Hibiscus with Ginger

The Fate of Sudan

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So this post is a bit late, and it’s far more news and poli sci oriented than I’d hoped. At the same time, since I’m beginning graduate school, it makes sense to start off with a book that I just finished–the Fate of Sudan by John Young, a Canadian researcher who has worked in Sudan since the 80s, most recently with the Carter Center.

In many ways, the window for publishing this book was quite small. The Fate of Sudan discusses the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which came to a conclusion in 2011 with the separation of the South. While the CPA will be discussed for some time, its provisions have almost entirely expired. This year is part of a small period in which it seems relevant to look back at the CPA and assess the negotiations as well as the results. Could the CPA negotiations have been handled better?

The editing reflects a rush to publish quickly. Names of groups are sometimes slightly off, typos appear from time to time, and the structure sometimes lacks a degree of reflection which might have improved the analysis. At the same time, Young’s criticisms of the CPA negotiation process and his analysis of the results ring true and provide a good counterpoint for more positive analyses of the peace negotiations.

This agreement, Young argues, should be seen as a failure. Western mediators, as well as elites in both the North and South, traded away democratic reform in order to secure a legalistic, temporary agreement that addressed none of the root causes of the conflict. This ultimately led to the separation of the South but did not allow for any lasting peace.

At its heart, the book is most critical of the process by which the CPA was developed. In addition to skewering the mediators for having no real vision and proposing no innovative solutions, Young is most harsh when discussing governance approaches that focus on individuals rather than structures.

He takes Garang and the SPLA to task for failing to create a governance structure that relies on processes rather than individuals. He also criticizes the US and other western mediators for co-opting the peace process, pushing their agenda and priorities, and thus denying the negotiators and representatives the opportunity to set their own priorities and discuss the issues themselves. When the negotiations were left to Ali Osman Taha, first Vice President of Sudan, and John Garang, the head of the SPLA, this personality-driven negotiation got worse, excluding all other actors, including other officials from within the two major parties.

Such negotiations are favored at times because they are faster and lead to agreements more readily. At the same time, they can also produce agreements that aren’t enforceable, have no support from the larger community, and are entirely dependent on the power of those who negotiate the agreement—a situation which proved particularly damaging for the CPA, since Garang died soon after and Taha lost influence over time.

Since the book’s publication, there has been some back and forth between Alex De Waal and John Young, much of it centering on the negotiation’s narrative and the ability of western powers to “walk away” from negotiations in which they feel that credible efforts are not being made to address the root problems of the conflict. Some of this disagreement comes from their respective jobs. De Waal was involved with the African Union, helping with negotiations on Darfur and is invested in the liberal peacemaking model that Young seeks to criticize as an outside observer.

I’m honestly not sure what would have been best. Young argues that mediators should have walked away from the negotiations when it became clear that neither the North nor the South intended to honor the democratic reforms present in the CPA. While it seems likely that such reforms were necessary for an enduring settlement to the civil war, I don’t think that either group would have been willing to implement them, whether now or in ten years’ time.

Where does this leave Sudan? Young references Luttwak to argue that wars only end after decisive defeats and victories, when credible political will exists to make concessions. By western powers walking away, then, the warring parties would have continued to fight until they were so damaged as to finally seek real solutions to the problems at hand. Such an argument assumes, however, that no other powers would have provided low-level assistance, prolonging the conflict indefinitely. This seems unlikely—throughout Sudan’s history, different actors, particularly regional ones, such as Ethiopia, Libya, Chad, and Uganda, have provided assistance to one side or another.

At what point do outside powers have a responsibility to try to facilitate negotiations? Most importantly, if western facilitation can be so fundamentally flawed and governance (and negotiations) so personality-driven, what circumstances should be sought for an agreement to be found? Young brings up real problems with the CPA, but it isn’t clear whether outsiders simply walking away would have made the situation any better.

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