The problems of Kenyan-sponsored peace deals in Sudan and Somalia

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

M.S. Ahmed

Muharram 10, 1425 2004-03-01


by M.S. Ahmed (World, Crescent International Vol. 33, No. 1, Muharram, 1425)

Both Sudan and Somalia are in urgent need of a peaceful settlement of the civil wars that have been ravaging them for more than a decade. But the peace deals recently reached as a result of negotiations mediated by Kenya, and sponsored (in Sudan’s case) by the US, cannot lead to a just and lasting resolution of the conflicts that also guarantees their territorial integrity. Kenya, which has a longstanding territorial dispute with Somalia, has an interest in confirming Somalia’s de facto disintegration into two separate entities (Somaliland and Somalia), as it has in the division of Sudan into a Christian-controlled south and a Muslim north. Such a break-up will provide it (along with Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia) with an opportunity to demand the revision of the treaty governing the distribution of the River Nile’s waters. In fact it has already announced (as Tanzania has also done) that it will withdraw from the treaty, sensing no doubt that Washington’s success in forcing Khartoum to concede to southern Sudan the right to secede will eventually consign the treaty to the past.

The Sudanese government of president Hasan al-Bashir and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), led by colonel John Garang, have been negotiating under Kenyan mediation and strong US pressure for some time. But the first agreement reached between the old adversaries concedes to the south (represented by the SPLM) two fundamental rights: the right to secede after a referendum, which is to be held at the end of a six-year transitional period; and the right to an equal share in the country’s oil wealth. The wealth-sharing deal, signed in Naivasha, Kenya, by vice-president Ali Osman Taha and Garang on January 6, also provides for a monetary system that will allow Islamic no-interest banking in the north and western banking in the south; it also introduces a new national currency.

But the two parties have not yet made a deal on power-sharing during the transitional period, despite intense pressure from the US. However, the administration of the south during this time is expected to be called "the government of Southern Sudan", instead of being regarded merely as a regional body; it will be run by Garang, who will also function as vice-president of Sudan. Other issues that are still unresolved include the future of three central areas: the Nuba Mountains, the southern Blue Nile, and Abyei – in particular whether they will be part of the south or of the north. The issues are being discussed at the talks that began in Naivasha on February 17, which the Kenyan mediator has said will continue for a month. According to diplomats in Nairobi, the mistrust between the negotiators is so intense that the talks are likely to be very difficult. The Bush administration wanted a deal to be reached in December, and invited the parties to Washington to sign it there. Such was the US government’s arrogance that on one occasion it "gave" them only 24 hours to finalise a deal .

Western analysts attribute the US government’s determination to have a sovereign southern state in Sudan as soon as possible to strong pressure from the Christian right in the US –pressure that also explains why Sudan is one of the few African countries to which the US is devoting much attention. As an editorial in the International Herald Tribune put it, "the Bush administration, pressed by American Christians who are outraged by the religious discrimination [presumably against southern Christians] has made Sudan one place in Africa where it is truly engaged." Ironically, other Western media also take a similar line, accusing northern Muslims of committing discrimination, indeed even slavery, against Christian and animist southerners; this makes it easier for the Bush administration to exert pressure on Khartoum. Western and other governments also support the American line on Sudan, helping the US to extract radical concessions from the central government for the south. As the IHT editorial put it, "intense involvement by outside governments, including the Bush administration, made the difference, and continued attention will be crucial to the agreement’s success."

This clearly ‘religious’ approach to the Sudanese question –even without other economic and strategic reasons –should have been enough to disqualify Kenya and the US from their roles in mediation and sponsorship. It should also have secured widespread Muslim support for the protection of Sudan’s unity against the Bush administration’s attempts to destroy it. But even Egypt, despite having a vital interest in the territorial integrity of its neighbour, has been silent in the face of Bush’s effective war on Khartoum. The only time Cairo spoke out was when Kenya declared that it is leaving the treaty regulating the sharing of the Nile’s waters among the countries in the Nile basin. Mahmoud Abu Zeid, the Egyptian minister of water, described Kenya’s declaration as an "act of war".

The Nile Water Agreement (1929) gives the lion’s share of the Nile’s water to Egypt, and the other countries in the basin have been clamouring for larger shares. But Cairo has not challenged their "right" to take small amounts of water in addition to their treaty quotas, and in fact has been party to an arrangement regulating how much can be taken for development projects. The World Bank, which has been heavily involved in those projects, has been backing the arrangement and Egypt’s position in it. But Kenya’s announcement that it is withdrawing from the treaty, and Tanzania’s declared plan to construct a pipeline to draw considerable amounts of water from Lake Victoria, could between them lead to outright war among the countries of the Nile Basin. Boutros Boutros Ghali, the former UN secretary general, has that the next war in the region will be about water.

The Somali problem may not be as fraught as the Sudanese one, if only because Somalis are divided not by religious differences but by clan squabbling, which is at the root of the war that has devastated their country. But both religious and territorial considerations are involved: both of Somalia’s neighbours, Ethiopia and Kenya, are Christian-dominated and have territorial disputes with it. Ethiopia in particular is deeply involved in Somalia’s wars, and like Kenya is a close ally of the US. It is therefore absurd that Kenya should be a mediator between the warring militias in southern Somalia. Since the fall of general Siad Barre’s regime in 1991, Somalia has been divided into northern Somalia (formerly British Somaliland) and southern Somalia. Somaliland has declared itself a separate state, although so far no other government has recognised it. The partial deal that militias from southern Somalia have reached under Kenyan mediation does not extend to Somaliland.

The agreement was reached in Nairobi on January 29 and is said to be the closest the warring factions have ever been to forming a central administration. It is certainly the first to include "all the main warlords and feuding traditional leaders –42 in all," according to one report. But no ceasefire was agreed at the talks before the parties, all still highly suspicious of eachother, returned home. The African Union, the Arab League and the Islamic Conference, to all of which the Somali republic belonged before its dissolution, are not involved in the talks, although reports suggest that the EU is. Western involvement in Somalia has been minimal since the attempt by the US in 1993 to capture general Aideed, one of the most powerful warlords, failed. The attempt led to the deaths in action of 18 US marines and the withdrawal of UN peacekeeping forces from the area.

But although the US is not engaged with Somalia as it is with Sudan, it is bound to support the policies of its allies in the Horn of Africa, and the powerful Christian lobby is certain to urge the Bush administration to back Somalia’s Christian neighbours. Kenya has said that Somaliland will be invited to join the talks when the southern factions reach a final deal. But neither Kenya nor Ethiopia will be keen to push a project that seeks to reunite southern and northern Somalia, and the US will not put pressure on them to change their attitude.

The fact that the fate of two Muslim countries facing disintegration is left in the hands of hostile Christians should be unacceptable to all Muslims, but unfortunately for the time being separate groups of Muslims are embroiled in their own problems, and cannot worry about others’.

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