PANA Staff Writer
Dakar, Senegal (PANA) - Ex-rebel leader Colonel John Garang's joining of the Khartoum government as Vice-President Saturday under a historic peace deal that ended two decades of civil war in the south of Africa's largest country, opens a new vista in Sudan's chequered political history.
For a people who have suffered economic want and severe shortage of the world's major common trading currencies, the war-ravaged region, measuring about 650,000 square kilometres could be poised for its brightest economic era yet, depending on what the key actors make of the comprehensive peace agreement
Like most African countries, Sudan boasts numerous ethnic groups. But unlike most States, it has had two distinct divisions: the north, which is largely Arab and Muslim, and the south, of predominantly black Nilotic peoples, some of whom are adherents of indigenous faiths while others are Christians.
Another unique historical feature is that Sudan was ruled by Britain and Khartoum's Arab neighbour under the Anglo-Egyptian condominium of 1899-1955.
Britain finally signed a self-determination agreement with Sudan in 1952, followed by the Anglo-Egyptian accord in 1953 that set up a three-year transition period to self-government, paving the way for Sudan to proclaim its independence 1 January 1956.
But this was to be followed by two short-lived civilian coalition governments before a coup in November 1958 brought in a military regime under Ibrahim Abbud that governed through the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
Abbud's government was accused of trying to Arabise the south, and in 1964 expelled all western missionaries from the country.
Northern repression of the south led to open civil war in the mid-1960s and the emergence of various southern resistance groups, the most powerful of which was the Anya Nya guerrillas, who sought autonomy.
Civilian rule returned to Sudan between 1964 and 1969, and political parties reappeared and in the 1965 elections, Muhammad Ahmad Mahjub became Prime Minister, succeeded in June 1966 by Sadiq al Mahdi.
In the 1968 elections, however, no party had a clear majority, and a coalition government took office under Mahjub as Prime minister.
In May 1969, the Free Officers' Movement led by Jaafar Nimeiri staged a coup and set up the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC). In July 1971, a short-lived pro-communist military coup occurred, but Nimeiri quickly regained control, and was elected to a six-year term as president, abolishing the RCC.
Meanwhile in the south, Joseph Lagu, a Christian, had united several opposition elements under the Southern Sudan Liberation Movement and in March 1972, the southern resistance movement concluded an agreement with the Nimeiri regime at Addis Ababa, and a ceasefire followed.
A Constituent Assembly was created in August 1972 to draft a constitution at a time when the growing opposition to military rule was reflected in strikes and student unrest.
But despite this dissent, Nimeiri was re-elected for another six-year term in 1977.
His abolition of the Southern Regional Assembly in June 1983, gave birth to the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).
Garang used the two movements, which later merged into SPLA/M, to launch his separatist rebellion that saw him moving to the south from Khartoum.
Following his imposition of Muslim Sharia law throughout the country, Nimeiri was toppled in a military coup led by Lieutenant General Abd ar Rahman Siwar adh Dhahab in 1985.
In March 1986, the government and the SPLM called for a Sudan free from "discrimination and disparity" and the repeal of the Sharia code.
Sadiq al Mahdi formed what proved to be a weak coalition government following the April 1986 elections, but his failure to end the civil war in the south or improve the economic and famine situations led to his overthrow in June 1989 by then Colonel Omar Hassan Ahmad al Bashir, the incumbent president, who later took on the rank of army general.
Twenty-one years of the bloody war between the Khartoum government and the separatists in the south killed at least 1.5 million people, and left the region in ruins.
The protracted peace process were initiated by regional member States of the then Inter-Governmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGADD) during their summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1994 (the group later changed its name to the Inter- Governmental Authority on Development, IGAD).
On 20 May 1994, the Khartoum government and the SPLM/A signed the Declaration of Principles (DoP) as a framework of negotiations, which identified the key issues in the conflict as:
Right to self-determination for the south Sudan, separation of state and religion, system of governance during an interim period, sharing of resources, and security arrangements.
IGAD later appointed special envoys from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Uganda with Kenya as the chair on the tottering peace negotiations and a secretariat for the IGAD Peace Process was then set up in Nairobi, Kenya.
Later representatives from Italy, Norway, UK, US, the African Union (AU) and UN joined in the process as observers with Sudan's first-vice president Ali Osman Taha, leading the government's team, while Garang led the SPLM/A delegation.
It was only on 26 May 2004 that the parties reached agreements on the substantive issues of the conflict and solution clustered under the IGAD six protocols.
These included the Agreement on Security Arrangements, Wealth Sharing, Power Sharing, Conflict areas of Southern Kordofan/Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile States, and Abyei.
This was in addition to a Cessation of Hostilities, which proved a strong catalyst to the peace process culminating in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Nairobi on 9 January.
A power and wealth-sharing government is to be formed in August as part of the peace deal that also prescribes a referendum after six years in the south, to decide if it wants to join the north in a united Sudan or become an independent entity.
While the end of the war in the south has brought relief to a war-tired country, the implementation of the power and wealth-sharing accord, in the face of Sudan's newfound oil wealth, is not going to be easy.
Also, peace in the south is only part of the story, because another separatist war, which erupted in February 2003, is still raging in the western region of Darfur, after claiming 180,000 people and displacing two million others.
For the entire country to enjoy peace, and especially for the peace process to endure in the south, all stakeholders in the vast country - government, opposition, civil society, including faith-based organisations, and the population at large - must strive to end the battle over the three Rs - race, religion and resources - fuelling Sudan's conflicts.
- Pan African News Agency
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