Wednesday, December 19, 2007

SPLA Set to Rejoin National Coalition Government in Sudan

South Sudan dangers still lurking

Sudan's former southern rebels have said they will rejoin the national coalition government, ending one of the biggest political crises to hit the country since the end of a two-decade civil war. However, Sudan specialist Gill Lusk writes that a return to war remains a possibility.

The crisis over the 2005 peace deal may have been staved off in the short term - but in the longer term it may well decide the future of the Sudan.

This is far more than a disagreement over the details of implementation between the two signatories to the January 2005 agreement: the dominant party, the National Congress (NC, still widely known as the National Islamic Front), and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A).

The importance of the crisis is quite simply because the SPLM/A wants the Comprehensive Peace Agreement to succeed and the NC wants it to fail.

The crisis broke officially in October 2007, when the SPLM pulled out of the Government of National Unity (GNU), which was formed as part of the CPA.

The agreement gives the SPLM 28% of ministerial portfolios in the GNU in Khartoum, along with senior political and civil service posts.

In practice, though, the NC controls far more than the high-profile SPLM jobs would suggest.

SPLM ministers in the GNU have been virtually powerless, as many have long privately admitted and as the southern leader, Salva Kiir Mayardit, complained when he withdrew his ministers from the GNU last October.

This goes beyond the reluctance of an incumbent ruling party to give up plum positions: the NC knows that if it genuinely shares any power, it will lose all power.

Contrary to the image it projects abroad (with some success, especially in the Arab and Muslim worlds), it is widely detested by northern Sudanese, not just by southerners.


It also knows that if the CPA is properly implemented, southerners will vote for independence in the referendum scheduled in the south in 2011.

All governments feel threatened by a loss of part of their territory; a regime that seized power in a coup in June 1989 in order to bring the "Salvation Revolution" to Sudan-ie
its own, militant, expansionist version of Islam - is threatened to the core of its being.

Compounding this is the fact that most of the estimated 500,000 barrels per day of oil that ensure the Islamist regime's financial security are pumped from the south.

The threats of a return to war, made by both sides, are therefore not idle.

Salva Kiir, who is national (first) vice-president and president of the semi-autonomous Government of South Sudan (GOSS), accuses the NC of wanting to start the war again.

After 22 years of the second north-south war, 16 of them against the NIF-NC, southerners in general know full well that Khartoum is capable of restarting the war when it chooses.

The late SPLM/A leader, who signed the CPA for the SPLM/A, John Garang de Mabior, repeatedly said that the SPLM's armed forces were the south's only real "guarantee" in the CPA.

The SPLA has acted accordingly. Though there have been many complaints of soldiers not being paid and of the slowness of its transformation into a national army, training and organisation have pushed ahead, much of it with United States' assistance.

The SPLA has been rearming after the often makeshift supplies of the guerrilla war.

Mr Salva's trip to China last year, originally seen as on behalf of Khartoum, was later viewed also as a military shopping spree and as the south's second bid for a foreign policy beyond its traditional friends in Uganda and Kenya - the first being the US.

Ready to fight

President Salva lacks the charisma of Mr Garang and the outside world has often seen him as neither politician nor academic, but a slightly awkward man with a penchant for dramatic hats.

However, SPLM insiders long knew him as an experienced soldier, with a reputation for integrity, intelligence and an ability to help reconcile politically or ethnically warring groups.

He is skilled at getting potential troublemakers into the big tent but is also capable of evicting those causing problems.

Southern Vice-President Riek Machar (for long an NC ally and recently deprived of his GOSS ministerial portfolio) and Lam Akol (recently ejected as GNU foreign minister for being too fond of the NC) have both felt the force of Mr Salva's judgement.

In his usual quiet but direct way, Mr Salva has left the NC in no doubt that if Khartoum triggers war again, he will respond.

President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has equally left no doubt as to the regime's readiness to fight again.

In November, he told an anniversary gathering of People's Defence Forces (PDF) that the "mujahideen" should mobilise for "jihad".

The PDF, an NIF invention, consist largely of militia subjected to particularly zealous Islamist indoctrination.

Many have been active in the most brutal of the slaughter, rape and scorched earth operations in Darfur and some previous Janjaweed militia have been incorporated into the PDF.


The angry November address by Mr Bashir will have reminded southerners of the most brutal years of the war in the early 1990s, when torture was commonplace and northern armed forces in the south were spearheaded by cannon fodder expecting to be "martyrs", which they mostly became.

For northerners, it is a reminder that the party does not entirely trust a regular army whose ranks it has been unable completely to "Islamise" and which Mr Bashir was originally appointed to keep in hand.

The NC will use not only military means to keep control of the south.

Nationally, its main policy instrument since it took power has been a range of security organs, some in the form of "charities" or companies.

Before the CPA, it used militias to attack the SPLA and terrorise villagers, including Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army, which it is still believed to back.

The NC is expert in infiltration and subversion: it spent years patiently infiltrating the northern political, economic and administrative system in preparation for its 1989 coup.

Since the CPA, it has found it hard to do this in the resolutely southern nationalist south.

Nevertheless, it can still find enough southerners willing to help it to exploit local grievances over the slowness of improvement in living standards, including through disinformation and verbal attacks on the SPLM.

The NC regime is responding to the CPA crisis with the delaying tactics it uses so successfully while continuing to block the kind of negotiation or mediation that are the currency of conflict resolution.

Yet Western, African and Arab governments continue to talk as if talking would solve the problems.

However, based on each party's actual aims, any assumption that either prefers a "bad peace" to war seems overly optimistic.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/12/17 13:01:40 GMT

No comments: