Sudan should learn the emerging lessons of Egypt

Africa’s largest country is about to be split into two, and there is much that needs to be done politically, economically – and, above all, democratically

The events in Cairo are going to provide an uneasy backdrop to President Omar al-Bashir‘s attempts to maintain his monopoly on power in Egypt’s neighbour, Sudan.

One lesson that must surely be emerging from the tumult in Egypt is that it is not a good idea to prop up dictators in order to buy peace. Although he stated that his government would accept the southern Sudan referendum result, officially announced on Monday to have been 98.8% in favour of secession, any arrangement to reward Bashir for allowing the south to go peacefully – such as renewed proposals to postpone the international criminal court’s indictments against him reported by Africa Confidential – should perhaps not be at the expense of allowing a renewed clampdown on freedoms in the north.

Sudan’s impending division is going to create not just one new state but two: Sudan and “South Sudan”. Both will require new constitutions. The north’s numerous opposition groups insist that this process needs to be inclusive and must not simply entrench a regime that seized power 22 years ago in a military coup and whose failure to compromise has led to the country’s breakup. Bashir has stated that he will remove concessions for minorities in the north and enforce Islamic law more rigidly following the country’s division.

Ahmed Adam Hussein, spokesman for the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), complains that the outside world has taken its eye off the ball at this crucial stage. “Unfortunately, international attention on Sudan has been distracted by the events in Egypt – but the Cairo revolution will soon spread to Khartoum and the world will have to pay attention. If Hosni Mubarak has passed his sell-by date, where does that leave Bashir? Surely the international community doesn’t want to prop up another failing dictator.”

With a mounting economic crisis that will only be made worse by the loss of a substantial part of the $2bn a year that it received from the 50% share of South Sudan’s oil revenues granted by the comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) – potentially losing more if Abyei and the nearby Heglig area are deemed to belong to the south – the regime in Khartoum is facing numerous challenges in addition to the inevitable loss of prestige ensuing from the secession of the south.

Recent protests in Khartoum have resulted in the closure of several universities and newspapers, deployment of the riot police and the arrest of opposition leaders, including Bashir’s former mentor Hassan al-Turabi.

Opponents point to the fact that Sudan has already overthrown two previous dictators in popular uprisings – Jaafar Nimeiri in 1985 and Ibrahim Aboud in 1966 – and they are eager to follow the Egyptians, Sudan’s traditional mentors, with their own facebook revolution.

Preparations for a constitution for the new northern state are complicated by the uncertain status of its peripheral regions. There are currently six areas that have differing status according to three separate peace agreements. Abyei and the two contested areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile are subject to different protocols of the main north-south peace agreement, while Darfur and east Sudan have their own respective peace deals.

With renewed heavy fighting across western Sudan, the May 2006 Darfur peace agreement clearly has not yet delivered, and the only rebel faction to have signed, Minni Minawi’s wing of the Sudan Liberation Movement is again fighting against the government. Although most Darfuri factions have agreed to join in the Doha peace talks, Khartoum now insists the negotiations be held in Darfur.

The October 2006 Asmara peace agreement for eastern Sudan has so far been more successful – despite being supervised by the Eritrean army – in that there has actually been an end to hostilities in the east. But there has growing unrest among the area’s Beja majority in the aftermath of last April’s flawed elections, which failed to gain them significant representation at either state or national level.

The demarcation of a new north-south border awaits agreement on a number of disputed areas, as well as resolution of the impasse over the key area of Abyei. The most potentially explosive dispute centres on Heglig, the oil-rich eastern portion of the disputed enclave that was excluded by the 2009 permanent court of arbitration ruling.

Khartoum claims that Heglig is now part of South Kordofan, but Juba says it belongs to south Sudan’s Unity state. This has not only become the most militarised part of the disputed border but also impacts on the rest of South Kordofan, which is supposed to conduct a much-delayed and ill-defined process of “popular consultation” on its future status.

The former SPLA leader John Garang explained to me during the CPA negotiations that the popular consultation agreed for the two contested areas was “exactly the same as the self-determination granted to the people of south Sudan and Abyei through referendum, except it will be conducted by their elected representatives rather than the people themselves”.

Because South Kordofan has not yet conducted state elections, due to severe irregularities in the last census, which failed to enumerate the areas still controlled by the former rebels, the process is now more than two years overdue. State elections are now scheduled for May, leaving little time to complete the consultation process before the CPA expires in July.

Meanwhile, the local Nuba population, who largely supported the SPLA because they believed in Garang’s vision of a “united, secular new Sudan”, fear for their future after the south achieves independence. A report by Pax Cristi warns that failure to complete the process in time will deepen the existing political malaise and could, at worst, reignite conflict.

With only five months left before Africa’s largest nation splits into two, much clearly still remains to be done. Egypt’s example also surely demonstrates the need for it to be done democratically.


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Posted by on Feb 9 2011 Filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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