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Sudan: The Dangers of a Tactical Peace

Publisher WRITENET
Author Gérard Prunier
Publication Date 1 May 1998
Cite as WRITENET, Sudan: The Dangers of a Tactical Peace, 1 May 1998, available at: [accessed 29 August 2015]
Comments This issue paper was prepared by WRITENET on the basis of publicly available information, analysis and comment. All sources are cited. This paper is not, and does not purport to be, either exhaustive with regard to conditions in the country surveyed, or conclusive as to the merits of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and are not necessarily those of UNHCR. WRITENET is a network of researchers and writers on human rights, forced migration, ethnic and political conflict. WRITENET is a subsidiary of Practical Management (UK)
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


After fifteen years of civil war, Sudan is today hovering on the edge of peace. This possiblity which would normally be considered with a mixture of relief and cautious optimism should in fact be treated with extreme caution, given the ambiguity of the "peace process" and therefore of the credibility of its possible results. In the following pages we will try to assess the recent changes in the situation of both the Khartoum regime and the opposition, whether it be the Asmara-based, mostly Northern opposition of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) or the Southern-based Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA). We will then put our conclusions within the context of international diplomacy in order to try to better understand the various parameters of an eventual end to the hostilities which started in 1983.


2.1     The 21 April 1997 Peace Agreement

Khartoum's "liberalization" is symbolized by a series of new policies, the first of which is the 21 April 1997 Peace Agreement. This is the name given to several agreements signed from April 1996 to September 1997 between the Khartoum Government and a number of small Southern armed groups, previously fighting against both the Government and the SPLA. In a recent paper we had to conclude that these agreements did not look like a sound basis for a realistic peace between North and South, regardless of the mediation efforts which had surrounded them.[1][1] This became obvious by late January 1998 when one of the main signatories, Commander Kerubino Kwanyin Bol, suddenly changed sides and used the weapons provided by the Government to attack the Wau garrison in alliance with local SPLA forces.[2][2] The battle lasted almost ten days, from 29 January to 7 February 1998 and Commander Kerubino eventually lost the town due to his incompetent handling of the equipment he had acquired. But this military failure resulted in a political victory: Kerubino's move away from the 21 April "peace agreement" turned it into a sham and left his rival Riak Machar increasingly looking like a puppet, especially when he was made Third Vice-President soon after.[3][3]To make matters worse for the regime's Southern collaborators they were systematically played off against each other. When Riak Machar, officially President of the Southern Sudan Coordination Council (SSCC) decided to support his friend Taban Deng Gai for election as representative of his native area of Bentiu, the Khartoum Government chose instead to promote the candidacy of another Southern protégé, Paul Lili. Lili "belonged" to another pro-Khartoum militiaman, Paulino Mathiep. Riak Machar sent his men into the area to support Taban Deng Gai's "candidacy" and they were attacked by Mathiep's men. Paul Lili, the "candidate" preferred by Khartoum, won the "election" through superior firepower at the cost of about eighty casualties.[4][4] As for Dr Lam Akol, the last Southern leader to have signed the "peace agreement", he was "defeated" in his Fangak constituency by a government-sponsored "candidate", a way to show him that he was dispensable.[5][5]After Kerubino's return to the rebellion, the Government simply picked a new leader for his SPLA/Bahr-el-Ghazal Group (SPLA/BGG), without even bothering about the semblance of an "election".[6][6] And as we will see in the following section, when Vice-President Zubeyr Mohamed Saleh was killed in a plane crash on 12 February 1998, the two Southern Vice-Presidents, who were first and second in the order of succession, were bypassed in favour of Foreign Affairs Minister Ali Osman Mohamed Taha.[7][7] These various developments confirm the artificial nature of the "peace agreements" that the Government had signed with its own auxiliary troops.

2.2     The Constitutional Discussions[8][8]

Another element of the regime's "liberalization" which should be considered with caution is the constitutional aspect. Since late 1997 the development of plans for a new constitution has been accompanied by a broad political debate on the future nature of the regime. The debate was genuine enough but, somewhat in the spirit of Mao Dze-Dong's "Hundred Flowers" debate of 1957, its main aim seems to have been to find out about the political positions held by the various NIF factions within the regime.

As a result three trends have been brought out into the open. The first one, which we might call "liberal", is represented by a number of Islamist intellectuals and academics (Hassan Makki, Issam el-Beshir, Tayeb Zeyn al-Abdin, Amin Banani Nyo and Abd-el-Wahab al-Effendi), who believe that their ideas should win through open democratic competition. They are calling for absolute freedom of political organization up to and including a multi-party system. This group is entirely urban and confined to highly-educated individuals. It does not enjoy any support either from the Army or from the business circles close to the National Islamic Front (NIS) and none of its members could be described as a political heavyweight. Its only strength comes from its identification with currently fashionable ideas of "good governance" and from a veiled sympathy among the general public. Its political influence is negligible.

At the other end of the political spectrum is a grouping that could be labelled "the hardliners". They are made up of three rather distinct sub-groups: firstly, the hardline Islamists who believe that any plurality is unholy because "all power belongs to God", and therefore any division of power is a form of fitna (unholy quarrel); secondly, political apparatchniks, who have regrouped within the Mutammar al-Watani (National Congress) single party, and who fear losing their positions if there is an open democratic contest; and thirdly, military men who feel that any democratization, even partial, might mean a return to barracks as far as they are concerned. The hardliners have had no option but to support President Omar Hassan al-Beshir, although most of them would have preferred to stay with Hassan al-Turabi. However, the latter option was not available, because Hassan al-Turabi himself has opted for the third group which we could call "the tactical democrats".[9][9] Apart from the President himself and a number of military officers,[10][10] some of the key hardliners are Ghazi Salah ed-Din Attabani, Minister of Information, Nafi Ali Nafi, formerly Head of the Security Services and now Minister of Agriculture,[11][11] and Mohamed al-Amin al-Khalifa, a former President of Parliament.

The group we have called the "tactical democrats" is by far the largest. Led by Hassan al-Turabi, the long-time Moslem Brotherhood leader and the brain behind the June 1989 coup d'état, this group has the support of most of the regime's heavyweights, especially among the National Islamic Front's business connections, such as Ahmed abd-er-Rahman, Ali al-Hajj, Hassan Abd-er-Rahman, Abd er-Rahim Mohamed Hussein or Khalid Osman al-Mudawi. Some of these are long marginalized "doves", who were powerless during the years of the Front's dominance by extremists and who are now resurfacing, some others are former Ghazi Salah ed-Din hardliners, now converted to a softer approach. Since the regime is politically, militarily and financially exhausted, it must bring into play the money and international sophistication of the "liberals" if it is to find a new impetus. As the "liberals" are meaning to gain a degree of political recognition commensurate with their usefulness, the presence among them of "born again" former hardliners brings them the benefit of continuity.

Hassan al-Turabi is the grand master of this new political alignment, ready to "liberalize" as long as the fundamentals of the regime (i.e. the religious basis of legislation, the political hegemony of the Islamist movement, and the domination of the Arab-Islamic minority over both the Christian South and the Eastern and Western Moslem, non-Arab, peripheries) are not compromised. Turabi has thus developed the concept of tawalli as-Siyassi, which could be roughly translated as "the politics of fidelity", i.e. fidelity to the Islamist principles which have governed the regime's actions since July 1989. In practice this means a plurality of Islamic parties, i.e. turning today's mutammar from a single party into a "dominant" party, which would share the political field with carefully selected segments of the old Umma party and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

These factions are ready, with Ahmed al-Mirghani for the DUP and Ahmed abd-er-Rahman al-Mahdi, Sadiq al-Mahdi's uncle, for the Umma. A variety of incentives (political ambition, return of properties confiscated in 1990-1992, etc.) have been brought into play to prepare for this switch. As we will see in the section dealing with the rapprochement with Egypt, the possibility can not be excluded that, under certain conditions, Sadiq al-Mahdi himself would come back and play a role in this new game. This would be in line with Hassan al-Turabi's usually superb tactical manoeuvring, which has enabled him over the last thirty years consistently to defeat superior political forces by dividing them and playing the various elements against each other.[12][12]

2.3     Political Regrouping

The third element of this new "liberalization" policy consists of political regrouping.[13][13] Some of the hardliners, such as Ghazi Salah ed-Din who insists that the mutammar should remain a single party, have been sidetracked into secondary positions. Some outsiders have been brought in, such as retired Brigadier Mahdi Babo Nimr, an Umma member belonging to an old and prestigious Western Sudanese family, who has been made Minister of Health, or Sharif al-Tuhami, an ex-DUP member and former Minister of Energy under Nimeiry (and the man who negotiated the first oil exploration contracts with Chevron in 1979), who has been made Minister for Irrigation. A bevy of Southerners was also included: Lam Akol as Minister of Transport, Agnes Lokudu as Minister of Manpower and Joseph Malwal as Minister of Animal Resources. But as a Khartoum-based foreign diplomat, quoted by Reuter, said after the regrouping:

I think they are trying to give the impression of some kind of liberalization. They are trying to to create the atmosphere of opening up the economic and political side. ... But the liberalization they are trying to create is not real. They are keeping all the main posts.[14][14]Indeed. If we consider the key Cabinet positions, they are all safely in the hands of old National Islamic Front figures: Ali Mohamed Osman Yassin (Justice), Ibrahim Suleiman Hussein (Defence), Abd-er-Rahim Mohamed Hassan (Interior), al-Tayeb Ibrahim Mohamed Kheir (Social Affairs).

The case of Foreign Affairs is even more interesting because it involves some fine-tuning of the controlled liberalization process. When First Vice-President Zubeyr Mohamed Saleh died in a plane crash at Nasir on 12 February 1998, he was promptly replaced by the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, a recent recruit to Turabi's "tactical democratic" line.[15][15] Taha's replacement in turn was of key importance since it would convey the type of message the regime wanted to send to the outside world. The choice was Secretary of State Mustafa Osman Ismail, a man with a very peculiar profile for a Sudanese Islamist: a resolute pro-Egyptian during the years when Cairo was anathema to the Khartoum regime, he had also supported Kuwait during the Gulf War and criticized Saddam Hussein at a time when his own government supported the Iraqi dictator.[16][16] As President of the Majliss as-Sadaqa beyn ash-Shu'ub (Council for Friendship Between the Peoples) he had long been an instrument of Turabi's parallel diplomacy, offering a smiling face to the very victims of Khartoum's attacks. As rapprochement with Egypt was now the order of the day, his promotion was an essential part of the new policy.

2.4     The New Friendship with Egypt

The visit by SPLA leader Colonel John Garang to Egypt in November-December 1997 was presented at the time as a significant breakthrough for the SPLA.[17][17] In fact, it was almost the opposite.[18][18] In spite of his efforts at reassuring his hosts, Garang scared them. They did not believe his pledge to keep the Sudan united and "respect Islam" and they almost immediately moved towards Khartoum after he left.[19][19] When one remembers the long list of hostile policies and humiliations meted out by Khartoum to Cairo (constant verbal attacks, support for the Jamaat Islamiyya terrorists, fighting in Halaib, confiscation of Egyptian property in the Sudan, the murder attempt against President Hosni Mubarak in Addis-Ababa in June 1995, etc.) it is obvious that this "reconciliation" was not due to sympathy but to very powerful political motivation.[20][20] But the move was not only Cairo's initiative, it had also been carefully prepared on the Sudanese side as a part of Hassan al-Turabi's new charm offensive.

The first measure had been the nomination of Ahmed abd-el-Halim as Ambassador to Cairo in December 1997. A former minister under Nimeiry, former DUP member and a seasoned career politician, who had served under all the previous political regimes, Ahmed abdel-Halim was known to be discreetly pro-Egyptian, but had been quite capable of forgetting his sympathies in order to be made Ambassador to Austria earlier on, during the period of hardline dominance. He was now sent to Cairo with the express mandate to be as friendly as he cared to be.[21][21]At the same time the "unofficially officially connected" journalist Hussein Abu Saleh, who has long been one of the men Hassan al-Turabi uses to float ideas he wants to test without having to take responsibility for them, was mooting in an article in his "independent" newspaper in Khartoum the notion that through the peace negotiations with the SPLA the West wanted in fact to dismember Sudan. The answer to this plot, in Abu Saleh's opinion, would be for Sudan to get closer to the Arab-Islamic world for protection and especially closer to Egypt, which had always had an essential role in the security of the Nile Valley.[22][22] This was of course music to the ears of Egyptian policy makers in Cairo.[23][23] Egypt's fears of a partition of the Sudan and the development of yet another Christian-African power on the upper Nile - whose two sources are already controlled by "Christian" African states, Uganda and Ethiopia - neatly dovetailed with Khartoum's desperate need to find support for its war in the South. This in fact represented the revival of an old pattern, since between 1958 and 1972 Cairo had steadfastly supported Sudan's first war in the South, regardless of the regime in power in Khartoum. When Sudanese Vice-President Zubeyr Mohamed Saleh was buried in Khartoum after his death in a plane crash, Egyptian Prime Minister Kamal al-Genzoury attended the funeral, the first such visit by a high-ranking Cairo official since the Islamist coup d'état in 1989.[24][24]In agreement with Egyptian Foreign Minister Amir Musa and President Mubarak's political adviser Usama el-Baz, the new Sudanese Ambassador, Ahmed abd-el-Halim, immediately offered to meet the members of the Northern opposition in Cairo. This was rejected by Faruk Ahmed Adam in the name of the NDA.[25][25] After long discussions the Egyptian Government went ahead anyway and on 7 April 1998 declared that "the Sudanese opposition agrees to meet the Khartoum Government in Cairo".[26][26] The meeting never took place but the Sudanese opposition was (and still remains) deeply divided about the stance it should adopt.[27][27]


Here we have to revise the assessment offered in our last paper of January 1998. At the time we tended to explain the military inactivity of the SPLA in the South by a combination of bad weather and logistical problems. We now realize that while those factors were indeed quite real, they were far from having played the major role we attributed to them. The situation is much more grim and has a distinct political dimension.[28][28]The SPLA operations in Western Equatoria in the Kaya-Morobo-Yei area in February last year may well have been the last action by the guerrilla, at least for the foreseeable future. Although successful, it was carried out at enormous cost. The SPLA had recruited 13,000 men in Bahr-el-Ghazal in late 1996 in anticipation of the attack,[29][29] and of these over 3,000 died during the Western Equatoria campaign. The worst was that very few were killed in fighting - the government troops they were facing were themselves exhausted. Almost all died of starvation and diseases, due to the fact that the SPLA sanitary service had been allowed to fall apart through lack of attention and funding, and that no proper preparations had been made for the feeding of such a large force. Given the present drought it was impossible to live off the depleted local resources, and although surplus food was available in Zande country further west no proper arrangements had been made to transport it to the area where the fighting took place.

Following this military victory but logistical disaster, the SPLA High Command met and advised Colonel Garang not to recruit any more men before logistical and sanitary conditions could be improved. Garang agreed but went ahead anyway behind his senior officers' backs, using his own network of young pliable commanders to recruit a further 2,000 men from Bahr-el-Ghazal in the Spring of 1997. Of these another 800 died during the latter part of 1997, without any fighting taking place. Again, all had died of diseases and lack of food. As a result of this holocaust by neglect many of the survivors deserted, leaving the forces besieging Juba sadly depleted.

These are the conditions which, as much as the weather and logistical problems, have prevented the SPLA from going on the offensive in spite of its repeated boasts that it was about to take Juba. With the desertions and with many of its best and most seasoned troops now in Ethiopia and Eritrea the SPLA is in no position to attack anywhere in the South at present.

In addition to the dire military situation, Colonel Garang is at the centre of a questionable political realignment. His authoritarian ways and his often blind tribal and personal manipulations have angered many of the commanders of the old guard. Not a few now even openly regret that the Riak Machar/Lam Akol rebellion of August 1991 was so poorly organized - and in fact led to greater troubles than those it attempted to solve - when the motives behind it were right and the underlying problems have not been adressed. Instead Colonel Garang took the failure of the rebellion and the eventual treason of its leaders as a form of final seal of approval for his own leadership.

Faced by disaffected senior officers, Garang has reacted in two ways: firstly by giving more power to the junior officers whose blind obedience he can trust; secondly by courting the favours of the old generation of Southern politicians such as Gama Hassan, Justin Yaac or Hillary Paul Logali, i.e. the very men whom he had shunned in the 1980s, declaring at the time that it was their corruption and political ineptitude which had caused the failure of the High Executive Council during the years of the Regional Autonomy (1972-1982).[30][30] This return on the scene of mostly discredited old politicians is another discouraging sign for the senior SPLA commanders who are now in their 40s and who see their future blocked by Garang's policies and choices.

It is against this background that one has to see the Kerubino episode. Although Kerubino Kwanyin Bol had tried to overthrow Garang in 1987, and although he had sided first with Riak Machar's SSIM in 1992 and later directly with Khartoum, Colonel Garang was in no position to shun him, when he changed over from government auxiliary back to rebel. The SPLA leader welcomed him "back to the Movement" but had to allow him to retain his operational autonomy. This could in fact become a more general pattern of the war in the South, with other groups turning against Khartoum but without going back to Garang's choking embrace.[31][31]

But in the meantime the military exhaustion of both the SPLA and the Government, far from improving the situation for civilians, has made it even worse. Incapable of attacking each other, the two military contenders try to hit at the enemy through its civilians, stealing food in the case of the SPLA, preventing it from reaching the guerrilla-held areas in the case of the Government.[32][32]


4.1     Egypt

Egypt is of course the first country whose role has sharply changed in the last few months. As we saw, the Khartoum regime has worked strenuously to project an image of reconciliation with Cairo.[33][33] For reasons belonging essentially to what John Waterbury has aptly termed "the hydropolitics of the Nile Valley"[34][34] Egypt has gone along with this new "friendship" and has tried to persuade the Sudanese opposition to play its part in this "reconciliation". But problems developed almost immediately in the new relationship. The Egyptian properties which had been confiscated in 1993 were supposed to be given back to their righful owners.[35][35] But two weeks after the agreement had been signed nothing had happened, because the properties were in the hands of friends of the regime, who used their inside contacts to block the handing back of buildings and houses.[36][36] As another proof of renewed friendship, Cairo asked for some seventeen known Egyptian terrorists, living in the Sudan, to be handed back. The Sudanese Minister of Interior, General Abd-er-Rahim Mohamed Hussein, denied their presence on Sudanese soil, strong evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.[37][37] However, in spite of these various hiccups and humiliations, the Egyptians seem to be strongly resolved to pursue their rapprochement with the Sudan, even in the face of clear U.S. irritation.[38][38]

4.2     Uganda

Uganda is another country which, in ways more subtle than Egypt, also seems ready to change its attitude towards the Sudan. But here the game is more controlled, the conditionalities more explicit, the diplomatic manoeuvres more complex. For Kampala, the only aim is to cut off Khartoum's support to Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), the brutal guerrilla group operating in northern Uganda. There again the U.S. is less than pleased by this search for a separate peace by Uganda, when Washington has unequivocally endorsed the collective peace process sponsored by the International Group Against Drought and for Development (IGADD).[39][39] Kampala pleads the sacred egoism of national interest and security and, to U.S. displeasure, keeps using Teheran as a go-between with Khartoum.[40][40]

4.3     Ethiopia and Eritrea

The situation is different for Ethiopia and Eritrea. Both these countries remain solidly opposed to the Khartoum regime and supported the Sudanese opposition's hard line during the IGADD negotiations in Nairobi on 4 and 8 May. Nevertheless, since Eritrea is home to the Northern-dominated National Democratic Alliance (NDA) it is keenly aware of the alliance's disarray. Sadiq al-Mahdi's defection to Cairo has been a very serious blow to the NDA. After his defection, the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called NDA President Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani to Cairo and tried to persuade him to follow suit and join Sadiq in opening negotiations with the Khartoum regime. He refused.[41][41] But there were very serious discussions among the various components of the NDA (Umma, Democratic Unionist Party, Beja Congress, Sudan National Party, Sudan Alliance Forces, Communist Party, Sudan Federal Party) after he returned to Asmara, since opinion was quite divided between following the course of armed struggle and trying for negotiations.[42][42] In the end no clear decision was taken and things are still undecided, with Cairo continuing to exert strong pressure to push the NDA towards direct negotiations outside the IGADD process, much to Washington's displeasure.

One result of this has been that the role of Addis-Ababa and Asmara in supporting the NDA and the SPLA is becoming more significant. Since Addis-Ababa is less than pleased with Colonel Garang,[43][43] there is a strong temptation to try to find some local alternative to the SPLA. This, for the time being, seems to point towards a revival of the old Southern Sudan Independence Movement (SSIM), Riak Machar's organization, which he had abandoned when he joined the "Peace from Within" process in 1996-1997.[44][44] If Machar's wing of the SSIM is now more or less on the government side, this is not the case with his men on the Eastern Upper Nile. The garrisons of Ayod, Waat, Nasir, Pochala and so on are nominally on the same side. But when Riak himself tried to cross the Nile in late April to "inspect his men", they fired upon him and prevented him from crossing the Nile. As a result the Nuer of Eastern Upper Nile are now negotiating with the Ethiopians to try to re-start the war with Khartoum, but independently of the SPLA.[45][45]

4.4     United States

The key to the diplomatic situation is with the United States. Washington has long been critical of the Khartoum regime both for its violations of human rights at home and for its support of international terrorism. But the reality behind this militant stance has always been more ambiguous, since a small but articulate segment of the U.S. administration kept favouring a more "realistic" approach. In September 1997 for example, the State Department had announced that it was moving its embassy back to Khartoum.[46][46] Within a week the order had been countermanded.[47][47] In the same vein, when Washington imposed sanctions on Sudan in November 1997, it excluded gum arabic from the field of application of these sanctions. Since gum arabic represents US$ 3.7 million out of the US$ 4.4 million of annual U.S. imports from Sudan, the exclusion clause made the sanctions meaningless, except as a symbol.[48][48]

Thus when the U.S. decided to create a large Sudan Task Force at the time of President Clinton's African tour, it was difficult immediately to assess what exactly its mission was and whether it marked a shift in policy.[49][49] The Task Force, which included most of the key people working on the question (John Prendergast of the National Security Council, State Department East Africa Division head David Dunn, USAID's Gail Smith, Nairobi based chargé d'affaires for Sudan Don Tettlebaum, former Ambassador to Asmara Robert Houdek), travelled for two weeks between Kampala, Addis-Ababa, Asmara and Cairo. The result, far from marking any softening of the U.S. position, led to a clear reaffirmation of support for the IGADD peace process to the exclusion of any other, and to a renewed commitment to the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments in their support for the Sudanese opposition.[50][50]


"Peace", as it at times seems to loom on the horizon, is not the result of the gradual realization by enemy camps at war with each other of their inability to prevail through military means. Nor is it the product of the political, philosophical and diplomatic adjustments which usually follow such a realization, when the contenders decide to abandon some of their more radical war aims in order to find common ground with the enemy they cannot destroy. It is also not the result of a process of gradual development, leading to mutually acceptable forms of compromise. Rather it is a calculation by two still completely unreconciled but exhausted adversaries, who are seeking to achieve tactical advantages through a media-catching diplomatic process. Their aim is to improve their respective political and diplomatic positions, possibly even their military capacities, in the hope of achieving through "peace" exactly the same objectives that they were trying to achieve through war. For the Khartoum Government this means the Islamization and Arabization of the South and the continuation of a monopoly of political power over the whole country; for the SPLA a form of either power-sharing or of outright secession; and for the "democratic" Northern opposition, some form of reintegration within the national political landscape.

These war aims are mutually exclusive and cannot be achieved through haggling over a tactical and purposely deceitful "peace". The diplomatic positions of Egypt and, more discreetly, Uganda, also point in the direction of a "peace" which has nothing to do with the long-term interests of the Sudanese people. For Egypt it has to do with the hope of a reconciliation with Khartoum as an alliance requirement against Addis-Ababa in case of a future war for the control of the Nile waters. For Uganda the aim is simply to restore peace on its northern border by getting Khartoum to stop its support of the LRA insurgency. Although these national concerns of Uganda and Egypt are perfectly understandable, they are peripheral to the core of the Sudanese question. After fifteen years of war, the central question of power sharing between the three major Sudanese population groups (Arabs, Southern Christian Africans and Eastern and Western non-Arab Moslems) is still not resolved. As the exploitation of the oil fields and the construction of the Port Sudan pipeline are slowly getting underway, the problem is getting even more pressing. But the general exhaustion of all contenders results in the illusion that it would be possible to conclude peace without solving any of these basic issues. Such a "peace", if it happened, would be at best temporary. Sudan has known these problems, largely in the same form, for forty-three years now and nothing short of a free and fair solution to the questions posed by power and resource-sharing, by religion and State relations, by equality of all before the law, is likely to constitute a basis for a durable peace.


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Xinhua News Agency [Khartoum]. "Sudan Seeks to Promote Relations with Arab States". 21 April 1998.

[1][1] For a detailed analysis of this process, see Gérard Prunier, Sudan: "Peace from Within" and the Vicious Circle of Internal Politics (WRITENET for UNHCR, January 1998)

[2][2] Odungo Nyang'ayo, "Ulisse a Wau", Nigrizia, March 1998; Alan Rake and John Kamau, "The Riddle of Kerubino Bol", The New African, April 1998

[3][3] La Lettre de l'Océan Indien, "Les leçons de la bataille de Wau", 7 February 1998

[4][4] Sudanese diplomat. Personal interview, Stockholm, November 1997

[5][5] Sudan Democratic Gazette, "War and Politics", November 1997

[6][6] This was Lawrence Lual Lual, a veteran politician from Aweil who had served under all the Sudanese regimes for the last twenty-five years. See Agence France Presse [Khartoum], 5 February 1998

[7][7] George Kongor (a Dinka) and Riak Machar (a Nuer) were respectively second and third Vice Presidents, i.e. first and second in the line of succession for the post of First Vice-President.

[8][8] This whole section is based on a number of conversations with Sudanese academics, diplomats, opposition politicians and journalists, including some based in Khartoum, held in Paris, London, New York, Nairobi and Kampala, October 1997 to April 1998

[9][9] Beshir and Turabi automatically find themselves in opposing factions of the regime because of their ingrained differences, Turabi having always disliked the military, even those he has had to use. The various labels given to their groups do not matter since the shift of one to a certain position almost automatically entails the shift of the other to the opposite camp.

[10][10] What is interesting is that these officers close to Beshir can not be described as hard-liners in the usual Islamist sense (i.e. very religious and opposed to any form of secularism). On the model of the new Chief of Staff, Brigadier Sidahmed Sirraj, or the Chief Moral Guidance Officer (an Islamic post comparable to that of Chief Political Commissar in the old Communist armies), General Abd-er-Rahman Sirr al-Khatim, they are average Sudanese military types who have been forced into the hard-line camp in defence of their personal interests.

[11][11] According to most sources within Sudan, he has kept his former attributions in spite of his new job.

[12][12] The whole process is a typical embodiment of the Fiqh ad-Darura political philosophy of Hassan al-Turabi, briefly described in Prunier (January 1998), p. 2.

[13][13] For two converging analyses of these various cabinet changes, see Sudan Democratic Gazette, "As NIF Entrench Themselves in Power, They Rig Their Own Constitution", April 1998; La Lettre de l'Océan Indien, "Un gouvernement attrape-tout", 14 March 1998.

[14][14] Reuter [Khartoum], "Sudan Broadens Its Cabinet Before Peace Talks", 10 March 1998

[15][15] The New Vision, "Beshir V.P. Killed in Southern Sudan", 13 February 1998; La Lettre de l'Océan Indien, "Le crash de Nasir", 21 February 1998

[16][16] La Lettre de l'Océan Indien, "Mustafa Osman Ismail", 21 February 1998

[17][17] Sudan Democratic Gazette, "A Successful Visit That May Have Reassured the Egyptians", January 1998

[18][18] La Lettre de l'Océan Indien, "Un dialogue ambigu", 6 December 1997

[19][19] Sudan Democratic Gazette, "Egypt Repairs Relations with the NIF Regime, but at Whose Expense?", February 1998

[20][20] Xinhua News Agency [Khartoum], "Khartoum, Cairo, Agree on Tackling Differences", 2 January 1998; La Lettre de l'Océan Indien, "Soudan: les manoeuvres du Caire", 10 January 1998; Reuter [Cairo], "Sudan Sees Warming Relations with Egypt", 12 January 1998

[21][21] TTU Monde Arabe, "Initiatives egyptiennes au Soudan", 19 December 1997

[22][22] ar-Rai al-A'am, Hussein Abu Saleh, "Ikhaf al-Mufawadat as-Salam", 13 December 1997

[23][23] It was also a reversal of Turabi's long-cherished policy of putting Islam first and the Arab world second. But the progressive withdrawal of Iran from the Sudanese scene in the mid-1990s had rendered this policy largely unworkable. Xinhua  News Agency [Khartoum], "Sudan Seeks to Promote Relations with Arab States", 21 April 1998

[24][24] TTU Monde Arabe, "Le jeu soudanais du Caire", 20 February 1998

[25][25] Agence France Presse [Cairo], "L'opposition nordiste rejette une initiative de Khartoum", 23 February 1998

[26][26] Egypt, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "Communiqué" (Cairo, 7 April 1998)

[27][27] NDA executive officer, Cairo. Telephone interview, 30 April 1998

[28][28] Just as our last analysis was based on meetings with SPLA commanders, this analysis is also largely based on interviews with SPLA personnel. But while in November 1997 we had to limit our contacts to officials in Nairobi due to time constraints, this time a longer period in the field (the whole of March 1998) allowed us to have deeper and more varied contacts, both in Kenya and in Uganda.

[29][29] Bahr-el-Ghazal is the last area where the SPLA can still recruit. In both Western and Eastern Equatoria young men run away from guerrilla recruiting teams and flee to Uganda (Author's visit to Sudanese refugee camps in Northern Uganda, March 1998). As for the Upper Nile area, it is nominally under government control but in reality has escaped both the government and the SPLA and has been living in a state of precarious peace for the last three years. The province's Nuer leaders who are now independent from Riak Machar are not about to compromise this achievement by agreeing to give men to the SPLA.

[30][30] On this see Gérard Prunier, From Peace to War: The Southern Sudan (1972-1984) (Hull: University of Hull Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, 1986)

[31][31] This seems to be the direction many Nuer in Upper Nile are taking, with discreet support from Addis-Ababa (Daniel Koat Matthews, Stockholm. Telephone interview, May 1998)

[32][32] Agence France Presse [Mapel], "Des dizaines de milliers de réfugiés manquent de nourriture au Sud Soudan", 24 February 1998; Agence France Presse [Khartoum], "Le Président Béchir assure un émissaire de l'ONU que Lifeline Sudan se poursuit", 24 February 1998; Agence France Presse [Turalei], "Le rebelle Kerubino a mis le Bahr-el-Ghazal en situation d'urgence alimentaire", 6 April 1998; Le Monde, "La faim s'aggrave dans le sud du Soudan selon les organisations non gouvernementales", 18 April 1998

[33][33] See, e.g. La Lettre de l'Océan Indien, "Soudan: nouvelle initiative égyptienne", 7 March 1998; Reuter [Cairo], "Sudan's Foreign Minister Says Egypt Ties Improving", 20 March 1998; Reuter [Cairo], "Sudan Hails New Era of Cooperation with Egypt", 24 March 1998; Agence France Presse [Khartoum], "Khartoum salue l'adhésion de l'Egypte au Forum des Partenaires de l'IGADD", 14 April 1998; Agence France Presse [Khartoum], "L'Egypte et le Soudan signeront prochainnement un accord de sécurité", 18 April 1998. The media blitz during March-April was particularly sustained.

[34][34] John Waterbury, Hydropolitics of the Nile Valley (Syracuse NY: Syracuse University Press, 1979)

[35][35] Reuter [Cairo], "Egypt and Sudan Reach a Deal on Seized Property", 28 April 1998

[36][36] Contact at Khartoum University. Telephone interview, 10 May 1998

[37][37] TTU Monde Arabe, "Discussions entre le Caire et Khartoum", 1 May 1998. The Egyptian secret service was so well-informed that it knew the terrorists' adresses.

[38][38] Senior U.S. policy maker. Personal interview, Washington DC, May 1998. The members of the Sudan Task Force appointed by U.S. Under-Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice in March 1998 made it abundantly clear to their Egyptian counterparts during their visit to Cairo in April that they did not view the new policy towards Khartoum with approval.

[39][39] U.S. Congressional Staff. Personal interview, Washington DC, May 1998

[40][40] Reuter [Kampala], "Iran Envoy in Uganda to Resume Sudan Peace Talks", 11 April 1998

[41][41] NDA Executive Officer, Cairo. Telephone interview, April 1998

[42][42] Telephone interview with same, Asmara, April 1998

[43][43] The reason goes back to the years 1983-1991 when the SPLA, then supported by Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam's communist regime, was used as an auxiliary force against the very guerrilla movements (EPRLF and EPRDF) which are now in power in Eritrea and Ethiopia. In addition, Ethiopia's security apparatus is keenly aware of Garang's very poor handling of the SPLA in terms of logistics, human rights or even simple military tactics.

[44][44] See Prunier (January 1998)

[45][45] Daniel Koat Matthews, Stockholm. Telephone interview, May 1998

[46][46] Reuter [Washington DC], "US Diplomats to Return to Sudan", 24 September 1997. The US Embassy had been moved to Nairobi some years earlier for fear of an Iranian style hostage-taking.

[47][47] The Washington Post, Theodore Lippman, "Retreat from Announcement Reveals Confusion at State Department", 30 September 1997. The cause was not confusion but intra-departmental infighting between the "hawks" and the "doves" on the Sudan question. U.S. Congressman. Personal interview, Washington DC, October 1997

[48][48] Reuter [Washington DC], "US Imposes New Sanctions on Sudan", 4 November 1997

[49][49] La Lettre de l'Océan Indien, "Soudan: grande manoeuvre américaine", 11 April 1998

[50][50] U.S. policy makers. Several personal interviews, Washington DC, May 1998

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