The list of accomplishments by the Sudanese government in 2010 thus far is impressive. Two, in particular, stand out above the rest. First, President Omar al-Bashir and the government of Sudan (GoS) took definitive steps towards normalizing relations with neighboring Chad. Second, the GoS signed a peace pact with the main rebel faction in Darfur, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). While appearing positive, the true motives for these actions are most likely rooted in a far more nefarious logic.
One could surmise from these recent events that the Sudanese government has changed course. Perhaps the growing international attention to the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended the North – South civil war in 2005, is having an effect. The change could also be attributable to a reinvigorated engagement by the United States, and the appointment by President Obama of Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration. It could be a tincture of all of these factors coupled with the additional domestic component that is increasingly focused on the looming January 2011 referendum on Southern Sudanese independence.
Despite these achievements there is good reason to remain skeptical. In the twenty one years that Bashir has been in office, he has gained a great deal of savvy at understanding and manipulating the balance sheets of political calculus. It is important to remember that he has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes. Further, he has demonstrated an uncanny ability to exploit the desire of Western powers to see the implementation of the CPA at all costs.
Sudan’s New Beginning with Chad
After a visit by Chadian President Idriss Déby to Khartoum in February, President Bashir declared the two leaders had “completely turned the page on problems between us,” and that the visit “put an end to the problems between Chad and Sudan.” Given that Chad has long provided both solace and support for the JEM, one can hope that it signals an end to years of proxy warfare along the 600 km border between the two countries. It is important to bear in mind, however, several factors that color this decision.
First, this is not the first time that such agreements have been reached between the two leaders. The long history of antagonism and guerilla warfare between Sudan and Chad has been punctuated by peace pacts and cease-fire agreements. A major one in March 2008 ended a couple of months later when the JEM attacked Khartoum; the last agreement between Chad and Sudan in 2009 lasted a fleeting few days.
Second, both leaders have their eyes on the electoral prize: Bashir faces elections in April of this year; Déby in May 2011. The decision to declare peace now is one that is politically expedient to both leaders. The tendency of both countries to favor actions with a short-term gain over any long-term commitments should be weighed heavily when considering their motives.
The Sudan – JEM Peace Pact
The JEM is one of the major rebel groups in Darfur. As such, any movement towards a lasting peace agreement between them and the GoS is positive. This is especially true when one considers that, the last time a major peace agreement was signed between the GoS and a Darfur rebel group, it was the JEM who was the spoiler. When the Darfur Peace Agreement was signed in Abuja, Nigeria in May 2006, the Darfur rebel group at the table was the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA); the JEM refused to sign.
The deal between the GoS and JEM includes a ceasefire agreement and a one billion dollar aid package, one that will be largely funded by international guarantors, including the United States. It was largely facilitated by President Déby.
This time the roles are reversed. The SLA, led by Abdul Wahid al-Nur, is engaging in negotiations with the GoS, but has thus far refused to sign an inclusive agreement. They reacted to the GoS – JEM deal by saying that, “Khartoum government is very good in signing agreements but always very bad in its implementation.” This statement is undoubtedly informed by the JEM’s previous agreement with the GoS and the nominal effect that it had on the millions of internally displaced Darfuris currently living in camps. It is both prescient and concerning.
The Bottom Line
The government of Sudan is quickly reverting to its old tactics. On March 2, the U.S. State Department issued a press release stating that, “The United States is extremely concerned about reports that Government of Sudan forces are conducting offensive operations against Sudan Liberation Army… that have reportedly caused significant civilian casualties, displacement, and the evacuation of humanitarian organizations.” Reports from other organizations support the validity of these allegations of aggressive action by the GoS in Darfur.
It would appear that the GoS is attempting to leverage negotiations in Doha with further action against the SLA, and once again with little regard for civilian casualties. Further, there can be little doubt that the agreement between Bashir and Déby was one that greatly influenced the JEM’s decision. These considerations, in aggregate, reveal a more troubling reality.
While support for the CPA’s implementation and its continued assistance to peaceful relations between North and South Sudan is important, it should not come at the expense of the Darfur peace process. It would appear that the discussions in Doha are informed not by rhetoric or conciliation, but rather by a growing sense of domestic political urgency on the parts of both President Bashir and Déby. To allow such tactics to proceed unchecked provides an increasingly difficult foundation upon which to address the issues of the future of Sudan.
The photo in this article is being used under licensing by flickr. The original source can be found here.