China in Sudan…

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(work in progress…)
A critical look at why China could play a leading role in mediating peace between the two Sudans even as it pursues its own economic interests.

Premise: That China has arguably the biggest economic leverage over the two states..


Nationbuilding in South Sudan: Lessons from Somaliland

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Of all the numerous congratulatory messages that poured in from world capitals, one stood out. This was from Hargeysa, the capital of Somaliland ; that ‘republic’ that the world just refuses to recognize. It might have been an opportune moment for the Somalilanders to remind the world of their unique situation and continuing consternation at the international community’s apathy to their cause despite making major strides at statehood, peace and democratic governance.

Somaliland Pres Ahmed Mohamed

As President SalvaKiir and his government get down to business, it would be very important for South Sudan to pay attention to Hargeysa, the only African government  that offers practical lessons for the nascent government’s most arduous task; nation- and state-building in the 21st century.

LESSON 1: Security is the foundation. Providing and guaranteeing security to all citizens and in particular businesses is paramount if any economic growth is to take place. And once businesses are making money, it automatically unlocks avenues for taxation. Somaliland realized a lucrative transit business by traders to and from Ethiopia through the Port of Berbera. The only problem with this cash cow was rampant insecurity from banditry. As long as the port and the road to it were secure, transporters could keep plying their trade and the government would collect the much-needed money to extend its control through service delivery throughout its territory. When government provides security, this acts as a compensation for civilians to give up arms. According to a 2007 Small Arms estimate, two in three civilians have a gun. As things stand, civilian disarmament is facing major challenges.

LESSON 2: Foreign aid (for development or reconstruction) is not necessarily an asset.
In fact, the lack of foreign aid for Somaliland led the authorities there to form open and accountable systems of government. The government of Somaliland knows very well that unless they account for the revenues they collect from use or Port Berbera and taxes they impose on the citizens who, through their clan leaders (the Guurti) in turn agree to maintain security in their domains, they do not have any recourse. Government would consequently go bankrupt. It is common knowledge that where governments know they can survive through means other than the taxation of citizenry as seen in countries perceived to be in good donor books (like Ethiopia), there is little or no incentive for state accountability and transparency. Such authorities also tend to be autocratic. South Sudan should focus on creating an enabling environment for local manufacturing to take root and thrive. These will offer an attractive source of revenue and also provide jobs. Relying largely on oil, in my view, will be the real ‘Resource Curse’, as Paul Collier demonstrates.

LESSON 3: Do not destroy traditional governance structures.Building on the existing traditional structures of authority is much more cost-effective and less time consuming than trying to adopt totally euro-centric models from the grassroots to the top. South Sudan can learn a lot from Somaliland’s bicameral parliament where both elected representatives and national council of elders (Guurti) share power. The Guurti has played a key role in extending security within and amongst clans; something the central government lacks the capacity to. In South Sudan, traditional chiefs played a vital role in more or less the same way as in South Sudan. However, it seems like there is a deliberate effort to do away with them and adopt a modern Eurocentric governance structure. What Salva Kiir and his government needs to understand that while this is good in the long term, the new state lacks the required human

Pres Salva Kiir, ROSS

resource to run such a system in the short term. The most critical state organs bearing the brunt of this inadequacy is the judiciary and rule of law. If the traditional role of chiefs and elders is revitalized, they can play a key stop gap role to enforce law and order and mete out justice. South Sudan has to be creative in actualizing this hybrid system that is already informally in place in several areas I personally visited.

LESSON 4: Resource redistribution. Equal redistribution of benefits accrued from state resources as well as from cooperation between the citizens and the government. There is need to set up a political system that ensures freedom and accountability. In Somaliland, the central government has to ensure that revenue from taxation of traders is equally shared throughout the country especially to education institutions. South Sudan will have to ensure the same when it comes to oil revenues. A form of ‘equalization fund’ should be put in place to bring development in adversely underdeveloped places like east of the new country (Pibor, Akobo, Pochalla counties in Jonglei State) so that they are not left behind. Decentralization of resources will be critical in stemming public discord.

LESSON 5: Do not marginalize the Diaspora. If there is a constituency that has provided invaluable support to Somaliland, it is its huge diaspora spread out in Europe and North America. They have also helped to push for their motherland’s agenda in the international scene through lobbying. As South Sudan begins its task of state-building, they will need bright people with a flair for thinking global and acting local. Australia, US and UK boast large numbers of South Sudanese communities, most of them in colleges and private sectors of their adopted countries. As I noted in my earlier blog, the current composition of government officials is heavily skewed in favor of former war generals and ex-SPLA top brass. The thinking is that those in the diaspora ‘abandoned’ their people during the war and therefore shouldn’t return to claim leadership positions now that there is peace. A radical paradigm shift is required. Pres Kiir and his government must view the South Sudanese Diaspora as a huge asset and partner in reconstruction of the new country and as such, put in place to enhance this cooperation.

In conclusion, it is my personal observation that the AU needs to seriously put in place a procedure to allow Somaliland sovereignty. After all, theirs is a cause with reasonable historical justification for sovereignty.

The Four Main Challenges the new ROSS Faces

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The last bottle has been emptied; the bulls have been devoured to the tail; almost everyone has gone back to work. Now let’s have some reality check. All aboard. The new Republic of Southern Sudan is on the runway ready for take-off into the horizons on economic growth, peace and stability. Unfortunately, the weather outlook points to some serious navigation challenges especially for the pilots. I have tried to capture and greatly compress these challenges into four main ones that pose the greatest impediment to a smooth flight.

1. A Lousy northern neighbor (and the Small Matter of the Border)

The Khartoum ruling elite are an unhappy lot. They just lost the goose that laid the golden egg and for the first time in many years, they have to think of an austerity plan to avoid a serious economic downturn marked by dwindling fortunes. The South has no intention of continuing with the oil revenue sharing. Political dissent is rising and major opposition parties are more daring in their

Pres Bashir

call for reforms and even regime change in the North. Pres Bashir is still wanted by the ICC. So, how do they survive in the face of all this? They will do all they can to squeeze maximum concessions from the South for the next few years, at least until the major economic artery (oil exports from oil fields in the south going through the north) North is completely cut off. How will they do this? Grandstand on Abyei, dig in in South Kordofan, support armed groups and militias in the south and stoke tribal animosity, etc.

The over 2000km border is going to be the most contentious border in Africa for the next decade. It will not be resolved soon. In fact, I expect the two parties to engage international bodies like the Permanent Court of Arbitration (like they did regarding Abyei) and the UN, thus stalling the finalization of the demarcation. We should also expect plenty of conflicts along this line. Abyei, as some observers have opined, may become the Kashmir of Sudan yet it’s not even as ‘oil-rich’ as many journalists write.

2. Poor Capacity to build:

The task of nation- and state-building is in itself, even in the hands of experts and lots of funds, a most arduous task. The World Bank suggests at least two decades just to arrive at state stability (or ‘breaking even’ in business terms). The problem of weak leadership will be the Achilles’ heel in ROSS’s attempts at state-building. Add to this, UNICEF puts illiteracy as over 80% of the population with only one in four school children being a girl.

Because of this weak capacity to build, there will be numerous models of development and growth that will be forced down the throats of South Sudanese from donors and sadly, this will be like experimentation ground for hitherto untested concepts in development. ROSS leaders should listen to Shanta Devarajan, World Bank’s Chief Economist for Africa; “While welcoming the advice and support from the international community, South Sudan stands a greater chance of success if they can adapt this assistance to local conditions, listening to their people.”

In other words, the international community should only come in to build the capacity of South Sudanese and must not dictate models. The solutions must be indigenously bred and developed if they are to be sustainable.

3. Arms everywhere!

In a recent Small Arms Survey, the presence of militias and numerous armed groups continue to constitute a severe threat to security in post-independence South Sudan. Despite numerous disarmament campaigns (most of them SPLA-led and very bloody in nature), the number of arms in the hands of civilians remains extremely high.

In my own observation, communities that have been marginalized in resource allocations and/or generally perceived as warlike by their neighbours almost always exhibit high saturation of arms. A case in point is the Murle and Mundari of Jonglei state as well as the Lou Nuer in Jonglei and Upper Nile states. Communities refuse to disarm because they feel they are being exposed to enemy communities as the government is not able to provide adequate security. I witnessed a case in Akobo, Jonglei State where 8 SPLA soldiers were killed by a community as they attempted to disarm the latter in December last year. Most communities, however, do want to disarm; but they need guarantees from government and UN that they do not become exposed.

ROSS, in conjunction with UNMISS and other relevant agencies involved with community security like Safer World must work together to design a practical and holistic model for peaceful disarmament and effective DDR.

4. Leadership Deficit:

It is only until recently that almost the entire government leadership cabal was composed of former generals, brigadiers, colonels, lieutenants, majors and other military top brass. Anyone who did not carry a rank was deemed as an outsider; government belonged to those who fought. Since Jan 2005 when the CPA was signed, the GOSS has been heavily accused of mismanagement and high level corruption as well as nepotism. Government jobs and tenders are unashamedly awarded to kith and kin. Resources are channeled to particular leaders’ home areas. This has bred fierce animosity between tribes, marginalization and discrimination of whole communities, some of which are branded as ‘militia tribes’ like the Murle in Jonglei. Community security and programs like disarmament and economic development have all but failed to kick off, further exacerbating a bad case of insecurity and underdevelopment.

In the face of these and many other challenges facing the nascent state, there is a dire need for a new breed of leaders. This must be forward thinking, educated, not loyal to tribe, progressive and responsive to needs of the people. Interethnic conflicts must be resolved through negotiations; civilian disarmament should be done peacefully, preferably under supervision of UNMISS. Educated returnees must be welcomed into government. SPLM must relax its stranglehold on South Sudan politics and allow other parties to thrive without intimidation. A new constitution and followed by democratic elections must be top on government’s list of to-do things.

In short, the new Republic’s leadership needs a complete paradigm shift in its way of thinking.

From Akobo, Jonglei State

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Rural women wait in line to register as voters at Akobo town, Jonglei State (Copyright: Josh)

This is my second week at Akobo where I have been conducting a series of workshops on Community Security and Civilian Disarmament (a project of Safer World and UNYMPDA). I have been amazed at the level of mobilization by the county’s administration led by the referendum office and supported by the SSRRC. They are even using boats to reach some far flung bomas (villages) especially near the border with Ethiopia. The level and depth of organization, despite numerous challenges especially of access, is simply amazing. The SSRRC told me that they had set a target of about 15,000 but as at friday, the figure was slightly over 17,000. This is good news. Or is it? Remembering that requirement of at least 60% turnout for a legitimate secession result, the leaders have been asking residents who will not be around to vote not to register. They want at least 80% turnout. I think they’ll get more than that, based on my personal assessment after talking to people. This is good.


Returnees arriving in Akobo. Many people have returned to register as voters in the upcoming referendum

How to avoid a war after the Referendum in Sudan


In the recent weeks, Khartoum has increased its rhetoric that there are key post-referendum aspects that must be negotiated and agreed upon before the referendum; otherwise they will not recognize the vote’s outcome. Some key leaders including Pres Omar Bashir have threatened a likelihood of conflict should the vote be held without agreeing on all of these issues. On its hand, the SPLM led by its chairman and southern president Salva Kiir has vowed to go ahead with the vote even if it means unilaterally organizing and conducting it. One might say that the war drums are beating and everyone should prepare for war.

In my opinion, it is highly unlikely that either Khartoum or Juba is willing to bring out the guns again, at least with an intention of another round of full scale war. The costs are just too high and no one is guaranteed of outright and quick victory.

However, there are several things that can be done to mitigate the worst of possibilities and ensure a smooth transition during and after the referendum.

  1. Outstanding issues in post-referendum arrangements negotiations: Accept that the referendum does not spell the end of negotiations of key issues. One of the main reasons the mediation that led to the CPA signing succeeded was because the mediators were able to convince the parties (especially NCP) that the signing did not close the door for further consultation and negotiations on the then contentious issues; it was going to provide an interim period to the finalization of these issues.
    1. On Abyei; there is need to mainstream the involvement of the local communities of Dinka Ngok and Misseriya in the negotiations. As witnessed in many other natural resource-based conflicts in Africa, discovery of high value resources has often brought with it conflicts engineered by elites who take advantage of ethnic differences of groups living on such resource finds, yet these groups were living peacefully side by side before the discovery. Clearly, it is the political elites who drive the conflicts and thus the peace talks must be spearheaded by the local communities themselves with political elites only coming in to strengthen what the locals have agreed within the larger government institutions of peace building and economic development.
    2. On border demarcation; the remaining twenty percent that is yet to be demarcated is, as the International Crisis Group noted, a political not technical issue. Examples abound globally where sovereigns are still solving long-standing border issues under the auspices of international dispute resolution mechanisms.
  2. Role of IGAD:  Scott Gration can not act like George Mitchell. It is unfortunate that the IGAD team of states which, despite playing a key role in the mediation efforts, has not lived up to its billing as the key local guarantor. This regional body has become a backseat spectator, leaving western nations to take the lead in post-war peace- and state-building and thus giving Khartoum room to rubbish any good-intentioned intervention as ‘meddling in internal affairs of a sovereign state’ and ‘neocolonialism’. The AU, whose key voices include the likes of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi, readily fronted this as the basis for refusing to cooperate with international bodies like UNSC, UNAMID and ICC. IGAD must retake the lead role in the Sudan peace efforts. This will deny Khartoum, and by extension the AU, the perfect excuse of non-compliance with its obligations under international law. The international community, especially the US should only come in to complement the efforts of IGAD, just like they led the Troika on nations during the CPA negotiations.
  3. Southern unity: the recent conference of political parties held in Juba early October could well be the most critical preparation for separation by the southern leadership. Even if they secede, south Sudan runs a high risk of internal divisions entrenched in years of interethnic conflicts and political divisions. This inter-parties political dialogue is something that the international community should strengthen and institute a thorough follow up to ensure that the resolutions such the multi-stakeholder constitutional conference after the referendum is actually set up. This will guarantee a strong and accountable polity for a future South Sudan state.
  4. Immediate recognition of separation vote: The most critical moments will be when the vote is concluded and the ballots are counted. Predictably, there will be many poll-related issues that any party might use to refuse to recognize the outcome. In that very decisive and nail-biting moment, a very hard decision will have to be made not just is Khartoum and Juba but in many capitals all around the world. Analysts expect majority of players in the Khartoum decision-making machine to lean heavily towards non-recognition of separation vote while the one in Juba leans the other way. If there was ever a moment the powder keg that is Sudan can explode, this is it. The question is: will regional and other capitals have the boldness to act swiftly to avert the worst case scenario by promptly and decisively stating their positions without delay? The world will be watching Juba, Khartoum, Nairobi, Washington, Beijing and Cairo and to some extent Addis Ababa for direction in the immediate period following the conclusion of the vote.

Towards the Separation

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Pres Salva Kiir


It is now only three months to the referendum in South Sudan and Abyei regions.

The mood in the south is heavy with anticipation for the plebiscite. Every southerner can tell you for sure that it’s only a matter of days before they become an independent state, ‘free from the NCP clutches’, so they say. In churches, clan gatherings, the message is the same: let’s all vote for unity. Almost every day in Juba, the South’s capital, there’s demonstrations by various groups in support of separation come January 2011. Dismissing their obligation under the CPA to make unity attractive, many SPLM officials in government are no longer ashamed of campaigning for separation. Perhaps this is guided by the clear mood on the ground: Southerners will not go for anything short of a new independent state.

It is considered sacrilegious in the south to even speak of unity.

While the Referendum Commission prepares for the voter registration which is, in true Sudanese fashion, way behind schedule, there are fears that just as it was before the April elections, this process will be marred by irregularities that may cast doubts on the legitimacy of the vote’s outcome, depending on where one stands.

NCP is currently raising its rhetoric against proceeding with the plebiscite before ‘certain key aspects’ of post-referendum arrangements are finalized.

Storms seem to be gathering in the horizon as the Referendum Commission embarks on voter registration. It is not lost on many observers the messy nature of a similar process in preparation for the April elections. Of significant bearing to this is the issue of citizenship of throngs of southerners living in the north. What is their fate and most importantly, will they be allowed to vote in the referendum?

The referendum itself should not be such a complex process. If the commission can come up with a simple question such as “Do you approve the separation of Sudan into two states” with simple to identify symbols, it is likely to register a very high voter turn out. Interestingly, many SPLM officials are asking those southerners who know they won’t be able to vote not to register as this will negatively affect the total percentage of registered voters that vote for separation (the NCP managed to add an interesting caveat; that they will only accept an outcome for separation if the total voter turn-out is above 60%. This is going to be hard to attain in the vast and remote south). The kind of acrimonious fall-out witnessed after the April elections is not likely to be seen because expectedly, the majority will be voting the same way and therefore not polarizing outcomes as far as the south is concerned. It would only turn bloody in the unlikely event that blatant and widespread rigging result in vote for separation being defeated.

There is also the growing concern that Khartoum will not recognize the outcome of the referendum due to what they term as non-completion of key post-referendum arrangements. Whether these threats are classical NCP upping its stakes in readiness for the final round of its negotiations with SPLM is anyone’s guess. What many analysts agree is that NCP knows that there is nothing short of a full scale war that can stop the South from ‘going’. The only question is, are they convinced that the costs of such a war would be justified by a quick and clear victory or will it usher in another round of intractable and large scale conflict that will not only strain Khartoum’s resources but will also suck in major regional powers and invite international condemnation especially in light of ICC indictments on President Omar Bashir? The International Crisis Group avers that should war breakout, it will be the biggest conventional war of the 21st century. Not many people see this as likely. The NCP has in the recent past increased its rhetoric to this effect, with such leaders as the deputy foreign minister and other leading lights threatening the worst. Predictably, this has been met with harshest of condemnation from the SPLM. And during the UN meeting, GOSS president Salva Kiir left no doubt as to his administration’s unequivocal desire to hold the vote as scheduled and not a day later. In fact, he admitted that the process may be fraught with major challenges from registration to the actual vote. Said he, “Sudan is not like Switzerland… Things do not happen perfectly”.

Just like the last trimester in a woman’s pregnancy, the next three months will be very critical if we are to have a safe delivery. The international community and especially the US must play a proactive role in ensuring the following two key things take place. One:

1.  That the referendum goes on at all costs on the agreed date. Expecting perfect preparations and all-round happiness from the parties is naïve. Contrary to what NCP is saying, the vote can proceed peacefully even if there are pending post-referendum arrangement issues

2. The Abyei talks be spearheaded by the Ngok Dinka and the Misseriya tribal leaders only without interference from Juba or Khartoum. It seems this is what they want. A neutral mediator can facilitate these talks.

To Secure The Horn, Stabilize Somalia

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A young Somali girl

The Horn of Africa is the largest conflict system in the world and has wrought untold suffering to its more than 170 million inhabitants. Numerous international interventions and mediations have usually resulted in weak authorities and peace deals whose signatories have become their very spoilers, leaving the region steeped in an unending cycle of civil and at times interstate conflicts. Economically, the Horn has some of the worst off Least Development Countries according to the latest Human Security Index. The Sudan remains a tinderbox in the region as it heads to a plebiscite on separation in January 2011. Somalia is disintegrating as the Al Shabaab and their allies step up their insurgency thus exacerbating the fragility of the transitional government which in turn increases maritime insecurity in the Gulf of Aden. Some observers believe that Eritrea’s support for the Somalia insurgents continues despite sanctions, while its border stand-off with Ethiopia still raises security concerns. As the Kenyan 2007/8 elections showed, the region’s weak political institutions are not able to handle the storms that come with competitive democratic processes due to underlying structural failures. The regional landscape shows a rather grim outlook.

There are several major security threats in the Horn of Africa region, key among them weak states, preponderance of small arms and light weapons, Al Qaeda-linked extremist groups, intra- and interstate resource disputes and a

Al Shabaab militia in a training session

case of bad neighborhood. These are the underlying causes of the obvious symptoms like numerous armed groups, maritime piracy, secessionist rebellions and political violence. Gaining a clear understanding of Somalia’s (in)security dynamics, ethno-political landscape, spillover effects of the conflict, role of foreign extremist groups and previous regional intervention efforts will provide critical insights that should guide cogent, practical policy formulation for this region. Somalia singularly holds the key to securing and stabilizing the Horn of Africa. Therefore, any meaningful intervention by the international community and especially the US government and non governmental agencies must address Somalia as the epicenter of the Horn of Africa conflict system. Indeed, the real ‘axis of instability’ comprises Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan. The failure to officially recognize Somaliland’s statehood despite the territory showing appreciable democratic gains with two elections described by leading observers as reasonably free and fair has only exacerbated the situation. Clearly, the international community needs to rethink the issue of Somaliland’s statehood and putting in place mechanisms to help the other breakaway region of Puntland along this path.

Piracy off the coast of Somalia has greatly affected maritime trade in the Gulf of Aden

If these two regions are stable, there is bound to be a ‘spillover of stability’ into the greater Somalia territory. The international community should by now have come to appreciate that the cost of attempting to reunite the whole of Somalia into one country is too high. Notably, the US’s limited, indirect diplomacy and largely militaristic support to the transitional Somalia government has clearly not had the desired effect. Instead, perhaps due to its poor planning or execution, it has resulted in solidifying hitherto belligerent extremist groups that have managed to whip up nationalistic sentiments against the weak government. Thriving maritime piracy of the coast of Somalia has triggered a knee-jerk response of dozens of navy ships from foreign countries patrolling the Gulf of Aden. This paper will show that the only permanent solution lies on shore with stable and legitimate administrations, not on the sea.

USAID must focus more on providing much needed development aid so as to reduce the recruiting base for the multitude of rebel movements whose main drive is greed as opposed to genuine grievance. Participatory and equitable development consolidates security, what Robert Zoellick calls ‘securing development’. Continuous support of administrations that lack legitimacy in the eyes of their citizenry is not sustainable in the long run and only stokes antigovernment sentiments which the rebels capitalize on. Aid for development of the region must therefore be more than military aid. The US and EU must not limit their intervention in the Horn of Africa conflict to the global war on terror because this only results in militarizing their foreign policies while ignoring the real underlying economic causes.

Crafting better cooperation between AFRICOM and local Horn of Africa security agencies is best placed to address the overall security threat in the Horn. The United States should seriously consider moving AFRICOM from its base in Stuttgart, Germany to Northern Kenya. Recent Al Shabaab bombings in Uganda coupled with threats of the same in Burundi and Kenya have no doubt left the security apparatus in this region feeling vulnerable; therefore a window exists which the US can take to convince Kenya to host AFRICOM. Not only will this enable the US military to monitor and respond to the security situation, it will also curtail a looming spike in military spending of these states especially in light of the increasing security threats from Somalia and Eritrea.

Finally, the issue of small and light weapons in the post-conflict Sudan should

A large amount of SALW in the Horn are believed to come in through the long and lawless coast of Somalia

addressed through a better coordinated DDR program focused on reintegration of thousands of former combatants especially in the restive Darfur and South Sudan regions. A recent Small Arms Survey report underlines the importance of this, with clear indications that this will be the biggest impediment to the stability of a future South Sudan republic, should the southerners vote for separation in January 2011.

Clearly, a total change in policy towards this region is long overdue.

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