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Sudan signs Juba Agreement: Will it hold?

Khartoum and key rebel groups have an inked historic agreement ending 17 years of civil war. But will the agreement hold amid accelerating economic decline

Atia Essawi, Friday 9 Oct 2020
Sudan signs Juba Agreement
Al-Burhan, Kiir, and Chad President Idriss Deby after signing the peace agreement between Sudan’s transitional government and revolutionary movements in Juba (photo: Reuters)
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In what could mark a major historical feat ending 17 years of civil warfare and bloodshed in Sudan, the government in Khartoum signed a comprehensive and final peace agreement on Saturday, 3 October, with most of the rebel movements in Darfur, South Kordofan and the Blue Nile states.

This agreement, which crowns a year of fraught negotiations that sometimes verged on collapse, may be ranked as the most comprehensive response to the demands of Sudanese insurgent groups, as represented by the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), which consisted of five militia movements and four political movements, especially when compared to the Abuja Agreement in 2006 and the Doha Agreement of 2010.

The new agreement covers many fundamental issues that had not been addressed in the previous agreements. In addition to the halt to conflict, and compensation and reparations, the agreement provides for specified shares in wealth and power both at the central and local levels.

It also grants the Blue Nile and South Kordofan states self-rule in a federalised framework, giving these states considerable jurisdiction and the right to pass locally applicable laws and legislation, as long as they are consistent with the 1973 Constitution and with the principles of respect for religious and cultural plurality. The agreement also calls for the creation of a number of commissions, the most important being the Commission for Religious Freedoms.

The coalition of rebel groups that signed the agreement will be accorded three seats in the Sovereign Council, five seats in the cabinet, 75 seats in parliament, as well as a 40 per cent share in government in Darfur and a 10 per cent share in government in the northern, central and southern regions. The conflict-afflicted areas will be able to benefit from about 40 per cent of all tax revenues, local natural resources and other local sources of wealth.

Under the agreement, the militia groups will dismantle themselves and their members will be incorporated into a restructured national army. Fighters from these groups who had been killed in action will be regarded as martyrs of the Armed Forces and a committee will be formed to follow up on soldiers missing in action and prisoners of war. Rebel movement leaders will be exempt from the ban on those who hold government positions during the interim period from fielding themselves in forthcoming elections.

The agreement stipulated a 39-month period for the process of disbanding the militias and assimilating their members into a national army and police force. It also calls for urgent support for peacekeeping forces in Darfur, the Blue Nile and South Kordofan in which the rebel movements will have up to a 30 per cent participation. A special fund will be created to provide $750 million a year over 10 years to impoverished areas in the south and west of the country.

Other provisions cover the return of refugees, the resettlement of displaced persons in their home towns and villages, compensation for damaged or confiscated lands or livestock, development of the livestock and agricultural sectors, and other developmental needs. The agreement underscores the principles of justice and equality among all Sudanese people and calls for a national reconciliation process.

However, the fact that the agreement has been signed does not necessarily mean the end to war in Sudan. Implementing it will take good faith, which has yet to be tested on either side. There can be no circumventing the terms of the agreement, or self-serving reinterpretation of their substance. All parties will also need strong resolve in order to overcome the many obstacles and hurdles that can be expected to arise along the way.

Also crucial is an agency they can turn to in the event of disputes. Whether his agency is located in Sudan or abroad, it must be one the two sides agree on, and whose judgement they will accept. It is worth remembering, here, how conflict between north and south Sudan erupted again in 1983 because of Khartoum’s failure to abide by the terms of the Addis Ababa Agreement of 1972 and began to impose strictures of Islamic law on the predominantly non-Muslim South Sudanese.

Another problem is that two major factions — the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM-Nur) in Darfur, led by Abdul-Wahid Nur, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N Al-Hilu) in Kordofan and the Blue Nile, led by Abdel-Aziz Al-Hilu — have not signed the accord. This could create major problems unless mediators can persuade these two movements to come on board with the peace process. Negotiations with SPLM-N Al-Hilu fell apart over Al-Hilu’s demand for the secularisation of the state.

The rebel leader argued that the preservation of the unity of the country was contingent on the separation between religion and the state and respect for equal citizenship rights. Recalling that the failure to reform Sudanese laws and legislation in order to bring them in line with these principles was a major cause of the secession of South Sudan, he cautioned that the continued failure to do so would lead other regions to do the same.

However, in an encouraging development on this front, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Al-Hilu signed an agreement 4 September to start a new peace process between the government and his movement. Abdul-Wahid Nur, for his part, refuses to join the Juba-sponsored peace process. He has made it clear that Khartoum has to have a purely civil government before his movement will engage in negotiations. On the other hand, this did not prevent Nur from meeting with Hamdok in Paris.

Immediately after the agreement was signed, Tut Gatluak, head of the South Sudanese mediating team, said that mediators would continue their efforts to encourage SPLM-N Al-Hilu to join the peace process. He expressed his gratitude to Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia for supporting the peace talks and paid special tribute to the peace-making efforts of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.

In addition to SPLM-N (Agar), members of the revolutionary coalition that signed the agreement included the Sudan Liberation Movement led by Minni Minnawi (SLM-Minnawi), the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) headed by Gibril Ibrahim, as well as an array of unarmed groups representing the peace tracks in the northern, eastern and central regions.

Despite the overwhelming positive responses, the agreement met some criticism. Some held that it focused too heavily on wealth and power sharing formulas and not enough on the people. They said more attention should have been given to displaced persons and refugees, arrangements for their voluntary return to their lands and villages, and questions of compensation and reparations.

Nevertheless, Salva Kiir Mayardit, president of South Sudan, which sponsored the negotiations, pledged to continue efforts to convince the Hilu and Nur factions to join the peace process, and Al-Burhan vowed that the government would work hard to implement the articles of the agreement in full until a comprehensive peace prevails.

Hamdok said the agreement would give his government fresh impetus to realise the aims of the interim phase, although he stressed that the path to the future would not be easy because building peace was a process filled with challenges and risks.

The Darfur conflict, which erupted in 2003, left over 300,000 dead and displaced 2.5 million people, according to UN figures. A million people have been harmed by the war that erupted in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile states on July 2011. Before the Naivasha Agreement of 2005, which called for a South Sudanese referendum on independence, more than two million people died and four million people were driven from their homes in the north-south civil war.

The civil wars in Sudan since its independence in 1956 have caused more than $600 billion worth of direct and indirect damage. According to the UN, more than 9.6 million Sudanese suffer severe food insecurity and around half of these are children.

According to a statement by the Sudanese Finance Ministry, inflation stood at 136.36 per cent as of June 2020 and the national debt stood at 190 per cent of GDP. Sudan desperately needs stability and lasting peace if the government is to be able to dedicate itself effectively to reversing the economic deterioration, halting the inflationary spiral, improving general living standards and enabling refugees and displaced persons return to their homes.

Khartoum must also demonstrate its determination to achieve peace in order to convince donor agencies to release necessary aid and funds for urgently needed development projects.

In the Sudan Partnership Conference held in Berlin this summer, Khartoum obtained $4 billion in pledges while European partners urged Washington to remove Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

But the conference simultaneously made it clear that political and financial support was contingent on progress in the democratisation process, bold economic reforms and national reconciliation, processes that had to extend across the entire country, including conflict areas such as Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly 

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