Tuesday August 2, 2005
Copyright The Guardian
The sudden death of John Garang, the veteran southern Sudanese leader, could further undermine last January’s already fragile peace deal with the Khartoum government and lead to a civil war in the south, an Africa expert warned yesterday.
Political upheavals following Mr Garang’s unexplained death could also complicate UN-led efforts to end the crisis in Sudan’s western Darfur region and may exacerbate a simmering conflict in eastern Sudan.
“The danger is that Garang’s death will split the Sudan People’s Liberation Army [SPLA] and lead to civil war in the south,” said Richard Dowden, director of the Royal African Society. “Garang was an old-fashioned dictator. There’s no way his was a consensual leadership. He didn’t like successors. He fell out with the most likely of them and it’s unclear who’ll take over.
“A large number of people in the south who hated Garang may say, ‘Here’s our chance.’ The north is likely to sit back and snigger.”
The January peace agreement, signed after painstaking international mediation, ended 22 years of civil war between the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum and Sudan’s non-Islamic south, a war in which some 2 million people died. The deal created a separate administration dominated by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in southern Sudan, which Mr Garang led, as well as a government of national unity. It also provided for the sharing of Sudan’s oil resources, national elections in four years, and a referendum in the south on independence.
But a report published before his death said the agreement was already at risk, because of failures by both the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and the SPLM.
“The most troubling aspect is lack of political will on the side of the government and its ruling National Congress party, which realise fundamental change would necessarily come at the expense of their special interests,” the independent International Crisis Group said last month.
The report accused Khartoum of causing problems with the peace accord to deflect international pressure over Darfur. It said government-backed militias known as the South Sudan Defence Forces were used as “subversive proxies” to spread in-fighting in the south – much the same as Khartoum has employed Janjaweed militias in Darfur. “The international community must be aware of the likelihood that the government will seek to undermine implementation in the coming months and years,” it said.
But the report also criticised the SPLM’s “overly centralised” leadership for being slow to deliver on its promises. Mr Garang opposed the south’s secession, and was a key unifying force in both southern and national politics who would be hard to replace, Mr Dowden said. “The extraordinary thing about him was that he was the only one who really meant what he said about a united, democratic, secular Sudan. Everyone else [in the SPLA] was all for secession in the south. He held that line very well.”
While his death will increase concerns about a south-south conflict, it could also intensify worries about Darfur, where it was hoped Mr Garang would in time play a conciliatory role, and about a wider Sudanese fragmentation. Ironically, rebels in eastern Sudan, where fighting erupted in June, have been encouraged by the SPLM’s success in winning self-government.
In the west, meanwhile, the UN Mission in Sudan reports that “persistent banditry and deadly attacks on civilians throughout Darfur” are continuing, albeit at a lower level than in the past.
Louise Arbour, the UN commissioner for human rights, last week condemned the “climate of impunity” in Darfur.
“Rape and gang rape continue to be perpetrated by armed elements, some of whom are members of law enforcement agencies and the armed forces,” she added.