by Alex de Waal
Review of: John Young, The Fate of Sudan: The Origins and Consequences of a Flawed Peace Process, London, Zed Books, 2012.
|Available from Zed Books|
One of the truisms about Sudan is that the more you know about the country, the harder it is to write anything that makes sense. Those who have hardly been there have no difficulty in writing reams of text, those who have spent half their lifetimes working in the country find it a painful process to try to organize their material into a cogent story. John Young has spent 25 years working on Sudan and its neighbors and the result is a book rich in detail, but also an account that struggles to achieve narrative and analytical coherence.
The strengths of this book lie in its frank account of the political actors in Sudan. Young has no illusions about the government in Khartoum and the northern Sudanese political establishment. Neither has he any illusions about the SPLA. He grapples with and punctures the Garang myth—the notion that John Garang was a democrat with a clear vision for the future of Sudan.
Young describes the twists and turns of the negotiations that led to the formulation and signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), including the stratagems, short-cuts and deceptions used by both the negotiators and the mediators. There are many fascinating details here, notably the dynamics surrounding the signing of the Machakos Protocol in 2002, the foundational text of the CPA, and the beginning of the direct talks between Vice President Ali Osman Taha and Garang a year later. Young plausibly argues that Machakos represented a significant narrowing of the terms of the Declaration of Principles (DoP) adopted by the InterGovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD, the grouping of north-east African countries) in 1994, and a successful maneuver by Salva Kiir to simplify the Sudanese crisis to a north-south crisis with the secession option as the implicit but inescapable end-point. Garang surely knew this would hobble his political aspirations, not least because of his weak power base inside southern Sudan. Garang’s visit to the Nuba Mountains and escalation of the Darfur war in the months following Machakos must be seen in that light.
One of Young’s key points is that when they signed the key agreements in 2002 and 2003, neither the government nor the SPLA expected them to be honored. The negotiators on both sides were playing a complicated game of position, each expecting the worst of the other. As the core documents expanded to become the protocols that ultimately constituted the CPA, detailed legalistic provisions filled in for the lack of trust or even a common understanding of the basic intention of the CPA. Indeed the CPA merely translated the political struggle between the protagonists to a new dimension.
The ambiguity of the CPA is captured in its title: itifaag al salaam al shamil. To English speakers, “comprehensive” implies that the agreement has covered all issues and refers to an intention to become inclusive of all. To Arabic speakers, shamil has a very different resonance. Shumuliya is totalitarianism, and al itifaag al shamil implies a closed, exclusive deal. This was the root of the undoing of the Darfur negotiations: while the mediators envisaged the Abuja agreement as a mechanism for bringing the Darfurians into an inclusive democratic transformation of Sudan, the Darfurian rebel leaders were focused exclusively on what share of posts and cash they would be allocated in the transitional carve-up. [Click here to read the rest of the review]