December 2005

Half a century ago, on 31 December 1955, Sudan became independent. It was the first African country getting its independence after decolonization. In Africa only South Africa, Egypt, Ethiopia and Liberia had stayed more or less independent during the colonial era. That is why the Sudanese Independence Day is not only important for Sudan itself, but also for Africa as a whole. It heralds the beginning of a process that took about twenty years, ending with the independence of the former Portugese colonies in the mid seventies of the last century. Next month the African Union will have its Summit meeting in Khartoum. The venue of the conference was chosen in particular to commemorate the event, fifty years ago, which was so significant for the continent as a whole. It will be a unique opportunity to look both backward and forward.

Today I attended the Sudanese Independence Day commemoration ceremony. In his speech, delivered in the garden of his palace, President Bashir did indeed look both backward and forward. He praised the leaders of the movements which had fought for independence from the Anglo-Egyptian colonial regime. He took pride in the history of Sudan, long before the colonial oppression, and in the Sudanese culture.

The Sudanese can be proud indeed. There is hardly any country in the world which can point towards such a long history as Sudan. The first time I visited the National Museum in Khartoum, about thirty years ago, I was surprised to see beautiful pottery, older than what I had seen before in Egyptian musea. As a European, coming from a country with a history hardly longer than two millennia, I became quite modest when confronted with artifacts which had been crafted six to seven millennia ago. Sudan, and in particular North Sudan, has seen the rise and fall of empires and civilizations, wars and climatic changes, invasions from abroad. It has survived all that. This may explain the Sudanese attitude towards present conflicts and threats. Sudanese leaders, whatever region or tribe they belong to, display confidence in their own strength and do never haste. They seem to believe: 'history shows: time is on our side'.

In Meroe, 3 hours North of Khartoum, ancient buildings are testimony of past civilizations

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Photo's: Paula Souverijn-Eisenberg (c)

In his speech President Bashir, however, was wise enough to draw some other lessons from history. The long term trend may be positive, but it is characterized by sharp fluctuations, often due to internal strife, and resulting in mass suffering and death. That has been the case during the age old history of Sudan, and again after decolonization. Why has Sudan been less successful than other countries, which got their independence later and were less gifted by nature? In his speech Bashir asked that question and he gave the answer himself: 'because we fought wars, right from the beginning, directly after having become an independent nation'.

The war between North and South Sudan is behind us. It lasted about four decades. Nearly one year before the fiftieth anniversary of Sudan as an independent state a Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in Nairobi, on 9 January 2005. Since then the implementation of that agreement has proceeded well. Of course there were delays and misunderstandings, but one year later we can be optimistic: peace is here to stay.

But peace is indivisible. Peace between North and South will not hold if the war in Darfur continues. Bashir admitted this in his speech and committed himself again towards a policy which should result in peace throughout the country. He went further than this and committed himself also to a battle against poverty, to the Millennium Development Goals, to sustainable development, to a policy which would not trade renewable resources such as land and water against oil. He also committed himself towards human rights and freedoms, to respect for cultural diversity and to a parliamentary democracy within which the opposition would have full constitutional rights, provided that the opposition would be 'responsible'. That last condition was the only questionable remark in a speech in which all the right things were said.

Was it a speech for the outside world, politically correct, in order to regain a place for Sudan in the international community, in the second half of the first century after independence? Perhaps. Bashir alluded to this himself: Sudan should do everything to avoid further marginalization in this period of globalization. However, that is not a bad thing. If leaders realize that the future of their nation requires a full commitment towards peace and sustainable development, if only because when they don't they will be punished by the global market, there is room for policies based on notions of enlightened self-interest. History has proven that this can be a strong basis.

In the year behind us I have listened to quite a few speeches of Bashir. In most of them he made similar commitments. His speech on the occasion of the inauguration of the new Presidency in July gave all of us hope that we would now indeed see the beginning of the New Sudan. His speech one month later, at the funeral of John Garang, his former adversary who had become the First Vice President of that New Sudan, was a historic pledge to continue on the road towards full and indivisible peace, together with the Garangs successor, Salve Kiir. Bashir is a good speaker, able to inspire by finding the right words as well as the right tone. But in 2006 these words will have to be translated into reality. In Sudan the gap between promises and facts has been tremendous. Abel Alier, one of Garangs predecessors, characterized the history of Sudan since its independence as “too many agreements dishonoured”. To reverse that tendency is one of the most important challenges ahead.

I had to leave Abuja in the middle of the talks. My father passed away at the age of 96. I returned to The Netherlands to attend his funeral. We organised a special service in the Oude Kerk (The Old Church) in Scheveningen, the village where he was born. During the service I delivered an address in his memory. He had been a schoolteacher, the whole of his life. In my speech I paid tribute to his teaching. He loved his profession and enjoyed the classroom.

See below his picture, together with our grand-daughter Carolina, one of his great-grandchildren.
The picture was made some months ago.

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The seventh round of the Abuja talks started earlier this month. I was present during the opening session and became a bit more optimistic. Our Nigerian host, Minister Adeneji of Foreign Affairs, brought the message from President Obasanjo that we were welcome again, but that he invited us to visit other places in his country: “Make this the last round and come back as tourists or otherwise”. All speakers committed themselves to do their utmost to finalise the talks before the end of this year. This promise was made also by the Government of Sudan and by the rebel movements. The latter had defined a common platform: one common negotiation team for the two wings of the SLM and close cooperation with the other movement, the JEM, in order to reach a common position on the substantive agenda items. Pressure by the international partners, notably the USA, Libya, Chad and Eritrea - an interesting coalition - had turned out to be successful in a last preparatory meeting in D'Jamena. Abdul Wahid and Minnie Minawi could not agree who should speak on behalf of the SLM - neither wanted the other to take the floor, in order to prevent legitimation - but a way out was found by letting JEM speak on behalf of all. It was a pragmatic solution, revealing a certain flexibility of the two adversaries who hitherto had been uncompromising. However, it meant also a weakening of SLM in relation to JEM.

I had to return to Khartoum. When I came back to Abuja a week later some progress had been made in the talks. That was not yet the case for the important agenda item concerning wealth sharing. The war started because of feelings of utter neglect of the people of Darfur by the regime in Khartoum. Of years budgetary allocations for the social and economic development of Darfur had been brought back to approximately nil. In order to address the causes of the war questions concerning income and wealth should figure prominently on the agenda of the talks. Constructive preparatory workshops have been held. But there is still a lot to do: what about land and water resources? What about oil? How much money will the government make available for Darfur? What about foreign aid? For South Sudan a joint effort has been made (Government, SPLM, donors) to design a common development program and to fund this together. Can something similar be organised for the development of Darfur? Whose development? And who is going to take the decisions?

Many parts of Sudan are amongst the poorest in Africa

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Photo: Paula Souverijn-Eisenberg (c)

The last questions provides a link between the chapter on wealth sharing with the second chapter: “sharing of power”. Here some progress had been made in the talks so far. However, it became clear that the relative stronger position of the JEM had resulted in a sharper focus of the movements on questions of power in Khartoum than in Darfur itself. Whether or not Khartoum remains the sole national capital, or whether or not the function of Vice-President of Sudan, next to Salve Kiir and Taha, will be reserved for a Darfurian - two questions raised in particular by the JEM -, does not have a direct impact on the lot of the people of Darfur themselves. Neither does a dispute about the frontiers of Darfur. To decide on Darfur as a region, a superstructure of the three states North, South and West Darfur, a strong claim by the movements, is only relevant if more democratic decision making within the new region will be ensured. That requires a focus on internal Darfurian issues: elections, a council, the allocation of power between legislative, executive and judiciary authorities, tribal relations, democratisation, human rights, reconciliation, etcetera. The discussions about these issues have hardly started. The peace talks in Abuja should not be expected to go into details about such issues. These should be reserved for the Darfur-Darfur dialogue that could start after the peace talks and include many other parties, such as tribes that so far have not taken side in the war and civil society. However, some broad framework should be agreed upon between the belligerent parties, in order to ensure that the fighting stops. A guaranteed and permanent ceasefire is the minimum one should achieve in the Abuja talks. Otherwise the Darfur-Darfur dialogue would risk an early breakdown due to a renewed outbreak of the fights.

This brings me to the third chapter of the agenda: security. Strangely enough as yet this subject has hardly been touched. It is also worth noticing that, in so far as security issues were discussed, it is again the JEM that calls the tune. The JEM is much smaller and weaker on the ground than the SLM. Its ground force is estimated to be less than 2,000 combatants, against over 30,000 in SLM. Minnie Minawi has claimed to give the highest priority to security issues on the agenda, before power and wealth sharing. How serious is such a claim in the light of the relative strengths of the movements?

Light weapons are abundant in Darfur, and pose security threats to the population

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Photo: Paula Souverijn-Eisenberg (c)

Some negotiators and observers expect that the causes of the war should be addressed and solved first. In their view security can wait. The parties, having solved the main issues, would then be less inclined to continue fighting, so that the security issue will solve itself. There is some logic in this reasoning. However, the North-South peace talks in Nairobi, which resulted in a peace agreement at the end of 2004, could only get of the ground after a well observed cease fire had been reached. One could expect something similar in Darfur. Moreover, presently most victims result from attacks by parties that are not represented at the negotiation table in Abuja: Arab militia, Janjaweed fighters and recent new or split off rebel movements. By now it is clear that neither the SLM nor the Government is willing or able to stop these movements, let alone disarm them. Also for that reason it is highly necessary to reach an agreement with regard to security issues soon. This would enable either party to face these movements without being thwarted by the other. It would also open the door for a joint approach, such as in the South, where Joint Integrated Units are being formed, consisting of combatants of both the army and the SPLA.

This requires that the talks concerning violations of the fragile ceasefire reached in D'Jamena in May 2004 should be followed up by negotiations, here in Abuja, concerning future security arrangements. Important questions which will have to be addressed include the transparency of troop locations and troop movements; their monitoring by impartial military observers; the possibility of cantonment, disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of former combatants; the protection of displaced people in and around the camps as well as of returning refugees; the undoing of the occupation of villages whose inhabitants had been killed or chased away and the protection of villages against new attacks by militia that try to cleanse whole areas. Last but not least, parties will have decide to which extent all this should be guaranteed with the help of a robust and effective force from outside.

This IDP camp in Gereida has grown to approx. 90,000 people (March '06) as villages in the areas continue to be attacked

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Photo: Paula Souverijn-Eisenberg (c)

In my view this is crucial. After all the killings the people of Darfur will never thrust the Sudanese army or its police. In the future a new generation may again gain confidence in the institutions of the Sudanese state, but the present generation needs a protection guarantee from abroad. If not, violence will continue, from both sides. Whatever the outcome of the talks in Abuja may be, a cease fire and a peace agreement will only hold in combination with effective and lasting international protection.

Will it be possible to agree on a framework peace agreement answering all the questions mentioned above before the end of this year? That was the objective. In the opening session of this last round of the talks parties committed themselves towards this end. However, so much still has to be done that I am afraid that they will not succeed. The worst is that the closer parties approach the finish, the more they seem to loose their sense of urgency.

Please see attached some pictures taken during my recent visits to Darfur, where I had discussions with representatives of the Sudan Liberation Movement.

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Mostly such meetings take place somewhere in the field, for instance under a tree or in a tent.

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We fly by helicopter. The coordinates of the meeting place are made known to the pilots. Just before take off, in order to prevent attacks by government forces or by militia.

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Some meetings are attended by a few leaders only, others by large groups of combatants and villagers.