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Sudan - Introduction

The country's name comes from the Arabic bilad al-sudan, or "land of the blacks". Sudan has been in a state of almost continuous war since it became independent in 1956. Sudan has been at war for half a century, with impoverished border regions clashing with Khartoum for more political power and a greater share in the country‘s wealth. By the end of 2000, the civil war had cost the lives of almost 2,000,000 people and resulted in a further 4,500,000 people being internally displaced. In addition, some 500,000 people were believed to have sought asylum abroad.

The control of oil and the Sudanese oil fields became the key source of conflict between government forces and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) as the Government used the revenue from oil sales to fund its war against the rebel forces. There were reports of serious human rights abuses committed by government forces on the civilian population in the oil producing areas of Sudan. A direct link between the nature of the civil war and guarantees for security for oil exploration by foreign oil companies became most obvious in intensified warfare in the beginning of 1999.

Amnesty International observed a pattern of human rights abuses in those areas in which foreign oil companies have exploration rights. According to the Amnesty International report - Sudan:The Human Price of Oil - which was published in May 2000, tens of thousands of people have been terrorised into leaving their homes in Western Upper Nile in early 1999. Government forces have used ground attacks, helicopter gunship and indiscriminate high altitude bombardment to clear the local population from oil-rich areas. This massive displacement of the local population followed the deployment of additional weaponry and forces specifically drafted in to protect the oil fields.

In the matter of determining Sudan's foreign policy as well as domestic policy, the military had played a major role since independence. Initially, the military was seen as being free from specific ethnic or religious identification and thus in a position to accomplish what civilians could not, namely to resolve economic problems and to bring peace to the south. Such hopes proved futile, however. The growing civil war in the south from 1955-72 and again from 1983 to the present, as well as the rising strength of the SPLA and the SPLM posed tremendous problems for the military and for the internal security forces. The civil war was extremely costly; according to one Sudanese government estimate, it cost approximately US$1 million per day.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) report, Sudan: Assessing risks to stability, dated June 2011, explained: "A tradition of predatory government extends back to the colonial period ... The British accentuated the differences between North and South by ruling them as separate entities, simplistically identified as "Arab" and "African". Attention was focused on the North, where a collaborative working arrangement quickly reached with sections of the religious elite. The South, conversely, had to be conquered and was not "pacified" until the 1920s. Economic activity and social development were concentrated in the North. ... The Northern elite, which inherited an independent Sudan in 1956, took its cue from its erstwhile masters. A succession of governments followed a myopic governance model that focused on the "core" Arab tribes of the Northern riverine states, while ignoring the aspirations of Southerners and other marginalised groups, and emphasizing Islamic and Arab exclusivity."

The same report further observed that, "The narrative thread that runs through Sudan from the colonial period onward is one in which political power and wealth have been concentrated in the center and peripheral areas have been chronically neglected. The ability of the Khartoum-based elite to manage the volatile and alienated hinterland varied with time. The more capable operators, which have included the ruling NIF [National Islamic Front] and the NCP [National Congress Party] for long periods since 1989, have relied on a combination of violence, threats and inducements to keep the country intact. A patronage network that purchased loyalty from strategically placed tribal leaders, political allies, and militiamen provided the glue that held the system together. It was eventually picked apart by marginalized communities in the South during two civil wars (1955 – 1972 and 1983 – 2005) and by uprisings in the Nuba Mountains, in Blue Nile State, by the Beja people in the East and by rebels in Darfur."

Jonathan Temin of the US Institute for Peace (USIP) testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, dated 14 March 2012, noting how the concentration of power and wealth in Sudan around an Arab, Islamic elite, was a key driver in Sudan‘s regional conflicts. As the testimony acknowledged: "... [F]or decades, Sudan‘s leaders have employed a model of governance that is ultimately unsustainable. This is not a coincidence. Rather, the model of governance employed by the current Government of Sudan – and several governments before it – is a central cause of Sudan‘s continuous instability. This model concentrates wealth, power and resources at the center of the country, meaning in and around Khartoum, to the detriment of populous peripheral areas. It is exclusionary and riddled with corruption. Since the beginning of Sudan‘s oil production, Khartoum has been a boomtown, while the peripheral areas have remained generally poor and underdeveloped. The rich and some of the middle class prosper, while many more suffer.

"Under the current government, this model has been accompanied by an effort to impose an Arab, Islamic identity throughout Sudan. The result has been a series of rebellions from peripheral areas seeking more equitable sharing of resources and resisting the imposition of identity or religion. The government has often responded to these rebellions with brutal and disproportionate military force. The government has learned that it benefits from promoting instability and division in peripheral areas, as it weakens the ability of opposition forces based in the periphery to challenge the center.

"The international community has spent decades working to end these conflicts on Sudan‘s periphery, with some success, such as the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). But the international community continues to chase these conflicts around the periphery while rarely making concerted efforts to help Sudanese reform the flawed governance model that is a root cause of instability."

Most observers generally offer two contradictory analyses: many in the West see the Khartoum regime as essentially dishonest, tricksters who will cheat and break every agreement with anyone foolish enough to trust them. Khartoum's apologists, by contrast, in many Arab capitals and Beijing, see any problems that may exist - whether with UNAMID or CPA - as essentially "technical in nature" (a word favored by the Chinese Ambassador in Khartoum), procedural issues that can and should be worked through and can be resolved if the regime is given "a little more time, patience or understanding."

The National Congress Party (NCP) regime never saw a negotiation it didn't like. A pack of compulsive negotiators, the regime is in a constant state of negotiation with friends and foes alike, and has no qualms about making or breaking agreements if circumstances change, and the regime can subsequently broker a better deal. It is also important to remember that the regime often strikes deals it never intends to implement, purely as a delaying tactic or to pursue other options even while engaged in the process of negotiating.

The National Congress Party (NCP) uses negotiations as a means of holding onto power, to level the playing field against stronger opponents, and to co-opt and disarm opponents. The NCP also uses negotiation to assert that it is the principal partner for any and all deals in Sudan - thus legitimizing itself and extending its time in power as the key player. The reason the NCP needs to rely on negotiations is that it is not powerful enough to enforce its will on all of Sudan's other factions all the time, but is strong enough to hold onto political and economic power at the center. In the end, negotiations are cheaper than fighting. The NCP also negotiates and makes deals that can be implemented over time (or partially ones that are partially implemented, only to be renegotiated,) because this strategy allows the regime to hedge its bets. If circumstances change, the regime can always renegotiate based on the new reality.

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Page last modified: 15-04-2019 18:49:33 ZULU