This is a guest post by Aala Abdelgadir, research associate for the Council on Foreign Relation’s Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative.
Ten years ago today, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) ended twenty-one years of civil war in Sudan. The internationally brokered accord between the governing National Congress Party (NCP) in the north and the southern rebel forces of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and Army (SPLM/A, later SPLM) was hailed as a tremendous achievement at the time. However, a decade later, an independent South Sudan is mired in civil conflict, political tensions and rebel violence are rife in Sudan, and the CPA has failed to establish peace and stability.
Given the long history of failed negotiations between the NCP and the SPLM/A, the signing of the CPA in January 2005 was welcomed by northerners, southerners, and foreign governments alike. The CPA introduced an interim constitution for Sudan, which established power sharing between the NCP and SPLM/A at the national government level, provided for a semi-autonomous regional government in the south under SPLM/A leadership, elaborated a formula for dividing oil revenues, and committed the state to holding a self-determination referendum in the south in 2011. The CPA signatories and the international interlocutors who facilitated the agreement saw the period leading up to the referendum as an opportunity for the ruling NCP to initiate democratic reform, and thus demonstrate the benefits of Sudanese unity and incentivize southerners to vote against South Sudanese independence in 2011.
The initial implementation of the CPA was promising: a national unity government integrating southerners was formed, SPLM/A leader John Garang was appointed as first vice president of Sudan, and the regional government of the south was transitioned into the hands of the SPLM/A.
Yet, it was not long before the cracks began to show. Vice President Garang died in a helicopter crash weeks after taking office and was replaced by Salva Kiir, who later became president of South Sudan. Unlike Garang, Kiir and other SPLM/A leaders were not invested in a united Sudan, and rather than facilitating Sudanese unity, they worked to lay the foundations for an independent South Sudan. At the same time, the NCP did not make the necessary political reforms to create an inclusive, democratic unity government and integrate the SPLM/A. Given that neither party made Sudanese unity a viable, attractive option, it was no surprise that southerners voted for secession in the 2011 referendum.
Despite the promise of the CPA, conflict abounds in Sudan and South Sudan today. The South Sudanese have been locked in a year-long civil war, sparked by a power struggle between President Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar. In the north, conflict rages on in the states of Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile as the central government continues to disregard rebels’ grievances of political disenfranchisement and economic marginalization.
The responsibility for the current situation lies squarely with the political elites in Sudan and South Sudan. Certainly, there are valid criticisms of the CPA, including its neglect of conflicts in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile states, its inadequate treatment of the border regions between Sudan and South Sudan, and its exclusion of other political parties and rebel groups.Nevertheless, the CPA was not designed to be a panacea for Sudan’s problems. By halting the civil war and establishing a six-year interim period, the agreement provided the SPLM/A and NCP an opportunity to embark on the political transformation necessary for long-term peace, stability, and unity in Sudan. Not only did these parties squander this political opportunity, but they have prolonged violence and conflict, to the detriment of all Sudanese.