The Civil War and Peace Process in Sudan: A Brief Account

Originally published
Sean Gabb
An occasional paper published by
The Sudan Foundation
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Introduction: The Origins of the War

It is impossible to count the human cost of the Sudanese civil war. Perhaps three million have been killed since its beginning in 1955. Millions more have had their lives damaged. The financial cost has been astronomical. Sudan has the potential to be one of the richest countries in Africa. Instead, it is among the poorest.

The war has often been portrayed in the Western media as a struggle between Islam and Christianity, in which an Islamic fundamentalist Government in Khartoum has been seeking to impose its faith on Christians in southern Sudan through the introduction of Islamic Sharia law. This is not so much a simplification as a falsehood. The problem is that the truth is far more complex.

Without doing full justice to the complexity of something as large as the Sudanese civil war, two points must be made:

First, the war was an unforeseen and perhaps unforeseeable result of the British colonial administration of the first half of this century. For reasons of administrative convenience, the country was divided in two. There was an Arabic North, run on similar lines to Egypt, and there was an African South, run on similar lines to Kenya and Uganda.

For a while, it was believed that the southern districts could actually be detached from Sudan and added to the Central African colonies. This plan was rejected, because it was realised that the White Nile region formed a single economic area that would make no sense if divided. And so, in the early 1950s, as the country was prepared for independence, attempts were made to bring the various cultures of Sudan together in a single, all-embracing political structure. By then, however, the harm was done. There was too much suspicion and misunderstanding on all sides; and the fighting began even before the end of British rule.

Second, though between the North and South of the country, the war was only incidentally about religion. The Governments in Khartoum between 1956 and 1989 were never Islamic in the religious sense. They have variously been liberal democratic, Arab-nationalist, military, and nonaligned. As evidence for this, look at Dr Hassan Al-Turabi, the leading thinker in Sudanese Islam. He had little political influence in the 1960s. Then he was in prison on several occasions between 1969 and 1985. The civil war during this time, as fought by the North was in no sense an Islamic jihad.

Indeed, the reignition of the war in 1983, after an 11 year truce, was brought about because of the Nimeiri dictatorship's unwillingness to keep the 1972 Addis Ababa agreement on home rule for the South. It was only after the war had begun again that he introduced the Islamic Sharia as the basic law of Sudan.

Certainly, once introduced, the abrogation of Sharia in the South became one of the aims of the Southern rebel movement. But it was retained by the democratic governments that followed the overthrow of Nimeiri in 1983.

The present Government of Sudan took power in 1989 with a civil war already raging, and in a country already governed according to a version of the Sharia.

Third, though often held responsible for the situation it inherited, it is the present Government that would appear to have done most to end the civil war. It is a simple fact that the Southern rebels have never been strong enough to obtain the independence or dispensation that they seek. At the same time, the Government has never been strong enough to
crush the rebellion. The present Government accepted the futility of pursuing a military solution, and instead has been tireless in working towards peace and reconciliation with the more tractable of the Southern rebels. It also exempted those non-Muslim parts of southern Sudan from the Sharia laws.

The Sudanese Peace Process

It is a matter of record that, at least on face value, the present Sudanese Government has actively pursued a negotiated settlement of the Sudanese civil war. On coming to power in 1989, the Government convened an inclusive National Dialogue Conference on Peace Issues. This was an opportunity for public discussion of the root and immediate causes of
the war, and of the ways in which it could be brought to an end. The Conference declared for a peace plan based on a decentralisation of power and resources, the protection of cultural diversity, and a clear understanding of the roles of State and religion. This was adopted by the Government as a national programme for negotiations with the rebel movement. At the 1989 OAU meeting in Addis Ababa, the then new Sudanese head-of-state, Omer al-Bashir declared his Government's intention to secure a negotiated end to the civil war. During the next eight years, the Government was determined to seek a peace settlement as witnessed by some twenty rounds of peace negotiations in several countries. These talks have included:

1. The First Nairobi Meeting. This was held in late 1989 between Mohammed el-Amin Khalifa for the Government and Dr Lam Akol for the rebel Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA). The talks were sponsored by former President Jimmy Carter. No agreement on a cease-fire was reached, but the rebels did concede that the National Dialogue
Conference resolutions did constitute a basis for further talks.

2. The American Initiative. This was made in 1990 by the former Assistant US Secretary of State for African Affairs, Herman Cohen. He proposed a cease-fire, to be maintained by separation of the two sides and a demilitarisation of Juba in the south. This initiative was rejected by the Government, which objected to the violation of national sovereignty involved.

3 The Kenyan Initiative. This was made in December 1990, by Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi, who proposed a meeting in Nairobi between President al Bashir and Dr John Garang. President al Bashir turned up, but Dr Garang refused to attend, even though he was in Nairobi at the time.

4. The First Abuja Peace Talks. These were held in Nigeria May and June 1992, on the initiative of former Nigerian President Babangida. Again, nothing definite was agreed, though both sides continued talking. These talks were notable also in that they were the last to which the rebels came as a unified movement.

5. The Frankfurt Initiative. By this time, the SPLA had fragmented into several factions. In this round of talks, taking place early in 1992, one grouping of the rebels, chaired by Dr Riek Machar, meeting in Frankfurt, agreed on a federalisation of Sudan, to be followed by a referendum in the south. From 1992 onwards the Sudanese government entered into negotiations with the two largest groupings.

6. The Entebbe Negotiations. These took place in Entebbe in February 1993, under the supervision of Ugandan President Museveni. They were more negotiations about negotiations. However, Dr Garang was persuaded to agree in principle to talks without preconditions.

7. The Second Abuja Talks. These took place in April 1993, and were real negotiations about peace. An agreement was in sight, but was aborted at the last minute by the sudden arrival of Dr Garang from the United States with a set of new conditions that were not acceptable to the Sudanese Government. The talks ended without agreement, except on the need to keep negotiating.

8. The Third Nairobi Talks. These took place in May 1993. They broke down over the status of the south in the interim period before the referendum and on related matters.

9. The First IGAD Meeting. This was sponsored by the then regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Drought and Development (in 1996, it became the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development), and the talks took place in Addis Ababa in May 1993, under the joint chairmanship of the Kenyan, Ugandan, Ethiopian and Eritrean Governments. Further
agreement was reached regarding the shape of any future peace agreement.

10. The Second IGAD Meeting. This followed from the first, taking place in May 1994.

11. The Third IGAD Meeting. Taking place in July 1994, this considered a Declaration of Principles for ending the civil war.

12. The Fourth IGAD Meeting. This took place in September 1994, and continued the process of settling on the principles of a settlement. These formal discussions outside Sudan were accompanied and supported by various meetings within Sudan between the Government and the rebel factions. The negotiating of a comprehensive peace agreement was made
all the more difficult by continuing divisions within the rebel movement.

For the purpose of implementing the principles discussed in all these internal and external meetings, the Sudanese Government in 1995 made the Twelfth and Thirteenth Constitutional Decrees, setting up a federal structure of government for the whole country, and returning it to a sustainable version of democracy.

In 1996, the Sudanese Government negotiated two Peace Charters - one signed on the 10th April with the South Sudan Independence Movement (SSIM/A) and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (Bahr El-Ghazal Group) (SPLM(BGG)); and another signed on the 26th April 1996 with further groupings within the SPLA. They both provide for cease-fires,
followed by elections to the various bodies brought into being in 1995, followed if desired by referenda in the South on autonomy. These Charters, and the prospects of an end to conflict, proved very popular in the southern Sudan.

The Sudanese Peace Agreement

As a result of this search for a comprehensive peace, on Monday the 21st April 1997, a Peace Agreement was signed in Khartoum. It was signed by the Sudanese Vice-President, Zubair Mohamed Salih and by Riek Machar, representing the Southern Sudan Independence Movement (SSIM), which was the largest of the rebel groups taking part in the peace process.

Other signatories were: Commander Kerbino Kuanyin, for the SPLA (Bahr el-Gazal Group), Theophilus Ochang Lotti, for the Equatoria Defence Force, Kawac Makwei, for the South Sudan Independents Group, Samuel Aru Bol, for the Union of Sudanese African Parties (U.S.A.P), and Arok Thon Arok, for the SPLA/Bor Group. The signing was witnessed by Presidents Felix Ange Patasse of the Central African Republic and Idris Deby of Chad, the Deputy Foreign minister of Malaysia, and the diplomatic representatives of most foreign countries that have embassies in Khartoum. Former President Carter of the United States had been in Khartoum the day before the signing, and had offered his good offices for the achievement of a comprehensive peace within the region.

Also present were the Sudanese President, General Omar al Bashir, the Speaker of Parliament Hassan al-Turabi and other senior government officials, civil servants and army representatives.

The Agreement carries into effect the principles agreed in the preliminary rounds of discussions described above, and incorporated in the Peace Charters. Specifically, it settles the following issues:

First, there is to be a free and fair - and internationally monitored - referendum in southern Sudan after four years, to determine whether the people of the south desire independence or federation.

Second, in the meantime the sources of law in Sudan are to be Islamic Sharia and local custom, but each of the 26 States created by the federalising Twelfth Constitution Decree of 1995 is to have the right to make such supplementary laws as it finds just or convenient. This provision settles the dispute that may not have restarted the civil war in 1983, but which certainly embittered it, and which the Governments led by Sadiq el-Mahdi conspicuously failed to settle in the late 1980s.

Third, the Agreement guarantees all the usual freedoms - of movement, assembly, organisation, speech, and press in accordance with the laws in force in the country, and in accordance with the relevant international treaties. The Sudanese Supreme Court is to be the custodian of the Constitution, which will include the Agreement as entrenched legislation, alterable only by a special process. Worth mentioning are the articles that spell out that there shall be no official discrimination for or against any religion. Though overwhelmingly an Islamic country, Sudan is to give an equality of civil
and other rights to its five per cent Christian minority, and to the rather larger minority of Pagans.

Fourth, the Agreement provides that Southerners shall be equitably represented in all constitutional, legislative and executive organs at the Federal level. It decrees the formation of a 25-Member Southern Coordination Council, which is to include a President, 13 Ministers and 10 Southern Sudan Governors. One of the permanent grievances of Southerners since before independence in 1956 has been the monopolisation of office by Northerners. The present Government has tried to redress this historic imbalance. The making of a formal guarantee of affirmative action at the official level is a logical

Fifth, and following from the above, there is to be a formal sharing of national resources between the different regions of Sudan, with priority being given to reconstruction in the south.

Sixth, while Arabic is to be the official language of Sudan, English is to be the second language. This again settles one of the Southern grievances - the cultural domination of the Arab, Islamic North over the more Anglophone Africans of the South. Moreover, other, traditional, languages are to be encouraged at the official level.

The significance of the Agreement is that it represents the boldest and most sustained effort in Sudanese history to bring about a just and lasting settlement to the Sudanese civil war. The rebel leaders who took part in the negotiations deserve high praise for their statesmanship in coming to the negotiating table. So also does the Sudanese Government,
for having broken a deadlock that had defeated every previous government - and for having defied predictions that it would fight the civil war to the bitter end.

It is also perhaps unique in as much as much of the last few years of negotiations have been focused amongst Sudanese, within Sudan itself. The result of this internal peace dialogue were the two Peace Charters in 1996. A continuation of this process can now be seen in the April 1997 Peace Agreement. That the Government is still keen to include all
parties to the conflict was demonstrated by its acceptance of the regional Inter-Government Authority on Development's declaration of principles in Nairobi in July 1997. One significant faction of the SPLA, that led by John Garang, remains ambivalent to the process at the moment. It is hoped that he will join it to complete Sudan's long walk towards peace and reconciliation. It is significant that two of the three founders of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army, Riek Machar and
Aron Thok Aron are signatories to the Peace Agreeement: the third founder was killed in the course of the conflict.

The dangers of a continuing and possibly escalating civil war in Sudan are all too apparent in the political anarchy, violence and chaos seen recently in the Great Lakes area of central Africa.

We all have a responsibility to see that peace prevails.