Preparing for Two Sudans

"Moreover,and per the CPA, southern Sudan has an minternationally recognized right to secede should its citizens vote for separation in the referendu."

From 'Enough Project'

The way forward: Forging a framework and building the leverage for talks         

There is no common strategy among the CPA guarantors and little coordination between actors—such as the Obama administration and the African Union Peace and Security Council, among others—that should be uniformly supporting the parties in defining a clear framework for two distinct sets of negotiations: the resolution of outstanding CPA provisions and the initial discussion of post-referendum arrangements. Neither of these two processes can be initiated prior to the elections, but the international community should use the run-up to the April polls to help the parties set up the frameworks, build the leverage, and establish the security environment necessary for these processes to succeed.[21] Instead, there seems to be little in the way of a common position among key actors in the international community, and this lack of a well-coordinated and clear policy line toward Sudan will only make conflict prevention more difficult.

1. The framework

The United States must assist the Sudanese parties in defining a framework for both sets of negotiations and then supporting this framework through a coordinated, consistent, and well-resourced international effort.[22] The Obama administration should immediately begin harnessing qualified personnel resources for the special envoy’s team and prepare to deploy them to Khartoum and Juba in order to assist in the preparations for these critical negotiations. The barebones U.S. diplomatic presence in Sudan at present is a more telling indicator of the Obama administration’s attention to Sudan than its soaring rhetoric.

The United States must continue to be the de facto leader of international efforts on Sudan in 2010 and likely beyond. This does not mean, however, that the United States should go it alone. While focusing U.S. attention on several high-priority issues will enable progress, it must be complemented by coordination with other international actors who have a comparative advantage in advising the Sudanese parties on certain aspects of the preliminary post-referendum arrangements.

The United States should therefore coordinate its support with the other CPA guarantors, with the United Nations and African Union, and with other countries with significant interests in the future stability of Sudan, namely China, Egypt, and other Arab nations such as Qatar. The need to avoid a disjointed process is paramount, given the limited resources and capacities of the parties and the timeline for these negotiations. A logical place to begin building greater policy coherence on Sudan would be at a U.S.-European Union foreign ministerial-level summit on Sudan.

No matter what framework is adopted, the parties must lay the groundwork for 2011 to ease fears that the referendum vote will result in “zero-sum” outcomes. This year’s negotiations can establish ground rules and preliminary understanding between the two parties on the clear hot-button issues that could inflame tensions immediately following the referendum. By providing support now to the parties in discussing the likely post-referendum realities, the international community could take an important first step toward post-referendum support to southern Sudan and preserving peace after the important vote. 

2. The leverage

As a top UNMIS official noted, the ability of the parties to reach and carry out the referendum peacefully will depend heavily on international pressure on Khartoum.[23] Moreover, and per the CPA, southern Sudan has an internationally recognized right to secede should its citizens vote for separation in the referendum. This right must be upheld by the CPA’s guarantors. It is imperative that the CPA’s guarantors and other international actors engaged in Sudan communicate to the NCP in no uncertain terms that there is no alternative to the referendum being held on time and in an environment in which the poll can be credible. Relative international diffidence in the face of repeated NCP provocations may also embolden the party to engage in dangerous adventurism as the referendum approaches, including the seizure of disputed territories.

Implementation of the administration’s benchmarks-based policy is the best way for the United States to demonstrate its commitment to preventing a return to war and promoting sustainable peace in Sudan. Consistent application of conditional pressures and incentives on the NCP and the SPLM based on the two parties’ behavior in the remainder of the CPA interim period will support these objectives. Given that the NCP has engaged in a renewed offensive in Darfur, given safe harbor to the LRA, and utterly failed to hold anyone accountable for war crimes or crimes against humanity, many observers are now rightly questioning whether the administration’s benchmarks approach will be rigorously applied.[24]

The United States should also call for the expansion of the mandate of the U.N. Panel of Experts in Sudan to investigate the ongoing violence in southern Sudan and reports of an influx of small arms and heavy munitions into the South. The Obama administration must continue to pressure the NCP to reform the abusive National Security Law, as credible referenda and elections cannot take place unless Khartoum’s National Security Service’s broad powers throughout the country are curbed.

3. Security

When the UNMIS mandate comes up for renewal at the U.N. Security Council in April, the United States must call forcefully for a strengthened civilian protection mandate, drawing upon the recommendations recently made by operational humanitarian agencies working in southern Sudan.[25] The new mandate should emphasize preventive action, such as predicting flashpoints, and utilize active strategies such as temporary operating bases and long-range patrols. UNMIS can and should take far more forward leaning steps to operationalize its existing civilian protection mandate, but this will require the allocation of more resources and explicit directives and guidelines from New York. The U.S Permanent Representative on the Security Council, Ambassador Susan Rice, is well poised to work with other member states to adjust the mandate, and she should receive the full backing of the Obama administration in her efforts.


Although preparation now for both sets of negotiations is essential, it is up to the Sudanese parties to push these processes forward after the elections. Based on the history of NCP-SPLM negotiations before and after the signing of the CPA in 2005, it is likely that agreement on outstanding CPA provisions and initial discussions on post-referendum arrangements will occur at the eleventh hour. The role of the international community is to reduce the likelihood that these discussions end up occurring in such a politically charged environment that consensus between the parties becomes impossible. Sudanese presidential adviser Ghazi Salah Al-Deen Al-Attabani recently said that failure by the Sudanese parties to address post-referendum issues such as North-South border demarcation before the referendum occurs will be a “recipe for war.”[26] It is clear that the parties are cognizant of the need to begin these discussions prior to the referendum. The international community should support these efforts or begin preparing for the next of Sudan’s catastrophic civil wars.


[1] See Gerard Prunier and Maggie Fick, “Sudan the Countdown” (Washington: Enough Project, 2009), available at

Posted in: Opinions, Reports
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