All posts by Christopher Zambakari

Christopher Zambakari is a Doctor of Law and Policy, Board Member of the Sudan Studies Association (SSA), and a Rotary Peace Fellow. He is based in the School of Political Science and International Studies at University of Queensland, Australia. His area of research and expertise is policy development that ensures political stability and socioeconomic development, and his interests include modern political and legal thought, governance and democracy, the rule of law, postcolonial violence, and nation-building projects in Africa. His work has been published in law, economic, and public policy journals.

South Sudan’s Preventable Crisis

South-Sudan1-1024x682Since December 2013, an estimated 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict in the Republic of South Sudan, which has also internally displaced more than one million people and forced another 392,800 into neighboring countries as refugees.  South Sudan became the world’s newest nation on July 09, 2011, and three years after securing its independence, the country now faces the most significant political crisis to date.

I would like to pick up where Alex de Waal left off, by looking at South Sudan’s crisis as reflective of the predicaments facing many African countries that in turn restrict economic development. I will argue that the immediate challenge facing many countries in East Africa, specifically South Sudan, is political. The focus of the international community on building a state without investing in building a cohesive nation proved unwise: when South Sudan experienced its first significant political crisis, the country unravelled and disintegrated into a civil war.

The donor community assumption equates development with stability, leading to a focus on delivering services at the expense of aiding the growth of a stable nation. This technical exercise failed to view nation building for what it really is—a political process.  In mid-December 2013, a falling out within the ruling political party, Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), and its military wing, Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), erupted into violence. The conflict has deep roots, due in part to the failed reform of the ruling party, the incomplete formation of a national army, and the international community’s failure to prioritize nation building.

The donor community focused on the ruling elites despite mass corruption within the system, and continued to direct money at a government that lacked a proper national accounting system, accountability to its own citizens, and has failed to demilitarize, disarm, and reintegrate former combatants. There has been a complete lack of emphasis on nation building activities such as promoting democratization, fostering social cohesion between communities, devolution of power to States, and strengthening the ongoing National and Independent Reconciliation Process.

Very soon after South Sudan won its independence, a small group within the ruling party pushed for reform, calling for accountability, a new constitution, and checks and balances on executive power. Ignoring these efforts, in July 2013 President Salva Kiir set in motion a series of reforms designed to consolidate executive power, by firing the Deputy Vice-President and the Secretary General of the SPLM. Quickly, and not surprisingly, came the dissolution of the entire government and the leadership structure of the party. A brutal civil war has followed, waged along ethnic lines with more and more impunity.

The second dimension to the crisis is the fractured state of the army. South Sudan’s national army is mainly comprised of different factions that fought against the regime in Northern Sudan. When the crisis in South Sudan broke out last December, the army fragmented along ethnic lines. Ethnicity, so long a means of identity in South Sudan, surged to the front as a mobilizing tool superseding allegiance to the national army.

For the sake of the new nation, donor countries need to prioritize nation building. This means engaging local communities, building social cohesion, and opening a dialogue on the legacies of war. Instead of placing all the eggs in the state building basket, donors need to diversify the portfolio in South Sudan to include all South Sudanese and not just the ruling elites. The challenge in South Sudan is how to bring diverse peoples with a lingering history of hostility into a framework of one state. That is, how to create a pride in being South Sudanese while respecting the diversity within that term. This is less of a technical issue related to material development but more about developing the meaning of ‘citizen.’

Finally, the conflicts in South Sudan tend to be dominated by those who resort to arms over those who choose non-violence. The latest crisis has seen two warring factions, government and the rebels, prioritized in the peace process, over the rest of society. Civilians have borne the cost of violence in both government and rebel-controlled territories. The international community has contributed to this militarist tendency by accepting these warring factions as representatives of society even when their legitimacy remains deeply questionable.

A few steps can be taken by countries that were signatories to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), the United Kingdom, the United States, Norway, the negotiating team represented by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and the African Union to improve the likelihood for durable peace. They must help to build a broad-based coalition that is democratic and inclusive of all key stakeholders in South Sudan, including the military and civilian representatives. This effort must include the complete transformation of the liberation movement into a democratic political party. Lastly, there needs to be a greater emphasis on the political side of nation building, including National Reconciliation and democratization of the political process, rather than technical development measures.


This piece is part of The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs’ 2014 Global Risk Forum. The Global Risk Forum is an effort to convene conversations around some of the most pressing issues we face as a global community in the year ahead: the breakdown of climate change negotiationsthe spread of sectarian violence in the Middle East; the credit crisis and economic slowdown in China; the growth of cyber espionage; and the unraveling of Africa’s economic boom. We encourage you to read the conversations, participate with written responses or on social media, and help us work together to produce constructive ideas that will reduce the aggregate risks we face. 

Darfur Ten Years After War: Paradigms of Justice and the Search for Peace in Sudan

This March marked the ten-year anniversary of the outbreak of civil war in Darfur, a western region of Sudan. The war was fought between the government of Sudan and two rebel groups: the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). This conflict led to the deaths of thousands of civilians, displaced millions, and created a humanitarian crisis in western Sudan. Some called the conflict a “genocide” and others a “holocaust,” while a United Nations report concluded that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed. For these crimes, the International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted three Sudanese, including President Omar Al Bashir.

But criminal justice—the threat to hold perpetrators still holding power accountable for crimes—has prolonged the crisis in Darfur and postponed peace. Although the international community focuses on individuals like Bashir, durable peace is not always achieved in the court of law. Peace must be pursued within a comprehensive political agenda involving both yesterday’s perpetrators and today’s survivors, who must live side by side.

Two paradigms of justice have emerged to address the aftermath of violence. The first—advocated by the ICC—is criminal justice. Criminal justice is based on the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals after World War II. The Nuremberg trials were effective because of the Allies’ military victory and the separation of survivors from perpetrators. These conditions do not hold in most African contexts, where violence has both history and agency, where conflict is ongoing, and where survivors have to live side by side with former perpetrators.

In these contexts, the Nuremberg model of justice proves ineffective, inappropriate, and an obstacle to peace. Achieving justice through a formal judicial process requires a dichotomy of right or wrong and seldom accounts for the politics behind violence. Such a model assumes criminal justice is a zero-sum game.

The second paradigm of justice is survivor justice. While the first demands criminal prosecution, the second combines impunity with reform. For example, the negotiations that ended apartheid in South Africa were based on an agreement to forgo criminal prosecution for a reformed state. The political settlement that ended Mozambique’s civil war was based on an agreement to decriminalize the main rebel group despite its notoriety for brutality against civilians.

Survivor justice has been the predominant paradigm in Sudan. Andrew Natsios, U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan from 2006 to 2007, noted that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) said “not one word about prosecuting war crimes or compensating the victims of atrocities for just this reason.” John Garang, leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), recognized that “if he demanded justice, the north–south war would not end.”

The survivor justice paradigm was reinforced after South Sudan’s independence when newly elected President Salva Kiir Mayardit took office in 2011. He issued amnesty to six former South Sudanese rebel groups. In his inaugural speech, Kiir told the audience, “I want to offer public amnesty to all those who took arms against the people of South Sudan. Let them lay down these arms and help us in building this new nation.”

Survivor justice is not the exception in Africa; it is the norm. African experiences demonstrate that forgiving past wrongs combined with reform of the state is a better way to pursue peace than backward-looking judicial processes. The single-minded pursuit of criminal justice over survivor justice by the ICC has led to untold numbers of civilian casualties, a deteriorating humanitarian crisis, and a political leadership in Sudan determined to wage total war to save itself. The conflict in Darfur is ongoing with no military victory in sight. Even with a military victory and without a place for former perpetrators and political adversaries, the cycle of violence will return.

We must be willing to distinguish between violence as criminal and violence as political. To distinguish between these forms of violence is to recognize differences between a person who commits a crime and a regime that is violent. Sudan’s smallest problem is that individual leaders have committed crimes. The biggest problem is the regime itself. Changing personalities within a violent power structure will not solve Sudan’s political crisis. The punishment of an individual from a violent regime does not solve society’s problems if the system remains in place.

Survivor justice prioritizes the living over the dead. Criminal justice prioritizes victims while alienating perpetrators, thus postponing peace. To ensure peace in Darfur, a new paradigm is needed—one that includes survivors and perpetrators, addresses issues fueling violence, and reforms the state. Only comprehensive solutions that combine political reform with social justice can ensure a durable peace in Darfur.

Peace Agreements in Sudan and South Sudan: The Need for a Democratic Process

On September 27, 2012, Sudan’s National Congress Party (NCP) and South Sudan’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) signed their latest agreement in Addis Ababa under the auspices of the African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP). Despite the statements of the signatories, it is but another half-measure that cannot possibly deliver an enduring peace in a country so deeply entrenched in conflict. While this agreement temporarily addresses outstanding issues between the SPLM/A and NCP, it leaves out marginalized populations in Abyei, the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile, and Darfur. Peace is likely to fail unless the negotiated settlement includes all key stakeholders in Sudan and South Sudan.

The agreement, signed 40 years after the first Addis Ababa Agreement ending the First Sudanese Civil War, is composed of a General Cooperation Agreement and eight protocols covering a range of areas: oil, security, trade, civil service pensions, economic matters, banking, border issues, and status of nationals. The agreement, however, omits two serious issues: the status of Abyei, the disputed state that straddles the North-South border, and the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), an alliance of rebel groups active in the Sudanese border states of South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Darfur.

Abyei and its inhabitants are held hostage by the political battle between the NCP and SPLM/A. As a result, hundreds of thousands of residents have either become internally displaced or refugees. In South Kordofan and Blue Nile, demarcating and securing the border is a huge problem, not to mention the challenge of accommodating the marginalized populations. The SRF claims to control forty percent of the 1,250-mile border, and Sudan is consumed by violence in the east and west, each region demanding that power be restructured. South Sudan continues to experience insecurity and ethnic violence that represent an existential threat to the state. The current approach of selective engagement in individual mediation processes cannot deliver a durable peace.

Although the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended the Second Sudanese Civil War, called for popular consultations in South Kordofan and Blue Nile and a referendum in Abyei, the government in Khartoum has refused to organize the Abyei referendum. The crisis in Abyei centers on citizenship and the right to vote in the referendum to decide whether Abyei remains in Sudan or joins South Sudan. Without accommodating those it affects most, the referendum will be disputed. The crises in South Kordofan and Blue Nile relate to a deliberate policy by the government to marginalize socially, politically, and economically all the regions in Sudan. While Abyei’s fate awaits a referendum, failure to accommodate the SRF could easily unravel the agreement and destabilize Sudan and South Sudan.

There is no shortage of discontent with the agreement in South Sudan and among international non-governmental organizations. In the state of Northern Bahr el Ghazal, there have been demonstrations against the incorporation of the contentious “fourteen mile area” within the safe demilitarized buffer zone (SDBZ), showing that the SPLM/A has failed to consult the people most affected by the agreement. Sudan has suffered historically from a lack of popular sovereignty, characterized by total disregard for popular will and democracy in political processes. Examples include dismantling the Constituent Assembly in 1958, cancelling a Southern referendum in 1982, overthrowing the parliamentary government in 1989, and excluding key political and civil actors in the North in 2005. South Sudan seems to be repeating the long-practiced ills of its neighbor to the north, and history shows that undemocratic processes tend to lead to undemocratic outcomes.

Political opportunism and the exclusion of key stakeholders from the process have long weakened the foundation of negotiated agreements in Sudan. As discussed elsewhere, previous agreements, including the CPA, Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), and Eastern Sudan Peace Agreement (ESPA), have shown that those excluded from the process have had no interest in safeguarding the agreements or collaborating in their implementation. The late Dr. John Garang noted, “failure to come up with a political settlement that settles the national problem in Sudan will inevitably lead to other regions taking up arms if their grievances are not resolved. To focus on one region and ignore the rest is a sure way to convince the rest of the marginalized regions that the only way forward is through an armed struggle.” But the architects of the peace agreements in the two Sudans seem to have ignored this lesson.

The latest agreement between Sudan and South Sudan yet again fails to properly address the issues that fuel violence within and between these two countries in their historical, socioeconomic context. The political marginalization and socioeconomic inequalities that incentivize armed movements in both countries continue to be overlooked. Only a democratic decision-making process that brings together all the key stakeholders and results in a comprehensive political arrangement can deliver a durable peace in Sudan and South Sudan.