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By Stephen Arrno - 25 Dec 2019

Opinion | Why peace remains an elusive desire in Sudan?

The start-up of the peace talks in Juba some two month ago raised hopes and optimism for a quick settlement. This is based on two premises: the first is the venue and the mediation that is considered relevant for breaking any arising stalemate and the second was the overall political environment in Sudan. The revolutionary transitional government views the armed groups in Darfur, Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan as allies with major contributions to the political changes in Sudan. This attitude across the political divide was a source of hope for a just and agreeable settlement within a short time. To the over-optimist the Juba talks is like a stakeholder’s workshop aiming at producing a blue print for resolving Sudan’s problem that existed for 200 years.

However, this is not the case given the semi-stalled negotiations. Two issues make the ongoing peace process problematic. The first is the multi-track approach with inherent intricacies with regards to multiple perspectives on the same question. This first position falls within the political marketplace framework promulgated by Alex de Waal who considers that the threat of violence and power are commoditized, exchanged and traded as part of peace negotiations. The second problematique is with regards to the elusive and conflicting ideologies.

Examining the first problem relating to the multiple track approach and the proliferation of stakeholders, there is a big question on how to synthesize the different tracks into a single, worktable and comprehensive peace agreement. The many factions at the talk are behaving perfectly in the political marketplace with each presenting itself with a proportional representation, high monopoly of violence and high social and political capital.

Unlike the Sudan CPA of 2005 that was a bilateral negotiation at the highest level with plausible presence of regional and international actor, the Juba peace talks are with multiple tracks, with many political stakeholders and limited regional and international presence. The question of large and divergent perspective is best captured by Malik Agar’s opening statement during the current round of talks. Agar lamented the absence of coordination when it comes to interlocutors and positions regarding the same problem such as Darfur with four parties claiming representation of issues in Darfur and the two political parties claiming authority over the Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan issues. How many agreements expected for Darfur and the two areas is best captured in terms of the divergent views on what political recipe is best in solving the problems in these regions.

The problem in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan are far complicated when it comes to the divergent views of the two SPLM-North factions. The SPLM-North under Malik leadership considers the best solution to the political conflict in the two areas is solvable through granting these regions autonomous status, re-defining relations between the central government and the states and extending political transition to 10 years.

The SPLM-North faction under Abdul Aziz al Hilu is advocating for a secular state or self-determination. What is observable with regards to the parties’ position is the absence of flexibility, this by itself challenges the essence and logic of peace processes. It is unfortunate that the SPLM-North under al Hilu could not elaborately articulate its ideology and vision beyond its manifesto which cannot be translated into a negotiation position.

From a political perspective, secularism is never a program of governance. Countries such as the United Kingdom are constitutionally not secular, they are theocracies with the head of state doubling up as the head of the Anglican Church which is the official religion of the state. The UK although technically not secular but in practice the UK is largely secular in policies and practice. The same applies to the Arab Republic of Egypt constitution that considers Islam as the official religion of the state, but Egypt is largely secular in practice and Muslim extremists are prosecuted by the state. From the Free Officers revolution in 1952 and their affiliation to the Moslem Brotherhood, Nasser and later Saadat worked hard to keep the state floating as a secular despite the role of religion in the state. The same applies to Turkey that is largely Muslim but the Kamal Atturk policies of secularization made it hard to profess an official religion for the state. Another good example with this regard is how the Islamic Republic of Iran that is theocratic in approach allows other religions to have public space and how the constitutional system makes it permissive or prohibitive for political actors to enjoy certain civic liberties.

In today’s world liberalism largely defines political ideologies. Countries such as the United States with its two political parties the Democrats and the Republicans anchor their ideologies on liberalism that encompass personal freedom, liberty, and justice. Although the Republicans are conservative liberals in their own right, the democrat are as well liberals. The difference is that Democrats profess what is considered liberal social democracy with the objective of taming unhealthy liberal practices that impact vulnerable groups.

For peace to be attained, there are needs for flexibility, coordination and deeper understanding of issues. A secular state may not guarantee freedom, rights and justice. There are so many secular states such as Cuba, Uganda, South Sudan among many others who lag behind in liberties. On the other note, there are no any liberal state in the world today that does not value secularism.

The question of self-determination as a negotiation position is not elaborately articulated outside the manifesto. What makes politics a public affair is the fact that it is never secretive if you are to attract followership. Moreover, the current negotiation is on public goods that not only benefit party members but all the Sudanese whether in the two areas or beyond. This makes negotiations flexible, open and reasonable. No party could claim monopoly of the public sphere either by the threat of force or pushing for a minority view.

Assuming that what the SPLM North faction view on secularism is accepted and became part of a final peace pact, does such solve issues of governance, liberties, justice unequal growth and development? Or let us assume that self-determination as defined by the SPLM-North is granted in the current peace talks, are there guarantees that the people of the two areas would actualize it and vote for secession for example. It should be noted that self-determination in its narrower definition of granting the right to secession require much political homework, it requires garnering domestic, regional and international support. To be honest, the SPLM-North has not made any effort in any of these fronts. Domestically, Southern Kordofan as an administrative unit is contestable geographically, socially and politically. The same applies to Blue Nile. These contestation is present in the current talks with two SPLM-N factions expressing divergent perspectives.

Taking the example of the success of Southern Sudan referendum, a number of domestic factors were favorable. First, all South Sudanese by then whether they are members of the SPLM or not support the referendum option. Whether such is attributable to the SPLM or to other factors, this consensus was key in determining the outcome of the referendum. Do all the people of the two areas across the political and geographical divide agreeing on such option; I cannot guess but this is a question that negotiators should ask. It should be noted that politics as the authoritative allocation of values, will not be trapped within the realm of violent expression. Self-determination would only be granted through peaceful negotiation and will never ever work by force. It should also be agreed and can never be unilateral as in the case of Somaliland whose declaration of independence was rejected despite Somaliland demonstrating leadership, stability and peaceful democratic transition that could not be matched in countries such as Uganda, Kenya and even South Sudan.

Lastly, as the current negotiation is yet to tackle issues of governance, it should be noted that one major problem is how the negotiators would approach the transitional period.  Are the negotiators only negotiating how Sudan will be governed, or are they also raising the question of who should be part of the transition. Examining the FFC constitutional document, the transitional period is designated as a period to be governed by technocrats to enhance economic and political transitions. This modality that worked in similar situations such as Sierra Leone, Liberia and Central Africa Republic achieved encouraging transitions.

The question is whether the armed groups accept to be at the sideline and watch the transitional period run by technocrat or they would be tempted to fall low to the trappings of power. If the armed groups bend low to the trappings of power during the transition, then they have demonstrated beyond doubt that whatever slogans they were raising was a masquerade and power grab was the real motive. Let me conclude by quoting professor Munene who says between the different parties in a conflict there are two versions of peace: The peace and the generic peace. The former is the genuine peace that is institutionalized, while the generic peace is a version of peace that favor a party over the other. The armed forces are in a real test to demonstrate whether they are partisan in their approach to politics or they are revolutionary in their approach that aims at changing systems for future generation. Would Agar, Al Hilu,  Minawi and the others mount their horses and go home after the peace talks as demonstrated by George Washington or will they fight over the spoils of the state.

The author Stephen Arrno is PhD candidate studying International Relations with focus on Conflict, Peace and Security in the Horn Region.

The views expressed in ‘opinion’ articles published by Radio Tamazuj are solely those of the writer. The veracity of any claims made are the responsibility of the author, not Radio Tamazuj.