Saving Sudan

2009-10-27 00:00

LAST week, deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe under­took a working visit to Sudan to provide insight into elements of continuity and change in the new government’s foreign policy. Motlanthe visited Khartoum, the northern-based capital city and seat of the national government, as well as Juba, the seat of the Government of Southern Sudan­ (GOSS), which is also part of the inclusive government of Sudan­.

The stated aim of the working visit was to discuss with leaders of parties in the government of nat­ional unity, the National Congress­ Party and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), issues such as post­conflict reconstruction and development, the April 2010 elections, the national referendum and the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The visit followed an earlier visit to South Africa by the deputy president of Sudan and president of the GOSS, Salva Kirr, where he briefed the South African government on the many problems bedevilling­ the peace process in Sudan and suggested that the north has done everything to make unity unattractive for southerners. Kirr sent strong signals to confirm indications that the southern Sudanese are so frustrated by difficult relations with the north that they have made up their minds to vote for seces­sion when the referendum comes in 2011.

Motlanthe relayed a message that South Africa wants to see united efforts by all major parties in Sudan towards the full implementation of the CPA, especially in the run-up to the April 2010 elections. By promoting the implementation of the CPA, South Africa takes a policy position that is in fav­our of making unity attractive as the best way of building lasting peace and development in Sudan.

But South Africa accepts the right of the southern Sudanese to sec­ede into an independent, sovereign state. Should this happen, South Africa would want to prevent a situation where this leads to a resurgence of war between the south and north, because this would push the Horn of Africa region to the brink of an internecine conflict, which would, in turn, affect­ the whole continent. The tensions between northern and south­ern parties in the government of nat­ional unity are likely to produce this undesirable scenario.

Motlanthe’s simple yet profound message is, therefore, welcome as it is pragmatic and realistic under the circumstances. However, it is fundamentally not a new policy position, and South Africa could have escalated its diplo­matic moves in support of the CPA implementation much earlier, when there was sufficient time to ensure that the run-up to the 2010 elections was not as fraught with tensions as is the case now. More could have been done to assist the parties to overcome differences and difficulties in the implementation of the CPA. Sudanese parties res­pect South Africa’s wishes, even if they don’t agree with them.

South Africa’s moves become all the more important given a shift in the United States’s position on Sudan. The U.S. policy of isolation and condemnation undermined efforts to mediate between Sudanese parties. In the process, differences between Khartoum and Washington escalated, especially after the U.S. blamed Khartoum for masterminding genocide in western Darfur. The gap bet­ween international actors and Afri­can countries also widened.

But, as Motlanthe landed in Khartoum, the Obama administration released its new policy pos­ition on Sudan. Following months of debate and fact-finding missions, the U.S. finally settled for a pragmatic position. The new policy commits the U.S. to constructive and open engagement with all parties in Sudan and to using a wide array of incentives to encourage the parties to implement the CPA. It is going to work harder to find common ground with all major actors in support of the peace process, including key African states. The position also announces the fact that the U.S. is open to the possibility of the secession of the south and, as a result, it is to undertake serious governance building in southern Sudan.

The new strategy places the U.S. in greater alignment with South Africa’s position on Sudan. It thus opens opportunities for stronger co-operation and co-ordination of efforts between the two countries in the context of warmer bilateral relations under Barack Obama and South African President Jacob Zuma. Both epitomise consensus building, open engagement and peace making. It also makes it more probable that there will for the first time be international consensus on Sudan. This shift accepts that there has been progress in Sudan’s peace process since the terrible violence of 2003 and 2004, something the Bush administration­ did not believe possible.

But the U.S. strategy also promises penalties for failure of the parties to make real progress towards full CPA implementation. This includes withdrawal of financial and institutional incentives and targeted sanctions.

There is sufficient basis for U.S. and South African joint efforts to incentivise and encourage the implementation of the CPA. They are both committed to constructive engagement with all parties and between parties on obstacles encountered. Both favour a push for national unity and development, but they also accept the possibility of secession. They both want a dedicated focus on Darfur. South Africa has a globally recognised ability to mediate and facilitate dialogue. It also enjoys the trust of both parties, which will enable it to do this effectively.

With Nigeria having lost its leadership edge under president Yar-Adua, South Africa becomes the most important strategic partner for the U.S. in Sudan. The U.S.’s willingness to use harsh measures to punish errant conduct in Sudan will exert the pressure necessary to facilitate dialogue. There is a great opportunity for the Zuma administration to use its strategic position as a bridge builder to bring about a lasting solution to the Sudanese quandary. This could be one of the many building blocks as South Africa consolidates its leadership in Africa and its middle-ground position in international relations.

• Siphamandla Zondi works for the Institute for Global Dialogue, but writes in his personal capacity.

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