John Young is a Canadian academic who has worked many years in the Horn of Africa and published widely on peace and security issues.The opinions expressed here are his own.
The international community applauded when Sudan’s National Congress Party (NCP) signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) with the rebel Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) January 9 2005 that formally ended a war that began in 1983. The backers of the peace process again applauded when it ended and South Sudan emerged as an independent state on 9 July 2011.
But more than a year after the end of the peace process none of the major outstanding issues between Sudan and South Sudan have been resolved, their economies face collapse, both are confronting major insurgencies, and there is a risk of a return to full-fledged war. My book, Sudan’s Fate: Origins and Consequences of a Flawed Peace Process (Zed Books) provides some of the answers to the question of why Sudan’s peace process went so badly wrong.
The U.S. and allies Britain and Norway used the regional-based Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an organization created by the West to meet its aid and security interests in the Horn of Africa, and in particular Kenya its favored regional client, to manage the Sudan peace process. From the outset the peace-makers attempted to resolve what they understood to be a north-south conflict even though the attempt by successive post-colonial elites from central Sudan to monopolize power using various Islamist agendas produced conflict and resistance across the peripheries, not just in the south. A major drawback of the peace process was thus its conceptualization of the conflict and instead of emphasizing state restructuring and democratic transformation the focus was largely the self-determination of southern Sudan.
The refusal of the NCP, SPLM, and the mediators to permit the rebels in Darfur and eastern Sudan, the opposition parties in the north and the south, and civil society to participate in the peace process undermined any prospect that the outcome would produce a democratic transformation and gave the lie to the agreement’s claim to be ‘comprehensive’. The CPA was an agreement between two armed groups: the NCP which had come to power by overthrowing a democratically elected government and the SPLM which only controlled a fraction of southern Sudan at the time of the peace process and which it proved incapable of administering.
According to Alejandro Bendana, liberal peace-making is “top-down, externally and supply-driven, elitist and interventionist” and such an approach “becomes an inherently conservative undertaking seeking managerial solutions to fundamental conflicts over resources and power, seeking to modernize and re-legitimize a fundamental status quo.” This is a good summing up of the Sudan peace process and it was written by a Nicaraguan academic who was largely examining failed liberal peacemaking in Central America, thus making clear that the experience in Sudan was not unique.
The first real test of the commitment of the Sudanese actors and the international backers of the peace process to democratic transformation was the April 2010 elections. These elections were characterized by concerns about massive fraud, best illustrated in the south by the SPLM capture of all ten governorships, probably half of them illicitly, and in the north by the boycott of most of the parties. As detailed in the book, the prospects for electing an alternative to President Omar Bashir ended when the NCP and SPLM secretly agreed to withdraw the SPLM’s candidate to ensure that Bashir would win and keep the peace process on track. The end result was the SPLM took almost all the seats in the south while the NCP did the same in the north, thus producing a de facto division of the country. The international community plugged its nose, but insisted that the main focus of the peace process was the referendum on South Sudan’s self-determination. In the event the referendum was problem free because the SPLM abandoned a 27-year commitment to unity within a reformed Sudan in favor of secession and the NCP fell in line to rid itself of the southern secularists and hopefully gain the backing of the international community.
The African Union replaced IGAD as a mediator, but to date has failed to resolve any of the 12 outstanding post-referendum issues and by using the same model of peace-building as that which produced the CPA it is unlikely to meet its objectives of sustainable peace and viable successor states. Without democratic transformation the center-periphery conflicts in the north continue and the revolt in the Nuer lands suggest a similar pattern is emerging in South Sudan where its largely military government bears an increasing resemblance to its counterpart in the north. The prognosis for Sudan and South Sudan is grim, their experience with liberal peace-making makes clear the limitations of this model, and the book ends with some thoughts on how peace processes should be constructed.