Background Briefing

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The government of National Unity of Sudan, sworn in on September 22, 2005, was the result of the January 9, 2005, Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that brought to an end the bitter and brutal twenty-one-year war between the Sudanese government dominated by the National Congress Party (NCP), and the southern-based rebels, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A).

The CPA’s exclusion of other parties made it much less than its “comprehensive” title promised. Many critics of the CPA charge that the failure to include other parties and armed groups, and the fact that the government would only negotiate with the SPLM/A after two decades of armed rebellion, caused marginalized people elsewhere in Sudan to take up arms as a means towards power sharing otherwise denied them by what, under the NCP, has been effectively a one-party state.

It has now been almost six months since the National Unity government, in which the SPLM shares, was installed in Sudan. It would seem that, so far, the National Unity government has not yet provided the hoped-for changes to Sudan’s political life or its people. Certainly, the transformation that was supposed to take place at the national level through power sharing and reform of legislation has yet to occur.

As yet, this new government is still run by a single authoritarian narrowly-based Islamist party, the NCP, and has not become a new hybrid government in which marginalized Sudanese meaningfully participate and where equality among the country’s 35 million people prevails (entailing, among other things, an end to the “ethnic cleansing” war policy in Darfur). Unless the situation is drastically improved by NCP actions, it appears doubtful that all Sudanese will have their human rights upheld in this new political arrangement, which includes a provision for countrywide internationally-monitored elections after three years.

The will of the NCP to make good on its promises in the CPA is particularly important since this peace agreement has been promoted by Sudanese government officials and international diplomats as the boilerplate solution for Darfur and all other Sudanese marginalized areas. Southerners obtained in the negotiations, however, a concession other parts of Sudan, Africa’s largest country, have not yet sought: a referendum to be held in 2011 on southern self-determination whereby the region might become an independent country.

NCP power sharing with the SPLM has not resulted in a true partnership in national government between the former adversaries; the NCP is withholding crucial resources and revenues from the Southern Sudan regional government, and the only important ministry where a southerner has the top position, foreign affairs, has not shown any change of direction. The SPLM appears too tied down by managing the south’s new autonomy to challenge for its full share of the national government partnership. The death in July 2005 of the SPLM’s long-time leader Dr. John Garang left a large gap in the weight of the SPLM at the national level. Consequently, the envisaged legal reforms of the political system—reform of the political parties law, overhaul of the security agencies—have not taken place. As a result, human rights monitors and political opponents still are not able to operate freely, and the heavy hand of the security apparatus continues to impede free speech, free assembly, and free association.

The most successfully executed CPA provision involves the handing over of the southern government to the SPLM and other political parties. It is possible that Southern Sudan will develop at least a partially democratic regional government. Changes in the SPLM leadership following the death of Dr. John Garang led to a regional parliament and southern state assemblies that ordinary people in many southern states participated in selecting, although through mass gatherings rather than formal elections.

The southern regional government faces very difficult challenges, however, first of all financially. Under the CPA, Southern Sudan is supposed to receive half the oil revenue derived from southern oil fields. Most of the producing oilfields are in the south, yet it is receiving much less oil revenue than anticipated.

A second related problem facing the fledgling Southern Sudan government is paying for a large civil service. The southern bureaucracy is composed of the former NCP-named administrators of the garrison towns and the SPLM civil servants who ran the rebel-held areas, and it must be pared down for financial and efficiency reasons, as well as to bring in people trained in the systems the new government wants to erect. But any layoffs may inflame the chronic ethnic divisions that plague the south. Already there are complaints that the Southern Sudan government is not ethnically representative of the whole south, and that the largest ethnic group, the Dinka, dominates the new bureaucracies and ministries in Juba (the Southern Sudan regional capital), as well as the southern presence in government bodies in Khartoum.

A third factor is the impact the agreement has not had on NCP support of ethnic militias in Southern Sudan. Some southern anti-SPLA ethnic militias on the government payroll have elected to join the national, not the SPLA-controlled southern regional army, where they remain potential tools of NCP-agitated ethnic violence. Attacks by the northern Ugandan rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), continue to destabilize the region around Juba. Although the NCP claims it does not support the LRA, it is apparent that some elements in its military and security apparatuses still do—and under the CPA these government forces do not have to be withdrawn from Juba until mid-2007.

Finally, a huge human rights challenge to southern government and society remains the status and rights of women. Although many constitutional and legislative provisions bar discrimination, there is a legacy of customary law in many parts of the south that denies women such rights as choice of their marriage partner and control of property. An edifice of culture has been erected over the centuries that assumes unequal treatment of women. Unraveling this so that women can become full participants will require great skill, sensitivity and cooperation.

Aside from these thorny regional questions, it is too early to determine whether the CPA will be successful in transforming Sudan’s political landscape nationally into a level playing field where even marginalized people such as in Darfur can participate. The government’s performance under the CPA, however, does not bode well for making it a template or model for the resolution of the conflict in Darfur—not that the template is inherently faulty, but the NCP has already proven its will and skill at defying and circumventing the CPA. The intention of the NCP government to truly and once and for all end its armed conflicts with its own citizens and live in a shared peace has not yet been demonstrated.

index  |  next>March 2006