Lessons from the Sudanese Experience

 by Victor Rajakulendran

The Sudanese Experience: A Lesson for Sri Lankan Peacemakers

"We hail the response of the people's movement (SPLM) and its leader John Garang, who was responsible for the success of the last round of talks," President of Sudan, Hon. Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir in parliament

“We have come, as we did last time, with the same level of openness, commitment, determination and purpose to move on with the remaining issues so that we are able to reach a peace settlement” Maj. Gen. John Garang, Head of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement at the latest peace negotiations

The country

Sudan is the largest and one of the most diverse countries in the African continent, home to deserts, mountain ranges, swamps and rain forests. It has a population of just over 33 million. People living in the North of the country are predominantly Arab Muslims and the people living in the South are native Africans of more than one tribe. These Africans are either Christians or Animists.

Since independence in 1956 from Britain, Sudan has been at war, except for a period of 11 years between 1972-1983. The war has been between the Northern Arab Muslims and the Southern African Christians and Animists. Southern Sudan covers some 650,000 km2, the area of Uganda and Kenya rolled into one, and makes up more than half of the country.

Three themes continuously emerge during discussions with the articulate and determined people of southern Sudan. The first is that they are victims of a double apartheid: of race, because they are Africans, not Arabs, and of religion, because they are infidels or "kafirs" to the Muslims. The second is that agreements that were made with the Khartoum government have not been kept. And the third is that the rest of Africa is leaving them in the lurch by not showing solidarity and by not helping them to develop their human and other resources.

Southern Sudanese people share similar themes often raised by the Tamils of Sri Lanka. Tamils also complain that they are victims of a kind of a double apartheid: of race, because the Singhalese consider the Tamils as interlopers, and of religion, because the Singhalese consider Sri Lanka as a land designated by Buddha to preserve Buddhism. Buddhism remains the State religion in Sri Lanka. The second is that several agreements that were made by the Tamils with the Colombo government have not been kept. And the third is that India is leaving them in the lurch by not allowing its own South Indian Tamils to even show solidarity with the Sri Lankan-Tamils.

The armed conflict in Sudan

The civil war in Sudan began in 1962 when the Southern based rebels spearheaded by the Anya Anya movement fought a guerilla war with the Khartoum Government Security Forces (KGSF). The present leader of the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), Maj. Gen. John Garang had his first taste of guerrilla warfare with this Anya Anya movement.

In 1972 Khartoum government signed a deal with Anya Anya movement and the Southern Sudan became an autonomous region in a similar arrangement to the one that is under development in Bougainville Island of Papua New Guinea. The then Mr. Garang and other fighters were absorbed into the KGSF and moved to Khartoum. People of Sudan enjoyed a relative peace for the next 11 years under this arrangement.

Sharia law was imposed as the country's National Law in 1983 and this precipitated the present armed conflict by the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and other smaller groups of the south, which is inhabited by black African Christians and Animists, although they are divided into many different ethnic groups.

Maj. Gen. John Garang, who was an army officer then with KGSF, was sent by the Khartoum government to quell the rebellion by 500 KGSF mutineers in the south of the country. Instead of quelling the rebellion John Garang joined them and fought against the KGSF for the next 20 years to liberate his people from the Arab dominated rulers of the country. He became the leader of the rebels soon, and remains the commander in chief of the SPLA today.

Role of International community

The international community (IC) turned a blind eye to the Sudan conflict for a long time, like the way they have been ignoring the Conflict in Sri Lanka until recently. After the discovery of oil in southern Sudan in 1978, the IC, especially the US, to look after the interests of their oil companies, started showing keen interest in Sudan. Therefore when the conflict reignited in 1983, the US began to show interest.

Sudan's oil production has soared from almost nothing to a quarter-million barrels a day in only a decade, but the oil-fields are mostly in the south, which means that well-heads, pipe-lines and ports were all SPLA targets in the civil war. That's one reason that the US wanted an end to the fighting; the other is that the Christian right in America has taken up the cause of the Sudanese Christians.

However, one of the biggest obstacles to peace in Sudan has been American policy, which has been committed to overthrowing the government in Khartoum. It has basically promoted the war until recently. None other than former US President Jimmy Carter, now a re-known humanitarian worker, once acknowledged that the US policy was an obstacle to peace in Sudan. He once said in the Year 2000: "For the past eight years, the US has had a policy which I strongly disagree with on Sudan; supporting the revolutionary movement and not working for an overall peace settlement." Earlier, in 1999 Mr Carter had said: "The people in Sudan want to resolve the conflict. The biggest obstacle is the US government policy. The US is committed to overthrowing the government in Khartoum. Any sort of peace effort is aborted, basically by policies of the United States. Instead of working for peace in Sudan, the US government has basically promoted a continuation of the war."

The US took some punitive action itself against the Khartoum government including the bombing of a pharmaceutical plant under the disguise of bombing a factory making biological weapons. All this was done because of the fact that Khartoum was home for Bin Laden for a while in 1990's and his disciples bombed the US embassies in Nairobi and Tanzania. Because of this and Hamas and Islamic Jihad were operating from Sudan, US has also listed Sudan as a "State Sponsor of Terrorism."

SPLA has over the period managed to hold its ground and has in several instances scored surprisingly impressive victories. Its capture of Raga (similar to Tigers capturing the Elephant Pass Garrison), a strongly fortified government base in southwest Sudan in October 2001 is a case in point. Though the government later recaptured the town, the incident did send a strong message to Khartoum about the SPLA’s potential. Therefore, like the Sudanese protagonists, the US must also have realised (like the way they realised in the case of Sri Lankan conflict) that neither Khartoum nor the John Garang-led SPLA is capable of winning the 20-year-old war comprehensively. The US started to change its attitude towards this conflict.

Few can doubt that in the current unipolar world order, the global political and development agenda is determined not by the United Nations or other such international organisations, but by the US and her allies. With their awesome resources and their influence that permeates every corner of the globe, the latter can have virtually anything their way. The US started exerting pressure on both sides in the Sudanese conflict (like the way they have done in Sri Lanka) to negotiate a political settlement. The US also persuaded other Western nations with interest in either exploiting the oil resources or in conflict resolution exercise, to get involved in resolving this conflict.

Because both the Khartoum government and the SPLA also have realised by this time that neither of them could decisively win this war, they readily obliged to this request. Negotiations between the parties began in earnest with Kenya mediation. With the strong leadership of the Kenya mediator, Lt. Gen. Lazar Sumbeiywo, the two sides have overcome many hurdles. The international community wants peace and democracy in one state of Sudan as first prize. Sudan's neighbours, but also the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Norway and Canada (the same countries behind the Sri Lankan peace process), who are acting as international guarantors, want stability. They are observers at the peace talks that are presently going on. "Fink" Haysom, legal adviser to former president Nelson Mandela, also has played a key facilitation role.

The possible solution

Last year, both parties to this conflict agreed to an internationally monitored cease-fire in the Nuba Mountains region and to a civilian protection monitoring team to investigate attacks on civilians. In July 2002, they signed the Machakos Protocol, which resolved critical issues of state, religion and the right of Sudan's south to self-determination through a referendum after 6 years of interim arrangement. In October 2002, the two sides recommitted themselves to cooperate in providing unhindered humanitarian access to all areas of Sudan and to a cessation of hostilities. And just last month, the Naivasha Agreement resolved thorny security issues standing in the way of peace.

Under this agreement:


Posted October 29, 2003