Have Countries In Conflict Learned Anything From Sudan?
By S. V. Kirubaharan in France
I personally will be sad if Sudan splits. But at the same time I will be happy if we have peace in Sudan between the two sides … — Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir
“We will not be happy over the division of a large Islamic country… but if they eventually decide to divide Sudan, we will pursue balanced, respectful relations.”
— Ramin Mehmanparast Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman
There are regional institutions — European Union (EU), Council of Europe, African Union (AU) and Organisation of American States (OAS) — to maintain legal, economic, political and living standards. Though there are two known regional institutions in Asia (SAARC and ASEAN) so far there is no single institution for the whole of Asia.
Out of these regional institutions, only the AU charter pays attention to the right to self-determination — Article 20 of the Charter says “……They shall have the unquestionable and inalienable right to self- determination.”
Africa is one of the regions where there are many ongoing struggles for self-determination: Cabinda in the north of Angola, Biafra in the southeast of Nigeria, Casamance in the south of Senegal, Mthwakazi in Zimbabwe and a few others. Western Sahara has already been recognised by a few African states. Somaliland is waiting for recognition. Presently many decision-makers are beginning to think that ‘smaller units can be better’.
Sudan is the only country which has nine frontiers and the Red Sea as its 10th – Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo-DRC, Central African Republic-CAR, Chad and Libya.
In northern Sudan, there are Arab cultured Muslims. The southern region is black African, majority Christians alongside other religious beliefs. Both have many ethnic, tribal and language groups. The northern states cover most of Sudan and have a population of 22 million. The south has a population of about seven million and land that holds 80% of Sudan’s oil reserves.
Combined administration by Britain and Egypt
Sudan consists of many independent kingdoms. In 1820, Egypt conquered and annexed the north. From 1899 under a combined governing arrangement, Britain (mostly) and Egypt maintained an administration in Sudan. They governed the north and south separately until 1946. During this period northern Muslims were prevented from holding administrative positions in the south.
However, in 1946, the north and south were amalgamated by the British, with the usual pretext of administrative convenience. There was no consultation with the south. It was done purely to satisfy the north and Egypt.
Furthermore when the British were granting independence in January 1956, they did not consult the south. After independence most power was given to the northern elites, sowing seeds for more marginalisation and repressive measures to be metered out to the south. The Sudan Committee, created after independence included only six southern leaders, though there were 800 administrative positions. In 1955, Sudan failed to create a federal system, contrary to its promise to the British. Arabic was made the language of administration in the south.
In 1962, Christian schools in the south were closed and foreign missionaries were expelled. This fuelled a fully fledged civil war for 17 years (1955–1972), led by southern army officers. This war was purely over economic, political marginalisation and to safeguard the identity of south. During this period, many northern teachers, bureaucrats and officials serving in the south were massacred.
Any struggle in exercise of the right to self-determination is based on decolonisation, numerical majority vs numerical minority and it is often misunderstood. In every case, the numerical majority suppresses the other nations and brands them as a minority, so that they will not be qualified to demand self-determination.
Three coups d’etat and two civil wars
In Sudan there have been three (1958, 1969, 1971) coups d’etat and two (1955-1972, 1983-2005) civil wars since independence.
Mediation by the World Council of Churches – WCC and the All Africa Conference of Churches – AACC, ended the first civil war and the ‘Addis Ababa Agreement’ was signed in March 1972. This agreement granted autonomy for the south with various powers.
Fundamentalists in the north were always hostile to any possible viable political solution for the south. They ignored the contents of the Addis Ababa Agreement and in 1983 the Sudanese President declared Sudan an Islamic state and attempted to take control of oil fields on the north-south border. In 1993, all non-Muslim judges from the south were replaced with Muslim judges. Also Shari’a law was enforced in the south and other areas where non-Muslims were living.
Despite the fact that the Addis Ababa agreement was incorporated into the Sudanese constitution, the agreement was violated leading to the second civil war.
Soon afterwards, the Sudanese government abandoned the agreement. In 1983 the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and its political wing (Movement) were founded to establish an autonomous state for the south under a ‘united Sudan’. Blaming the Sudanese government policies was leading to ‘fragmentation’.
Thirteen political parties opposed to the Sudanese government formed a coalition party ‘National Democratic Alliance (NDA)’ in June 1989. In fact, the second civil war affected the whole of Sudan. It paved the way for a northeastern front to the civil war, defying the simplified view that it is a north-south conflict alone.
Due to continuous civil war, farming was paralysed, malnutrition and starvation were widespread. Education, health care and employment were weakened in the south. This led to the multiple displacement of four million southerners into the capital and neighbouring Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Egypt and other countries.
SPLA split into three factions
In August 1991, as within other freedom organisations, internal controversy ended with the SPLA being torn in three factions. The SPLA lost their credibility in the west. At the same time, the Sudanese pro-Iraqi position and horrendous human rights record, made US support international isolation of Sudan.
The SPLA, and its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was initially supported by Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda and Israeli, to overthrow the Sudanese Government and to install its opposition. According to a press report the US also provided some assistance to the SPLA.
Since 1993, leaders of Eastern African neighbours have pursued a peace initiative for Sudan. In 1994, the Declaration of Principles (DOP) identified the essential elements for a comprehensive peace settlement, including the right of self-determination for the south. As self-determination was mentioned in the declaration, Sudan didn’t sign the DOP, until the government forces lost in a major battle in 1997.
In 1998 when Eritrea and Ethiopia entered a border conflict and Uganda was paying more attention to the conflict in the DRC, these countries’ support to the SPLA was decreased.
In September 2001, US designated a presidential envoy for feasible Peace in Sudan. In October 2002, US accused Sudan of committing genocide, killing more than two million civilians in the south. Talks started between the SPLA and the Sudanese government. Eventually both parties signed an agreement in Nairobi on January 9, 2005. This led to formal recognition of autonomy for the south, which joined the government as part of the agreement, acquiring one-third of government positions. Under the agreement autonomy was allowed for six years in the south. When that period expired, the people of southern Sudan would be able to vote in a referendum on independence.
Due to alleged violations of the peace agreement, on October 11, 2007 the SPLA withdrew from the government.
Out-of-Country Voting (OCV)
As stated in the agreement of 2005, even though SLPA had withdrawn from the government, the referendum took place from January 9 to 15th, 2011.
The positive part of the referendum is that the ‘diaspora’ community of the south was allowed to take part in the voting from wherever they had sought refuge — known as ‘Out-of-Country Voting (OVC)’. They voted from Australia, Canada, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, United Kingdom, and United States. Southerners who were in the north in 16 states were also allowed to vote.
The condition of the referendum is that a turnout of over 60% is needed for the vote to be valid and 50% plus 1% vote is needed for independence. Failure to fulfil this condition would have resulted in the south remaining within a united Sudan.
According to the Chairman of the Referendum Commission the turnout of the voting surpassed 80% and more than 90 % voted in favour of independence.
It is obvious that South Sudan is going to be the 193rd member state of the UN. Will this new state have a new name or remain as ‘South Sudan’? Then, what will be the name for mainland Sudan? Will it remain as Sudan or will it be changed? These are puzzles that will be answered in the near future.
Western region Dafur
The Western region of Sudan is Darfur. As a result of marginalisation in power sharing and lack of equality for non Arabs, the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) were merged in January 2006 — ‘Alliance of Revolutionary Forces of West Sudan (ARFWS)’. At least 200,000 refugees fled across to Chad. The government of Chad joined with the ARFWS in countering Sudanese atrocities.
According to UN sources, up to 300,000 people have died in Darfur due to effects of war, disease and hunger. Like other governments, Sudan puts the death total at 10,000 and said that the situation is being exaggerated.
In March 2006, SLM was divided into two factions. One led by Abdul Wahid al-Nur, the founder of the SLA living in exile in Paris and the other one led by Minnawi. In May 2006, Minnawi’s faction signed the Darfur Peace Accord with the government of Sudan. But the conflict is still ongoing.
International human rights organisations and the US have said that genocide took place in Darfur and a UN investigation team concluded in 2005 that war crimes had been committed in Darfur.
Like in other countries, the Sudan government has also announced trials for some members of the security forces suspected of abuses. But this is viewed as a counter-mechanism to challenge attempts to get suspects tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
In March 2009, an international arrest warrant was served by the ICC to the Sudanese President, Omar Bashir.
The Eastern Sudan region is divided into three states — Red Sea, Kassala and Al-Qadarif. National resources of this region are oil, gas, gold and vast uncultivated land with five million inhabitants.
Sudan’s unequal distribution of oil profits has caused turmoil since 1994. Easterners demanded better representation in the composition of the national government. The rebel group known as ‘Eastern Front’ was strengthened with the support of Eritrea from 2005. Anyhow in 2006 Eritrea brought the Sudanese government and the Eastern Front to the negotiating table. Eventually both signed a peace agreement in Eritrea in October 2006. This peace agreement covers power sharing at federal and regional level, wealth sharing and security issues.