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Hichem Karoui: Sudan: The need for change
September 30, 2012
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

We have witnessed, last week, the spectacular reconciliation between the two presidents of Sudan, Omar Hassan Al Bashir and Salva Kiir.

The signed agreements allow a resumption of oil exports from South Sudan, the creation of a demilitarised zone between their borders and a cessation of hostilities. Yet, they were unable to reach an agreement on a shared border or on how to address the disputed region of Abyei.

Yet, despite the attempt to contain the explosive crisis, the past and recent events and the overall conjuncture lead to scepticism. The long history of North-South animosity, mistrust and war in Sudan, makes it hard to believe that a lasting peace is achievable.

To begin with, the “reconciliation” was between two leaders, with their own agenda, their own interests, and their own objectives, not between the people of the south and the people of the north. The reaction of the Sudanese opposition reminds everybody of the relative nature of Addis Ababa accords. For the latter, the party of Omar Al Bashir, not Sudan, signed the agreements. They stressed that the National Congress Party, which excluded the opposition from the political scene, allowing an autocratic regime to maintain Sudan in “tutelage,” was responsible for the war and the secession of the south. Under such a regime, half the country’s citizens never were given the opportunity to feel that they are Sudanese citizens, but just “southerners.” They have been literally pushed to secession, and then pushed to war. How could peace last in such conditions? Who can guarantee it?

The United States was one of the guarantors of the peace process that ended the second North-South civil war in 2005, along with the UN and the African Union. However, the peace did not last. The implementation of the recent agreement, reached with the mediation of former South African President Thabo Mbeki, may encounter many obstacles, some of which are related to a still missing roadmap and a schedule for the agreement’s enforcement.

Moreover, even if reaching an agreement for a peaceful solving of the conflict opposing the South and the North is still better than war, the consequences of past and recent misbehaviour in the North are not easy to forget. The regime of Omar Al Bashir indulged in such misconduct toward a part of the Sudanese people that led them to reject their very belonging to the mother-nation.

The same leader that signed the Addis Ababa agreement was a few weeks ago calling the citizens of the North to “Jihad” against their brothers in the South. Would he have used the term “Jihad” if they were Muslims? Commentators have often overlooked the fact that the Southerners have been literally compelled – yes, I say compelled – to ask Israel for help against the oppression of Khartoum. Indeed, such oppression was caused by the enduring inability to accept that people could have a different religion while belonging to the same nation. Successive governments in Khartoum did nothing to elevate the “spirit of the nation” above the so-called “spirit of Jihad,” although common sense and national interests dictated it.

Omar Al Bashir is just the last episode in a series of autocratic specimens that befell Sudan since independence. Their warmongering rhetoric against their own citizens in the South could hardly conceal their sectarian biases.

Great Britain is partially responsible for such a mess.

A recent testimony in the US Congress reported that during colonial times, Southerners and Northerners “were treated differently.” After independence in 1956, “the continuing estrangement of Muslim Northerners and Christian and Animist Southerners was established.” It was a ticking bomb expected to explode any time, and the leaders of the country were just playing with it, as if it were a funny football game!

The first civil war that began in 1955 was the result of a Khartoum government that broke promises of inclusion and marginalised some Southerners. The massacre of Northerners in the South only exacerbated the growing hatred between them. After 11 years of relative peace, the second civil war broke out in 1983, when the Sudan People’s Liberation Army fought for independence of the South.

While ending the second civil war, the 2005 comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) actually led to the secession of the South in 2011. The genocide in Darfur was the first obstacle to the fulfilment of the peace agreement. The international community focused on the massacre, for which Bashir is still held responsible. There have been numerous cease-fires and peace accords between the North and the South over the years, and none of them lasted.

On July 9, 2011, South Sudan declared its independence; but all the causes of the conflict remained as they were before. The independence of the South deprived the North of an important income. Political and military provocations followed – or rather, continued –  while the border conflicts in Southern Cordovan and Blue Nile states resulted in the mass displacement of 140,000 Sudanese refugees, only in a month, according to  Princeton Lyman, US Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan (Congress hearing, April  2012). In these two areas, the fighting that escalated into a border conflict has already made 0.5 million victims, between displaced, killed and injured. In both areas, Khartoum has reportedly blocked the international community from reaching a terrorised population that is desperately in need of help.

Add to all these facts that almost half of South Sudan, 4.7 million people, is food insecure, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, including 2.7 million people who are already requiring food assistance to survive.

Therefore, it becomes clear that neither the Southern nor the Northern leaders are able to stand to the challenges facing Sudan, with the same patterns of behaviour and the same notions that caused conflict and brought havoc on their people since more than half a century.

While one has to acknowledge that these are the elite of Sudan, one has also to remind them that everywhere in the Arab world people are claiming change and throwing away the old ideas and their old guard.

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The author is an expert in US-Middle East
relations at the Arab Center for Research
and Policy Studies (Doha Institute)

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