The following is a guest post by Robin Gwynn, the UK Special Representative for Sudan and South Sudan.
I was delighted to have been appointed to this role in May of this year, following several years working on African issues both in London and through postings in Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria. The fact that the UK has a Special Representative is testimony to our continuing commitment to Sudan and South Sudan.
We have long standing historical ties with Sudan before the separation and we want to build on and develop them in our relations with Sudan and South Sudan. Many people in both countries tell us that we have a role to play. At present we are focussing on the talks in Addis which resume this week and which I will be attending. This is a UN/AU led process which we are fully supporting. The aim is to complete a process in which so much has been achieved already, above all the rare step of the creation of a new state – for which the Governments of both countries deserve huge credit.
I took up this role just after the three-month timeline for resolution of all outstanding disputes between Sudan and South Sudan was set by the African Union and UN Security Council. It has therefore always seemed important to me that this period be treated as the closing chapter of a very long process, and not “business as usual” in the sense of ongoing talks with no clear end in sight. This is in fact the best moment for the parties to bring decades of conflict to an end, and set a new course of peace, mutual co-existence and progress in both countries.
From discussions with both Government and through attending several rounds of talks in Addis Ababa, I am convinced that this is possible. Of course it isn’t straightforward, with a number of complex technical issues to resolve even where political will is clearly manifest. What would increase the chances of success? In my view there are three main areas:
- Show the “political will” – easy to talk about, but what does it mean in practice? In this context I believe both Governments need to be clear – and make clear – that the conflict is over, and that the way ahead is by cooperation not confrontation. There are practical ways in which they can demonstrate that, especially on the security side – notably by clearly ceasing support for armed groups and spoilers in each other’s territories. Confidence would also be built by implementing those agreements already reached in principle – on freedoms for the citizens of the two countries, and on oil and financial arrangements. It would also be good to hear both sides spell out their vision for the benefits of mutual coexistence, especially economically. Above all, both sides need to dispel any lingering impression that the talks are merely a “holding pattern”, during which they hope that the economic or other internal pressures in their neighbour will bring about change.
- Deal with the facts – this has two main aspects: first, basing arguments on facts, not assumptions or misunderstanding. A good example is the significance of the map proposed by the AU negotiating panel. Agreement to this will allow the Safe Demilitarised Border Zone (SDBZ) to be agreed, and for monitors from both sides to be deployed – which in turn will have a positive impact on security. It has always been made absolutely clear, from the UN Security Council as well as within the AU, that it has no bearing on the final status of the border line. That needs to be trusted and acted upon by both sides. Secondly, being clear-headed and honest about the cost-benefit analysis of failing to come to an agreement in the talks restarting today: both in terms of missed opportunity for the people and economies of both countries, and the consequences for those identified as preventing progress under the terms of the AU and UN mandates.
- Take the long-term view – it seems clear from outside the region that the potential of both countries is currently being held hostage by the unresolved issues and the threat of conflict that lurks behind. There is little shortage of goodwill by traditional and new international partners of both countries – including the UK – to support reform and development, once the peace process is finally brought to fruition. The benefits to the people of both countries, and across the region, would be immense. Failure to do so simply prolongs the agony, eg through the loss of revenue from the shut-down of oil production at the beginning of this year. Both countries also face serious internal issues including corruption and the need for political reform, but with visionary leadership these can be addressed. In my experience, people across Africa are increasingly demanding that level of leadership – and I do not see that Sudan and South Sudan should be exceptions to that trend.
As much as these principles apply to the disputes between Sudan and South Sudan, they are also relevant to the conflict in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. The humanitarian situation there demands an urgent response, and we need to see leaders on both sides having the political courage to change their approach and find a long-term solution to meet the needs of the people of the two areas.
The UK will remain an active supporter, including in the UN Security Council, of the AU peace process led by former President Mbeki and his High-Level Panel. We also plan to continue to work closely with friends and partners of both countries, to urge and encourage them to seize this moment to move forwards. I look forwards to playing my personal role in that, during what we all hope will prove to be a critically significant month for both countries, and for peace and development in Africa.