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"Briefing on Sudan at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum", by John Prendergast.

I'm really humbled, actually, today to be able to speak to you within these solemn walls. In this building is housed the world's foremost testament to the concept of "never again." But, sadly, it is happening again, in smaller and much less dramatic ways, perhaps, than in Europe during the 1940s, but it is happening again in painfully slow motion, at an almost surreally slow speed now, today, in Sudan. Although it's very, very late, it's not too late for us to act.

Most of us here are well aware of the statistics: 2 million people dead, 4-1/2 million people driven from their homes. Most of us here today also know about the reasons for these horrifying numbers. You know of the population clearing operations in the oil fields of Upper Nile and in the Nuba Mountains. You know of the use of starvation as a weapon of war. You know, of course, of the targeting of civilians and of their asset bases as a means of reducing work for the opposition. You know of aerial bombardment, continuous aerial bombardment that has become principally a tactic of terror. And you know, of course, of the raids on villages, in Bahr Al-Ghazal principally, which have revived the slave trade in Sudan.

Let me put this to you, though, in a different way. Imagine just for a minute that back in 1995, you took a trip to, say, St. Louis, and imagine you went there and you visited the Arch; you went to see a Cardinals game; you wanted to see if Mark McGwire would hit a home run. You visited the local hospital, because some fish you ate gave you a funny stomach. Imagine you liked the trip so much, and especially the people there in St. Louis, that you decided again in 2001 to go back, in the last year. Imagine that when you arrive, you find that the Arch has been destroyed, the baseball field has been abandoned, and the local hospital has been razed. And all the people you met are gone, some of them dead, most of them unaccounted for.

Now, stop imagining and let me tell you what I've experienced just in the last 6 months. In that time frame, I visited two particular villages, one in Upper Nile and one in Bahr Al-Ghazal, in south central and southwestern Sudan, all since the middle of 2001. I brought with me lists of people that I had spoken with about a half dozen years ago on an earlier trip. I wanted to catch up, see what they were up to, see what had changed, see how their perspectives had changed on the conflict, and see where things were going from their point of view.

But no one, not one soul, was there that I had seen then, that I had shared meals with then, that I had traded stories with then. None of them were there. The local monuments and symbols, their Arch, is destroyed. The local clinics, their hospital, burned to the ground in one place, bombed in another place. The soccer field, their stadium, deserted and overgrown. I came to see if things had changed for these people and found that they will and could never been the same again.

When I had the opportunity and curse, as Jerry said, to be part of this mediation team for Ethiopia-Eritrea, there were two parties to the conflict in that war with relatively straightforward positions. Despite that, it took us 2-1/2 years of constant shuttle diplomacy, weeks-long negotiating sessions in Algiers, and strong U.S. leadership from President Clinton on down, and very close cooperation with our African and European partners. But let me tell you, the Sudan's war is no Ethiopia-Eritrea. It is much deeper, much more complex, with far too many very relevant actors and interests and grievances.

It's time, therefore, for the U.S. to decide as a nation whether we really want to help end this war or not, because it will require just that: It will require the U.S. direct leadership of a peace effort.

I'm getting ahead of myself. I think we first need to understand for a few minutes, all of us on the same page, where people are coming from in Sudan and what is driving this war. Rather than give you the usual sort of laundry list of causes of the conflict -- there are myriad causes, as you know, root and proximate -- I'd like to rather take you on a brief tour of locations, some of the places I've visited over the last 6 months, in order to provide a window on the multi-causality of this conflict.

Now, I'm sure in the book, there is a map somewhere that perhaps would help a little bit in this effort. I'm not sure what page it's on, so if somebody can find it quick, they can yell it out so everybody else can be on the same page. Page 2? Hey, that's easy. If we can start first in Bahr Al-Ghazal. That is in -- if you look southwest, the southwest part of the country, hopefully, it's -- is it pointed out as Bahr Al-Ghazal?

(Jerry Fowler: Yes)

Southwest part of the country. Really, the mother of all front lines in the multi-theater war. It is here that you really begin to understand the depth of the racial and religious discrimination and exclusion that is the foundation of 40 years of civil war in Sudan since independence. It is here you also begin to understand the underpinnings of the central concept of self-determination, the Gordian knot that will have to be untied somehow in order to resolve this war.

After centuries of being victimized by slave raiding, after a decade and a half which has seen two of the worst famines in the entire history of Africa -- one in 1987 and 1988, the other one in 1998 -- and after continuing assaults by government-supported militia, the Dinka of Bahr Al-Ghazal are saying emphatically, enough is enough.

This is very significant because the Bahr Al-Ghazal Dinka are the backbone of the SPLA, as many of you know, and the backbone of the rank and file of the SPLA army. It matters what they think. They are very clear -- and this is an important point -- self-determination must be part of the solution, or they will keep fighting to the last man.

Let's understand their sentiment. The sentiment is not, as some from afar might think, we have suffered so much, so now we must settle, we must compromise. Rather, the sentiment is this: We have suffered so much, we cannot turn back now. The bottom line for these people, the bottom line is self-determination, and that means in some way, shape, or form, that they will control their destiny.

Now, that can be negotiated in many different ways, in any meaningful ways. But it cannot be given away at the outset, as many in the international community would have it.

Next, let's travel to the east a bit, across the Nile to Upper Nile, the region of Upper Nile, which is the home, of course, of the oil fields. Now, oil isn't the only cause of the war, as all of you know, but it certainly has intensified the war since the exploitation began in 1998 and '99. That has never been more true than today, as the key Upper Nile commanders begin to reunite and have continued to reunite with the SPLA, the dominant opposition faction, creating more and more of a unified South.

While southern Sudanese exiles have had a very intense debate that many of you are perhaps aware of over the last year or so about the future of southern Sudan, and given the impression perhaps of some disunity in the South, quite a different process has been taking place and unfolding on the ground in Upper Nile. Ten years after the SPLA split, it splintered where the Nuer commanders largely left the SPLA, and resulted in a badly divided South, which divided Dinka and Nuer communities right down the middle.

Reconciliation is now taking root, thanks in large part to the efforts of the new Sudan Council of Churches, who have also addressed an audience here in this building. This new Sudan Council of Churches' effort has been a bottom-up peace process that is now culminating, finally, in the reunion of the top guns. This means that despite all the predictions -- and we heard many of them -- that the oil wealth would lead to an overwhelming military advantage for the government, unity in the South is impacting significantly in a different way, the other way, and driving oil companies to review their plans for Sudan.

Next, let's travel up the Nile to Khartoum, where all the oil development has fueled the government's desire to not allow any outcome that could lead to the division of the country. Self-determination then becomes a rhetorical device which must be reduced to its lowest common denominator and must be used in some way, shape, or form as a vehicle to maintain unity in the country. The political Islamist agenda, which drove this coup in 1989 and has driven this government's agenda, has become much more complicated as efforts to cooperate with counterterrorism have unfolded and they harm, in fact, international Islamist ties.

Also, in Khartoum, when you meet with internally displaced people, with the churches, with other communities who have come in because of civil conflict and are residing around the outskirts of Khartoum -- you again get this extraordinary sense. You get a taste of the depth of the racial and religious discrimination that is perceived by people and is, again, driving this conflict, driving the central cause of this conflict and its continuation.

Also in Khartoum is a beleaguered, but nevertheless committed, set of civil society and political party activists and organizations. They represent the aspirations of the vast majority of the Sudanese people and, in different ways, are working towards one main objective, and that is democracy.

So now let's travel east from Khartoum to the Eritrean border, and take a quick jump and stop in Asmara and Cairo. In all of these places, you find representatives of what's called the National Democratic Alliance, the consortium, the umbrella of opposition groups in Sudan, who remind you that this is not just a North-South war, but a national struggle for rights and representation.

In Cairo, one experiences in a more open way what I think is felt throughout much of the rest of Africa: opposition to an independent southern Sudan. The Egyptian government reads any proposal for self-determination as laying the groundwork for separation, and no one yet has successfully disabused them of that notion. That, in the end, will have to be the job of the United States Government and of the Sudanese themselves.

So to finish our tour, we can really go to any significant African capital, whether it's Abuja or Pretoria, or Addis, Nairobi, Kampala -- take your pick. Although lured by Khartoum's oil diplomacy, they will inevitably come, in my view, to the SPLA's rescue should its fortunes flag, not wanting to see opposition to what is perceived as a discriminatory agenda to be snuffed out. It will always be there in small ways for the SPLA to ensure that there is an opposition to this government's agenda, unless there is a serious peace process.

So against this complex backdrop, is there really any hope for peace in Sudan? I would argue that, really, for the first time in the 18 years of this conflict's history, there is hope. A huge -- relatively speaking -- huge window of opportunity has opened up. But the clock is ticking on whether the United States, and the international community more broadly, will respond appropriately.

Let me explain this window as we see it. If you walk away from today's session with anything at all, I hope you walk away with a better understanding of what a unique and singular opportunity we have right now to make peace in Sudan. Here are the factors as we see them.

First, the September 11th terrorist attacks have built a consensus within the government around the tactical compromise aimed at once and for all ending its international isolation through cooperation in counterterrorism and in the peace process. It is strengthened moderate voices for peace, and they've given us an opportunity to move this thing forward.

Second, September 11th has also increased the vulnerability of key government officials because of past association with Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda network, and other terrorist organizations. There's an increased fear of retribution if there is forced change in Khartoum in the future, especially after watching the Taliban disintegrate, hunted down by Afghans as much as by Americans.

Third, there is an increased threat to the oil fields that many of you perhaps have been reading about over the last few days. This affects greatly the fortunes of the oil company partners of the government. Lundin and Petranos in the last 2 weeks have suspended their operations. Talisman is looking to sell. Most importantly, because of the insecurity, none of these actors in the consortium can get at the most lucrative blocks to the south of current exploitation. That's where the real money is, and they can't get at it.

But that's not really all there is to the oil story. As the price of oil on the global market has declined, while insurgent attacks, while SPLA attacks, have increased, this has increased the cost of exploiting Sudanese oil because of security insurance and replacement of equipment and many other factors, making it less and less attractive to other international oil companies to come in as part of the consortium or for the existing partners to expand production.

But that's still not the full picture on oil. The capital market sanctions legislation that currently resides in -- waiting for a conference in the Congress -- still hangs out there. Of course, it's uncertain; it has an uncertain fate. But that's the point. No company really knows what will happen with this. It acts as a small, but important, deterrent to diversification, diversification of the oil sector in Sudan, which is a key objective of the government, which doesn't want a Chinese monopoly, doesn't want Chinese control of the oil sector.

That's still not the whole story on oil. The arms buying spree that the government went on over the last year, last year and a half, based on their increased oil revenues, was premised on oil purchased at $30 a barrel. As you know, it isn't $30 a barrel now; it's fallen by at least a third. This has created serious budgetary problems as the debt overhang in Sudan, probably the largest on the African continent, gets larger and larger and larger as every month goes by.

This is just the beginning of a list that, through these travels over the last 6 months, we've been compiling as to reasons why, particularly since September 11th, the government is ready for serious negotiations. Let me just say for a second, they're not ready to give away the store. They're not ready to walk up to the table and hand over a just peace without negotiating. They're serious negotiators, and they have very serious interests, but they're ready to negotiate seriously. That's the point.

But the SPLA, they also have a number of reasons why they would participate seriously in a serious peace process. They're worried about their own military position in the long run. The South is being torn to pieces by this war, as all of us know, and is probably why most of us are here today. The government has new equipment, particularly the attack helicopters. Their coordination of ground and air assets, which they utilized in the last major conventional confrontation between the SPLA and the government in southwestern Sudan in Raga and Ademzubare (phonetic) a few months ago, demonstrated that they figured this out better than they had in the past. This is a warning, really, to the SPLA about the effectiveness in the future that mercenaries and all this high-tech equipment can have. Again, the destruction -- if you use scorched earth as your principle tactic, you'll win a lot of battles.

Finally, I think the SPLA, as I said, it will always have a bastion of support within Africa. African nations will always come to its assistance at the time of need. But I think that the level of assistance is perhaps more uncertain than it has been in the past. There are many reasons for that over the last few years. The Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict really started the ball downhill; the Ugandans' very large-scale investment in the Congo; a lot of other reasons. So these are issues that, again, this is with the government. They're not going to walk up to the negotiating table and start giving things away. But if there is a serious peace process, we can expect the SPLA to be ready to negotiate seriously.

So what do we do with this wide-open window? Well, I think most importantly, we can't continue to do business as usual. U.S. leadership in constructing a path to peace is the indispensable missing ingredient. At this juncture, it is an uncertain ingredient. We have a month or perhaps 2 months at the most when Special Envoy John Danforth makes his recommendation to President Bush as to what should be the role of the U.S. in the peace process in Sudan. That recommendation will be a crucial, but by no means singular, determinant for U.S. action.

The absolute worst-case scenario is the following -- worst-case scenario for the people of Sudan, I might add -- if Senator Danforth concludes that because he has only made progress on three of the four tests that he has constructed for the government and the SPLA, that because they've only made progress on three of these four tests, that the Sudanese parties aren't ready for peace, they aren't ready to negotiate seriously. And therefore, the U.S. would risk its prestige and its credibility and waste its time to move forward with a larger engagement in the peace process, this would be a disaster.

Another potential disaster and recipe for failure would be for Senator Danforth and the United States to trot out the old mantra -- one that, of course, administrations across party lines have used -- that it's up to the parties and to the region to take responsibility for peace, and then using that mantra to encourage the IGAD process and the Egyptian-Libyan initiative to work together with perhaps some little enhancement of international effort, even U.S. diplomacy on the margins.

These are some areas that will result, I guarantee you, in another 18 years of war and another 2 million graves in Sudan. We simply cannot miss this window of opportunity with in-the-box thinking and conventional responses to the conflict in Sudan.

What is really most remarkable to me is that there has never been a multi-national, high-level sustained effort to build a viable peace process in Sudan. In order to do this, what is needed, again, is U.S. leadership, working closely with the British and the Norwegians, who have formed a sort of partnership outside the region and supporting peace in Sudan, and these three actors, in turn working very closely with the regional states that have a vested interest in their own existing initiatives, which have undermined each other over the last few years.

What this means more specifically is that the U.S. must take the lead as only it can in crafting one unified process that all stakeholders buy into. This new process will inevitably be some kind of a partnership between the regional and extra-regional actors. So we'll need new packaging, a new understanding of a new process. It cannot be seen to simply be the existing efforts with a little extra international push or coordination. The parties on the ground in Sudan will not take this seriously.

It means having a serious high-level mediating team with one lead negotiator who has the respect and the confidence of the parties and of the international community. It means crafting and coordinating international leverage, something, again, that has never been done, through a contact group or a working group of key nations agreeing on specific incentives and pressures that can be deployed in support of the mediation effort. It means ensuring, most importantly, the centrality of certain principles in the process, such as, not surprisingly, the right of self-determination for southern Sudanese and other marginalized people.

Let me conclude by underlining this central point. In the 18 years of war in Sudan, of this phase of the war in Sudan, there has never been a window of opportunity for peace as wide as there is now. Both sides are battle-hardened with huge walls of mistrust and no confidence in existing efforts. But all the parties -- the government, the SPLA, the larger National Democratic Alliance umbrella of opposition, the Umma Party, civil society organizations, all of them -- have called for a leadership role by the United States, moving us beyond this traffic jam of existing initiatives.

The U.S. should maintain its principled advocacy for human rights. I'm not suggesting one iota of abandonment of that policy. But understand, and make key constituencies in the United States understand the best it can, that the best means, the only means for ensuring these rights is a comprehensive peace deal. And we'll really only get that with a much larger role and engagement by the United States Government.

Thanks.



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Piece by John Prendergast in The Observer OnLine.

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