October 24, 2006
Sudan's North, East, South, West; Whose Peace Treaty is the Best?
Another day, another peace treaty. Eastern Sudanese factions signed a peace deal with the Sudanese government earlier this week ending the convoluted, if less bloody and less publicised, uprising in the east of the country. Since the Naivasha treaty, which ended the long-running war between the North and the South, there have been two more treaties, one with rebel factions in Darfur and the latest with Eastern rebels. But have any of these treaties any promise? Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir declared, very much reminscent of a mother who had given her children too much candy, "This is the LAST peace treaty!" and, after a short pause, "to be negotiated outside the country."
Judging from the inherent weakness of the agreements themselves, and the Sudanese government's unfolding willingness (I will stop short of 'eagerness') to accomodate the immediate demands of rebels, it is not unreasonable to expect more uprisings, and/or more importantly, the disintegration of the current peace treaties as well.
The Darfur Abuja treaty is possibly the most ramshackle one of all. Only one faction signed the treaty and it was hardly the largest, most representative one. Several factions did not sign and, indeed, the signing of the treaty seems to have given the Sudanese government a sense of license where, apparently in exasperation and in the newfound impuntiy following the surprise rejection of the peace treaty on behalf of Darfurian rebels (dealt with here), it seems to be throwing itself quite wholeheartedly into the conflict. The May 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), which was signed by the Sudanese government and one faction of the main Darfur rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), has contributed to the serious deterioration in Darfur’s already dire security situation. Indeed, the disenfranchised rebel groups seem to have returned stronger and more determined as most of the non-signatory factions seem to have regrouped under the banner of an alliance named the National Redemption Front which has attacked government targets with renewed venom. So far, the only beneficiaries of the treaty have been the newly appointed Darfurian government officials, the chief presidential advisor being one of them.
In Asmara (Eritrea) last week, when Omar el-Bashir made his appearance from the presidential palace (donning in his media saviness and genius the traditional Eastern Sudanese costume) there was an overwhelming feeling of deja vu, the same rhetoric about the 'Oneness of Sudan' and how there would be "no more hills'". Hardly had the ink dried when the Sudanese province of Gedaref was effervescent with rage, the government's own minister in the region declaring that it had been cut out of the deal. Few resources were allocated to the region and no representation was guaranteed in the central government. I have not been able to find any online news reports of this rupture but personally saw an interview with said minister pledging that Gedaref is capable of taking up arms, if that has been proved to be the only way to gain rights that should be naturally ensconsed within the representative political parliamentary system. Ironically, appointment to positions in government does not guarantee that grievances of underrepresented groups are addressed as ministers are appointed and not elected (to Parliament) and hence there is no clear vehicle of communication of grievances or accountablity.
The North-South Naivasha treaty seems to be ostensibly the most carefully studied and is, so far, tentatively holding. Soldiers have returned home from their outposts, national reconciliation media campaigns are being run and that classically Sudanese olive branch, posts for the disgruntled in government, was extended as John Garang, the SPLA leader, was appointed president of the southern region an a vice-president of Sudan (only, ironically, to die in a plane crash days later). The ceasefire held and the South was declared to be 'autonomous' for six years at the end of which a national referendum would be held in which it would be decided whether the Shouth should separate or not. Sidestepping any cheap puns about denial, and as the second of those six years begins, the semantics, conditions, and ramifications of this referendum loom. Surely, if the separation of the South was something for the Southern Sudanese to decide, why the long drawn out bloody war? The six year 'moratorium' was declared to be for the purpose of national healing of wounds, that Southerners would come to realise that there is plenty in it for them if they maintain unity, suggesting that the deep running rifts percipitated almost from the moment of independence can be smoothed over purely by handing the South some oil money and putting a few Southern Sudanese faces in government. Northerners themselved seem to be perplexed, as thousands had died during the past twenty years and particularly since the intensification of the fighting in the early to mid-nineties after the Salvation Revolution government came to power. Surely today's solution was possible back then?
One possible answer is that war no longer suits the government's agenda. Coming on the back of a miltary coup and challenged twice in its first year by attempts to overthrow it, the government threw itself into a military Islamic campaign against the South, employing media tactics and unfurling the banners of religious propaganda while it established itself in power. El-Turabi aside, most external opposition domesticated and again incoorporated within the ranks of government and most crucially, upon the discovery of oil and its less alienated position internationally, war does not suit the more, shall we say, worldly desires and calculations of members of the Northern government. There is wealth to be accumulated, companies to be wooed and yachts to be bought: the war in the South was ideologically no longer a needed crutch and had become nothing more than a drain of recources. Not that there is anything wrong with seeking peace in order to facilitate the environment for investment, but there is something wrong in establishing one with a caveat or a loophole that at some point may precipitate conflict and aggrievment once more. There is an abundance of oil reserves in the South. If the South opts for separation, will the Sudanese government relinquish them? More importantly, does it have the right to, and/or the mandate from the Northern Sudanese people to hand over what their blood was shed for? Will the prospect of a Christian non-Arab African nation coming into existence along the entire border of Northern Sudan at some point overshadow the benefits of a six-year moratoriom precipitating an extension and resulting in another outbreak of hostilities? Will unilateral decisions alienate Southern peace partners?
Too many questions. Too many caveats. Too many flawed treaties. The motivations and agendae of the Sudanese government are many, varied and, may I hazard, not entirely nationalistic or altruistic. The promotion of the notion that the central northern government is some racial monolith that seeks to ethnically cleanse and eliminate all inferior races (note to all such pimps: Eastern tribes are mostly of Arab Peninsula origin, ethnically 'pure' and more Arab than most Northern tribes) obfuscates the real impetus behind conflict and conflict resolution. The central government is selectively belligerent and ultimately would rather have its own prosperous peace at the expense of the suffering than a continuum of violence that distracts it from establishing its feeders even further into the spoils of the Sudanese economy and its political roots even deeper into government. The Jan Pronk tempest in a teacup is proof of this paranoic behaviour where hints or threats to the government's sovereignty (the army being its cornerstone, as is the case when regimes have no roots or popular mandates) are disproportinately resented. Without proper representation and equitable allocation of resources, the Sudanese government will create a costly middle ground, where it will concede to handing out short-term band aids to mollify feelings but not enough to risk putting its adversary in a position where it can be seriously challenged or where it can appear fundamentally weak, thereby forever feeding small fires trying to guarantee that they never grow enough to engulf it. Forever wary of the appearance of vulnerability, scorched earth overreactions are to be expected.
The country ethnically, is diverse, massive and a strong decentralised government that is not only mindful of the interests of constituents but the added challenge of bringing together a vareigated nation, is needed. When this government fails to do so and almost institutionalises a system of armed objection as the way to jumpstart what should already be existing political processes, it risks legitimising violent uprising and even more fragmentation. Its policy of handing over pieces of the cake to those who make the loudest noise and failing to address the original profound and long-running grievances in order to consolidate its position in power is shortsighted and can only lead to even more eruptions. More dangerously, it could lead to even more factions deciding that they should cry louder, even cry wolf, and waste even more precious lives and resources.
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Excellent post that nicely ties up what's really happening beyond just Dar Fur or the South and why the government reacts the way it has over and over again.
A question if I may, how can outside actors like China positively influence the government to learn from its mistakes? I'm astonished when countries and companies seem to take little preventitive action and counsel to try to stem this, whether you're taking over-reactions in Dar Fur or pointless violent tactics in the Nigerian oil delta.
Posted by: Eddie at October 24, 2006 11:03 PM
The Sudanese government is not the only one that is self interested, China has no motivating factor whatsoever to put any pressure on Sudan (unless another party puts pressure on China) as long as business is done. That's why sadly, the partnership is so lucrative for both.
Posted by: Meph at October 25, 2006 06:54 PM
I would assume China may actually profit from Sudan's isolation, and any behaviour leading to increased isolation as long as it doesn't result in serious trouble (that could potentially affect business), since an isolated government is forced to lean even harder on what support it has. So if there's an incentive for political action by China here, it probably isn't to restrain the government in Darfur...
On the fringes of this, what's up with Niger's expulsion of Arabs into Tchad? As I understand it, these Mahamid tribes are a sub-branch of the cross-border Rizeigat confederation, stretching from western Sudan to Niger, and it is tribes from Rizeigat/Mahamid that form the backbone of the Janjawid militias in Darfur -- and are also raiding into East Chad against both refugees and the Idriss regime. So, Niger's deporting another 150 K of angry and dispossessed Mahamid nomads into the other flank of Chad, I think could well turn out ugly for all involved. Yet the BBC doesn't seem to have made any connection yet between the Darfur/East Chad mess and this -- isn't there one, am I misunderstanding this?
(And even more on the fringes of all this: what on earth is up with Tchad's oil?)
Posted by: alle at October 26, 2006 12:30 PM
Francis Fukayama has an interesting essay on the long-term implications of the Darfur crisis for state-building & sovereignty in Africa. Interesting points, but I'm not sure I buy the idea implied in his writing that every single separatist group in every single African (or wherever) country has to be given its own autonomous area or separate nation or whatever.
Posted by: Tom Scudder at October 27, 2006 04:51 AM
sounds like that Ralph Peters fella, except less dim.
I'm not sure about that, it seems to be on about Ralph Peters level.
We of course want Africa to avoid the bloodshed that other parts of the world suffered in the state-building process, but we offer them only the freezing of the existing status quo and no route to the creation of more viable states with more rational borders.
... which is becaus ALL of Africa, and much of the rest of the world, was founded on the principle of respect for colonial borders. To start a major rearranging along ethnic lines would not only be unbelievably bloody, but also install two sets of recongnizable-but-unreconcilable borders, and create even more cause for conflict. Not to mention the fact that different ethnic groups have very different ideas of what territory belongs to whom, and have historically migrated quite a bit. That is precisely the problem with Darfur that he doesn't seem to understand:
[The Darfur rebel groups] represent the same ethnic group—indeed, the same tribe—as the one in power in neighboring Chad, and if African borders were drawn rationally to represent underlying ethnic and tribal realities, Darfur should be part of Chad and not Sudan.
This is bullshit. First of all, the rebels represent not "one" ethnic group or tribe, but several. The group he is referring to is the Zaghawa, to which Chad's ruler Idriss Deby belongs (as does much of the opposition against him), but they form only a small -- if militant -- minority in Darfur. The biggest Darfur tribe, Fur, which is also up in arms, has nothing to do with Chad -- or, at least, less than it has to do with the rest of Sudan.
The point is that there are no "rational borders representing the underlying tribal tructures" in this situation, since the tribes are inhabiting the same areas, migrating around, and virtually all have historical claims here. The pre-colonial situation was not that Darfur belonged to some Chadian Zaghawa entity, but that the Fur had a fairly recently created independent sultanate, which incorporated the surrounding tribes (incl. most of the areas Zaghawa) as semi-independent vassals. And even that arrangement shifted greatly over times, in respect to what tribes were involved, and what their relative strengths were. In Western Darfur, the Masalit, the third and smallest of the three main rebel tribes (there are a myriad of minor tribes/groups also involved in the uprising), had yet another independent sultanate in the borderlands with Chad, called Dar Masalit. They still preserve much of the 19th century governing structure there (or did until recently), and probably couldn't care less about if they belong to Chad or Sudan, as long as the Masalit hierarchies aren't being messed with (recently, they were, by Khartum: thus their part in the rebellion).
So, saying that the "Darfurians" should "belong to Chad" is a total misrepresentation of the situation, and no better than saying that "they should belong to Sudan". Worse, actually: at least the latter violates no colonial border and preserves the de facto links that were built up since colonialism started, who are every bit as important as the pre-colonial ones.
Even the rebels see this, very few demand independence.
The ceasefire that Bob Zoellick negotiated last May was yet another example of this: it did not address the larger question of Sudanese sovereignty over Darfur, and was rejected not by the Sudanese government, but by two of the three Darfurian rebel groups.
No, it very clearly does adress the larger question of Sudanese sovereignty over Darfur, in that it assumes that it will remain.
Interestingly sapping Fukuyama's argument even further, the Abuja treaty was rejected by the two main rebel groups (the Fur-backed SLA-Nour and the semi-ideologically Islamist JEM) that are NOT primarily Zaghawa in their identity, i.e. it was ONLY embraced by the tribe that he sees as "related to Chad".
It has broken down not simply because of recalcitrance in Khartoum, but because it did not meet the political demands of the Darfurian rebels.
Yes, but those demands were more related to more compensation money, more local power, less Khartum interference, and better posts in government, on the SPLA precedent; and to demands for better mechanisms ensuring the government's compliance. The refusal had very little to do with a wish of becoming independent -- or for that matter, join Chad, if anyone ever dreamt of that.
In the long run, I don’t see any reasons why Darfur should not have the same options as southern Sudan: it should either be granted full autonomy under its own political leadership, or it should become part of Chad if that is what the local population wants.
Now, I find it hard to believe there are people even in Sudan who are yearning to become part of Chad, other than as a last resort to escape the muderous tactics of the Khartoum government and its allies.
But I find it even more incredible that Francis Fukuyama can pose as an expert on this, when he has apparently just flipped through some Wikipedia articles on Sudan after realizing, 40 years after everybody else, that African borders aren't very well-drawn.
Posted by: alle at October 27, 2006 12:23 PM
to those interested in the horn of africa and the sudan conflict, somebody sent me this fascinating piece about the politics of the save darfur campaign in the US. why did a campaign start in the US and not europe? the piece is a little outdated - now that the black community has largely pulled away from the movement - but the analysis is still relevant i think:
article from middle east report:
Posted by: juanjo at October 27, 2006 01:04 PM
So, Niger's deporting another 150 K of angry and dispossessed Mahamid nomads into the other flank of Chad, I think could well turn out ugly for all involved. Yet the BBC doesn't seem to have made any connection yet between the Darfur/East Chad mess and this -- isn't there one, am I misunderstanding this?
I think there is no strong connection as the members of this ethnic group have been present and settled for some generations. The Arab nomadic tribes settled from Sudan to Niger do not have some pan-Arab identity or state aspirations (the total opposite would be the Kurdish movement for example) so the expulsion seems to be a function of poverty and lack of resources within Niger itself. I cannot see these repatriations adding any fuel to the fire in Darfur but it did catch my eye.
The Fukuyama article I'm afraid is rather idiotic and shallow which is uncharacteristic. Alle's deconstruction is accurate, however this is what did for me,
The root of so many of Africa’s contemporary problems is that it has inherited a state structure from European colonialism that makes no sense, leaving states that are either too large and diverse, like Sudan
No shit Sherlock, I've read term papers that had more profound analysis. I don't understand why people feel the need to be universal experts.
but I'm not sure I buy the idea implied in his writing that every single separatist group in every single African (or wherever) country has to be given its own autonomous area or separate nation or whatever.
Agreed, he's just his throwing in his two cents.
Juanjo, interesting article, the issue of denial of race issues in the Arab World is a legitimate one, deserves extended commentary methinks.
Re Chad's oil, fuck knows, any ideas?
Posted by: meph at October 27, 2006 04:52 PM