The Absurdity of Peace-building in South Sudan (I)

By Tongun Lo Loyuong

September 11, 2013 (SSNA) — In traditional conflict resolution approach, also known as conflict management or track I diplomacy, there are three technical phases or frameworks that peace scholars, practitioners and negotiators have largely identified as dictating the path of building peace in any given conflict. The three phases are: peacemaking where a political settlement mediated by negotiators is facilitated in a roundtable peace negotiation process between the conflict belligerents; peacekeeping where keeping the peace is undertaken usually by a regionally or globally mandated peacekeeping force after a peace agreement has been signed; and peacebuilding where state and nation building, and reconstruction and development processes and activities are pursued by various institutional stakeholders to ensure a lasting peace in the conflict setting. The strategic objective is that with one less conflict too many, comes more regional and international peace and stability.

The overall rubric that characterizes conflict resolution as such, for lack of better phrase may be called “technical peace” pursuit. This is also most popularly known as “democratic peace” or “liberal peace” approach, and is the most dominant practice of conflict resolution in the world today. It finds appeal in the most powerful countries in the West and is practiced by actors representing most global institutions, such as the United Nations, and regional bodies, such as the European Union (EU), and the African Union (AU), among others.

In fact, there is a widespread persuasion shaped by the democratic peace thinking that the “panacea” for world peace lies in inculcating a long laundry list of democracy, human rights, rule of law, security sector reform and economic liberalization in conflict settings across the world. It is argued according to this view that democratic states do not go to war with each other, and that countries that have McDonalds, for instance (here symbolizing free market economy) do not fight each other. Phrased another way building sustainable peace in conflict settings around the world hinges on this one-size-fits-all promotion of democratic or liberal peace, it is widely held.

Arguably, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed between the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in Khartoum and the now ruling Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) in Juba, is predominantly shaped by this technical peace global mentality.

Tragically, the absurdity of peace-building in South Sudan is precisely that the whole technical peace approach is counterintuitive and does not work in our conflict. The view is shared by many scholars who have noticed that most peace agreements signed under this dominant conflict management or track I diplomatic environment do not last more than five years from the date of inking the agreement to the resumption of violent conflicts. More recently, the one-size-fits-all democratic peace as imported from abroad this way has exacerbated violent conflicts from Afghanistan to Iraq to Somalia and now South Sudan, just to mention but a few. If the Arab Spring that is sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East region is thrown into the mix, as is the case in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere, the conclusion is even more surreal.

Given the historicity and complexity of Sudanese conflicts, the peace-building size that is needed should have been at least an XXL, and preferably tailored and custom-made to neatly fit our conflict. The same conflict-specific approach to conflict resolution would have been prudent in the examples cited above and many more. Unfortunately, and despite some of its significant achievements, particularly the historic deliverable of the independence to South Sudan as a sovereign state, the CPA was nowhere close to promoting a comprehensive and lasting peace in the two Sudan. The agreement has utterly failed as comprehensive conflict resolution and as a mechanism for power sharing in the Sudan as it purports. It is my view that the current hostile and volatile political reality in South Sudan and the polarization of violent conflicts in different parts of Sudan is partly incentivized by the CPA.

In order to understand why I view the CPA as a major contributing factor to the conflict, it is useful to briefly examine the various components of the peace process, including the different protocols and provisions, and the different actors involved in the peace deal. Prior to the CPA process, it is worth noting that several attempts were made to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the second North-South conflict between the Government of Sudan (GoS), and SPLM/A. As early as August 1989, almost two months after the National Islamic Front (NIF), now the NCP ascended to power in Khartoum in a military coup, the two parties met in Addis Ababa, and then in Nairobi in December of the same year through the unofficial mediating channels of the former President of the United States, Jimmy Carter. But when SPLM/A insisted on the abolition of Islamic Sharia, which is at the center of the conflict, the negotiations stalled.

Another round of peace talks was resumed by the US state Department in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC) in 1990, then in Abuja-Nigeria under the patron of Nigerian President Ibrahim Babangida. However, both attempted rounds of negotiations faltered, without any noticeable progress. In 1994 the African regional agency the then Inter-Governmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGADD), composed of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda organized another round of negotiations, and although the parties did not reach a settlement to the conflict, they agreed on humanitarian assistance, and signed a declaration of principles.

Nelson Mandela then led another roundtable negotiation in 1997, which was followed up by the now renamed Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) from 1997-2001. This resulted in an agreement on humanitarian ceasefire, but without settling some of the outstanding issues such as self-determination and North-South border demarcation. An agreement on cessation of hostilities followed in Switzerland in 2002, under the aegis of the Swiss and US governments, which set the stage for the subsequent conclusion of Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

Signed between the SPLM and the NCP in the Kenyan town of Machakos in January 09, 2005, under the mediating efforts of the Kenyan General Lazaro Sumbeiywo, sponsored by IGAD, and observed by a Troika comprised of United States, United Kingdom and Norway, the CPA is a conglomerate of earlier six partial agreements, which were then compiled into the accord and hence the misleading qualifier “comprehensive.” The first agreement, which set forth the basic framework for the peace process and future negotiations, is the Machakos Protocol signed on July 22, 2002. Appended to the protocol was another agreement, which stipulates “the need for a pre-transition period of six months, a six-year transition period, followed by an internationally supervised referendum for the south, where secession should be one of the options.” Moreover during the transition period, an expanded multiparty government was stipulated to rule Sudan from Khartoum, while giving the South some autonomy.

The second agreement, “the Agreement on Security Arrangements” was signed on September 25, 2003. It arranges for a comprehensive ceasefire that was to come into force once the CPA was signed, and reduced the number of legally recognized armed forces into the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), and the Sudan’s People Liberation Army (SPLA). The two legally recognized armed forces were to remain independent, but Joint Integrated Units (JIUs) from the two were to be created. These troops are to be based in South Sudan, Khartoum, the Nuba mountains and the Blue Nile throughout the transition period.

The third agreement was a “wealth sharing” agreement signed January 04, 2004 that provided for equal sharing of the oil revenue between GoS and the semi-autonomous government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) during the interim period. The fourth accord signed on May 26, 2004 is composed of three protocols. A power sharing protocol contained three core provisions, including the drafting of an interim constitution, the formation of a Southern Government, and power sharing in Khartoum, and the late John Garang was to become the first Vice-President of the Sudan.

The fifth agreement relates to Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile regions, dubbed the “Protocol on the Resolution of the Conflict in southern Kordofan and Blue Nile States.” This was signed on May 26, 2004 and provided for a popular consultation to determine the status of these regions. The sixth and final political settlement also signed on the same day as the fifth agreement, is the Abyei Protocol or the “Protocol on the Resolution of the Conflict in Abyei Area.” The core provision of this protocol is the stipulation on a referendum that was to take place concurrently with the Southern Sudanese self-determination referendum on January 09, 2011, where Abyei people will decide if they want to retain the special administrative status in the north, or join the Southern Sudanese state of Bahr el Ghazal. But as we all know too well the Abyei referendum remains the stuff of a dream as the two parties SPLM and NCP continue to disagree on voters’ eligibility, the North-South border demarcation and other differences together now known as the post-secession outstanding issues. In view of the preceding presentation, how does the CPA contribute to the conflict, and hence the absurdity of peace-building in South Sudan?

It is clear here that the peace process was conducted over an extended period of time, which began in earnest approximately seven years into the resumption of the second civil war in 1982. There was ample time and space to include other key stakeholders to the conflict from regional actors such as Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda, and Egypt, who supported the North-South belligerents on various levels and capacities, to local actors such as other political parties, other armed groups, the civil society (if any), and religious organizations. Yet the absurdity of peacebuilding in South Sudan and greater Sudan at large is that key stakeholders in the conflict were not invited to the negotiation table. Moreover, there was also enough time and space for the agreement to be more comprehensive in the true sense of the word and address the issues that have proven sticking points and have spoiled and derailed sustainable peace in the two countries. In other words, the CPA should have clearly spelled out as part of the negotiation process, mechanisms for addressing the current outstanding issues from border demarcation, Abyei referendum, and the status of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, among other key issues. The resolution of these issues are now proving costly in terms of time and resources spent, and have almost triggered a resumption of all-out war in April, 2012, and could yet ignite another war between the two Sudan.

Oddly enough, though a product of democratic peace, the CPA lacked any democratic principles and punitive mechanisms that could have held the subsequent current regimes in Khartoum and Juba accountable, to safeguard its full implementation in a spirit of democracy and inclusive participation to promote sustainable peace in the two countries. Instead, Khartoum was left at large and derailed and obstructed the implementation of the CPA at will, with little accountability. As can be seen now, Khartoum continues to embark with impunity with its deliberate obstruction of the implementation of all new and old provisions related to the resolution of Abyei status and all the remaining outstanding issues. Given Khartoum’s poor track record in honoring peace agreements, it is difficult to see how the Abyei issue can be resolved while the current NCP regime remains in charge, not even when the President of South Sudan is seen humiliatingly bowing before the Sudanese flag during his last visit up north! Bow down or not, it took less than one week for Khartoum to violate South Sudan’s sovereignty and bombed areas within South Sudan’s territory killing a couple of innocent South Sudanese citizens. Indeed it has already been shown on previous occasions in the past, including when it arrogantly rebuffed the final ruling of the Abyei Boundaries Commission (ABC) that Khartoum does not have good faith more generally but even more so when it comes to Abyei. Stunningly, on one occasion, as John Prendergast and Roger Winter noted in their report entitled “Abyei Sudan’s Kashmir,” President Bashir speaking to his paramilitary Jihadists, the so-called “people’s defense forces,” even derided the ABC ruling on Abyei by telling the crowd that the ABC commissioners should “dilute their report and drink it.” In Sudan’s culture such a statement is the utmost insult and the ultimate condescension attitude as it can get. It basically means you are not recognized and are being asked to take a hike.

To prove this point, Khartoum even reneged from the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration on Abyei borders, despite the ruling being in its favor, and despite Khartoum’s initial acceptance of the ruling. These obstructionist policies, reinforced by the vagueness of messaging, and lack of punitive measures and accountability in CPA, led to the current impasse on the status of Abyei. Overall, “CPA has been characterized by unmet deadlines…” Thus, the CPA has proved to be impotent in handling the Abyei situation and thereby created space for derailment policies and contestations between the conflict belligerents. This in turn is increasingly fostering conditions conducive to unilateral declaration of Abyei as South Sudanese that could culminate in violent escalation.

Abyei aside, the CPA can also be viewed as exacerbating the conflict in other areas of the greater Sudan including within South Sudan. To begin with the greater Sudan as a whole is a highly diverse and incoherent multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-lingual, multi-racial and multi-ethnic state. According to Peter K. Bechtold in his “More Turbulance in the Sudan: A New Politics This Time?” the greater Sudanese social fabric is comprised of some 597 tribes that speak over 400 different languages and dialects—a diversity that has been characterized as “one of the world’s most heterogeneous societies that is almost a microcosm of Africa.” And as we all know, Sudan, including its Southern territory also devotedly represents a microcosm of the African continent in its strong ethnic consciousness, racial and identity politics of domination, and marginalization which flame the various ugly violent armed struggles, as a way of negotiating grievances or greed for that matter. Few groups if any in the periphery of the Sudan would claim they have been spared from domination, and political and economic marginalization by the center—Khartoum.

Despite this reality, the CPA was deliberated and concluded as a dyad peace process between NCP and SPLM, excluding the other groups with legitimate grievances, and thereby leaving the impression that grievance can only be taken serious under the barrel of the gun. The crisis in Darfur, and other armed insurrections in the East and in the South are classic examples of how the CPA gave peace with one hand and incentivized violence with another.

In his brilliant article “A Flawed Peace Process Leading to a Flawed Peace,” John Young rightly pointed out that: “probably the biggest threat posed to the hopes for peace and stability in Sudan is the refusal of IGAD to respond positively to the demand of the rebels in Darfur for their voice to be heard in Naivasha. The Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A), the dominant rebel group in Darfur, purposely timed its insurrection as a direct response to the denial of a place for itself at Naivasha peace talks. It has explicitly stated a fear that power and resources would be divided between the GoS and SPLM/A at the expense of the rest of the country. IGAD and the Troika also rejected demands by SSDF [South Sudan Defense Force], NDA [Northern Democratic Alliance], the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), and other groups for a place at the peace talks.”

Indeed it is no coincidence that at the time of signing of the CPA, Sudan Tribune reported that a study showed that there were about thirty different armed groups, with forces adding up to approximately thirty-thousand personnel, capable of disturbing any meaningful peace in the Sudan. And yet the CPA ignored these groups, who have legitimate claims to power sharing, which makes them even more determined to make their voices heard by physical coercion, and spoiling the peace as is currently evident. For this reason it is not an exaggeration to label post-CPA Sudan as an absurdity of peace-building and accuse the CPA of complicity in the conflict. By excluding other groups, from the negotiation table, the CPA was not serious about promoting sustainable peaceful in the greater Sudan. Moreover, by confining power sharing to two parties only, the CPA implicitly reinforced the policy of marginalization and domination practiced by Khartoum.

Sadly, as we now see in Juba the power sharing arrangements of the CPA have been used by the SPLM to aggressively implement marginalization policies across regions, tribes, clans and political interest syndicates. This has created space for political opportunism, corruption and nepotism as different actors scramble for the crumbs that fall off the table of powers that be in Juba, and thereby deepening identity divides in an already highly ethnically charged and militarized society. Thus the power sharing protocol of the CPA has been aptly summed up by Young as “a formula designed by the GoS to let Garang, and his supporters grab the lion’s share of power and thus precipitate tribal conflict in the South.”

Finally, the absurdity of peace-building in South Sudan lies in that the CPA legitimizes centralization of authority, and reconfigures in the South the same power structures that existed in the North. As Young succinctly concludes: “under the direction of the US-led Troika, IGAD has managed a peace process that is unlikely to lead to sustainable peace, and even less likely to result in Sudan’s democratic transformation. By failing to address the power inequities that are at the core of Sudan’s multiple crises, and failing to appreciate that conflict resolution in the periphery requires transformation at the center, it ensures that civil strife which already has spread from southern Sudan to the West will spread to other parts of the country…the weakness of the peace process can be said to begin with lack of a commitment to democratic values, the failure to bring other political forces and civil society organizations into the process, the absence of transparency of the process itself, the endorsement of power sharing by two parties that have no democratic credentials….”

Tongun Lo Loyuong is reachable at [email protected]; and can be followed on twitter at TongunLoLoyuong. This and other pieces are also on his blog:

Previous Post
Gabriel Tang’s indefinite detention and the social grievances: A note to the presidency
Next Post
The Absurdity of Peace-building in South Sudan (II)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.