3 July 2017

Sudan: The Missing Lesson

analysis

In the early 1990s the only rebel group then SPLM/A was going through its most difficult times. The newly installed Ingaz regime in Khartoum was scoring number of military victories in the field to the extent that the SPLM/A was confined to a small enclave around Nimule and close to Ugandan borders, its main backer in Ethiopia has already collapsed in addition to a major split within the movement.

The SPLM/A bowed for some time and worked tirelessly to stage its biggest shift and connected with the lobbyists, activists and NGOs mainly in the United States that became the central battle ground, where it succeeded in creating a bipartisan support for its self-determination cause that was finally endorsed in the CPA and eventually led to the creation of the youngest state on earth, South Sudan in 2011.

The lesson to be learned from this experience is that unless military successes and changes in the regional politics are translated into a political settlement, an opportunity would have been lost and new conditions may dictate a different deal.

Something similar seems to be brewing in the western front, related namely to Darfur. Sudan managed within the past several months to make a crippling military strikes against the three main Darfur rebel groups to the extent that a UN expert concluded in official reports that two of these groups or Justice and Equality and the faction led by Minni Minnawi were mainly kicked out of Darfur and have some of their troops in both South Sudan and Libya, while those belonging to the third group of Abdul Wahid Nur has been reduced to pockets in Jebel Marra.

However, two worrying developments seem to be emerging. The first is the growing frustration expressed by some of those who broke away and opted to join the National Dialogue that resulted in the recently formed government and where these groups found that they did not get their fair share in power, which prompted some to defect yet again.

More important is the changes taking place in the Libyan scene, where Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who is adopting an anti-Sudan stand for his belief that Khartoum was supporting his Islamist adversaries. Lately Haftar emerged as the country's strong man after he managed to control Benghazi, Libya's second biggest city and kicking out Islamist factions out of it. More significant is that he managed to improve security that enabled Libyan oil production to more than double to pump out more than one million barrels a day, thus provide the much needed cash to run his political, military agenda. Sudan like many has been counting on the internationally-backed national unity government headed by Fayez Al-Saraj that has proved so far ineffective. Haftar, who make his growing influence felt has already ordered the Sudanese consulate in Al-Kufra to close down. That is not a good sign for what could follow bearing in mind how Sudan suffered from the Libyan intervention in Darfur in the past.

Sudan seems to be banking on the African Union High Implementation Panel (AUHIP) headed by Thabo Mbeki to strike a political deal that settles the issues in the two areas of the Blue Nile and South Kordofan in addition to Darfur. Add to that the split that has hit the SPLM-N and military setbacks for the rebel movements led Khartoum to relax its political activity.

Clearly AUHIP is going nowhere given years of involvement in Sudanese affairs despite the regional and international backing it receives. It can afford to spend time waiting for some decisions from the African Union or for the rebel movements to make up their mind on this or that issue as they have wasted precious five months waiting for the rebel group to sign the roadmap agreement.

But Sudan can't have that luxury. After all it is the one suffering from this state of no-war, no-peace. For more than two years now the government and rebel groups have been exchanging pledges of a unilateral ceasefire that they failed to turn into a formal one with its monitors, but more important they failed to move to build politically on these ceasefires.

It is high time for the government to take things into its own hands, make use of the military weakness of rebel movements, their internal disputes and various distractions engulfing the region and even the international community to work into a serious peaceful political settlement able to break this logjam.

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