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By Stephen Arrno - 21 Aug 2020

Opinion | Why Sudan peace processes are always problematic?

In 2002, Justice Africa published ‘Prospects for Peace in Sudan: The Literature of Accord’ - a compendium of 46 documents addressing the quest for peace in Sudan. The literature carries the views of almost all of Sudan political forces including civil society. A common denominator cutting across these propositions is a consensus demanding peace. Although, there are divergent views on how to attain such peace.  Today, twenty years later, many peace agreements were signed since then but Sudan and also South Sudan remain largely grappling with the same question of ‘What peace to end the cyclic conflicts and violence’. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement of (2005) ended splitting Sudan and continued as a partial settlement. It failed to usher democracy and transform both Sudans as envisaged while it deliberately excluded Darfur. The same applies to other agreements that followed but eventually collapsed such as the Darfur Peace Accord of (2006) Eastern Sudan Agreement (2006) and the Doha Peace Accord for Darfur. Should we consider these agreements as ceasefire accords or they were part of restoring the lost order, lost system and compliance to what elites define as peace.

A reflection on these documents brought memories of an argument posited by a peace scholar who questioned whether peace is singular. In other words, he asked whether peace connotes different manifestations to different people, or peace would serve different purposes to different people at different times. His conclusion is that peace is political and bears class distinctions between the ruler and the ruled. My addition is that there are distinctive perceptions for peace between oppressor and oppressed, perpetrator and victim. These views are interesting when considering how conflict is articulated by different people depending on where they stand and which side of the conflict narrative represents their view.

In Sudan, most of the violent conflict is between the peripheries and the state. The peripheries are largely defined as regions that remain outside state power. In Sudan, they constitute sources of wealth in terms of natural resources and unskilled labour and they are part of war zones. These regions are subjects to both direct and indirect state violence through structural violence, social injustice and deprivation. Meanwhile, the state represents a centre that is defined through uneven but deliberate historical processes. This political and economic dichotomy is well articulated by Abdul Rahim Hamdi - Sudan former minister of finance who came with an economic policy defining zones for economic focus and development. This economic and development zone is dubbed the Hamdi triangle (Khartoum, Northern State and Port-Sudan) in contrast to a periphery (Darfur and Kordofan) that are considered areas for concerted economic efforts and focus by the state. The peripheries, according to the policy, are defined as a burden - a welfare bill, a security threat but a source of wealth and trading profit (de Waal, 2015:73). These differences are clearly articulated through peace processes in which the first category strive to change the rule of the game by challenging the status quo, while the other group seek to restore order (the peace) by instituting minimal reforms that would not change the preferential system of government with all their inherent inequalities, injustices and anomalies.

As much as I agree that peace is both a deliberate and deliberative process, peace remains largely trapped in the politics of power. This explains why a country like Sudan with 64 years of independence is trapped in fifty years of conflict. This is the situation despite the success by different governments to strike more than twelve peace agreements (with an average of a peace agreement every five years) that are largely faulty and unsustainable. This raises the question of whether peace agreements are indeed not part of conducting politics through other means. It was Prussian strategist Carl Clausewitz who first defined war as politics through other means, and I extend this analogy by inquiring whether peace – which is not the absence of war – is also politics through other means. In other words, if war is politics through other means, what about peace. Should we consider that peace is emerging as a new strategy for conducting politics in Sudan?  

Without doubt peace processes are becoming attractive given the associative links to power-sharing arrangements that offer legitimacy and new political life to both incumbent and rebel groups. Sudan longest-serving despot Omer al Bashir mastered the art of using peace as an instrument of politics and counterinsurgency. Out of his 30 years rule, he signed more than a dozen agreement including among others ‘peace from within accords’ that are largely counter-insurgency strategies rather than peace agreements. Could we conclude that Sudanese peace versions are largely political tools aiming at other ends rather than bringing about desired peace?

One observation is the tendency of Sudanese political forces to use peace agreements as political instruments to enter mainstream politics.  Over the past decades, rebel groups in Darfur and recently the SPLM-North experienced amoebic splits. Some rebel factions are conspicuously supported by the deposed regime as part of the counterinsurgency strategy that offers power-sharing as part of weakening rebel grievances and depicting them as greed. Of course the grievance –greed debate does not stand serious scrutiny in Sudan. Although certain rebel groups are driven by economic and political gains (greed), the majority are driven by grievance against historically entrenched injustices in Sudan. How greed can explain Sudan first rebellion in 1955. Can greed cause and explain a rebellion that broke out before independence and the discovery of oil? How can people who suffered centuries of bondage, slavery and discrimination rebel because of greed? In my view, the greed of the centre as clearly articulated by the ‘Hamdi triangle’ is the cause of conflict against the grievance of the peripheries who rose against these structural injustices and inequality.

Alex de Waal conceptualized his political marketplace theory based on the Sudanese experience, especially how political actors are good in the commodification of violence – a necessary condition to gain currency to enrol in the violent marketplace. This new brand of transactional politics is based on violence and peace agreements that use market tools of bargains and floating the right price at the right time that has consequently informed new tactics of delays reaching a settlement. This politics of ‘delay’ or ‘Tagility’ as coined by de Waal is part of the bargains and the use of peace agreements to construct new patronage and clientele base as part of ‘payroll peace’ whose aim is to extend patronage and to circumvent a hurting stalemate and an external vulnerability. Although a ‘hurting stalemate’ is considered positive for reaching a peace agreement in the case of Sudan it is used as a tacit to reposition oneself for a better gain of necessary currency to keep afloat in the violent political marketplace. While external vulnerability refers to mounting regional and international pressure demanding peace in the face of colossal death and damage. This is what pushed al Bashir to seek partial peace for Darfur and is possibly what is pushing Sudan Transitional Government to seek partial peace by avoiding engaging with major questions such as the relationship between state and religion, national identity, the overhaul of the state that impact on state and governance structure. These issues are tacitly pushed to the future and are promised in a constitutional conference.

There is clear evidence that certain groups are using the opportunity of the ongoing partial peace process to construct their political empire making use of the blanket legitimacy from signing a peace accord. Moreover, the transitional authorities see an opportunity in addressing its own vulnerability if they could show its goodwill and produce a peace agreement to showcase as an achievement. Should we consider peace under duress genuine, or should peace that does not address the main causes of conflict be termed peace?

Getting to the current peace process in Juba, there is no doubt that in a way or another these ideas are at play. The process is stratified into tracks allowing for factionalism with more than 9 factions around the table with some discussing the same issue from a different perspective. Interestingly some forces have split from their mother organization and have no legitimacy as they have no territory, constituency or considerable followership but eye a peace settlement as part of paying supporters and establishing legitimacy and generating a constituency.

This brings a question of what peace is sought after in Juba, is it generic peace or the peace. These terminologies of generic peace and the peace are advanced by renowned Kenyan Professor of History and International Relations Macharia Munene. He argues that there is a dialectical relation between generic peace – which is genuine but utopian and – the peace which is a manifestation of the system and the political order. Munene, argues that peace remains the order, the establishment and the system preferred by the elites. It is this peace that the elites seek to restore after its breach through violence and civil war. He argues that instituting limited reforms instead of an overhaul is the peace preferred by the Jacobins and Napoleon Bonaparte after the French revolution. The White Jacobins (not the Black Jacobins of Haiti who revolted later) considered the revolution has achieved its objective by deposing the monarchy and any demand for changing the ideals and order was a breach of peace.

Irish Philosopher Edmund Burke was dismayed by the excessive political and social reforms envisaged in the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen’ (1789) that could roughly be equated to Sudan’s Declaration of the Forces for Freedom and Change (2019). He argues that certain ideals and institutions need to be conserved, namely the Catholic tradition and dominance in political life. The generic peace is what the common citizen strive to attain as an ultimate goal for change and transformation. Without a doubt, peace should be transformative and not a preservative of the old order. This explains why successful peace is sustainable and if a peace agreement fails it is an indicator that it only restored and preserved the political order after a brief disturbance by revolutionaries.

The protagonists of the ongoing peace process in Juba must realize that peace should reconcile between enemies not friends and should treat anomalies in Sudan’s political processes not preserve and restore the old system. It is insane to assume that decades of structured inequalities and strained racial and ethnic relations in Sudan can be mended through a restoration of the old ideals of a theocratic state and a state whose national identity is hijacked by those who inherited power from the colonial administration. Genuine peace takes more than assimilating the myriad armed groups into one kleptocratic system through a payroll peace. Sudan requires an overhaul of its social, economic and political structures including the security sector that has been part of extending state violence and repressing the Sudanese quest for genuine peace for six decades. It should be realized that the ongoing process that is promoting peace and reconciliation amongst friends would not yield different results from earlier efforts by the deposed regime under al Bashir. Until when would Sudanese officials circumvent and waste opportunities for peace by pleasing and deceiving regional and international bodies. Until when would peace processes strive to restore compliance to an established order that is biased, discriminatory, abusive and a recipe for conflict? The Sudanese deserve more than such peace that end up pleasing elites and regional partners.

Stephen Arrno is a PhD candidate studying International Relations with a focus on Conflict Peace and Security.

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.