Benaiah Yongo-Bure

Nov 5, 2004

World Bank tapped Kettering professor to aid in Sudan peace-building efforts.

It's a country that has experienced decades of civil strife and war. The images are unsettling: young, malnourished children sprawled on their backs in refugee camps, flies hovering near their fixed, unmoving eyes; arid fields where nothing but dry bulbs of thirsty crops languish under the boiling heat of the midday sun. In the U.S., while sitting safely at our dinner tables with our families each night, it may be difficult to view these images, but we have the luxury of turning off the newscasts and returning to more simple discussions regarding school and what to bring to lunch the next day.

But the issues and plight of those who call Sudan home remain the same and affect many countries, including the United States. We view the drought, conflicts and attempts to eradicate ethnic groups from the African nation with sympathy, yet believe there is little we can do individually to ease the crisis. Unfortunately, the peace-building efforts ongoing today are nothing short of precarious as citizens, government representatives, rebel leaders, and scholars work to establish what most would consider a fragile framework for peace-building negotiations.

The fragility of this framework is evidenced by the most recent round of failed talks between the Sudanese government, rebel forces, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) from the country's Darfur region, as reported by the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (, Oct. 26). At these talks, the SLM/A requested more time to respond to political proposals tabled by mediators. This could mean yet additional delays that will more than likely stall work toward a comprehensive peace agreement.

Benaiah Yongo-Bure, an assistant professor of Social Science at Kettering University and expert on Sudan, understands the history, social, cultural and political turmoil that stands at the root of creating a comprehensive peace-building agreement for the country. He was born and raised in the country's Equatoria province and earned his bachelor's degree from Makerere University in Uganda. Eventually, he left his homeland for Canada, where he earned master's and Ph.D. degrees from Dalhousie University.

Over the course of his academic career, he has viewed the issues taking place in his homeland with great concern. As an expert on Sudan, the World Bank in early 2004 requested his participation to help the peace process through interviews with rebel and government leaders. The purpose was for Yongo to obtain their vision on economic development and reconstruction efforts after a comprehensive peace agreement was reached.

To understand the crisis in Sudan, one must examine some of the recent historical issues of the country. The Darfur war in western Sudan broke out February 2004, but had been simmering since the mid-1980s. The peace process Yongo was involved in is based on a 21-year old war between North and South Sudan.

"The history of Sudan is one marred by wars and disagreements," Yongo explained. "The first war was a north-south one. It ran from 1955 to 1972 when a peace agreement was signed. In 1983, President Nimeri cancelled the 1972 peace agreement and imposed Islamic Law. The problem is basically over power and resources, but the sectarian governments in Khartoum also use religion and race to further their purposes. The people in the north are predominantly Muslims while those in the south are Christians and traditionalists. While virtually all people in Darfur are Muslims, they have two racial identifications of being either Africans or Arabs. The government in Khartoum, dominated by Arab Muslims, uses Islam to mobilize the north against the south, and uses the African-Arab divisions in Darfur to mobilize the Arab against the African."

After former President Nimeri cancelled the 1972peace agreement, Yongo said that war broke out again, leading to the second war along north-south lines, although at this time some northerners have joined the southerners. The north-south war has led to more than 4.5 million people becoming internally displaced, more than two million people killed, and more than a million refugees since 1983. Darfur's 20- month war has so far claimed about 70,000 lives and displaced more than 1.5 million people.

This brief history of the issues plaguing Sudan and the growing instability was viewed by some terrorists such as Osama Bin Laden as an opportunity to use the country as a home base for their activities. The National Islamic Front Government of Sudan collaborated with these terrorists during the 1990s. However, once the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were over, foreign governments, including the United States, took a harder line on nations that may have become homes to terrorists.

This foreign pressure pushed the government of Sudan to establish an image as a governing power seriously pursuing peace in the south. It entered into a peace process with the predominantly southern rebel movement, the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement /Army (SPLM/A). Participants signed a tentative peace agreement framework in 2002 during negotiations in Kenya. This framework, according to Yongo, was to eventually help create a comprehensive peace agreement that covered issues relating to security, wealth, and power sharing. This is particularly important because the northern part of the country is home to the government and the southern part is rich in oil and agricultural resources. This distinction is made more poignant since the rebels control the majority of the south. "This comprehensive agreement was to be completed by December of 2003," Yongo said. "But this did not happen."

The north-south peace process currently falls under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional organization grouping Djibouti, Eriteria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, and Uganda. For Yongo, this is the most promising opportunity for the country to build a lasting, permanent peace, since all constituents will provide input into the developing agreement. All of the neighboring countries hope to end the fighting, suppress the onslaught of refugees flooding into their countries, and establish some form of security for the region. Some of the goals for this comprehensive peace agreement include socio-economic development of the whole country, since poverty and development disparities are among the major causes of the wars.

During his discussion with the SPLM/A leaders, Yongo said their vision for peace includes the creation of one army comprised of rebels and one made up of government soldiers, and a small joint one during the initial six years of the peace plan. After the six-year interim period, citizens of the south would vote on whether to remain in a united Sudan or to allow the south to become a separate country. If the south votes for unity of Sudan, then the two armies will be merged into the joint force. This single force would then assist in the merging of the north and south portions of the country. During the six-year interim period, the SPLM prefers the economies of the south and north to be run autonomously, except for macroeconomic policy coordination.

Participants adjourned the north-south peace talks until the end of November 2004. To help conclude talks this year, the United Nations Security Council plans to meet in Nairobi, Kenya, this month, with the hope of pressuring parties to sign a comprehensive peace agreement by the end of 2004. A north-south peace agreement will have positive impact on peace in Darfur. Unfortunately, the separate peace talks on Darfur currently taking place in Nigeria under the auspices of the African Union are making little progress.

Yongo believes that a major factor in the seriousness of Sudan's approach in creating a lasting north-south peace is due in large part to the pressure exerted by the U.S. "Sudan's government does not what to be treated like the Taliban in Afghanistan," he said. Whatever the outcome of this peace-building effort, he is sure of one thing: "We must achieve a peace that is lasting for Sudan, the region and world," he added. "Too many lives are at stake if we do not achieve this goal."

Written by Gary. J. Erwin
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