October 17th, 2013
09:24 AM ET

Time running out to find Sudan conflict solution

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.

More from CNN: End the suffering in the Sudans

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.

More from GPS: Time for tough love with South Sudan

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.

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Topics: Sudan

soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. ✠RZ✠

    With all due respect to acknowledging the intent of this article and the real needs and issues of Sudan, I could not help but draw many parallels to what is being said to our own country. And until we can learn to govern ourselves accordingly setting the ideal example of what can result from the true democracy of a nation entirely respectful of not only their own people but that of all humanity, there can be no reasonable expectation for any other country to follow in the same path. The simple fact is that we are all on the same spinning fragile mass hurtling in a circle through space at about 69,000 mph with our very existence being continuously threatened from within and without. Perhaps an impact from a small meteorite or two could help prioritize all our focus, energy, and effort. But should it happen, almost like the recent one over Russia, the knee jerk reaction would likely be to blame one another for willfully causing it.

    October 17, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • ✠RZ✠

      October 18, 2013 at 6:10 am. CNN.com website top news article. "Bigass asteroid discovered after buzzing past Earth".
      Just note the word "after" which means "not before". So the fact is that we don't always see these things coming, much like the recent one over Russia, and another near miss after that, and another after that one, and now this one too, and until the next one, and so on. But this is merely one natural threat out of an infinite number of possibilities, and supposedly we have plenty of time available to deal with it so don't nobdy sweat it for now (right Ray Nagin?!?). Though putting these known potential disasters aside only to keep focusing on the endless amount of problems we create for ourselves is really asking for it. HELLLOOOOO?? DUHUHHHH !!

      October 18, 2013 at 7:32 am |
  2. JAL

    Patent submittal, new target date: Oct.20

    October 17, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
  3. rightospeak

    My comments vanished – not politically correct, too close to the truth. . Thought Pollice at CNN must be at work .

    October 17, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
  4. Phelix Unger

    That's three for three articles I've read tonight where somebody is trying to make sense of senseless actions and an actual well thought out method of seeing the change as if it were within the grasp of the parties involved, at the same time though he sounds like he is not sure it can actually happen. Anything is possible.

    As for the intraction going on in US politics, this is the last stand of corporate America and they won't give up easy, so too those Americans drinking the koolaid, Stop.

    October 18, 2013 at 11:10 pm |
  5. Sudan Hub

    Reblogged this on Sudan Hub Foundation .

    October 19, 2013 at 5:01 pm |
  6. Gonzo

    Problems everywhere you face. Is there not one good thing going on in the world?

    October 20, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
  7. j. von hettlingen

    As long as Omar Bashir remains in power, there will always be political turmoil in Sudan and the region. He can't travel very far these days, as he is wanted by the International Criminal Court for human rights crimes in Darfur.

    October 20, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
    • j. von hettlingen

      Sudan has enough space to spare for the secession of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states. Darfur is a source of conflict between Sudan and Chad.

      October 21, 2013 at 5:27 am |
  8. hifijohn

    Can we just accept the fact that poor countries fight they always have and always will,when was the last time you saw stories like this out of canada or norway?Africans sit on top half of the worlds natural resources, they only problems they should have is what to do with all the money they're tripping over.but name me one african country that isnt a complete failed state?? My answer is-let them fight.

    October 20, 2013 at 11:53 pm |

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