Background: Sudan

June 10, 2010
  • Sudan is Africa's largest country, and the tenth largest in the world, by area. Its modern history has been characterized by long periods of conflict, most especially since the end of British governance in 1954 when the largely Arab north and the largely African south (which had been governed under separate political systems by the British) were unified into a single Sudan. Two long civil wars between north and south, each lasting approximately two decades, finally gave way in early 2005 to a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) aimed at creating two parallel systems of governance within a unified, democratic nation.
  • The CPA often was described, at the time of its signing, as being rooted the concept of one country with two systems of government and administration. The agreement sought to give the south political autonomy for six years, after which point – in 2011 -- a referendum on secession will be allowed in the south. During the interim time, the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) would exist as an independent body and also as part of a national unity government.
  • In the view of the United States and other Western governments, the six-year period between the signing of the CPA and the secession vote would allow an influx of western development aid that – when combined with shared oil and mineral levels between North and South – would allow for a strong Southern government as part of an integrated Sudan, thereby diminishing the incentive for secession.
  • Many Southern Sudanese and international observers believe the northern Government fundamentally has not lived into the terms of the CPA. Because of the CPA's failure to provide for strong transparency in the sharing of oil and mineral revenues, there is widespread belied in the south that the north has "robbed them blind" (in the words of one Episcopal Church leader). Oil revenue is critical to the ability of the Southern Government to survive and strengthen itself in the life of an integrated Sudan. Other issues include continual moving of agreed-to borders by the northern government; continued violence by northern forces against southerners; and fundamentally flawed engagement by the north with the political requirements of the CPA, including a 2008 census and 2010 national elections, both of which were intended to lead to stable, shared, representative democracy.
  • The outbreak of violence in the western region of Darfur in late 2003, which has continued to this day as the northern Sudanese government has sponsored ethnic violence against the people of Darfur, is another source of tension that has weakened implementation of the CPA. Sudanese President Omar Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for his government's role in the crisis, but thus far, has not faced arrest or trial. Many international observers leaders believe the international focus on the crisis has taken some of the focus off of the northern Government's compliance, or lack thereof, with the CPA.
  • Shortly after coming to office, President Obama told the world that "Sudan is a priority for this Administration, particularly at a time when it cries out for peace and justice." As next January's referendum on southern secession approaches, it is imperative that the President bring new energy and leadership to diplomatic efforts to preserve peace. Many observers fear that, because of tenuous nature of the CPA's implementation, the secession vote next January – irrespective of its outcome -- will be followed by a resumption of the violence between north and south that filled the 40+ years prior to the 2005 peace agreement.
  • Irrespective of whether the South Sudan votes to secede and become an independent country, a series of contested issues holds the key to whether peace will be Sudan's future after the referendum rather than a return to war. These include the manner of sharing revenue from oil (most of which is located in the south), the definition of borders, usage rights of the Nile, repayment of towering debt to the World Bank, and the recognition of the religious and civil rights of southerners living in the north and vice versa. Achieving humanitarian stability and a full cessation of violence in the western region of Darfur is also vital to any long-term, comprehensive peace.
  • It is abundantly clear that these issues cannot be resolved without leadership from the Obama Administration that treats this as a key strategic and humanitarian concern of the United States of America. Saying the right things and pursuing peace through gentle diplomacy is no longer enough; the President must now treat peace in Sudan as a foreign-policy priority. The President and the Congress must press the parties to come to agreement on the key outstanding issues in the CPA, as well as prepare for the recognition of South Sudan as an independent state if voters so choose, together with commitments of aid that will allow the state to be commercially viable and secure.
  • The Episcopal Church of Sudan, based in the southern capital of Juba and claiming more than four million members, is one of South Sudan's largest civil-society institutions. Led by the its primate, Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul, the ECS has been a long-standing and outspoken voice for peace and reconciliation in its troubled land. Episcopalians can learn more about how to support the ECS and its ministries through the American Friends of the Episcopal Church of Sudan.