For the past four years, significant U.S. attention has been devoted to the crisis in Sudan's Darfur region, in which roughly two hundred thousand have died and more than two million have been displaced. A hybrid African Union/United Nations peacekeeping force remains only partially deployed, and peace negotiations have stalled. Meanwhile, clashes in South Sudan have raising fears that the fragile peace brought by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement will collapse and the country's civil strife will expand to disastrous levels. The Bush administration treated Darfur and South Sudan as separate issues. But experts say both situations can be traced back to Khartoum's central government, which has historically maintained control of the country's periphery through divide-and-rule policies. There is wide disagreement about the best policy course for the United States to pursue in Sudan, but analysts agree that any effective policy will have to consider Sudan's internal politics and the center's relationship with its periphery.
Khartoum and its Periphery
Sudan is the largest country in Africa, approximately the size of Western Europe. Since its independence in 1956, it has been roiled by civil war almost continuously. This war was initially between northern Sudan and the south, which objected to its isolation and lack of development in comparison to the north. Following the military coup that brought President Omar al-Bashir to power in 1989, Bashir's National Congress Party (NCP) spurred an Islamist revolution that empowered the center's security and business interests at the expense of rural areas. In response, groups from each peripheral area of Sudan entered conflict with the central government. According to a 2003 briefing paper from the International Crisis Group, these groups feel marginalized as a result of a government that has "exploited local resources, imposed its religious and cultural beliefs on historically diverse populations and consistently pitted local tribes and ethnic groups against each other for short term tactical gain." The government maintains that peripheral areas in the south were underdeveloped because of the long civil war. In a 2009 article for International Affairs, Sudan expert Alex de Waal says insight into these conflicts requires an understanding of Sudan's "political marketplace" (PDF), in which provincial leaders bargain with Khartoum for the price of their loyalty. Each time they start a new round of negotiations with the government, they launch "a targeted assault on the economic and human assets of the metropolitan elites," he writes. For example, a group might attack a merchant or army outpost as a way of drawing attention and demanding that the government bargain with it. The government usually retaliates with another act of violence, de Waal writes, and then the two sides will settle, or the violence escalates. The regions with ongoing conflicts are as follows:
Darfur. In February 2003, rebels from the western Darfur region of Sudan launched an uprising and demanded equal representation in the government and improved infrastructure in the region. The government retaliated by sending armed Arab militias, known as janjaweed, that targeted the villages of the rebel groups. The violence has displaced millions of people within Darfur and killed an estimated two hundred thousand. A 2006 peace agreement is moribund, and an AU/UN peacekeeping force in the region has been unable to prevent continued conflict.
Southern Sudan. Southern Sudan, which holds roughly 85 percent of Sudan's oil, fought to achieve independence from 1955 to 1972, and again from 1983 until 2005. In its second iteration, the war in the south was fought by the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), which gained political legitimacy under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and become known as the Sudan People's Liberation Movement. The CPA gave the oil-rich south autonomy for six years, at which time it will hold a referendum on secession. Failure to implement provisions of the CPA by both the SPLA and the Sudanese government led to armed conflict in 2008, and analysts fear renewed clashes.
Southern Kordofan. Created by the CPA, this new state straddles the border area between north and south. It has fertile land for agriculture and the only proven oil reserves in Northern Sudan. It is also one of the poorest states in the country. During the North-South war, Southern Kordofan was a critical battleground. The CPA has a special protocol related to the region, but its neglect has led to unrest. "The fate of peacebuilding in this front-line state will say much about the viability of Sudan's entire peace process," says an October 2008 International Crisis Group report.
Eastern Sudan. Fighting erupted in northeastern Sudan in 2005 between the Eastern Front, a group of rebels, and government troops. The Eastern Front was backed by South Sudan's SPLA and a rebel group from Darfur. In October 2006, it signed a power-sharing agreement with Khartoum, but reports indicate implementation has been slow.
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement Is Not Comprehensive
Experts agree that Sudan will not be a stable state until inequalities between the center and the periphery are addressed. Experts differ, however, on whether the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement facilitates or hinders that process. Some frame the agreement as a bilateral deal between the north's National Congress Party (NCP), the ruling party, and the south's SPLM that excludes other conflict-ridden parts of the country, such as Darfur. As a Kenyan negotiator told Sudan historian Edward Thomas: "Comprehensive in my understanding would be the whole of Sudan. That was never on the table: the government would not allow it. Every time I tried to raise it they said, 'Oh, you want to come and resolve all our conflicts? Come to Darfur, come to Eastern Sudan, we have enough problems.'" In fact, Sudanese in Darfur see the CPA as a bilateral deal that was achieved at their expense. But the negotiators from the south believe the CPA is "a panacea for other problems in Sudan," according to Omer Ismail, a Sudanese policy fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. The International Crisis Group asserts that "the CPA is the linchpin for peace throughout Sudan-[and] Darfur must be resolved within this context." By giving the south autonomy for six years before allowing a referendum on independence, the CPA offers a chance for Sudan to develop a democratic system, including elections and constitutional reform.
Though the CPA excludes actors in large peripheral areas such as Darfur and eastern Sudan, it does call for state restructuring that has the potential to address what is viewed by many provinces as the central government's excessive power. Thomas, writing in a January 2009 report for UK-based think tank Chatham House, calls it "the most important political framework in Sudan." Its provisions on power-sharing, wealth-sharing, land, and elections "still offer Sudan an alternative to permanent crisis, fragmentation, or breakdown," he adds. Ismail cautions, however, that clauses applying to the entire country are much vaguer than those that apply specifically to the south. The elements of the CPA that affect the whole of Sudan include:
Elections. The CPA calls for general elections before mid-2009, with the aim of replacing appointed politicians with elected officials. Elections are meant to include state governors, state assemblies, the presidencies of Northern and Southern Sudan, the National Assembly in Khartoum, and the Legislative Assembly of Southern Sudan. Elections cannot be held prior to the completion of a country-wide census. According to the implementation schedule, the census was supposed to be completed by July 2007; as of early 2009, its results had not been released.
Wealth-sharing. The CPA calls for the distribution of a greater share of oil revenues to the south, but it also commits to development funds that invest in conflict-affected areas, and the transfer of more resources to states. According to the World Bank, the percentage of government expenditures distributed by states increased from 8 percent in 2000 to 35 percent in 2007.
Land. The CPA promises to establish a National Land Commission to resolve the multiple legal regimes for land ownership. In some areas, the state leases tribal lands, while in others, ownership is market-based. Experts say resolving conflict in the periphery will require resolving land problems, particularly in areas like Darfur, where massive displacement has complicated ownership issues.
Among those who believe the CPA is a tool for stabilizing Sudan there are varying degrees of pessimism about the prospects for fully implementing the agreement. For the CPA to bring peace, critical provisions on the withdrawal of armed forces on both sides, border demarcation, elections, and wealth-sharing must be implemented. Delays and neglect of the CPA raise serious questions about how much of the agreement can be executed before 2011, when Southern Sudan can hold a referendum on its independence. Experts stress that Western donors that supported the negotiation of the CPA have become distracted by the crisis in Darfur, and need to devote more attention and financial resources to the CPA's implementation. Though $1.4 billion in international aid was pledged to reconstruction projects in the south for 2005-2007, less than $300 million was received (PDF), according to Lam Akol of the SPLM.
Searching for Stability in Sudan
The United States was instrumental in the negotiation of the CPA, but since then has focused on the crisis in Darfur. In 2008, some analysts began to call for an "all Sudan" policy that examined both the problems of CPA implementation and the crisis in Darfur. The details of what such a policy might look like are widely divergent. Some, including Andrew Natsios, former U.S. special envoy to Sudan, call for a strategy of engagement that offers a road map for normalizing U.S.-Sudan relations while pressing for CPA implementation. Natsios argues that the ruling NCP, though weakened, is still "massive" and "ruthless." In a 2008 Foreign Affairs article, he writes that they "are prepared to kill anyone, suffer massive civilian casualties, and violate every international norm of human rights to stay in power, no matter the international pressure, because they worry (correctly) that if they are removed from power, they will face both retaliation at home and war crimes trials abroad." Unless the NCP retains a role in the Sudanese government, it is likely to provoke conflict and contribute to continued instability, Natsios believes.
Others argue that only punitive measures will coerce the NCP to change its actions. In a January 2009 open letter to President Barack Obama, the Enough Project and the Save Darfur Coalition recommend that the United States impose a no-fly zone over Darfur, enact targeted sanctions against Sudanese officials, and expand the arms embargo against Sudan. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke in her confirmation hearing of the need to "sound the alarm on Darfur," saying no-fly zones and sanctions were being considered as policy options. But many experts say Khartoum does not respond well to threats and punishments, particularly when it continues to enjoy the UN Security Council support of Russia and China. They add that the International Criminal Court's investigation of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, which resulted in an indictment in March 2009, has put the NCP on the defensive. Many government officials now spend much of their time trying to figure out how to handle the International Criminal Court, to the detriment of work on the CPA. "The Sudan Government sees the ICC as the gravest threat to its survival it has ever faced and a matter of life and death," writes de Waal.
A few experts suggest that there is little the United States can do to affect the political situation in Sudan. They argue that Sudan's internal political upheaval--the weakening and fragmenting NCP, the changing aims of Southern Sudan, the ongoing conflict in Darfur--can only be resolved by a domestic political deal that has buy-in from all relevant parties. The Kennedy School's Ismail, who grew up in Darfur, suggest that the "CPA needs to be revisited and other regions need to be included." Sudan historian Thomas suggests that the United States focus on specific, discrete tasks: monitoring CPA outcomes for Sudanese civilians, funding studies to understand the politics of land in Sudan, and planning for the possibility of an independent Southern Sudan.