January 9 marked the fifth anniversary of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or CPA, that ended the 20-year North-South war in Sudan. That war resulted in over 2 million deaths and 4 million displaced. It destroyed the infrastructure of the South and devastated lives, trust, and hope. Today, the CPA is at risk of collapse. Sudan is in danger of returning to full-scale war. Only President Obama’s personal involvement with world leaders can salvage the CPA. But time is running out.
Assistance by and pressure from the United States, United Kingdom, Italy, and Norway were essential to negotiating and signing the CPA, an agreement that aimed to rectify the existing center-periphery dynamic by establishing a new political, military, and economic system based on the values of justice, democracy, and human rights and creating processes to engage with marginalized populations, including elections and referenda. Unfortunately, as so often happens, the international community’s support for implementation and enforcement has been woefully insufficient.
The ruling National Congress Party, or NCP, came to power by military coup in 1989. It has continued its governing tactic of “divide and rule” despite the CPA and has successfully maintained the poverty, malnutrition, and lack of education and health care afflicting southern Sudanese. It has similarly marginalized the Beja in the east, the Nubians in the far north, and the people from the Nuba Mountains or South Kordofan. And, of course, the genocide in Darfur continues, leaving an estimated 3 million people displaced and in grave danger.
Tensions related in part to the NCP’s obstruction of the CPA have provoked renewed violence in South Sudan. Its intransigence has prevented the establishment of conditions essential to free and fair elections. An election in April rigged to legitimize the NCP and a leader accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity threatens the integrity of the referendum and could push the country into full-scale war. Millions of additional lives would be at risk. Destabilization of the entire region is a realistic possibility.
Human rights activists around the world recognized the need for immediate re-engagement with Sudan through diplomacy by world leaders. On January 9, “Sudan 365: A Beat for Peace” kicked off an international campaign urging intensive and coherent diplomatic support to prevent increased violence and provide civilian protection. Drummers (including a 12-year old in London) beat for peace at 35 events held in 26 countries to mark the anniversary. Some of the world’s most famous drummers made a global beat for peace video—viewed over 100,000 times—to launch the campaign.
Sudanese in the U.S. and concerned Americans have been calling on President Obama since his campaign to assume personal leadership in facilitating peace in Sudan. He has not heard our words. We can only hope that he will respond to the beat of the drums—long a symbol of freedom for Africans. The lives of millions of Sudanese depend on it.
Mohamed E. Suleiman, a native of North Darfur and a member of the Zaghawa tribe, is currently a resident of Northern California, President of the San Francisco Bay Area Darfur Coalition and a member of the Darfur Leaders Network. His village, Umbarow, was burned and destroyed by the Government of Sudan and Janjaweed. Mr. Suleiman lost members of his family in the Darfur genocide; his mother and siblings still reside in Darfur. Mr. Suleiman is the author of the blog While We Wait.
Martina Knee is a member of the Executive Committee of the San Francisco Bay Area Darfur Coalition. She is also a 2009 Carl Wilkens Fellows of the Genocide Intervention Network.