Peace Deal for Sudan

Not Much More Than Ink on Paper?

Last Sunday the Sudanese Vice President and the leader of the Sudan signed a peace agreement that should officially put an end to the longest civil war in African history. But can this agreement actually bring peace? Ahmad Hissou comments

Last Sunday, January 9th, in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi the Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha and the leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) signed a peace agreement that should officially put an end to the longest civil war in African history. But can this agreement actually bring peace to Sudan or will it remain, like so many before it, simply ink on paper? Ahmad Hissou comments.

photo: AP
Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha and the leader of the People's Liberation Army, John Garang

​​The joy is enormous, but stifled. It is so enormous because the agreement signed in Nairobi should finally put an end to one of the longest running civil wars on the African continent which has claimed the lives of more than two million people.

Yet the joy is stifled because in other regions of Sudan civil war continues to rage on. If such an agreement had been signed at another period in time, the joy would have been one genuine jubilation and one could have said that Sudan had gone from a country ravaged by war to one finally enjoying peace.

There have been huge changes in Sudan since the Islamist coup in 1989 under the leadership of Hasan al-Turabi and Omar al-Bashir which overthrew the democratically-elected government of al-Sadiq al-Mahdi.

The conflict, however, no longer lies solely between the Muslims in the north and the Africans of the Christian and animist south. For the past 22 months armed battles in the Muslin-inhabited province of Darfur in western Sudan have so far claimed 70,000 lives and have forced more than one and a half million people to flee their homes.

And it doesn’t stop there: Uprisings have also broken out in the east and in the province of Kordofan which borders Darfur.

The Nairobi peace agreement is viewed as a success, not only based on the dialog but also for the pressure applied by the international community on the undemocratic government of Sudan. However, the real challenge will lie in nurturing the agreement into real peace.

After having met with Secretary of State Colin Powell on the eve of the signing, John Garang – the leader of the Sudanese Liberation Army -clearly warned of Sudan breaking apart should the arrangements hammered out in the deal not be respected.

And in there lies the problem, because respecting the agreement signifies that all involved parties must jump over their own shadow. However, one can hardly expect the Islamic government in Khartoum to go this far.

Further weak points of this agreement - apart from the fact that in the north Sharia Law is still in force – are that the agreement was only made between two sides while the other opposition groups were ignored.

Also the integration of John Garang’s liberation movement into the government with al-Bashir before a solution is negotiated for the whole of Sudan remains problematic.

One day before the signing ceremony U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan painted an extremely sombre picture of the situation in Dafur. He pointed out that “large amounts of weapons were being transported to this region”.

How will a future vice-president John Garang deal with both uprising factions in Darfur, both of which until recently were his allies?

Which posture will he take opposite Hasan al-Turabi and his party to whom, in one way or another, he must be grateful? The Islamists accepted the demands of the southern Sudanese rebel's movement following their trade agreement with Garang in Geneva in 2001, for which al-Turabi still sits behind bars.

Nevertheless, the situation of the Sudanese president appears to have improved after the deal. To ensure that the implementation of the agreement is not endangered he can now most likely expect some sort of reward from the world community in regards to Darfur.

Although al-Bashir has delivered his promise to view the agreement as a model for other tension areas in Sudan, the facts are less than encouraging. As of today, al-Bashir has yet to follow through on his promise to dissolve the Arab Janjaweed militia.

Ahmad Hissou


Translation from German: Mark Rossman

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