In opening remarks at a press conference this morning recognizing the fifth anniversary of Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement, Secretary Clinton struck the right tone rhetorically by emphasizing how much work is left to do to implement the CPA and pinpointing some distressing detours the negotiating parties – the NCP in the North and the SPLM in the South – have made. While the signing of the CPA in 2005 was a monumental occasion that ended what was Africa’s longest running war, this anniversary is more of a reminder of all that has not been done to implement the CPA.
Her emphasis on jointly tackling the challenges in the South and the conflict in Darfur was important. Indeed the challenges plaguing Sudan today stem from a historic trend of centralizing power with the NCP, and thus Sudan will not be at peace until the undercurrents of these conflicts are confronted.
Secretary Clinton was very forthright in stating that democratic transformation is the aim. Yet the overall message was disappointingly diluted by a few surprising remarks from both her and Special Envoy Gration, particularly when we could see clear daylight between the two:
— Clinton mentioned concern about the rise in violence in the South without acknowledging the speculation of the NCP’s behind-the-scenes role in supplying weapons. While there may not be a great deal of hard evidence of this link, we cannot ignore the NCP’s historic use of this tactic to destabilize swaths of the country. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine that, given all that’s on the line this next year, the NCP wouldn’t be using tried-and-true strategies to get what it wants. The U.S. needs to warn the NCP and SPLM that it is searching for evidence and has zero tolerance for this explosive tactic.
— Clinton specifically cited Sudan’s national security and public order laws, recently amended and agreed to by both the NCP and the SPLM, as “incompatible with free and fair elections,” set to take place in April. Gration later held these compromises up as “progress.”
— Clinton stated that “there can be no backtracking on agreements already reached” and “we hold all parties accountable if progress is impeded,” and yet when directly asked about consequences during the Q&A, Gration immediately shifted focus to “progress.” Here’s the exchange:
Q: What is the current state of discussions about what happens to the Khartoum government and the NCP if they don’t deliver on these areas of progress that the Secretary outlined – public security, the election law, all of these things? And what are you saying to them will happen if they don’t make the progress that you’re demanding?
MR. GRATION: What we’ve seen is that there have been some progress in terms of passing the laws…
He goes on to note that the National Security Council deputies will meet later this month and “will consider the facts on the ground and they will take a look at these based on benchmarks and ideas that we’ve put forth in the classified working papers, and then we’ll proceed.”
If this were the first anniversary of the peace agreement, this kind of kowtowing and gentle urging might be somewhat understandable. But it’s the fifth, and there’s just one more year to go, and all hell could easily break loose.
At the end of the CPA’s interim period, many signs point to Sudan splitting into two countries. The decision lies in the hands of the people of southern Sudan, and the vast majority say without hesitation that they favor independence. If the NCP prevents this choice, whether overtly or otherwise, SPLM leaders have already indicated that full-scale war would be the alternate path to independence.
There is much the U.S. should be doing to promote democratic transformation in Sudan – ultimately, the aim of the CPA.
Watching today’s press conference, it seemed that while Clinton is pushing an agenda of human rights and democracy for the whole country, Gration is trying to cut deals between the SPLM and the NCP – deals that may not be sustainable, may undermine democratic transformation in Sudan, and don’t include the vast expanse of opposition political parties and civil society organizations in both the North and South. President Obama must address this distressing schism.
Now more than ever, with violence sharply on the rise in the South, firmly holding the parties to their commitments in the CPA will not only promote democracy but also prevent either side from working behind-the-scenes to undermine the peace deal. We’re looking for meaningful evidence that the U.S. is exerting the kind of tough diplomacy that it preaches.
Laura Heaton contributed to this post.
Photo: Secretary Clinton, shadowed by Special Envoy Gration, speaks at a press conference marking the CPA anniversary at the State Department.