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Nairobi, Kenya

Peace at last in Sduan

10 January 2005 - Zachary Ochieng

Nairobi’s Nyayo National Stadium was packed to capacity on Sunday 9 January 2005. Women gyrated to the pulsating African drumbeats, as the men put their best feet forward to dance. Amid wild ululations and chants of Allahu Akbar and Halleluia, the world watched as the Sudanese government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army [SPLM/A] signed a comprehensive peace agreement to end the war that had dogged Africa’s largest country for almost 22 years.

The mainly Christian and animist south has been fighting the government in Khartoum since 1983 after the then president, Ja'far Numayri, dissolved the regional government and imposed “Sharia” law nationwide.

However, Sudan has been virtually at war with itself since the day it emerged from colonial rule in 1956. By then, the stage for conflict had already been set by the British and the Egyptians by way of a scenario of glaring inequalities between the north and the south, with much of the country's resources and the instruments of policy-making concentrated in the Arab north. It is against this background that the southerners took up arms to fight against the imbalance. Conflict has been raging, save for an 11-year hiatus from 1972 when a peace deal gave southerners limited regional autonomy.

Since 1994, the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development [IGAD] – which groups Eastern and Horn of Africa nations- has been brokering peace between the SPLM/A and the government. But Signs that the war was drawing to a close came in 2002 when for the first time, Bashir met with Dr garang in Kampala. It was followed in the same year by the signing of the Machakos Protocol on 20 July in Kenya.

The protocol – signed in the south-eastern Kenyan town of Machakos - commits the Sudan government to confining “Sharia” law to the north. It also grants south Sudan a six-year period of administrative autonomy, after which the population can decide in a referendum whether to stay in a united Sudan or secede.

The final peace accord brings to an end a war in which 2 million people have died and 4 million others displaced. “This agreement is signed after 42 years since I started fighting and you can imagine how emotional it is on my side, signing a peace agreement which we believe is fair”, said a visibly emotional SPLM/A leader Dr John Garang. “Today heralds a new dawn for Sudan, where no more bombs will be falling from the sky on innocent women and children. It marks the beginning of an era in which ululations from women and laughter from children, happy children, will be the common feature in Sudan”, he added.

In attendance to witness the signing ceremony were 10 heads of state and government including host Mwai Kibaki, Omar El-Bashir of Sudan, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Abdullahi Ahmed Yusuf of Somalia, Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika , Domitien Ndayizeye of Burundi, Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti and Ethipia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Also in attendance were Daniel arap Moi, Jerry Rawlings and Jaafar Numeiry, former presidents of Kenya, Ghana and Sudan respectively.

Outgoing US Secretary of state Collin Powell represented President George Bush while South Africa’s Vice-President Jacob Zuma represented President Thabo Mbeki. Other leaders in attendance were Nigeria’s Vice-President Al Haji Abubakar Atiku and UN secretary-general’s special envoy to Sudan Jan Pronk. India, Luxembourg, UK, EU, Libya, Canada, Pakistan, Qatar, Eritrea and Ukraine sent representatives.

“This is a great day not only for the Sudan but Africa. It’s the day of peace where insecurity will be replaced by security. Displacement of people will be marked with their return”, said President El- Bashir. “It will be a nation in which what would have been spent in combat will now be used in the provision of quality education and better health care”, he added.

President Museveni, the chairman of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development [IGAD that brokered the peace deal, said the achievement was an indication of what frontline countries could achieve in conflict resolution. “We in IGAD region and Africa as a whole have created a viable partnership, which reduces chances for outsiders to jump into conclusion on regional conflicts yet they have very little knowledge about them”.

His sentiments were echoed by Powell, who thanked the Kenyan leadership for ensuring the success of negotiations. He said the resolution of the Sudan conflict had proved Africa’s ability to manage its own affairs. On the Darfur crisis, Powell said his government was assisting those affected by the conflict and would work with Kenya and other countries in the region in search of a lasting solution to the problem.

Sudan’s Vice-President Dr Ali Osman Taha was equally anthusiastic about the peace deal. “Having covered milestones, mines and mountains, we shall successfully deliberate on the post-peace challenges as well. The people of Sudan are ready to walk back to the peaceful state where they came from”, he said.

“Although the journey towards the resolution of the Sudan conflict was long and difficult, it is gratifying that at long last the two opposing parties have now agreed to end one of Africa’s longest conflicts” , observed President Kibaki.

But as the world joins Sudan in celebrating a new dawn, the question on the lips of observers is “Will peace hold in Sudan?” The implementation of the protocols definitely poses a major challenge. For a country that has witnessed five coups since independence, one cannot rule out the possibility of scuttling the peace process by some vested interests. And Dr Garang seems to be wary, judging by the tone of his speech during the signing ceremony.

He said that due to the imbalance of power between the north and south, he went to the bush in 1962 to wage the guerilla war “and I hope I will not go back to the bush again”. He continued: “It is either we implement this agreement or we take an alternative painful route – dividing Sudan into two. If Sudan will not rise to the challenges of this agreement then rest assured that it will split at the end of the six-year interim period”.

Of great concern to the international community is the crisis in the western region of Darfur, which has been left out of the agreement. More than a year of fighting has left 70000 people dead and more than one million homeless.

Until recently, the Darfur crisis was seen as a sideshow to a much larger problem, the 21- year war between government and rebel forces in the south of Sudan. But independent observers now warn that the gains made so far will be minimised if the violence in the west is allowed to continue unchecked.

“The Darfur cloud is going to cast a dark shadow over the joy of today’s agreement”, said John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group think-tank. “The rapid disintegration in Darfur will complicate the implementation of this agreement. The international community will need to be very vigilant on all issues, especially on oil revenue and wealth sharing”, he added.

"It would be a terrible tragedy if peace in the south were to be achieved just as Sudan enters a new and equally vicious war in Darfur," says Justice Africa, a UK-based think-tank. "As well as humanitarian assistance, the Darfur war needs immediate political attention by the international community."

Yet, a peaceful Sudan is what regional leaders and the international community have been yearning for. Retired Kenyan president Moi under whose stewardship the peace negotiations began wants to see lasting peace in Sudan. “I am glad our efforts have come to fruition. It was because of the efforts of all of us. It is time now to consolidate what has been achieved. I hope all the parties will follow the peace agreement to the letter”. On his part, Garang announced the release of all prisoners of war held by the SPLA in the south, with the completion of the peace process.

The successful implementation of the protocols will be a major boost to Kenya, which has been hosting the peace talks for more than two years. Indeed, Kenya – which has borne the brunt of the conflict in the form of influx of refugees and proliferation of small arms – would like to see a fruitful implementation of the agreement. Nairobi alone hosts more than 10000 Sudanese refugees, while UNHCR’s Kakuma refugee camp holds more than 50000. In Kenya, Sudanese refugees are spread all over the country, with their children attending local schools. Dr Garang also has a home in Nairobi where part of his family lives.

Equally keen on a fruitful implementation of the peace deal is the international community, including the US, EU, Norway and Italy among others, who have been supporting the peace process both morally and financially. By sending representatives to witness the signing ceremony, they were sending a clear message that they supported a lasting peace.

As it is, the signing of peace agreement heralds a new era of peace in Africa and a period of great economic opportunities. Sudan has a huge potential of being a grain basket for Africa. Besides its oil, the south is particularly known to be very fertile.

For the South African governmentrt, peace in Sudan represents an awakening call for the maximization of economic co-operation which according to president Mbeki will promote the New Partnership for Africa’s Development [NEPAD]. Mbeki’s recent visit to Sudan helped to fast track the economic co-operation between the two nations, with the South African foreign ministry saying several firms have economic interests in the vast and natural resource rich Sudan.

Taking advantage of the vast economic potential in the southern region, South African firms have clinched two notable deals with the Sudan government for exclusive rights to explore oil wells in the country. South Africa’s national oil company Petro SA recently signed an agreement with Sudan’s state oil company Sudapet, for exclusive rights for oil Block 14 in Sudan, where exploration would shortly begin.

During the UN Security Council meeting held in Nairobi last November, President Kibaki said that the search for peace in Sudan would awaken Africa’s sleeping economic giant. Currently, Kenya is pursuing a joint rail connectivity programme with the southern Sudan, which is expected to radically transform the region’s infrastructure connectivity as the rail project also covers the neighbouring Uganda. The plans for the reconstruction of the 2500km Uganda-Kenya-southern Sudan railway, a project that has attracted some of the biggest train manufacturing firms in Europe, is expected to cost an estimated $5b. The German Thormaehlen Schweisstechnik group of companies, a rail engineering company, is the main investor in the project.

The international community, including the US whose oil giant Shevron Texaco has already secured oil drilling contracts in southern Sudan together with the Chinese and Pakistani firms are also celebrating peace in Sudan as they will no longer be accused of being only interested in Khartoum’s “blood oil dollars”.

For millions in the south, the implementation of the protocols means that for the first time, they will be able to travel freely to the north. Many have never even visited Khartoum. In the past anyone in the south arriving at Khartoum airport would be questioned about his intentions. The soutjerners will now be able to work in the north and acquire Sudanese national passports. Wealthy southerners will be able to travel to the north and neighbouring countries to do business.

At the core of the protocols is the creation of employment. The power sharing deal ensures jobs for thousands of southerners at the national level in a new parliament and cabinet. In the south, there will be jobs for those elected to the regional parliament besides 10 other parliaments in the ten states to be created.

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