February 15, 2010
The coming 12 months are crucial in Sudan, with two historic deadlines on the horizon: the elections due in April 2010 and the referendum on the status of Southern Sudan in 2011 to determine whether it will become an independent state or stay united with Khartoum.
These two events are the leading benchmarks of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), signed in 2005 between the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M), which ended the war between North and South Sudan and is due to expire in July 2011.
During these years, many of the provisions which had to be implemented have suffered considerable delays or have not been realised, compromising the future of relations between Northern and Southern Sudan. The upcoming elections comprise national presidential elections, the presidency of the government of Southern Sudan, gubernatorial, national legislative and state legislative elections.
They were initially scheduled for 2008, in order to have a democratically-elected government in place to implement state reforms, improve governance and make unity of the country attractive for the southern Sudanese population. The referendum is most likely to result in secession of the South after five years of frustration over the implementation of the provisions of the CPA.
The European Union is closely following the evolution of the situation as the current events could lead to a resumption of the conflict between North and South that in the past claimed two million lives and displaced four million persons in the region and abroad.
Although the conflict in Darfur is still not solved and there are other dormant conflicts in the East, Kordofan, Blue Nile, Nuba mountains and the North, resumption of the North–South conflict would have dire consequences. The instability of Sudan means instability for the region and possible fuelling of other regional conflicts, with significant security and humanitarian consequences.
During the negotiations for the CPA, the urgency of finally signing a peace agreement eclipsed the unfolding of a bloody counterinsurgency offensive in Darfur, which since 2003 has resulted in the deaths of two to three hundred thousand people, the internal displacement of almost three million people (1/3 of the population of the area), and the displacement of another two hundred thousand across the border to Chad. Retrospectively it has been argued that at the time there was a need for a global solution, and that focusing only on the war between the North and the South was a mistake that permitted the development of another conflict. Today, there is a temptation to revisit history, and to take advantage of the final days of the CPA, to have a holistic approach to problems in Sudan.
Currently four scenarios can be envisaged for Southern Sudan post-2011: forced unity, forced secession, agreed unity and agreed secession. While the first two will certainly lead to the resumption of war between North and South, agreed unity may result in the implosion of the South. The scenario for agreed secession, the most likely option if the referendum is respected, has to be closely accompanied by coherent and unified approach of the international community in order to ensure a viable transition.
For the past five years, implementation of the provisions of the CPA has been delayed and within the next 12 months, Sudan’s future as a country will be decided. Before the expiry of the CPA in July 2011 and bearing in mind the high risk of the resumption of hostilities, we are faced with the following choices:
1. To seek a global solution to Sudan’s conflicts, by negotiating an additional protocol for the CPA, which would allow for the postponement of national elections by six months to a year. Within this timeframe, a permanent ceasefire would be put in place in Darfur, allowing for the inclusion of Darfur’s population in the elections. There would have to be a change in the laws to provide for free and fair elections, and allow for post-2011 referendum arrangements. This would have to be ensured by a coherent and unified international community approach.
This option, although desirable, depends on too many probably unattainable parameters. The negotiation of an additional protocol for a postponement of elections does not bring any advantage to either signatory of the CPA.
First of all, the NCP will not favour measures that are likely to strengthen opposition to the electoral process, or create the environment for free and fair elections. The results of the census have been widely contested as underestimating the Southern Sudanese population. It has already worked on sidelining the possibility for IDPs in Darfur to vote and the National Election Commission (NEC) has modified constituencies in the region to favour Arab tribes loyal to the NCP . Furthermore, if elections were postponed and the needed reforms were carried out to ensure the conduct of free and fair elections, the NCP would lose control of the security apparatus. Finally, if free and fair elections are carried out, and the NCP does not enter into an alliance with the SPLM or a major Northern party, it would lose these elections. The NCP sees winning the April elections as a way of legitimising itself and protecting President Bashir and associated members of the government currently sought by international justice.
The SPLM is mostly concerned about the timely implementation of the referendum. Additional delays will be seen as threatening this process. However, it seems that now that the SPLM does not have a national agenda for Sudan, the importance of national elections has diminished.
The proposed dates of postponemen,: November 2010 or July 2011, are not feasible for logistical reasons as both dates fall during the rainy season, leaving large parts of the population outside the process.
Regarding Darfur, the endless negotiations are far from reaching a conclusion. The multiplicity of actors in the conflict and their divergent views on a peace process complicate it even further. Linking presidential elections to a lasting peace agreement in Darfur may postpone the elections indefinitely. In this respect, linking the referendum to the elections would be unacceptable for the South, who may resort to a unilateral declaration of independence.
Finally, the requisite of having a unified international community (IC) approach on so many aspects seems unrealistic, unless there is considerable support. The interests and relations between Sudan and the so-called international community diverge greatly, and without such a unified approach it would be impossible to ensure that Khartoum’s position becomes more flexible.
By trying to achieve too many objectives at the same time, we may end up losing them all. A decision needs to made on priorities and on which of these priorities there will be no compromise.
2. To address issues separately, to continue with the elections timeframe, to support the 2011 referendum and to focus on post-2011 referendum arrangements. Separately, to work on the negotiation of a Darfur ceasefire and peace agreement, and advance from there on the preparation of a conducive environment for the next elections. This implies a unified IC approach, and a ‘carrot-and- stick’ policy for North and South to prevent the resumption of hostilities.
There is no favourable environment in Sudan in the near future for free and fair elections. If left to the Sudanese authorities to organise, these elections will most probably be rigged by the NCP. This would certainly provok massive discontent and protests that could be countered by the NCP with a tough response, i.e. declaring a state of emergency, tracking dissent, restricting basic freedoms, etc.
In order to prevent this, if elections are carried out, the IC through the main countries involved in Sudan, the UN, EU, AU, Arab League, IGAD and the OIC should be involved in the whole election process, forcing Sudan’s government to accept losing control of the election apparatus, passing the necessary laws very rapidly to provide a conducive environment for elections and making clear that obstruction or rigging will be followed by isolation and sanctions.
It is also urgent to find mechanisms that would allow the Darfur displaced to participate in the elections or to accept that they will not participate in this year’s election.
This seems an impossible task to complete in three months, so by conducting elections within the current timeframe, the result would most certainly be the re-election of Bashir in fraudulent circumstances.
3. To delink the presidential elections from the CPA and from the referendum. The elections would be postponed until a conducive environment is in place – within a reasonable timeframe – while support would be given to measures going in that direction, independent from the referendum. The referendum and post-referendum arrangements based on interdependence would be supported, win-win strategies would be developed for collaboration between North and South, and development and governance in Southern Sudan would be supported to prevent it from being born as a failed state.
4. Promote a settlement on Darfur with the utmost urgency.
In this scenario, the NCP has to face a united IC that would threaten its hold on power if it were non-compliant and that would propose a way out if it were cooperative. To unite the IC, compensation, incentives and threats need to be developed with traditional and potential supporters of Khartoum. The SPLA has to be reassured that the referendum will take place and the results will be respected and supported, independently from a Darfur settlement and presidential elections. The preparation of post-referendum arrangements are vital. Finally, maybe the key to preventing a resumption of war in the immediate future, is the mutual benefits that can be received from the interdependency of oil exploitation.
This should be done by developing mechanisms of mutual interest in peaceful coexistence between Northern and Southern Sudan and ensuring that countries, potentially supporters of any of the parties, will lose more from war than from peaceful coexistence.
One of the biggest challenges in the building of South Sudan is keeping the south together, and preventing its implosion amongst ethnic divides. In this respect the development of good governance, wealth sharing and democracy is an essential task.
There is no ideal choice. The common lines, however, are the need for a coherent and unified international community approach to Sudan, the high risk of a renewed confrontation between North and South and the almost certain vote for independence in the Southern Sudan referendum.
The priorities must be to obtain a unified IC approach for Sudan to prepare the post-referendum arrangements on the independence of Southern Sudan, including the demarcation between North and South, to support both entities in this transition and to prevent the outbreak of war. Only a unified approach can help to bring an end to the Darfur conflict and prevent other conflicts from arising and if they do emerge a strong response must be forthcoming.
Although the NCP is one of the major obstacles to finally achieving peace in Sudan, and bearing in mind that a democratically-elected government may be more favourable to peace, there is no environment today for the conduct of free and fair elections. The only solution may be a postponement of the presidential elections for a year, with the involvement of the IC in ensuring that a calendar for the construction of a favourable environment is respected and a profitable face-saving way out for NCP leaders must be sought. We cannot pretend to solve all these problems of Sudan at once within such a short period of time.
Trujillo has worked for 15 years with Medecins Sans Frontieres and is currently studying for a Master’s degree in defence, security and crisis management at the Institute for International Relations and Strategy (IRIS) in Paris.Author : Letters to the EurActiv editor