Tajudeen Abdul Raheem visits Khartoum for the first time in eleven years. In 1994, Sudan was at the height of Islamist rule, but now the hotel halls are filled with international NGO staff and Southern rebels struggling to change from their battle fatigues to fancy suits. There are many challenges ahead for peace in Sudan – not least of which are the expectations of the masses – and the new order will have to go beyond a change of uniform or the swapping of army camps for fancy hotels.
I was in Khartoum last week attending a conference of the regional organisation, Inter Governmental Agency on Development (IGAD), on building consensus around a peace and security strategy for the sub region. It was a follow up to a previous meeting early this year conveyed by IGAD with the support of the Addis based Inter Africa Group.
For many years IGAD has been synonymous with two of Africa's long running conflicts that have now been negotiated: Somalia and Sudan. Both have taken several years but IGAD leaders, supported by the African Union and other international actors have been very patient and persistent.
That patience paid off in the formation of a Government of National Unity for Somalia but unfortunately the government is yet to take the full reins of power in Mogadishu. The prospect for lasting peace in Somalia is also seriously in doubt given the increasing consolidation of self-rule in Somaliland.
However the Sudan negotiations, through Machakos and Naivasha, culminated in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army / Movement (SPLA/M) and the Government of Sudan and the inauguration of a Government of National Unity with power sharing between the South, North and Centre and some representation for other parties.
While there is a lot of confidence that the peace may hold despite the unfortunate death of the charismatic 'strong man' of the SPLA, John Garang only three weeks after assuming office as the first vice president of Sudan, there are continuing concerns that Sudan's peace is not comprehensive enough given the continuing death and suffering in the Darfur region, where the Government of Sudan continues to aid and abet its Janjaweed militia allies in their attacks on mainly Black African Darfurians.
So both peace agreements that IGAD is justifiably proud of are not perfect. However this alone should not deny the organisation cautious optimism about its capacity to be a collective regional instrument for promoting regional integration and development and to be a forum for peaceful resolution of peace and security issues concerning the peoples of the region.
The conference was an attempt to document the often informal processes that led to the peace negotiations, reflect on the experiences and build consensus on a vision for the future. The conference can claim a modest success on this initial sharing of perspectives. The consensus document agreed after the three-day meeting - that brought together academics, think tanks, CSO activists, policy makers, diplomats, and foreign friends of IGAD –points to continuing engagement by IGAD within a framework of a people-driven and people-friendly regional integration vision.
While peace and security issues are of utmost importance, participants agreed that they are not just for inter state relations of governments or armed groups alone: The vision must be broadened to embrace human security and wider engagement of all stake holders. IGAD has to look at other aspects of regional integration that can promote wider peace in the region: regional citizenship, promotion of democratic governance, protection of human rights, informal linkages through social groups, students, women, youth, education, development of regional infrastructure, etc.
While the IGAD meeting was the reason I was in Khartoum, my main interest also included seeing for myself how the transition is shaping up - especially since the death of Comrade John Garang. The last time I was in Khartoum was 11 years ago. I had gone there to persuade the original NIF government of Dr Hassan Al Turuabi and General Omar Al Beshir to participate in the 7th Pan African Congress. They were angry with us for inviting Dr Garang and 'treating him like a head of state' when they considered him then a 'dangerous rebel'.
Arriving in Khartoum I could not help recalling the Chinese prayer 'May you live in interesting times'. If Garang was not dead I would have met him, holding court in the Khartoum Hilton, as the Vice President of the country with the same people who did not even want him at a Pan-African gathering a few years before. By coincidence it was the same hotel I was put in by the Government in 1994. Of course the atmosphere now and then were completely different.
In 1994 Sudan was at the dizzy heights of its Islamism, the NIF government reveled in its pariah status in the west and even considered it some kind of chivalry for Allah. The composition of those then milling around the Hilton was different. I remember there was a big American delegation of the Muslim-Christian Council led by Nation of Islam people, and other Islamist delegations from one country or the other across the world, all guests of the government.
But now the Hilton is dominated by: BINGOs, RINGOs, UN types, consultants, business wheeler-dealers and other assorted vultures of peace out for a grab of the peace action. But the most important residents in the hotel are the new SPLA/M elite looking every inch out of place. They reminded me of Miles Collines Hotel or Meridien in Kigali in 1994 after the defeat of genocide or the Intercontinental Hotel in Kinshasa after the exit of Mobutu.
You see the new rebel elite, recently made ministers in cities they had left several years earlier or never entered. The ones that fascinate me most are the former rebel commanders, in their new suits, usually ill-fitting because they are more used to their jungle fatigues. It is always amusing to watch these commanders trying to become civilians. Soldiers do not walk they march! So you see these big guys in their fancy suits and many of them with bulging inside pockets. There is also the problem of learning the new pecking order because you do not want to offend the new Big Men (and their few Big Women) who have become Honorable this, Excellency that, etc.
But beyond all this it was mixture of 'sadness and joy' returning to Khartoum. Sad that John Garang who had done so much to bring about this change was not there, but happy to see his colleagues continuing the struggle. Everyone I spoke to and commiserated on the death of our dear comrade left me with those comforting words "aluta continua'. They need this spirit if they are to make peace meaningful for southern Sudanese people and the generality of Sudanese.
Peace dividends must go beyond the exchange of military uniforms for smart suits; or from make-shift camps to the comfort of 5 star hotels and ministerial villas. There are just too many challenges ahead. First, there are the huge expectations of the masses that now that their 'boys' are in power their conditions will improve. This is a tricky one because the South has known only war and therefore the only industry is crude military-industrial in nature.
Two, many Southerners displaced by the war in northern cities, especially the millions in Khartoum, are hoping to escape the indignities of second class status in the north for the south where the SPLA and allies will be in charge. What work will they do? Where would they live?
Three, those remaining in Khartoum will need symbolic and practical measures that will begin to reduce their feelings of second class stature and apartheid type discrimination. How can one explain why most of the manual laborers digging around Khartoum in the many construction sites in a booming newly enriched oil country are Southerners? Why are most of the waiters, bellboys, cleaners etc in the Hilton of Negroid extraction? These are uncomfortable questions but they cannot be avoided if peace is to make sense to all these marginalized peoples.
Four, as it stands now the peace deal seem to be mainly between the north and the south with the assumption that both Beshir's wing of the NIF (a.k.a National Congress Party) and the SPLA/M will remain firmly in power both in Khartoum and Juba. So what will happen to other marginalized groups such as SPLA/M 's former allies in the NDA, rebel groups in Darfur and others that may also restart hostilities?
There are many other challenges but one vital one I have to mention is the question of a referendum due half way through the six year transition. I have no doubt in my mind that an overwhelming majority of southerners will vote for independence. Indeed one has the feeling that Dr John Garang was probably the only person left in the movement who still believed in a united 'New Sudan'. His death meant that the last ‘one nation’ Sudanese southerner has died and the road now (no longer if but when) leads to an independent Southern Sudan.
I know this conclusion is difficult to accept for many Pan Africanists but we have to ask ourselves what kind of unity we are building if citizens cannot feel or be treated equally in their own country. An optimistic half way house may arise if the Government of Sudan can demonstrate through genuine good will, real remorse and real actions during this fist phase in the transition that it has indeed changed. I am not naturally a pessimist but I have my doubts if the extremist core of this regime really wants peace in the Sudan or wish to devour their enemies in phases. It may be the case that the transitional period offers opportunity for a trial separation with a certain divorce after the referendum.
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