the terms of South Sudan’s transit fee regime. Production is also re-starting in Unity state which will increase exports. The new index-linked arrangement means that fees will reflect global oil prices, rather than simply being a fixed rate which, at a time of low prices and conflict-suppressed production, contributed to South Sudan’s economic challenges.

Diplomacy, not destabilisation, is Sudan’s winning strategy in South Sudan

Khartoum should understand that the oil agreement, together with support for security arrangements in South Sudan’s Unity state that favour stability, ties both countries more closely in a regime of economic interdependence - to their mutual benefit. This makes it less likely that conflict will break out again along the shared border.

Third, the conflict in South Sudan is a major preoccupation for the international community. Continuing to play a constructive role in its resolution and preventing further escalation, coupled with renewed efforts to resolve its own internal conflicts peacefully, will help Khartoum lock in its improving relations with the U.S. and the European Union. This will increase the chances for complete sanctions removal and debt relief.

Diplomacy, not destabilisation, is Sudan’s winning strategy in South Sudan.