The Sudanese rebels’ national agenda is causing local harm

From African Arguments

Posted on November 19, 2015 by Hafiz Ismail Mohamed
SPLM-North’s insistence on negotiating with the government about national issues only – rather than giving priority to South Kordofan and Blue Nile – is hurting the people of the Two Areas.

Nuba Refugees
Refugees from the Nuba mountains. Photo credit: Tom Albinson.

After yet more missed deadlines, Sudan is gearing up for talks again. The coming rounds consist of two tracks.

The first is between the government of Sudan (GoS) and the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) rebel alliance. The agenda will be limited to the terms of a cessation of hostility agreement and arrangements for the delivery of humanitarian assistance and administrative arrangements for conflict areas.

The second is a preparatory meeting for the National Dialogue, which will include the armed movements, the National Umma Party (NUP), the Sudan Consensus Forces (SCF) opposition alliance and the governing National Congress Party (NCP), to discuss the arrangements needed to create a conducive environment to pave the way for a genuine national dialogue to start inside Sudan.

However, recent developments will cast long shadows on the negotiations, including the following:

The dispute over the chairmanship of the SRF, its impact on the Sudan Call Alliance with the unarmed opposition and the joint negotiation positions of the armed movements, as well as the disagreement over how Sudanese civil society will be represented in the talks.
SPLM-N’s internal arguments, including the challenges to its leadership, and the absence of voices of its core constituency on the ongoing political discourse.

The NCP’s problems, including the poor election turnout in April 2015, and the failure of the National Dialogue to generate the popular support needed to gain some legitimacy.

The deepening economic crisis facing the country. The government is running out of options to address it without the support of the international community in terms of aid, removal of US sanctions and debt relief. The government is planning to remove subsidies from grain and fuel, increasing their prices by over 50%. That will put extra inflationary pressure on the economy – and might lead to civic unrest similar to September 2013.

The inability of the warring factions to make a decisive military victory, and so impose a military solution.

As far as the first track goes, and despite the SRF’s claims of a united position, SPLM-N and NCP negotiations would be less complicated than the negotiations involving the Darfuri armed movements as here there are many external elements involved. But SPLM-North needs to change its approach, because the people of the Two Areas are suffering.

SPLM-N’s wasted opportunities

Shortly after the war in South Kordofan between SPLA-N and GoS broke out in early June 2011, the two parties began talking. In 28 June 2011 they signed a Framework Agreement, but this was later rejected by President Bashir. Since then they have held 9 rounds of negotiations, without reaching a final agreement.

The major difference between the two parties is that the SPLM-N delegation wants to discuss national issues but the NCP insists on restricting the negotiations to the Two Areas based on the Two Areas protocol in the CPA signed in 2005. During the 9 rounds of negotiations the NCP was very skillful as they managed to water down the Tripartite agreement on delivery of humanitarian assistance, and the UN Security Council resolution 2046. The NCP also refused to attend the pre-National Dialogue meeting, according to the African Union Peace and Security Council’s communiqué of its 456 meeting.

However, SPLM-N failed to exert the needed pressure on them. The NCP strategy is not to give any ground and to keep the status quo as that is their best option: they are in power, and have control of the country and its resources.

The insistence of SPLM-N not to discuss issues related to the Two Areas and only focus on national issues stopped the negotiations from making any progress nationally or for the Two Areas.

AUHIP was correct in putting the negotiations on hold after they presented detailed accounts of the previous rounds of negotiations in January 2015, highlighting the differences between the two parties and asking them to come up with proposals to narrow their differences. When the parties failed to do that the whole negotiations were suspended, even the humanitarian issues, at the time when the suffering of civilians affected by the conflicts has increased.

This is not only the civilian population within areas controlled by SPLM-N. The majority of people affected by the conflict in the Nuba mountains are in others parts of Sudan and GoS refuses to recognised them as Internally Displaced People (IDPs) so they can get some assistance. They have been left in miserable conditions.

It is unfair for the people of conflicts zones and those directly affected by the wars – which have led to huge loss of lives and the destruction of the livelihood of so many – to wait for a national settlement. The war between SPLA-N and GoS has a national impact, but the direct cause of the war was due to the dispute over the result of the regional election of the governor and the Legislative Council in South Kordofan (as the latter was supposed to carry out the Popular Consultations which would to determine the final status of the state).

Addressing the underlying causes of the conflicts in the Two Areas will serve the national process as it can be used as a model to address similar problems in other parts of Sudan such as Darfur and Eastern Sudan, and it can also be included in the upcoming constitutional process. It is clear that a solution to the Two Areas crises will positively contribute to the national settlement while at the same time addressing the distinct nature of the Two Areas.

The arguments of the chief negotiator of SPLM-N for not discussing the issues of the Two Areas have wasted a great opportunity to address the underlying causes of the conflicts in these areas, benefiting from some of the good provisions within the Two Areas protocol which allow great devolution of power for the Two Areas, as that represented the demand of the majority of the people of these areas.

I totally agree that the problem lay in Khartoum (the centre). But there are two ways to weaken the centre: either by dismantling its institutions and rebuilding them; or by strengthening the regions and allowing them to have more control over their affairs, especially the resources.

According to the new arrangements by AUHIP, the coming round of talks will not discuss these issues as they will be deferred to the National Dialogue, with no guarantee that the people of the Two Areas and other marginalised parts of Sudan will get a fairer deal.

Their fight will not only be against the NCP. Many other forces in the centre want to keep central control over the regions and their resources. The real struggle in Sudan is Centre-Peripheries, and that is the main cause of marginalisation, lack of social justice and uneven development.

SPLA-N skilfully managed to repulse the military offensive of SAF and its proxy militias during the so-called Summer attacks (the Hot Summer and Decisive Summer operations) in 2012, 2013 and 2014, but they failed to capitalise on that politically.

This was mainly due to the luck of consultation among its wider constituencies and the heavy-handed approach in dealing with any views which differ from the leadership, and their failure to build institutional structures so the outcome of each round of negotiations can be discussed and assessed within the movement’s institutions. Unfortunately they are reproducing all the weaknesses of Sudanese political parties which include the lack of transparency, accountability and democratic practices.

I highly welcome AUHIP’s announcement that talks between SPLM-N, Darfuri armed movements and the government of Sudan on cessation of hostilities and humanitarian issues will resume in Addis Ababa. Let’s hope the parties reach an agreement on stopping the fighting, and open access for delivery of humanitarian assistance as that will pave the way for IDPs to go back to their villages and alleviate some of the suffering of the people affected by the conflicts.

But to achieve a fairer political settlement for people in the conflicts areas and Sudanese in marginalised areas in general we need to build a wider civic coalition to organise and mobilise these people, so they can all work together to achieve that objective. These wars have gone on too long, and this terrible situation can’t continue endlessly.

Hafiz Ismail Mohamed is a civil society activist and the Director of Justice Africa Sudan.

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