Regional Conflicts Weigh Heavily on Sudan's Future

Posted in Africa | 15-Nov-05 | Author: Adam Wolfe

Sudan's precarious stability has grown weaker in recent months. The long-sought agreement between the north and south has been signed, but the southern rebels' leader died shortly thereafter, leaving a power vacuum that has only been filled by weak leaders not committed to the agreement nor given the power in the newly formed government to demonstrate to its people the benefits of remaining part of Sudan.

The rebels in the west have recently been observed or implicated in attacks against each other and international aid workers, not just the government-sponsored Janjaweed militias they claim to be fighting against. An African Union (A.U.) peacekeeping mission to Darfur has been ineffectual at best, a failure by design of the United Nations Security Council at worst. The government has pursued genocide by attrition in Darfur by limiting the access of aid workers, continuing to support the militias, and preventing the planting and harvesting of crops in the region. [See: "Sudan's Changing Map"]

At the same time, Khartoum has curried favor with Washington by cooperating on intelligence issues and moving forward on the north-south peace accords. China has found a natural partner for resources in Sudan, as sanctions prevent most other countries with the means to do so from investing in Sudan's oil infrastructure. The simmering tensions in the eastern region have turned violent, with the rebel movement there sorting itself into two camps -- those willing to negotiate with the government and those willing to attack the government. Both camps seem to be benefiting from this split, and Eritrea and Libya are now working together to moderate negotiations toward a peace agreement in the east between the violent rebel groups and Khartoum.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick stepped into this mess last week. He first met with Darfur's rebel leaders in Kenya hoping to heal their internal divisions, then flew to Sudan to help the new power-sharing government get off the ground. After being walked out on and shouted at, he left Sudan with little progress to announce.

With three conflicts at varying stages of disarray, a foreign policy in flux, and an uncertain response from the United Nations and Western powers, Sudan's future is in a state of crisis. Its western conflict shows no sign of resolution. Its eastern conflict -- potentially the most economically costly of all the country's regional conflicts -- is approaching both resolution through negotiation and escalation through attacks perpetrated by both sides. The north-south peace deal is looking weak after the death of John Garang, making secession appear more likely and low-grade violence on the soon-to-exist border may increase as each side tries to better its claim to the oil fields that they share. Sudan's complexly fragile situation may persist for the midterm, but it cannot hold for much longer. ["Intelligence Brief: Sudan"]

Darfur's Prospects Dim

Disagreements within the main rebel group in Darfur, the Sudan Liberation Movement (S.L.M.), ruined the previous round of negotiations. Ahead of the next round, scheduled to begin November 21, 2005 in Abuja, Nigeria, the S.L.M. held an election that exacerbated its internal differences. Both Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur, the former president, and the newly elected Minni Arcua Minnawi claim leadership of the S.L.M. after Nur was disqualified to stand for reelection on a technicality instituted by Minnawi's supporters.

Zoellick met with leaders from both camps -- though Minnawi only sent his deputy -- on November 7, 2005 in Nairobi to push for the adoption of a unified rebel position. But he failed to heal the rift in the S.L.M. At one point, both parties walked out of the discussion and had to be coaxed back by Zoellick. He left the meeting uncertain who would show up in Abuja later this month.

Without a unified negotiating position from the rebels, the next round of negations will likely meet with even less success than previous rounds. Even if the power struggle within the S.L.M. can be resolved, which is highly unlikely for the midterm, the other rebel groups participating in the negotiations, such as the Justice and Equality Movement (J.E.M.), would have to adopt a consensus opinion as well. However, the U.N. and Western powers seem convinced that the negotiations are the only viable option to end the conflict that has killed well over 200,000 people. "[I]t's not a question of ending violence, it's a question of creating the context for peace," Zoellick rationalized. As the negotiations drag on with no end in sight, the conflict appears to be escalating.

The rift within the S.L.M. has contributed to a marked increase in violence in the region in the past two months. Rebel commanders are using the political vacuum in the S.L.M. to vie for power on the ground. Reports also indicate that Khartoum has been providing air support for the Janjaweed militias in the region, something that it had not done since an often-ignored cease-fire agreement was signed in 2004. The north-south peace agreement has freed up some of the government's military resources, which it appears to have shifted to Darfur. The first A.U. peacekeepers were killed in October 2005, and aid organizations report that they are increasingly being threatened and attacked by the rebels and the militias.

There is plenty of blame being dished out as to why the level of violence has increased, but no one is taking responsibility. Later in his trip, Zoellick was shouted down by Regional Commissioner Sadiek Abdel Nabi after asking Nabi to tell the "straight story" about the situation in Darfur because he did not trust that Sudan's government was telling him the truth.

The A.U. has taken charge of security in Darfur and the peace negotiations, but its troop deployments to the region are behind schedule to meet even the authorized size of 7,731, a number widely considered inadequate to establish security in a region the size of Darfur. The mission also does not authorize the A.U. troops to protect civilians in the region -- only to monitor the cease-fire agreement. Nearly two-thirds of the A.U.'s mission is funded by the E.U., but the funds are largely committed and not due for review until 2007 -- this makes any increase in funding unlikely.

Additionally, Washington will not help to increase the mission's funding. The U.S. House of Representatives cut its share of funding for the A.U. mission from the 2006 Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill. Nor is the U.N. likely to change the A.U. mission's charter to allow for the protection of civilians. Khartoum regularly works to impose further limitations and restrictions on the mission, often with success. In this context, the A.U. mission cannot bring stability to Darfur.

With Darfur sinking further into violence, the brightest star in Sudan's future seems to be dimming.

Looking for Power in Southern Sudan

In John Garang's death, southern Sudan lost more than just the leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (S.P.L.M./A.); it lost its best chance at an equitable power-sharing arrangement with the National Congress Party (N.C.P.) under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (C.P.A.) signed earlier this year. Garang's replacement, Salva Kiir Mayardit, does not have the same stature within the S.P.L.M./A. that Garang commanded. ["Intelligence Brief: Sudan"]

Mayardit has also been seen as less enthusiastic about the C.P.A. than Garang was. Before Garang's death in a helicopter crash on July 31, 2005, Mayardit was a proponent of separation from Sudan within the S.P.L.M./A. Now that he has become first vice president within the unity government, he has changed his tune, but most observers believe he still sings the same song within the S.P.L.M./A. and will be a proponent for separation before 2011 when secession is to be put to vote in the south.

Mayardit's weakness within his own party, his softness on the unity arrangement, and his lack of experience at the helm of his party's high-level negotiations all worked against the S.P.L.M./A. in the cabinet negotiations with Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's N.C.P. The only important post that the S.P.L.M./A. was granted is that of the foreign minister; Foreign Minister Lam Akol will be the second-highest ranking southerner in the government.

The biggest loss for the S.P.L.M./A. is the energy and mining ministry, which controls the oil portfolio. Although the C.P.A. decrees a 50-50 revenue sharing arrangement between the north and south for proven oil reserves, much of the reserves lie in the southern region. Mayardit's ceding of the ministry to the N.C.P. at the last minute will not endear him to his own party, nor will it position the south to build the infrastructure for the oil industry in the optimal arrangement for a post-secession southern Sudan. This could also lead to low-grade violence between the north and south along the border area as each side attempts to gain a better position to control future oil revenues after the split.

Mayardit's weakened position will also be a problem for the Darfur and northeastern conflicts. The United States and the E.U. continue to hold up the C.P.A. as a model for ending the conflict in the west. Garang was expected to play the leading role for Khartoum in the negotiations. Mayardit will assume this role in the new unity government, but like an understudy on Broadway he does not carry the same clout as the star negotiator the rebels expected to meet. However, this is unlikely to be a problem for the near term because no matter who sits across the table, the negotiations will continue to fail if a unified negotiating position does not emerge among the rebels.

Port Sudan -- through which upwards of 330,000 barrels per day of oil are exported -- and the country's largest gold mine are both located in northeast Sudan, yet the region remains impoverished. This area is home to the Beja Congress, a rebel group that established a formal alliance with the S.L.M. earlier this year. The Beja Congress and another eastern rebel group, the Free Lions, withdrew from the negotiations with the government under the auspices of the National Democratic Alliance (N.D.A.) in October 2004. Since then there has been an up-tick in violence in the region, but no major escalation.

In November 2005, the Beja Congress announced that it would enter into negotiations with Khartoum in December. Still, the announcement does not seem to have had much of an effect on the level of violence in the region, which may indicate that the eastern rebels are not unified in their decision to engage in talks with Khartoum. The negotiations could provide Mayardit with his first opportunity to demonstrate his strength within the unity government. However, Libya will mediate the negotiations, a move criticized by some leaders within the N.C.P. who may attempt to undermine the talks.

Washington's Conflicted Position

Washington holds two positions when it comes to dealing with Sudan. On the one hand, Khartoum receives praise for its signing of the C.P.A. and for its cooperation on fighting Islamist militancy in the region. On the other, criticism is heaped on Khartoum for not cooperating in Darfur. Therefore, while Zoellick spent most of his fourth trip to Sudan criticizing Khartoum's recent actions and the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, said that the U.S. is considering imposing further sanctions on Khartoum for its lack of cooperation on Darfur, the State Department also raised Sudan's status on slavery and human trafficking from tier three to tier two (which includes countries like Switzerland).

The State Department also signed a waiver that allowed Sudan to hire a lobbyist, Robert Cabelly of C/R International, for a fee of US$530,000 per year. Sudan's intelligence chief, Salah Abdallah Gosh, visited Washington earlier this year to further the relationship between the U.S. and Sudan on Washington's "war on terrorism," which has evolved into a "long war" in Africa. [See: "Washington's Long War and its Strategy in the Horn of Africa"]

Khartoum also hosted a regional counter-terrorism conference in late September to further this relationship with Washington. [See: "Intelligence Brief: Sudan"]

This conflicted position has prevented Washington from taking a leading role in Darfur, but has allowed Khartoum to stall in making any adjustments to its policy toward its western region. Khartoum's main foreign policy objective is to emerge from international isolation and remove itself from Washington's list of state sponsors of terrorism. This would mark a major shift for the state that once hosted Osama bin Laden, and it has not been without its detractors within the government and the opposition Islamic party, the Popular National Congress party. While Washington is unlikely to make this move without a peace deal on Darfur, it has made it clear that it will reward Khartoum for its cooperation on other issues.

China appears to be the main winner from Washington's wavering position on Sudan. China has been Sudan's major investor in its oil infrastructure, and the C.P.A. has opened more areas for investment. States like Sudan prefer investment from China because, unlike those from the West, there are no strings attached to domestic social issues. Although there has recently been a slight slowdown in the rate of growth in China's oil consumption, its rapidly expanding economy has made securing access to a diverse supply of energy resources one of Beijing's top foreign policy objectives. In Sudan, the lack of competition from rival bidders makes Sudan an attractive option for Beijing. As long as Washington remains conflicted over Sudan, this will not change. [See: "The Darfur Question at a Time of Increasing U.S.-China Competition"]


The conflict in Darfur has worsened in the past two months as the rebels fight among themselves and Khartoum continues to aid the Janjaweed. The C.P.A. did not provide the S.P.L.M./A. with the strong role in the unity government that it expected, which makes secession more likely in the south. The eastern rebels may enter negotiations with the government, but may also be dividing among themselves. All of this is happening during a time when Washington and the U.N. have retreated from taking a clear position on Sudan. Washington wavers between rewarding Khartoum for its cooperation on the C.P.A. and terrorism, and sanctioning it for its continued foot dragging on Darfur.

The regional conflicts are interrelated in many ways, and ending one may bring progress to another. However, ending one conflict may also lead to the intensification of the others as the rebels and the government reallocate resources to fight in another region. This appears to be a factor in Darfur, at least on the government's side. Khartoum is likely to be able to contain the instability that each conflict creates for the midterm, but in the long-term any one of these conflicts could lead to the fragmentation of Sudan.

The Power and Interest News Report (PINR) is an independent organization that utilizes open source intelligence to provide conflict analysis services in the context of international relations. PINR approaches a subject based upon the powers and interests involved, leaving the moral judgments to the reader. This report may not be reproduced, reprinted or broadcast without the written permission of [email protected]. All comments should be directed to [email protected].