By Amb. Princeton N. Lyman, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Ambassador Princeton N. Lyman was the U.S. Presidential Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan March 2011 to March 2013. He is currently senior advisor to the president of the U.S. Institute of Peace. The views expressed are his own.
President Barack Obama has now appointed the sixth U.S. Presidential Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan as part of the long effort begun in 2001 to end war and instability in this part of Africa. Much has been accomplished, especially the end of Sudan’s civil war in 2005 and the independence of South Sudan in 2011. Yet the intense level of internationally supported negotiations over the past two years has produced only a fragile peace between the two countries that is fraught with border clashes, broken agreements, accusations of bad faith and the need for constant international intervention to overcome one crisis after another.
And this cycle will continue and very likely spiral downward until there is a radical change in the way this situation is addressed. I was the U.S. Presidential Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan for two years, helping the parties step back from the brink again and again. It is clear to me that time is running out on this patchwork process.
Both countries face existential decisions that will determine whether they live in peace and prosperity or continue this self-destructive confrontation. The Sudanese government of President Omar al-Bashir needs to abandon outworn formulas for maintaining internal control and undertake fundamental political change that would recognize the diversity of its people and regions and create a more democratic state. In South Sudan, the government must stop supporting fighters across the border seeking to overthrow the regime in Khartoum, which risks the exporting of oil on which its very survival depends, and instead focus on its own internal political crises and the desperate poverty of its people.
Much is at stake for the United States. Deep involvement in Sudan throughout the Bush and Obama administrations reflects recognition that the collapse of either country or of the peace between them would have enormous humanitarian consequences and destabilize North Africa and The Horn. More than $10 billion has been spent by the U.S. on peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance and these costs continue. Issues of genocide, slavery and self-determination have also generated strong constituencies in the American public and the Congress concerning these countries.
The need for both sides to take action doesn’t suggest the cases are morally equivalent. Sudan’s government has twice sought forcefully to impose Sharia law on a non-Muslim south and twice broken agreements for greater southern autonomy. The resulting north-south civil wars cost millions of lives and involved major human rights violations against those in the south by government forces and southern militias Sudan supported. Similar practices in Darfur resulted in indictments by the International Criminal Court for the president and two of his senior officials for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
None of these practices, however, have given Sudan peace – and they will not do so in the future. In June 2011, civil war broke out once again in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states. Darfur is witnessing a resurgence of fighting. Armed forces from all three of these areas have now formed an alliance as the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), creating a more formidable means of striking the regime. Yet many in Sudan’s government stubbornly cling to the belief that if only South Sudan ended support for these rebellions, they could be crushed militarily. In reality, without substantial changes in the way the country is governed, Sudan will experience a steady unraveling.
It will also lose any hope of extricating itself from the isolation and sanctions that hobble its economy and hurt its people. Indeed Sudan’s economy is suffering. With South Sudan’s independence, Sudan lost 70 percent of its oil resources which paid for much of its past wars. Austerity measures it has been forced to take since 2011 have led to periodic unrest, including violent demonstrations this past week with many reported to have been killed.
To the credit of the ruling National Congress Party, a vigorous debate is under way within it as reformers and realists challenge the status quo. Even within the military, there is weariness with war and its toll. Unfortunately, the NCP has not been willing to enlarge this debate to opposition parties or civil society – and especially not to the armed movements fighting to overthrow it. But a true national dialogue is essential.
South Sudan faces its own internal crises that call into question the government’s viability, as well as its commitment to democracy, respect for human rights, and responsible government. Under President Salva Kiir, the ruling Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM), using oil money and appeals to patriotism, held together diverse ethnic groups and formerly antagonistic militia throughout the final stages of achieving independence. But that unity is fraying. The ruling party is experiencing a serious rift.
At the same time, President Kiir’s security apparatus has been implicated in assassinations and harassment of journalists, lawyers, and human rights advocates. Bitter ethnic conflict has also erupted in several parts of the country, especially in Jonglei Province, where there are credible reports of serious human rights violations by both government troops and rival tribal militia.
South Sudan will not have the political capacity or the resources to address these internal crises, and the desperately poor condition of its people, until it extricates itself from the confrontation with Sudan. South Sudan derives 98 percent of its budget from the export of oil, which must pass through the pipeline and facilities of Sudan. Continued closing of the border with Sudan has put a terrible burden on South Sudanese who long imported food and fuel from the north,
At the heart of the recurring threat to its oil exports and an open border is Khartoum’s accusation that the South is materially supporting the SRF fighters. South Sudan stoutly denies providing such support, but there is clear evidence that it does. The fact is that every previous summit between Presidents Bashir and Kiir over the past two years, every round of heartening pledges between them, and every painstaking set of arrangements put together by the African Union negotiating team and its international partners, fell apart within weeks and almost always over this issue.
All this said, the latest summit between the two presidents on September 3 offered a glimmer of hope that this dynamic may be changing. Bashir withdrew his latest threat to shut down the oil and both presidents pledged once again to implement the various agreements of last year, including oil. A joint committee will now investigate Sudan’s accusations of support for the SRF. This could be the first step toward truly delinking South Sudan from the SRF. Or, if history is to be repeated, it could be just another stall which will lead to another crisis.
The international community can continue to patch up each looming disaster between them, but not forever. If there is to be a real peace, each country must recognize that its foremost challenges are its internal issues, and that the priority for them is to overcome them. This would also be the greatest service to their peoples.