Sudan: Seize This Serious Chance to End a Long Civil War
Sudan: Seize This Serious Chance to End a Long Civil War
Sudan: A Year of War
Sudan: A Year of War
Op-Ed / Africa 3 minutes

Sudan: Seize This Serious Chance to End a Long Civil War

The war in Sudan is Africa's longest, most harrowing and most complex – with religion, oil, ethnicity and ideology all driving the conflict. Bombing, rape, enslavement and starvation have been part of the story. Up to 2 million people have died.

It is a war that has defied every attempt at solution so far by neighbors, regional organizations and major international players. And the southern Sudanese, the main victims, don't want peace at any price. "Aren't you tired of all this? Don't you want your leaders to just settle this war?" we asked a group of them recently. "No," was the answer. "Liberation is better than peace."

But there is a glimmer of hope that Sudan's nearly two decades of agony could soon end. A number of factors, internal and external, converge to create a chance for peace that has to be grabbed.

The most important of them is the change of international environment generated by Sept. 11. The government wants to end once and for all its international isolation so that Sudan can enjoy its new oil wealth and become the regional power it believes it can be.

Isolation has resulted primarily from support for terrorist groups in the past. Sept. 11 has now given it a chance - which it has enthusiastically embraced although not yet fully delivered upon - to appear as a good international citizen.

The state of the oil market has also concentrated the government's mind. The military threat posed by the insurgent Sudan People's Liberation Army to the oil fields means that more lucrative sector to the south of current production remain dormant. And that hurts more as current production is threatened by increasing cost. Meanwhile, global oil prices are lower than was envisioned when the government went on an arms buying spree last year. There has been growing interest in Sudan for both oil and human rights reasons in many Western countries. President George W. Bush has named John Danforth, a former senator, as his special envoy for Sudan and the conflict. Mr. Danforth's diplomacy has already created some momentum, with a localized cease-fire deal signed last week to ensure the delivery of aid to the Nuba Mountains region.

How can this window of opportunity be prized further open? The answer is a major new international peace effort, building on existing regional efforts and involving a big investment in diplomacy, incentives and pressures. This won't be easy. It is not without reason that the war has raged on now for 18 years. Khartoum's opponents will respond positively to a fair deal, but it really will have to be fair, and it will have to address a whole series of cross-cutting issues.

The concentration of economic and political power in the hands of a small group of competing elites has deepened the country's considerable geographic, religious, cultural and ethnic divisions. The stereotype of an Arab Muslim north battling an African Christian south is only a partial explanation. While the south's concerns still remain central, in the last decade the war has evolved from a largely north-south conflict into a contest for power that involves groups from across the nation.

The peace efforts made until now – by the northeast Africa regional body IGAD (with U.S. and European support), by Egypt and Libya jointly, and by Eritrea and Nigeria - have all been of a piecemeal character. There has never been a single, multilateral, high-level, sustained international exercise to put it all together.

The time to do that is right now, with active engagement by the United States and key Europeans, a mediator who is taken seriously by the Sudanese parties, a mind-set intolerant of diversion, circumvention and prevarication, and a process backed with significant leverage in the form of a robust package of carrots and sticks.

The International Crisis Group publishes this Tuesday a book-length report, "God, Oil and Country: Changing the Logic of War in Sudan" (available on www.crisisgroup.org). It describes the horror of the past, and maps in detail a way to peace in the future. Out of the ashes of Sept. 11 some good things can grow. The dream of people throughout Sudan for both peace and liberation can be one of them.

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