National Dialogue in Sudan: Past Experiences and Current Challenges (1)

Prof. Atta El-Hassan El-Battahani, University of Khartoum

Introduction

Since independence, Sudan has undergone a number of national peace agreements, some of which were observed and honored for short periods, others which were bypassed and dishonored. The net result of broken agreements has driven the country into deep conflict, leading to the secession of South Sudan in 2011, and creating a crisis which still threatens the country with further violence and dismemberment. Today, as never before, the country stands at a crossroads, and calls for change are coming from all quarters, even from inside the
regime itself. Change seems to be the catchword for all actors, including the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), the armed groups of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), traditional opposition political parties, youth groups and the international community.
While this is clearly the time for Sudan to embark on a genuine internal dialogue and reform process that leads to a broad-based, democratic government and meaningful reconciliation among Sudanese, there is no consensus on the direction change should take: how far, how
inclusive, how substantive? Agreeing on and developing a Shared Dialogue Framework for national dialogue is essential if key issues and modalities for negotiations, and a mechanism to oversee the overall process, are to be laid out to ensure a successful start of a process.
Sudan’s most successful past experiences of political dialogue of 1972 and 2005 were shaped by a combination of national conditions and drivers, and the opportune intervention from an international third party. Comparing the present conjuncture to those relatively successful experiences, one may cautiously state that conditions are different now. Regional and international actors no longer have the same appetite with which they pursued past national dialogue processes, and nationally, parties to the conflict are too weak to force an ‘endgame’, either through military means as in the experience of Sri Lanka, or through a peaceful settlement similar to the South Africa model.
The main objectives of this research are to provide a comparison between successes and failures of past national dialogue and peace processes in Sudan, and to identify options to overcome the current challenges to undertaking a genuine, inclusive and accountable national dialogue as a means to address the root causes of Sudan’s crisis.
The concept of national dialogue has several different meanings depending on the way in which it is used. According to Rieker (forthcoming) dialogue is used as a synonym for formal negotiations between two or more parties to a conflict, as well as to describe either the more informal process of communication among opposing parties leading up to negotiations or to processes that aim at
avoiding an escalation of conflict, without any concrete ambition to reach a negotiation phase.
It is important to note that the motivations for engaging in a dialogue varies, and a lot hinges on whether dialogue aims to promote understanding, whether it aims to change actors’ identities and interests, or whether it merely seeks to avoid the escalation and the use of violence. In some cases, actors may engage in dialogue for instrumental or tactical reasons, with no commitment to a peaceful resolution of a conflict. In other cases, dialogue may be imposed upon the parties by the UN Security Council or other external actors, without sufficient internal commitment to reach an agreement. For example, UN Security Council resolution 2046 currently calls for the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) to negotiate under the auspices of the African Union
High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) in Addis Ababa. However, no real progress has been made in nearly three years.
Political dialogue in Sudan, 1956-2011
Sudan has undergone a number of national dialogue exercises and peace agreements from independence in 1956 to 2010, all with the intention of putting an end to the country’s ongoing conflicts.
Internally driven national dialogue processes, 1956-1989
1965 Round-table conference between northern and southern political forces following the overthrow of Abboud Military regime in 1964.
1972 Addis Ababa Agreement between the Government of Sudan and Anya Nya Movement fighting for autonomy for Southern region
1986 Koka Dam Declaration between Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) and northern political forces expect the Democratic Unionist Party and the National Islamic Front
1988 Sudan Peace Initiative signed between Democratic Unionist Party and SPLM/A.
Externally driven peace processes, 1989-2011
1989 Bergen Forum on the Management of Crisis in Sudan, a workshop bringing together newly installed Islamic regime, SPLM/A, and some northern political representatives.
1993 Abuja Peace talks in Nigeria between the Sudan Government and SPLM/A.
1994 Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)Peace Talks on the Sudan Conflict, IGAD-led mediation between Sudan Government and SPLM/A.
1995 Asmara Declaration, a comprehensive policy document proposed by National Democratic Alliance for resolving the governance crisis
1997 Khartoum Peace Agreement between Reik Machar’s SPLM breakaway faction and the Sudan Government.
2002 Nuba Mountains Agreement signed between the Sudan Government and SPLM/A
2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the Government of Sudan and SPLM/A
2006 Abuja Agreement between the Government of Sudan and Sudan Liberation Army – Minni Minnawi
2006 Cairo Agreement between the Sudan Government and National Democratic Alliance
2006 East Sudan Peace Agreement between Sudan Government and representatives of Eastern rebel groups
2011 28th June Agreement between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North
2012 Doha Agreement between the Sudan Government and the Liberation and Justice Movement led by Tigani Sesi
Foundations for a successful national dialogue process
While never successful in addressing the root causes of the crisis, there are key elements from Sudan’s previous political dialogues which have helped make some processes more successful than others.
Key to the more successful processes has been when negotiating parties had a strong support base and credible claim of legitimacy in representing their constituency, as well as the political will to implement what was agreed upon. The Addis Ababa Agreement of 1972 showed that when parties to the conflict stick to the letter and spirit of the agreement peace can then be delivered.
Another significant element for success was when the macro-political environment was not polarized between competing, diametrically opposed political and ideological camps, such as between the NCP and the SPLM during 2005-2011.
Both the Addis Ababa Agreement of 1972 and the CPA of 2005 involved major national contending forces, but international support and mediation were instrumental in the relative success achieved.
Elements undermining a national dialogue and peace agreements
Throughout Sudan’s history numerous elements have undermined dialogue efforts. These include:
• Too often negotiations were conducted in bad faith (Hardallo, 2010), and in fact negotiating parties were either maneuvering or buying time in the belief that victory was achievable through military means.• A consistent failure of past negotiations in Sudan is that they most often involved only the belligerents: the government and armed rebels. The silent majority was never involved, including for example victims of conflict such as refugees and the internally displaced.
• Processes were not viable because of insufficient political, legal, and economic livelihood guarantees for ‘losers’, and/or no acceptable exit strategy for outgoing rulers were developed. No political-legal exit strategies were provided for by reconciliation and justice mechanisms following the cessation of violent conflict.
• Agreements were undermined by fierce competition over resources in a political market place where resources are limited and, more importantly, the value of government positions negotiated during peace talks depreciate quickly when the prices of agreements change, resulting in rebels returning to armed conflict (de Waal, 2013). Failure on the part of rebels negotiating peace was in part rooted in their lack
of institutional capacity to play a positive role once in government.
• All too often negotiation tactics and attitudes of the ruling elites were dictated by politicians prioritizing their own personal and short term interests: actions were determined by high discount rates and low transaction costs.
• Historically, peace agreements have barely delivered any peace dividends, so when peace agreements were broken they did not attract any public outcry. Agreements fed into a political system that ensured its own survival and security, and which was costly to run given the huge budget needed to cover the privileges of office holders in the context of a weak economy. The stark and sad experience of SPLM/A in South Sudan, with the outbreak of conflict in December 2013, is a vivid example of how things can go wrong if peace agreements are not translated into peace dividends for the victims of conflict.
• Peace agreements have adopted a piecemeal approach – making concessions without addressing the root causes of conflict. Elites in government over the years have shunned any attempt to involve all stakeholders and convene a comprehensive national dialogue process.
Lessons learned from dialogue and peace processes in Sudan
Key lessons for the future can be learnt from the history of political dialogue in Sudan.
An inclusive process
An inclusive process will most likely make the process slower and more complex, but it will also make any agreement more durable. However, according to USIP “complicating matters are divisions within unarmed groups, especially among the opposition political parties, just as there are divisions within the SRF. This is an area in which external assistance and facilitated discussions among the opposition may be able to help smooth the path to national dialogue.” (Lyman and Temin, 2013)
Avoiding a narrow definition of peace
Many hoped the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement would not only end the long-running southern civil war, but also provide momentum and serve as a model for resolving other conflicts in the country. However, the widely acclaimed and celebrated CPA, supported by all, failed to achieve its ambitious goals. It neither ended conflict in Sudan and South Sudan, nor did it lead to democratic transformation.
According to Young, “by assuming a limited definition of peace, focusing solely on the north-south dimension of the conflict, refusing to involve other political parties and civil society, treating the media as a threat to the process, and leaving the fate of the process to
SPLM/A leader Dr. John Garang and First Vice President Ali Osman Taha, the CPA was successful in reaching an agreement based on an acceptance of the lowest common denominator of the parties. But this narrow approach largely precluded the realization of its own stated objectives, which included a sustainable peace, Sudan’s democratic
transformation, and making unity attractive” (Young, 2007).
Engaging the media to build peace
High levels of media censorship means that the public has had very little understanding of both the nature and impact of conflicts or the terms of different peace agreements, undermining the demand for peace and the public legitimacy and support of peace agreements. Furthermore, the media is politically divided and controlled, which has in the worst of cases led to hate speech and inflammatory rhetoric.
Make peace dividends work
Comparative literature identifies the contest over resources and services, and the dominance of these by particular groups, as key in igniting conflicts, and the reversal of these as key for sustained peace, in particular investing resources to generate development goods and services for the majority. Past peace processes have not positively affected resources and services, key factors of grievances driving conflict in Sudan.
Plans to reform the military and security services must focus explicitly on providing physical security guarantees for the population rather than prioritize the protection of oil fields and other state assets. Unless populations have confidence in the peace process, and see a
meaningful improvement in their security and access to services, they are less likely to support the process.

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