AFRICANGLOBE – John Young, The Fate of Sudan: The Origins and Consequences of a Flawed Peace Process, London, Zed Books, 2012.
One of the truisms about Sudan is that the more you know about the country, the harder it is to write anything that makes sense.
Those who have hardly been there have no difficulty in writing reams of text, those who have spent half their lifetimes working in the country find it a painful process to try to organize their material into a cogent story.
John Young has spent 25 years working on Sudan and its neighbors and the result is a book rich in detail, but also an account that struggles to achieve narrative and analytical coherence.
The strengths of this book lie in its frank account of the political actors in Sudan. Young has no illusions about the government in Khartoum and the northern Sudanese political establishment. Neither has he any illusions about the SPLA.
He grapples with and punctures the Garang myth – the notion that John Garang was a democrat with a clear vision for the future of Sudan.
Young describes the twists and turns of the negotiations that led to the formulation and signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), including the stratagems, short-cuts and deceptions used by both the negotiators and the mediators.
There are many fascinating details here, notably the dynamics surrounding the signing of the Machakos Protocol in 2002, the foundational text of the CPA, and the beginning of the direct talks between Vice President Ali Osman Taha and Garang a year later.
Young plausibly argues that Machakos represented a significant narrowing of the terms of the Declaration of Principles (DoP) adopted by the InterGovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD, the grouping of north-east African countries) in 1994, and a successful maneuver by Salva Kiir to simplify the Sudanese crisis to a north-south crisis with the secession option as the implicit but inescapable end-point.
Garang surely knew this would hobble his political aspirations, not least because of his weak power base inside southern Sudan. Garang’s visit to the Nuba Mountains and escalation of the Darfur war in the months following Machakos must be seen in that light.
One of Young’s key points is that when they signed the key agreements in 2002 and 2003, neither the government nor the SPLA expected them to be honored.
The negotiators on both sides were playing a complicated game of position, each expecting the worst of the other.
As the core documents expanded to become the protocols that ultimately constituted the CPA, detailed legalistic provisions filled in for the lack of trust or even a common understanding of the basic intention of the CPA. Indeed the CPA merely translated the political struggle between the protagonists to a new dimension.
The ambiguity of the CPA is captured in its title: itifaag al salaam al shamil. To English speakers, “comprehensive” implies that the agreement has covered all issues and refers to an intention to become inclusive of all.
To Arabic speakers, shamil has a very different resonance. Shumuliya is totalitarianism, and al itifaag al shamil implies a closed, exclusive deal.
This was the root of the undoing of the Darfur negotiations: while the mediators envisaged the Abuja agreement as a mechanism for bringing the Darfurians into an inclusive democratic transformation of Sudan, the Darfurian rebel leaders were focused exclusively on what share of posts and cash they would be allocated in the transitional carve-up.
Outside Interests and Influence in Sudan
Young is correct to conclude that the NCP, the SPLM and the U.S. colluded to restrict participation in the peace talks. They kept out the northern civilian parties in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the emergent Darfurian opposition and the South Sudan Defence Force (SSDF) and other non-SPLM southerners, and marginalized the Nuba and Blue Nile members of the SPLM.
Between 1999 and 2003, Justice Africa campaigned hard to bring these groups into the peace process, but without success. I coordinated this project, and we believed that Sudan’s best chance was an all-inclusive peace process, and I can attest to the obstacles we faced. Young overlooks the irony that certain Clinton administration officials were instrumental in this blockage, and then went on to lead the international outrage over the Darfur war that resulted.
Elections are the centerpiece of democratization, and voting in elections or referenda has become the “graduation ceremony” for most internationally-sponsored peace processes.
Given Young’s central thesis that democratization was Sudan’s central challenge, he gives considerable attention to the conduct of the April 2010 elections, the January 2011 referendum on self-determination in southern Sudan and the May 2011 elections in Southern Kordofan. He provides a deeply cynical account of the general elections, and the depth of manipulation by the National Congress Party.
It is all eminently credible, including the disorganization and unpreparedness of the opposition and the take-no-chances approach of the NCP, which was on course for a win under any scenario, but ultimately managed a wholly non-credible landslide. Against this background, Young’s account of the Southern Kordofan elections a year later, and his conclusion that the SPLM failed to win, needs to be considered very seriously.
Over the years, Young has developed a particular expertise on the southern Sudanese militia that in the early 2000s comprised the SSDF. The reader is in danger of becoming lost in the details of the gyrations of enmities and alliances among the numerous factions during the war, the negotiations and the post-secession rebellions.
Young is surely right to observe that the exclusion of the SSDF from the CPA was a potentially fatal flaw, which risked an internal civil war in southern Sudan. The SSDF was more numerous and better armed than the SPLA, and the legacy of internecine strife among the southerners provided plentiful reason for fearing the worst.