Sudan’s Spreading Conflict (I): War in South Kordofan

from International Crisis Group
Published on 14 Feb 2013 View Original

Only a comprehensive solution can end Sudan’s vicious civil wars that are exacting a horrendous toll on the country and its peoples.

Sudan’s Spreading Conflict (I): War in South Kordofan, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, is the first in a series that will analyse the roots of the conflicts that continue in Sudan’s peripheries despite the secession in 2011 of South Sudan. The South Kordofan fighting resumed that same year and shows no sign of ending anytime soon. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) is much better armed than it was during the first war, and the state’s ethnic cleavages that the Khartoum government used to exploit to terrible effect are much less pronounced.

“The conflict has all the makings of strategic stalemate, with each side hoping pressure from elsewhere will change its foe’s calculations”, says Cedric Barnes, Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Project Director. “Unless the government and the allied rebel groups negotiate a comprehensive solution to Sudan’s multiple conflicts, there will be no stop to the endless wars plaguing the country”.

Although the root causes of the conflict – political marginalisation, land dispossession and unimplemented promises – remain the same, the SPLM-N is much stronger, with as many as 30,000 soldiers, better weapons and a large stockpile of arms. Moreover, it is now part of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), an insurgent alliance that also includes Darfur’s rebel groups.

All indications suggest the conflict has settled into a vicious impasse, in which Khartoum is unable to dislodge the rebels ensconced in the Nuba Mountains, and the SPLM-N and its allies are incapable of holding much territory in South Kordofan’s lowlands.

The war restarted because key provisions of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, in particular the promised popular consultations to address long-held grievances, were not implemented. A last-ditch attempt to stop the spiralling conflict, the 28 June 2011 Framework Agreement that included political and security arrangements, was unacceptable to hardliners.

Stalled negotiations between Khartoum and the SPLM-N should resume, but a major impasse is the divide over the scope of the conflict. While the rebels have increasingly asserted a national agenda, the government, as well as local political leaders and some international players, prefer focusing on the local dimensions of the war.

Piecemeal power-sharing arrangements often merely stimulate further rebellion with the aim of winning more concessions from Khartoum. If negotiations do not fully address the political marginalisation of the peripheries, calls for self-determination will increase, including in South Kordofan. A comprehensive solution, including broader governance reform and meaningful national dialogue, is necessary to put an end to the country’s conflicts and build a durable peace.

“Neither side is strong enough to win militarily”, says EJ Hogendoorn, Crisis Group’s Deputy Africa Program Director. “Unless the government and the international community engage with both the armed and unarmed opposition and achieve a comprehensive solution to Sudan’s chronic problems, the conflicts will continue and multiply, threatening the stability of the entire country”.