South Africa and Sudan Transformations: Comparisons and Contrasts
Address by Princeton N. Lyman
United States Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan
In Recognition of the 100th Anniversary of the ANC
January 18, 2012
At the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, Republic of South Africa
On January 18, Special Envoy to Sudan Princeton Lyman exhorted South Africa and the African Union to take urgent action to prevent a devastating famine in Sudan that could kill hundreds of thousands as early as March 2012 unless the Sudanese government reverses its refusal to accept international aid.
In his stirring, 30-minute address to academics, journalists, diplomats and researchers gathered at South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), the special envoy highlighted South Africa’s important role as mediator in Burundi in the 1990s, which prevented that country from falling to the wholesale ethnic killings of the kind that wreaked havoc in neighboring Rwanda. He urged South Africa to once again take up a leadership role to solve Africa’s most urgent problems.
Mr. Lyman, who served as U.S. ambassador to South Africa from 1992-1995, also lauded South Africa’s triumph over apartheid and successful transition to democracy, contrasting South African leaders at the time – including Nobel Peace Prize laureates Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk -- with current leaders in Sudan and South Sudan. Charles Nqakula, South Africa’s negotiator on Sudan, as well as the Sudanese Ambassador and Chargé d’Affaires of South Sudan, were present and spoke at the seminar.
It is an honor and a privilege to be asked the Dirco to give this address in connection with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the ANC. The ANC has such a proud history. It undertook the long fight for justice and freedom for the people of South Africa. It led the way to a negotiated transition from apartheid to democracy. It created one of the strongest democratic constitutions anywhere in the world. And it established institutions to protect the rights and freedoms embodied in that constitution. Perhaps less recognized and appreciated, South Africa has been at peace since 1994 when so much of the rest of the world, especially many countries in transition, face internal conflicts and political uncertainty as they struggle to find their way to freedom.
It is easily misleading to compare situations that are in so many ways different from each other as Sudan and South Africa. The histories are far different, some of the fundamental issues that divided each of them internally are different, and their challenges have been different. One also has to be careful in deciding what to compare. Much attention is devoted to the process of South Africa’s transformation in the final decade of apartheid and the negotiations that led to democracy. Analysts look to those days to learn lessons of conflict resolution. I will do so also, but look farther back as well. As the 100th anniversary of the ANC reminds us, the struggle in South Africa began a very long time ago. The last decade or two before 1984 was the culmination, not the whole story.
Sudan’s history is also important, to understand the colonial history, the nature of its independence, and the history of the civil wars that have wracked the country since independence. I cannot do justice to all that history but will try to recognize its uniqueness and its impact on the problems of today.
One other caveat. The mediation in Sudan is under the direction of South Africa’s Former president Thabo Mbeki. If anyone can provide an analysis of the comparisons and contrasts to South Africa’s transition it is he. I proceed therefore with considerable humility and hope he will not find my assessment wanting.
The State of War
In my view one of the most important differences between Sudan and South Africa is the degree of racial and ethnic warfare in Sudan. I believe that once a country crosses the line into wholesale ethnic or racial warfare, with widespread killings, atrocities, and disruptions, it is much harder to put the society back together. The memories, the deep distrust, the still lingering hunger for revenge all make reconciliation harder.
South Africa had years of terrible repression and much violence against the black majority and its supporters. There are deep-seated memories and anger still. But South Africa never fell into major racial war. Moreover, though the apartheid regime sought to divide the majority population through the creation of the so-called homelands and assign ethnic citizenship to them, it did not systematically arm one group to attack the other. South Africa came close to such open warfare on more than one occasion, but each time stepped back from the brink. And in the face of efforts to stoke ethnic division, or indeed racial hatred, the ANC forged instead a unity of purpose among all the groups that make up the majority and in the end reached out for racial harmony and a multi-racial society.
But in Sudan the arming of such groups, the stoking of racial and ethnic competition and indeed deep animosities has been a feature of Sudan’s wars. It was a major factor in the long civil wars between north and south. It was a major tactic in the Government’s suppression of the uprising in Darfur in 2003.It goes on today in the arming and stoking of ethnic violence in South Sudan and still in Darfur. It plays out in the conflict under way today in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile and in the struggle over the future of the disputed region of Abyei. The very scale of violence and death is massive in Sudan. Two million people died in the last north-south civil war. Some 300,000 died in Darfur in just a few short years.
The Nature of Leadership
A second contrast comes with the role of leaders, but also some valuable lessons. Leaders matter. South Africa was blessed in the final years of its transition with what I once termed the “quality of leaders a country gets perhaps once in a hundred years.” I need not dwell on the qualities of those who brokered the final transition – Nelson Mandela and F.W De Klerk. It is sufficient to say that they each won the Nobel Peace Prize. They each could build upon a vision of a country transformed in which all could live in peace.
This history of leaders in Sudan is different. Perhaps nothing signifies the difference more than the fate of South Sudan’s iconic leader, John Garang. Garang led the south in its last civil war. But he had a vision of a united Sudan, transformed, a Sudan with a broad multi-ethnic and multi-religious identity that could indeed incorporate the diverse nature of its population. On the basis of that vision, he agreed to a process of transition that could produce a unified Sudan not one necessarily divided. But on the very dawn of the peace process which he negotiated in 2005, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), he was tragically killed in a helicopter crash. With his death much of that vision diminished. There was no fundamental political transformation in Sudan or in South Sudan, not in the workings of the Government of National Unity which was to develop it, not in the 2010 elections which were to culminate it.
So Salva Kiir, who succeeded Garang, shepherded the south to Independence. It was a monumental task in itself and demanded extraordinary skill in bringing divers and once hostile elements around that one goal. But the vision of a unified Sudan transformed, politically and socially, died.
Another aspect of leadership is this: The President of Sudan, President Bashir, the other major figure in today’s peace process, has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. Unlike the leaders in South Africa at its critical time, the indictments have created a division between President Bashir and much of the international community. It affects the day to day peace process in a significant way . The search for peace runs up against the demand for accountability and an end to impunity. We in the United States do not deal directly with President Bashir or other senior figures indicted by the ICC, nor will the representatives of many of the countries of Europe. That limits the type of international diplomacy that played such a strong role in the negotiating of the CPA.
The Role of Mediators
But one does not need a Mandela, or a De Klerk for leaders to make peace. Here there is a lesson from South Africa that is very appropriate, indeed essential for Sudan and South Sudan. For one of the most notable aspects of South Africa’s transition was the responsibility that its leaders not only assumed but insisted upon.
I am fond of telling the story of a phone call in 1992 between Nelson Mandela and then US President George H.W. Bush. Mr. Mandela was calling to solicit US support in a debate before the UN Security Council concerning violence in South Africa. President Bush quickly promised such support. But then he went on to offer to South Africa the mediating talents of his Secretary of State, fresh from the post-war diplomacy of the first Gulf War. Mr. Mandela returned to the matter of the UN Security Council debate. Once again President Bush promised support but again offered the services of Mr. Baker as a mediator in South Africa. A third time Mr. Mandela returned to the matter of the UN Security Council. And for a third time President Bush agreed but went on to extol the talents of his Secretary of State. There was a long pause. Then Mr. Mandela said, “And how is Mrs. Bush.?.” Later, more formally, both Mandela and De Klerk would decline the president’s offer. This was their country, they each said, and it was for them to resolve its deepest problems. It is not that international actors played no role for they did, in many an informal bringing of parties together before the breakthroughs of 1990, by providing expertise and educational opportunity for those carrying out the negotiations and building the new institutions. Indeed I wrote a whole book about the US role in such manner. But we all acted as facilitators, not mediators nor negotiators between the parties. These the South Africans insisted were their responsibility.
The history of peace in Sudan is much different. Perhaps because of the depth and viciousness of much of the violence that I have spoken to earlier, but perhaps too because of the attitudes of the leadership involved, for whatever reasons, international mediation has had to be a major factor in bringing about peace and is today a major perhaps the key process that keeps the peace process alive. In the end of Sudan’s first north-south war, the World Council of Churches and the African Council of Churches played a most important role. But much more, in the negotiating of the CPA in 2005, to end the second war, the African Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) under the brilliant leadership of General Sumbaiywo of Kenya, and the very active role of the troika of the US, UK and Norway, were formal and active mediators. One of the key protocols, that on Abyei, was drafted by the US Special Envoy John Danforth. The process ever since has been monitored, brokered, and overseen by various international bodies. Most recently, in 2010, the Africa Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP), headed by Thabo Mbeki with former Burundi President Pierre Buyoya and former Nigerian head of state General Abdulsalami Abubakr, was formally designated to manage the implementation process of the CPA.
One must salute the enormous effort of these mediators. In particular I cannot salute enough the dedication, commitment, ingenuity, and determination of the AUHIP under the leadership of Thabo Mbeki. Without their work it is hard to imagine that South Sudan would have been able to secede peacefully, as it did in 2011, and that there would be an array of mechanisms and systems for negotiating the remaining outstanding issues between them.
But yet something is missing in this process. It is striking that there are still almost no bilateral mechanisms in place that would manage the relations between the two countries, Sudan and South Sudan, so heavily dependent on each other. Still today, after years of a government of national unity and six years of the CPA, there are almost no meetings between the two countries unless called by the AUHIP. Only one joint mechanism has been formally established, the Joint Political and Security Mechanism, created to demilitarize and patrol the border. Yet each meeting of the JPSM – there have been only two -- depends on strenuous efforts of the AUHIP to arrange for it, to develop an agenda, or to get it to agree on almost anything.
Moreover, no issue ultimately put before the two presidents by the AUHIP, whether for solution to the region of Abyei, the financial arrangements in the oil sector, the means to address the disputed border areas – none of these have been decided by the presidents. Without the ability or willingness – or perhaps the chemistry between them – or the commitment that this is their responsibility to make these decisions, hard as they may be, ultimate peace between Sudan and South Sudan will be fragile at best. Right now it is fragile indeed.
Again, nations do not need a Mandela or a De Klerk. But it is falls to any national leaders the responsibility to make peace, to make the ultimately difficult political decisions that peace requires, to mobilize the political forces and support to back such decisions, and to commit to a vision of peaceful relations. Mediators can flourish within that milieu or step back and need be only facilitators and helpers as was the case in South Africa. But their task is nearly impossible if that responsibility by the leaders is not accepted.
Strategies for Transformation
Another lesson from South Africa comes from the fundamental change in the political system that was an outcome of the transition. As I indicated earlier, one promise of the CPA that was not realized was the political transformation of Sudan. Today, the question of how both Sudan and South Sudan are to be governed is as much a major issue as it was before.
For the Republic of Sudan, the ways in which areas long felt marginalized, politically and economically, such as in the states of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, in Darfur, in the east, have not been resolved. As Thabo Mbeki pointed out in a lecture at the University of Khartoum in 2010, even after the south’s departure, Sudan is a diverse country, diverse in religion, cultures, and political traditions. The governance of the country must reflect that diversity if internal peace is to be achieved.
Unfortunately, instead o f that process proceeding, conflict has broken out in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, and continues if at a lower level in Darfur. Those from these regions waging war against the regime in Khartoum have banded together in what they call the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), committed to forcibly overthrowing the Khartoum regime. Many of the SRF’s leaders claim to have tired of negotiations, tired of forums, of half-implemented agreements, backtracking, political oppression, undermining of the process of consultation. The see overthrow as the only alternative. Not all of them. Some still hold out hope for a negotiated transformation, but right now the avenues of dialogue are blocked, and some of the past’s horrendous practices of warfare are being used again.
As everyone here knows, it was Nelson Mandela that urged the ANC to take up the armed struggle, to create the MK, and to wage both a political and military battle. But Nelson Mandela would later reveal that his goal was not so much to overthrow the regime, a task perhaps too great or costly to be achieved, but to use the armed struggle as a means to bring the government to negotiate. Once that door opened, truly opened, Mandela and indeed the ANC went in and history was made.
The SRF and indeed the Government of Sudan face a similar set of decisions. A war to bring about regime change in Sudan would without question be long and bloody and the outcome very unclear. The cost in lives, hopes, dreams, and welfare would be enormous. There have been many wars in Sudan, millions have died, and they have rarely produced deep political transformation. But without transformation the regime cannot be secure, and real peace will not be realized.
This is therefore a moment of truth for both sides in Sudan. It is not enough for the SRF to pledge itself to forcible regime change. Like the ANC which set out its principles for a new South Africa in the Freedom Charter, the SRF must develop a political platform. It must be a platform moreover for inclusion, for bringing all elements of Sudan society together. It must be roadmap as well for peace, a pathway for negotiation when the other side is ready to negotiate. The SRF must see armed insurrection at most as temporary means, one to be set aside when the time for peace is at hand and to be clear that this is its objective. There is some movement in this direction but it is far from fully developed and not yet of such appeal that it can bring the nation together, not drive it further apart.
The Government of Sudan must equally look for that pathway to peace. It must be prepared to address both diversity and unity, to undertake a constitutional process – as it has promised – that is truly inclusive, open to real and systematic transformation of the way political power is shared and distributed. It must as must its opponents, be pledged to human rights and democracy, for without those not only will transformation be incomplete but peace still elusive. Right now both sides are heavily focused on military struggle. That has to change.
South Sudan faces major challenges of its own. There are deep fissures in South Sudan society, submerged in the unity forged in the campaign for independence but now emerging in stark fashion. This became clear in the past two weeks as thousands of the Lou Nuer Community attacked the Murle, and retaliation attacks from the Murle are now under way. Only strenuous action by the UN peacekeeping force and the Government of South Sudan prevented what could have been a major massacre, though even then hundreds may have died. The same danger exists in other parts of the country. It is not sufficient to see this conflict simply in terms of traditional communal conflict. For it also reflects the long absence of strong governance at the local level, of assured protection of people and their rights, and of economic opportunity. The Government of South Sudan must address these needs with skill, understanding, and a sense of urgency. Delicate issues of ethnic balance and participation have to be addressed without creating only loose coalitions of ethnic militia. South Sudan also emerged at independence with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in an overwhelmingly dominant position. South Africa knows this situation, with the ANC having been in a similar role. But in South Africa the constitution protects the rights of people and parties and places checks and balances on the use of power. South Sudan is only beginning the development of a new constitution. The challenge will be to provide for the development of multiparty politics, protection of speech and the media, and in essence the readiness to contain and share power.
The Looming Disaster
But one more thing. This is not an academic discourse. I did not come here merely to look back on the magic moments of the transformation in South Africa which I was privileged to witness, nor talk of Sudan as an abstract case study in conflict resolution. For I want to take this occasion to alert South Africa to a looming disaster in Sudan. And to appeal to South Africa once again to rise to its own leadership role to prevent it.
The tragedy in Rwanda occurred just as South Africa was emerging from apartheid and not yet fully engaged in African affairs as a free nation. Shortly afterward, however, South Africa did move boldly and with both political and military resources to prevent a similar tragedy in Burundi. Nelson Mandela, Jacob Zuma, and others personally played major mediating roles. South African peacemakers protected the peace process until an AU, later a UN force could be brought together.
We need a different but no less critical and no less urgent role from South Africa and other African countries today. I have spoken of the conflict under way in the states in Sudan of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. In the middle of this conflict are hundreds of thousands of civilians who are rapidly running out of food and medicine. A recent assessment by the Famine Emergency Warning System Network (FEWSnet) predicts that near famine conditions will occur in this area by March. The dilemma is that the Government refuses to allow international humanitarian assistance to the people under threat. The reasons are complex, but largely political. The Government fears that such intervention will lead to steadily greater international presence and political involvement in what it sees as an internal issue.
But the international community cannot possibly stand by, surely not again, if hundreds of thousands of Africans are dying in front of us and we don’t find a way to get emergency aid to them. African nations are however, the key. My government and many others have appealed to the government of Sudan, to allow just purely humanitarian agencies such the World Food Program and UNICEF to come in. But frankly our motives are suspect. The Government of Sudan, wrongly, but nevertheless firmly, believes that the US in particular, but also even the UN, are only seeking to spearhead some new internationally directed division within Sudan. African nations have a different standing, however, with Sudan. They also have a major stake in preventing this looming tragedy. The allowing of the starvation of hundreds of thousands of Africans would be a terrible tragedy for Africa, a challenge to the meaning of the AU and its principles, a betrayal of those civilians caught between the warring parties.
South Africa is an especially strong position to act. It is not only a leader in the AU whose summit meets later this month. It is a member of the UN Security Council, and this month its chair. It is a time for bold leadership, to find a way that prevents tragedy on a massive scale. The UN Security Council and the AU summit can be a start.
We all live with the nightmare of Rwanda and all that we did not do. We have the memory too of what South Africa did in Burundi. It is South Africa’s moment to play that role again. This is one lesson from South Africa that can be pertinent today, that bold action by a leading state can make a difference. If acted upon, if a major humanitarian undertaking is made for all the world to see, for the Sudanese people to see, it will not only avert disaster. It will begin to reverse Sudan’s long, sad history of racial and ethnic division, and enhance its chances for peace.