The January 2005 peace agreement has improved Sudan's standing in the international community, as demonstrated by $6 billion in economic support raised at a donors' conference in Oslo in April 2005. Inside Sudan, however, the agreement has revealed new sources of instability beyond the context of the civil war between the north and south, calling into question whether the agreement will bring progress and even whether the country will ultimately hold together.
The strength of the peace agreement was that it expressed a political will to end hostilities by the government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), a will that survived the catastrophic death of SPLM leader John Garang in July 2005 and subsequent riots in Khartoum. In the year since then, Sudan has created an exemplary constitutional commission, approved a transitional constitution, restructured the presidential system to allow the head of the SPLM to act as first vice president, created a government and parliament in the south, and formed a national government on September 22 despite disagreements over distribution of portfolios. This process has established the executive and legislative authorities who will run Sudan until democratic elections to be held in 2009 and has addressed inequities between the north and south that led to a half century of on-and-off civil war.
The weakness of the peace agreement, however, is that while it addresses the conflict between the government and the SPLM, it ignores other dynamics created by the long-standing hostilities. The political discourse of the SPLM inspired politicians and military officers from other regions of Sudan that were also marginalized by the northern Islamist government. The peace agreement has now inspired these movements to demand a similar arrangement for an equitable division of wealth and power.
It is no coincidence that the Darfur crisis escalated during peace talks between the government and the SPLM that began with the Machakos protocol in July 2002. Since February 2003 two movements in Darfur (the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement) have increased military activities against the government, apparently believing that the government will only negotiate with armed groups. The groups are now engaged in talks with the government sponsored by the African Union in Abuja, Nigeria. Two groups in eastern Sudan, the Beja Congress and the Free Lions, have expressed the same philosophy. All of these groups declined to join the recently-formed national government on the grounds that the northern government and the SPLM have already divided the country's oil revenues between them: 52 percent for the north and 48 percent for the south. The groups also missed out on the allocation of local authority over Sudan's 26 states: 52 percent for the ruling party, 28 percent for the SPLM, 14 percent for northern forces outside the ruling party, and 6 percent for southern parties outside the SPLM.
The peace agreement also contains a potential time bomb in that it gives the south the right to a referendum in six years to decide whether to secede from Sudan. Whether the south opts to secede will depend on whether it enjoys economic development that compensates it for decades of deprivation, which is in turn contingent on the government's ability to administer funds. The government's predisposition toward corruption and lack of transparency does not bode well for this process. A southern secession would influence other regions with similar problems, in particular three regions that the peace accord defines as “territories damaged by war:” the southern Blue Nile State, Abyey, and the Nuba Mountains.
In addition to all the above problems, there remain bitter unresolved ethnic, linguistic, and cultural disputes and possible problems between the new government and other major political forces such as Sadeq Al Mahdi's Umma party, Hassan Turabi's National Congress, the Sudanese Communist party, and influential syndicates in northern Sudan. Thus, while the peace agreement between the north and south has created the foundations for potential unity, peace, and good governance in Sudan, it has by no means eliminated the possibility of a return to disintegration and violence.
Hassan Satti is a writer and political analyst at Al Sharq Al Awsat in London and former editor-in-chief of the Sudanese daily Al Ayyam. This article was translated from Arabic by Julia Choucair.