POLITICS MARCH 5, 2009
From: Alex de WaalTo: Richard Just, Eric Reeves, Elizabeth Rubin, Alan Wolfe
In the last four years, a lot went right in Sudan. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement was generally respected. Its key provisions have been implemented imperfectly and behind schedule, with numerous relapses, but nonetheless the majority of Sudanese have experienced real peace for the first time in a generation. After the slaughter and famine of Darfur in 2003-04, the level of violence in that still-troubled region has dropped to about 150 violent fatalities per month, about half of them attributable to the Sudan government, while a vast humanitarian operation has helped ensure no return to outright famine. The massive crimes of 2003-04 remain unremedied, but remedies cannot be found until there is a peace agreement for Darfur--and despite quite significant efforts, that hasn't happened yet. Progress toward political liberalization in Khartoum has been frustratingly slow, but real nonetheless.
Much could go wrong in the next four years. The biggest disaster in the making would be a contested partition of the country. Most state partitions involve serious political traumas and human rights abuses, ranging from the forced removal of peoples who find themselves on the "wrong" side of the new border to outright war, the further fragmentation of the partitioned country, the emergence of bitter and unstable governments on one or both sides of the divide, and the involvement of neighbors in a regionalized armed conflict.
The referendum on self-determination for Southern Sudan is scheduled for January 2011. This is the most important event in Sudan's history as an independent nation. There is a vast amount of political business to transact in less than two years if this is to be conducted in a consensual and orderly manner, and its outcome respected. Unless agreements are reached on the census and the voters' roll, on the border, on the disputed district of Abyei, on sharing oil revenues, on the Nile waters, on the access to grazing, water, and markets of pastoral groups that straddle the internal border, on the status of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-aligned populations in the North, on the citizenship rights of Southerners in the North and Northerners in the South, on the standing of the SPLM as a political party in the North while it controls the government in an independent South, and a host of other issues, then the partition is likely to be contested. To expect an outcome similar to Quebec or Czechoslovakia is wishful thinking.
Many Southern leaders believe that the U.S. is the guarantor of their right to secede and the security of an independent Southern Sudan. Whether we like it or not, there is an element of truth in this.
The Obama administration should focus on a single priority for Sudan during the next four years: ensuring that the right of self-determination for Southern Sudan is exercised in a consensual, orderly, and legitimate manner. Everything else should be secondary and supportive to that. Let me underline: everything. The President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, has indicated that the ICC arrest warrant against President Omar Al Bashir is a threat to the successful completion of the CPA. The U.S. should follow President Salva's advice and set aside the court's arrest warrant.
Alex de Waal, co-author of Darfur: A New History of a Long War, runs the blog Making Sense of Darfur.
By Alex de Waal, Richard Just, Eric Reeves, Elizabeth Rubin, and Alan Wolfe