The agreement signed between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, on January 9 has been hailed as a “historic peace deal” that ends a long-drawn-out and ruinous war between the “Muslim north” and the “Christian”-animist south.
It is true that the deal provides the constitutional as well as the legal tools for the formation of a national government and the sharing of the country’s oil resources. But the deal also gives the South the right to secede if a majority of its people vote for it in a referendum to be held after six years, thereby laying the ground for breaking up Africa’s largest country. The inclusion in the peace agreement of the right to secede is divisive and controversial, not only in the North but also in the South, whose inhabitants are neither as united nor as homogenous as they are often assumed to be. The administration of US president George W. Bush – which has made the dissolution of Sudan the cornerstone of its African policy, and is responsible for the secession clause being in the agreement – is also bound to continue its destructive role in the country.
If the accord had not provided for the secession of the south of Sudan, it would of course have been a possible step forward. Under the accord, the ruling National Congress Party and the SPLA will form an interim coalition government, decentralise power, share oil reserves on a 50-50 basis, and integrate the military. Moreover John Garang, the SPLA leader, will become first vice president and sit in cabinet with his former adversary, president Omar al-Bashir. This is no mean achievement, given that it follows a twenty-one-year conflict in which 2 million lives have been lost and more than 4 million people displaced from their homes and lands.
The agreement was signed at a sports stadium in Nairobi by vice-president Ali Osman Taha and John Garang in the presence of twelve African heads of state and government, two European ministers and the US secretary of state, Colin Powell. Bashir tried to portray the accord in optimistic terms. “This is a glorious day for the Sudan,” he said before an audience of African leaders and Western diplomats. “It is not only a deal that ended a protracted war of untold suffering, but it is a new contract for all Sudanese.” Naturally he did not add that, under pressure from the US government, he had had to agree to a device that is bound to break up the country.
The US took part in the mediationprocess with Holland, although formally Kenya was the main mediator. The presence of Colin Powell at the signing ceremony was not, therefore, accidental or incidental; nor was his press statement the day before the ceremony, in which he warned that peace would only come if “today’s promises are kept”. The promise held by him and members and supporters of the US government to be the most vital is the one relating to the referendum on secession, although oil is also an important factor in the thinking of the USand of European countries that are interested in the conflict.
President Bush, and the neocons and evangelical groups that dominate the government led by Bush, all want the South to secede and form a separate Christian state, although Christians are a minority in the region, being outnumbered by the combination of the Muslims and animists in the region. American evangelical groups and politicians would certainly like to see southern animists, who adhere to “African beliefs”, to be converted to Christianity rather than to Islam, alarmed as they are by the Muslims’ increasing numerical strength.
Interestingly, it is not only Muslims who believe that the peace deal is the result of the US’s intervention, and that the evangelical groups had a leading role in that intervention. Even Western analysts, who dismiss the Sudanese regime as “Islamic fundamentalist” and, equally mistakenly, describe the South as predominantly Christian, agree with this assessment. An editorial in the Guardian (London, January 9) commented: “This north-south agreement owes a lot to Sudanese exhaustion, but more to post-9/11 pressure (partly generated by Christian groups which tend to exaggerate the religious dimension of the conflict) on a regime that allowed Osama bin Laden to operate freely in the 1990s.”
That Washington is determined to see the secession implemented is indicated by its refusal to end its hostility to Khartoum, despite president Bashir’s submission to its dictates. For instance, it has declined to lift the sanctions, no doubt keeping them in place to continue to exert pressure on Bashir to implement the deal to the end.
Another indication of this strategy is the immediate demand that Khartoum introduce peace in Darfur, although the conflict there is unrelated to the north-south issue, and all the people ofDarfur are Muslims.
Given the absence of religious diversity or dissension in Darfur, the US and its allies (including the Western media) have resorted to the irresponsible ploy of explaining the situation in terms of an imaginary racial confrontation, in order to justify their intervention, claiming that the ‘Arab’ government is arming ‘Arab’ militias to attack African groups. Not surprisingly, the UN acted immediately to back Washington’s attempt to connect the two conflicts. UN secretary general Kofi Annan warned on the day the peace deal was signed that the Darfur conflict was getting worse. In a report to the Security Council he said: “I am concerned that we may move into a period of intense violence unless swift action is taken.”
Connecting the two conflicts will not merely serve as an additional pressure on Khartoum to implement the peace deal that has already been signed, but will also help Bush and co. in their desire to break Sudan up into three states, rather than just two. The US and its allies, particularly Israel, cannot bear the thought of a united and oil-rich Sudan, and Washington is bound to pursue its destructive stratagems.
The great, and regrettable, mystery is that the Arab – and, indeed, Muslim – countries are silent and passive in the face of what is yet another aspect of the war on Islam and Muslims, no matter how indirect it may look to us.