After a number of postponements and cancellations, the Sudanese Presidency (comprised of President Omar al-Bashir and the two national Vice Presidents Ali Osman Taha and Salva Kiir) finally sat down in a meeting on Tuesday to discuss outstanding Comprehensive Peace Agreement provisions as well as what future relations between the North and South may look like.
While no breakthroughs over the contentious issues of border demarcation, oil-sharing, and Abyei emerged as a result of the meeting, the parties delivered a significant joint statement that cut through much of the war-mongering rhetoric between North and South officials that international media has made much of in the last month. According to reports, the two parties agreed to develop a common vision on the future of North-South relations and, significantly, insisted that there would be no return to war. According to AFP, the parties said:
We discussed post referendum issues and agreed that both parties in the Presidency would promote a shared vision to develop relations between the north and south regardless of the referendum's outcome. (…) It was categorically affirmed that there will be no war and we want economic and social cooperation and integration.
Coming from the highest levels of both Sudanese parties, this statement is important for its symbolism and its effort to rein in tensions as the two parties hurtle toward what will continue to be very complex and contentious negotiations. There appears to be growing acceptance from NCP officials of the inevitability of southern secession. (According to one Sudanese political commentator, NCP vice chairman Nafie ali Nafie has changed his tune to seem “more grateful than bothered at the South’s departure” in a recent interview with al-Ray al-Aam.) This shift, combined with recent moves by the Sudanese government to ensure economic viability in the event of secession, seems to be a part of a positive, though belated, move toward reconciliation between the two parties.
The presidential meeting resulted in another victory, with the three leaders reportedly approving the result of the South Kordofan state census. If the result is approved, South Kordofan can finally hold its long-awaited elections, which will pave the way for popular consultations. These consultations – which have taken a backseat to the southern and Abyei referenda – are a key provision in the CPA aimed at giving the populations of two northern states with longstanding grievances against the northern government the chance to weigh in on their future relationship with Khartoum.
Presidential meetings such as the one that took place on Tuesday have been important forums for breaking political deadlock between the two parties in the past. Unsurprisingly, with time running out before the southern and Abyei referenda are supposed to take place, the two Sudanese parties appear once again ready to reinvigorate this sort of elite deal-making to find agreement on a number of issues that have proven intractable thus far. Top SPLM official and negotiator Pagan Amum recently indicated that the SPLM may be open to a presidential decree that would transfer the Abyei region directly to the South instead of holding a referendum. This decree though, would come at a price for the South—as Amum made clear, saying the SPLM is willing to pay the NCP “ransom” —and involve significant compromises to the NCP in terms of future oil-sharing arrangements and where the border lies.
While movement on these contentious issues is promising, the international mediation team will need to ensure that these deals are struck in a timely, fair, and accountable manner as important technical decisions are increasingly addressed behind closed doors.
Photo: Southern Sudanese leader Salva Kiir Mayardit, left, raises hands with Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, center, and Vice President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha following his swearing-in ceremony as Sudan's first vice president in Khartoum in 2005. (AP)