January 2006

The African Union Summit meeting this week in Khartoum has brought Sudan less reason for satisfaction than its leadership expected. The choice of the venue had a reason. Sudan is since fifty years a sovereign and independent nation-state. It was the first African country gaining its independence in the struggle against the colonial powers. This Summit could have been a major opportunity for the African nations to reflect upon their history after decolonization and to look forward. That opportunity was missed. In the speeches reference was made to an African Renaissance, but it was not defined. Is there such a Renaissance? Or should African nations strive towards it? Would this imply more than a focus on culture and education - the main theme of the Summit - or would it require political change, governance reform, peace, democracy, poverty reduction, an inclusive approach towards minorities in society?

Where is the decolonization dividend? There is such a dividend, undoubtedly, though not in those countries that fell back into violent domestic conflicts after having gained independence. In other countries the question is legitimate who has benefited most of that dividend. Was it the elite, clinging to positions? Were it the leaders, jockeying for power, ready to fight each other? Was it the new middle class, enjoying privileges and keeping these for them selves, excluding the masses? To which extent have the poor people in the slums of the cities and the farmers in the rural areas seen an improvement in there daily life in the half century following decolonization? It is a legitimate question at the occasion of a Summit dedicated to a reflection on the victory fifty years ago. Without posing such questions, let alone trying to address them, talk about an African Renaissance becomes a little hollow.

Such questions are particular relevant for Sudan. Its history of the last fifty years is tragic. Too many internal disputes, too many military coups, too much violence, too much war, too much inequality and deprivation, too many violations of human rights. Much conflict may be inevitable in the start up of a new nation state, but what happened in Sudan went beyond this. It may have been understandable in a state with boundaries drawn by the colonial powers and with a multitude of different tribes and ethnicities on its territory - many of which could have been nations themselves - but in Sudan hardly any effort had been made to unite on the basis of constitutional principles of equity and justice. The exhibition set up in the Presidential Palace to inform the guests of the African Unity about the history of Sudan made us painfully aware of the chances missed.

Darfur offers the last example. For many others in Africa this is a bridge too far. In many African nations similar violent civil wars have been fought. However, half a century after decolonization many of these belong to the past. So we hope. However, in Darfur that perspective is absent. Many Africans despise in particular what they perceive as racial discrimination. They see the terror and the killings in Darfur as a war of Arabs against Africans. In Khartoum this is being denied, time and again. It is true that the conflict has many dimensions - ecological, resources, tribal, historic, political or economic - but undoubtedly the Arab attitude towards Africans has played an important role. In the corridors of the Summit African participants made a comparison with Apartheid. If there is any concept not in harmony with an African Renaissance, it is Apartheid.

AMIS troops on parade in Geneina

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Photo: Paula Souverijn-Eisenberg (c)

It meant that Sudan had no chance to get the Presidency of the African Union. The government had lobbied for the Presidency. This seemed logical, because it is customary, though not a rule, that the host of a Summit would hold the Presidency until the next Summit. However, many African countries had already sent signals that they would not favor Sudan in this position. I had reasons to believe that the signals had been understood and that Sudan would not insist. Anyway, that was the message from a high level given to me before I left Khartoum to address the Security Council in New York. However, upon my return I found out that the Sudanese authorities had changed their mind. They had continued to lobby for President Beshir and did so until the Summit itself and also during the deliberations. It became the most important subject during the Summit, overshadowing all other issues.

A decision to make Sudan the President would have made it impossible for the African Union to continue as an impartial mediator of the peace talks in Abuja. Also the credibility of the African Union peace force in Darfur, as an independent monitor of cease fire violations and as a deterrent of militia and Janjaweed attacks against the population, would be lost. The Darfur rebel movements would no longer accept the African Union in those roles. So, the decision to award another country - Congo Brazzaville - with the Presidency was inevitable and wise.

Those in Khartoum who persisted in the candidacy have done the President a disservice. It was a lost case from the very beginning and Sudan lost the prestige which it had gained by hosting the Summit. In terms of substance this Summit, which could have become a landmark, was a non-event. It will not be noted in the Annals of the African Union. Contrary to the intentions of the Sudanese government the Darfur conflict became a prominent theme. African countries made clear that President Beshir would not be elected as President of the African Union because of Darfur. The compromise was that Sudan would get an opportunity next year, on the condition of peace in Darfur.

One could say that willy-nilly the campaigners did the people of Sudan a service. Assuming that next year the government of Sudan will campaign again and that it does not wish to risk another defeat, it may change its policy and stop the militia, while negotiating more seriously in Abuja. If so, this Summit will yet turn out having made a contribution to peace in Darfur.
One year after its signing in Nairobi on 9 January 2005 the peace agreement between the Government of Sudan and the Southern Liberation Movement SPLM is on track. In Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan, very well attended festivities took place to commemorate the event. I could not participate, because I had to travel the same evening to New York for a meeting of the United Nations Security Council. I had hoped to be able to attend similar festivities in Khartoum, but to my disappointment they had been called off. There was one exception, a music festival for college students, organised by the UN. We listened to two singers, Emmanuel Jal and Abdelhabir Salem. Abdelhabir Salem is a well known Northern Sudanese artist, singing folk songs and songs about actual themes. Emmanuel Jal is a former child soldier from the South who went to England as a refugee, where he has become famous as a rap singer. It was his first performance in Sudan and the audience was thrilled. In particular the peace duets by Emmanuel and Abdelhabir, who had never met each other before but were able to sing and improvise together, each in his own style, were a beautiful example of the dream behind the peace agreement: two systems, one country.

Will that spirit prevail? In my address to the Security Council I gave a cautious answer: on both sides people want peace to stay, but on either side people are suspicious that the other side is not serious. On neither side there is an effort to bridge the confidence gap. On the contrary, the leaders in both Khartoum and in Juba seem allow a drifting apart of the North and the South. There is no fighting and the drifting apart is not irreversible. However, if the present trend continues the unity of Sudan will not be considered the most attractive option in the referendum of 2011, when the people in the South will have to choose between unity or separation. Their right to choose for separation is enshrined in the peace agreement. It will have to be guaranteed by the international community. However, will we be able to keep the peace if if they exercise that right?

I fear for a return to war. In the meantime we will have to redouble our efforts to stop the war in West Sudan. In Darfur the peace strategy has failed. In my address to the Security Council I said that so far we had not done more than picking up the pieces and muddling through. Not everybody appreciated this judgement, but we should not deny the facts. Three years after the beginning of the war in Darfur more than two million people live in camps without any perspective on a meaningful life. Outside these camps the terror and the killings continue. The peace talks that should bring an end to this are stalemated. For this reason I asked for a reconsideration of the strategy.

Such a reconsideration took place last week in Addis Ababa. On 12 January the Peace and Security Council of the African Union decided to support a transition of the African Union peace mission Darfur towards the United Nations. The United Nations Security Council has yet to react. But in their meeting on 13 January most members of the Security Council seemed to be willing to consider this option very seriously. Many questions will have to be addressed. The African Union peace force has done its utmost to contain the violence, but it was too small and it lacked the resources to be fully effective. Is there any guarantee that a UN force will be big and strong enough to be more sucessful? What should be the mandate of such a force: chapter 6 - that means with the agreement of the parties - or chapter 7, which implies an effort to enforce peace from outside? Will Sudan accept such a force? The first reaction from Khartoum was negative. Will that also be its final reaction, or will the Sudanese authorities conclude that in the present circumstances this may be the only way to reach peace? Are all parties seriously interested in peace?

AMIS forces in Darfur

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Photo: Paula Souverijn-Eisenberg (c)

We are yet far from a political breakthrough. In the coming weeks much diplomatic and political wisdom and skills will be required, in New York, Addis, Khartoum, Juba, Abuja and in the capitals of the member countries of the Security Council and the countries which will be asked to contribute troops. The outcome of this political debate is uncertain. But it is already positive that the character of that debate has changed, last week. Nobody can close the eyes anymore or lean backwards. All parties concerned, within Sudan as well as outside, will have to make a choice: to continue business as usual or to change the strategy.

I am writing this in Washington, where I discussed with US government officials at the State Department, the White House and the National Security Council the contribution of the United States to the work of the United Nations and the African Union in Sudan. Tomorrow I will fly to Brussels for similar discussions with NATO. I keep arguing: the important question is not who is in charge, the AU or the UN, but what is done on the ground to guarantee peace? It is high time to translate words, criticisms and promises into effective action."
Shortly after New Year I went to Abuja to attend the Darfur peace talks again. I had hoped that this would not be necessary, because we had set a deadline. The objective was to end the talks with a peace agreement ultimately 31 December 2005. The parties had explicitly committed themselves to work towards this end in their opening speeches at the beginning of the seventh round of the negotiations. However, they failed.

In Abuja it seemed as if the parties did not really care. It was as if nobody had noticed that the deadline had been passed. The atmosphere was good, but there was no sense of urgency. The parties talk and stay in one hotel, not very big, on a 24/7 basis. There are many informal contacts in the corridors and between the official talks. The language has become civilized, without the harsh personal accusations which had characterized the confrontations during earlier rounds. The parties had quickly learned negotiating techniques and apply these diligently, bracketing texts, asking for internal consultations, questioning the agenda, mixing procedures and substance, rephrasing terms without changing positions, and so on. The negotiators talk, but don’t make progress. “If we pursue in this pace, we can continue another year or two”, one of the observers said.

The chair of the negotiations, Salim Salim, the former Secretary General of the African Union, has been able to bring order and discipline into the talks. The Darfur rebel movements, while opposing each other in the ground in Darfur, have agreed to work together in Abuja. They present common positions, but these turn out to be more or less non-negotiable. Salim has not been able to prevent that negotiators come and go, taking long breaks for Christmas and for Eid as well as for visits to Libya and Chad. The talks on the most important chapter, the security arrangements, so far only focused on the formulation of the agenda. It can hardly be expected that the other chapters, power and wealth sharing, can be closed without agreement on security. Such an agreement would also imply consensus about the future of the movements themselves. Can their army stay or will it be integrated into the Government army? Will they disarm without previous or at least parallel disarmament of the Arab militia and the Janjaweed? Will they accept cantonment? For them such questions are of an existential character. The Government has insisted on the full implementation of the D’Jamena cease fire agreement of May 2005. Indeed, but the Government army has also violated the cease fire. A full implementation of the D’Jamena cease fire agreement would be a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for peace. The militia were not a party to the cease fire and have continued to attack villages. Did they do so with support from the army? The government denies this, but African Union monitors have reported otherwise. The cease fire has to be kept. However, lasting stability and sustained security require a better agreement, with obligations for all armed parties, with strong and pro-active international monitoring and with sanctions in case of non-compliance.

I left Abuja quite disappointed. The least the parties could do is to commit themselves to stop the clock. The deadline of 31 December has not been met, but the other objective, to reach an agreement before the end of the seventh round, is still within reach. It was envisaged that the seventh round would ultimately end on New Year’s eve. The parties would gain credibility if they would announce to continue talking relentlessly, without adjourning for another round later this year. Stop the clock, imagine that it is still 31 December 2005. If not, parties would show that they do not really care for the people they claim to represent.

In my view the international community should not accept that there is still no peace agreement on Darfur. It is high time to draw the conclusion that the strategy which has been followed so far has failed. It should be reviewed and changed. The fate of about three million war affected people, of which more than two million live in camps, requires more than lip service and muddling through.
I went to Kassala, earlier this week, a city in East Sudan, close to the border with Eritrea. Kassala lies at the foot of a mountain shaped in the form of a huge sleeping camel in the middle of the desert, an unforgettable image.

View of part of the mountains just outside of Kassala

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Photo: Paula Souverijn-Eisenberg (c)

East Sudan is full of conflict. It is poorer than Darfur. Like in Darfur and in South Sudan, many people in East Sudan feel neglected by Khartoum. The area was disputed between the Government and the Southern liberation movement, SPLM. There are still SPLM troops in Eastern Sudan. According to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed in Nairobi a year ago, they will have to be redeployed to the South before 9 January. Thereafter the Government army (the Sudanese Armed Forces, SAF) can move in. However, there is also a conflict between the Government and some Eastern rebel movements, which joined their forces into the so-called Eastern Front. The Front, which had close connections with the SPLM, has announced that it will attack the SAF as soon as the army tries to fill the void resulting from SPLM withdrawal. That would imply a resumption of the fighting, after the gentlemen's agreement not to attack each other, which was brought about last year in informal discussions by the UN with each party separately. The objective was to transform these informal discussions into 'talks about talks' and later into peace talks proper. Both parties had agreed to such a procedure, but in October they announced that they had accepted a Libyan offer to mediate the talks. The sidelining of the UN meant that the parallel approach between the talks and the redeployment of SPLM was lost. The talks, to be facilitated by Libya, have not yet started. It will never be possible to get an agreement before the crucial date of 9 January.

This weekend the Sudanese Government and the SPLM agreed to postpone the redeployment with one month. This is a wise decision. If the time will be used effectively an escalation of the conflict can be avoided. However, there is a third conflict: between the Eastern movements themselves. The two strongest movements, together forming the Eastern Front, are of a tribal character. One of the movements, the Beja Congress, has its stronghold within the oldest tribe, the Beja. The other, the so-called Free Lions, finds its basis in particular amongst the Rashaida, a tribe which is said to have come to Eastern Sudan less than two centuries ago. The tribes and the movements had had their disputes, but seemed to have become rather united after they had realized that other opposition movements in Sudan had neglected the interests of the people in the east. However, last week the Rashaida reached a separate agreement with the government, which greatly upset their partners in the Eastern Front. Statements by the government and the Rashaida that this was nothing more than a technical reconfirmation of some old agreements were met with disbelief by the Beja, who were suspicious that land claims - one of the major sources of conflict in both East and west Sudan - by the Rashaida had been granted by the Government. Thereupon the Beja announced not to be willing anymore to go to Tripolis, because they had lost their confidence in Libya as an impartial mediator.

It is the old Sudanese story of spontaneous and manipulated splits within movements either fighting or negotiating together, thereby strengthening the position of their adversary, the Government. It has happened often in the South, where SPLM saw the emergency of a number of split factions. They were partly due to tribal conflict, partly to personal power ambitions. Often they were orchestrated by the Government, promising money and positions. A similar pattern we see in Darfur with recent splits in the two main movements, SLA and JEM. Last year the leader of the Eastern Front had told me that he would not wish to make the same mistakes as the movements in Darfur. That is exactly what has happened.

East Sudan is suffering from a fourth conflict too. The region has a border with Eritrea. Despite some recent cooling off, there is much tension between the two countries, after armed conflicts in the not so distant past. Both countries harbor refugees from their neighbor. Both accuse the other of supporting rebel movements across the border with arms, money and refuge. Any escalation of this conflict would have consequences for the security and stability in East Sudan. Both the Eastern Front and the SPLM have always enjoyed hospitality within Eritrea.

The most contested part of East Sudan is the region Hameskoreib, which is controlled by SPLM and the Eastern Front. It is of strategic importance, not only because it borders Eritrea, but also because the main road between Khartoum and the harbor of Port Sudan is very near. The present economic boom of Sudan and its newly won position as oil exporting country make Port Sudan of crucial importance to the country as a whole, including the South.

Last but not least the increased tension between Ethiopia and Eritrea may result in a third war between these countries in four decades. This too would have major consequences for their common neighbor, and in particular East Sudan. UN agencies have already started preparations for a massive inflow of refugees

So far the rebels have denied access to Hameskoreib to the UN. Humanitarian assistance to the people in that region is necessary, but it could not be provided. This part of Sudan cannot be entered from Sudanese territory itself, but only through Eritrea. I visited Kassala to discuss the possibility of access by the UN, together with the Government and SPLM. We hope to launch such a joint mission in a week or two. This could catalyze the peace process in the East, provided that wisdom would prevail at all sides. If not, a conflict with proportions similar to that in Darfur could result.

The Nepali contigent in Kassala, which, shortly after writing this weblog, gained access to Hameskoreib en is now conducting regular patrols there together with the Government and SPLM.

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Photo: Paula Souverijn-Eisenberg (c)