TCS Daily

Fear and Hope in Sudan

By Carroll Andrew - August 25, 2005 12:00 AM

For the moment, the fragile peace in Sudan's North-South civil war (a different conflict from the conflict in Western Sudan's province of Darfur) appears to have survived the death of the South's long-time leader, John Garang. Garang was the leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). The SPLA had been fighting against Sudan's central government in Khartoum since 1983 in a war that claimed over two million lives.

As part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that may finally end the two-decade long war, Garang had become Sudan's 1st vice-president. The 1st vice-presidency made Garang second in authority only to the leader he had been fighting, Sudanese President Omar Hasan al-Bashir. But on July 31, less than a month after assuming the 1st vice-presidency, Garang was killed in a helicopter crash. At this time, there is no evidence that the crash resulted from foul play, though an investigation is still underway.

The CPA includes a provision allowing the South to hold a secession referendum in six years time. If the vote were held today, there is little doubt that it would succeed, splitting what is now Sudan into two sovereign countries. Yet, despite the popularity of secession amongst the people of Southern Sudan, Garang himself openly favored a single, unified Sudan.

This is something of a political paradox. Garang had a long history as an alpha-style leader not disposed to power sharing or even consultation. It is difficult to believe that he viewed becoming the permanent number two to his long-time enemy as a satisfying end to his struggle. Garang and Bashir were about the same age, so Garang had no reason to expect to inherit the Presidency.

But Garang most probably did have a plan for reaching the top position. Professor Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban, an expert on and frequent traveler to the Sudan, points out that the CPA mandates a nationwide election for President to be held halfway through the interim period that precedes the secession referendum. According to Fluehr-Lobban, it was widely believed in the Sudan that Garang would have run for President.

If peaceful electoral politics were the only consideration, there is no reason to think that Garang could not have won. Though the national government under Bashir has been Arab-dominated, only 39% of Sudan's population is Arab. And even within the Arab population, Bashir lacks a reliable base of personal support. Bashir is a military strongman who came to power by allying with the leader of Sudan's Islamist movement, Hasan al-Turabi. It is doubtful that Bashir enjoys much support from Islamists today; Bashir has arrested, jailed, or otherwise detained Turabi multiple times since 2001.

Both Bashir and Garang seemed to believe that they could use an alliance with the other to get what they wanted. Garang felt that the 1st vice-presidency would help him develop the broad base of support he needed to become leader not just of Southern Sudan, but of all Sudan. Bashir believed that a marriage of convenience with Garang and the SPLA was necessary for maintaining his own, ever-shaky base of power, and that somehow he could beat Garang in a nationwide election.

It is almost certain that Garang's Presidential candidacy would have helped ameliorate Sudan's internal turmoil. Garang would have championed efforts to build some semblance of normal civil society in Southern and Western Sudan; he would have wanted as many people as possible who had suffered under the national government's aggression in the South, in Darfur, and in Eastern Sudan to have easy access to a polling place on a calm election day.

It is not clear that the new 1st vice-president, Salva Kiir, is the potentially unifying national figure that Garang was. Kiir does not have a record of strong public commitment to a unified Sudan. If Kiir cannot deliver a reasonable hope of a unified Sudan, either because he does not believe in it himself, or because he is unable convince his fellow Southerners to continue to follow Garang's vision, Bashir might renege on his agreements and resume the civil war.

For implementation of the CPA to stay on track, two conditions must be satisfied. First the Southern opposition must not fracture in the absence of Garang's personal leadership. That is easily enough said, but history shows that it is not always easy to do. Second, the world must not backslide on its new higher standards for fair elections established by the events in the Ukraine, Georgia, and other transitioning dictatorships. For the good of the people of Sudan, as well as an international system that aspires to the peaceful settlement of disputes, the international community must hold the government of Sudan to its two-election commitment, making it clear that the legitimate government of Sudan will be whatever government facilitates the elections that have been promised.

Carroll Andrew Morse recently wrote for TCS about The Bias Towards Brutality and Totalitarianism.



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