This week marks what some consider the tenth anniversary of the conflict in Darfur. Sadly, this is not the only conflict still ravaging the people of Sudan and South Sudan. As the White House is preparing to name the United States’ seventh special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan in the last 12 years, I believe it’s time for a different approach to US policy, one that puts the central governance challenges in each state at the forefront.
The ongoing suffering and instability in the two countries demands a re-examination of current efforts, a review of lessons learned, and some adjustments to current US policy. "Getting to Normal with the Two Sudans,” is my attempt to do this. Lasting peace and stability within and between the Sudans will only come with meaningful political transformation at the center of each state that leads to democracy and inclusiveness for all Sudanese—outcomes only the Sudanese peoples can bring to pass. The United States can encourage this process but will only be effective to the extent that we recognize our strengths and limitations.
The United States must relate to each state in its own right, and not just as a function of conflicts between north and south or within Sudan. I believe the United States should have ambassadors to both Sudan and South Sudan and not a special envoy. I believe the United States should talk to all sides in Khartoum and Juba, including President Bashir. I believe the UN Security Council should defer Bashir’s indictment by the International Criminal Court for one year in order to give a truly comprehensive political settlement a chance. I believe the United States should revisit the value of its counterterrorism cooperation with Sudan and stop dangling the lifting of sanctions to achieve short-term objectives. I believe USAID should not have a full-fledged development mission in Khartoum at this time. I believe the United States should ensure that South Sudan does not collapse economically because of the loss of its oil revenues, despite its serious governance challenges, which should be addressed in the context of US-South Sudan relations but not equated with the acts of Khartoum. And more than anything, I believe the United States should lead in relentless pursuit of ceasefires and unfettered humanitarian access to all conflict regions in Sudan.
No doubt some of my recommendations will upset various constituencies. However, I have not come to these conclusions lightly or without first-hand observation of the suffering of the peoples of Sudan and South Sudan over nearly two decades. My first visit to Sudan was in 1995 for an international nongovernmental organization providing humanitarian relief to war and famine-ravaged civilians in southern Sudan. Over the past 18 years, I have traveled to Sudan and South Sudan more times than I can count, visited every major conflict region in the (now) two countries, re-opened the USAID/Sudan mission after 14 years of closure, advised four special envoys, and lived in Khartoum. I’ve seen the worst of Sudan and South Sudan—famine conditions in southern Sudan as a result of war, drought, and outright denial of humanitarian aid by the Sudanese government; the burnt villages and teeming camps of displaced people who suffered genocide and war in Darfur; the destruction of Abyei and the displacement of its residents; and the effects of war and neglect in the Nuba Mountains, southern Blue Nile, eastern Sudan, and too many places across South Sudan to name.
Sudan has brought me to the depths of despair and to the heights of hope. In 1995, the idea that South Sudan would one day be an independent, sovereign state seemed an impossible dream for its people. On July 9, 2011, I watched in Juba as it became a reality. I’m proud to have been part of the US government team that helped to bring that about, and that brought life-saving relief to millions of people in Darfur through a massive international humanitarian operation and facilitated at least a temporary de-escalation of violence. I’m saddened that efforts to promote lasting peace and end gross human rights violations in Sudan and between the two countries have yet to succeed. Violence is on the rise in Darfur, full-scale war has returned to Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, and other areas of Sudan are restive. Urgently needed humanitarian aid is being denied to a million or more people in Sudan. South Sudan, too, is wracked by violence and struggling to stand on its feet as a new nation-state. Already, its behavior is beginning to resemble the oppressive rule from which it just escaped.
It is because of these challenges—and not in spite of them— that I urge a more “normal” diplomatic approach, not to diminish attention to or the significance of what is happening in the Sudans, but to address the reality more effectively so that we don’t witness another decade, or more, of violent conflict. Until the underlying causes of war and violence in the Sudans are addressed, peace and stability will elude the Sudanese people. It is time the United States relate to these two countries on the basis of a sustained, long-term, strategic approach, not just as problems to be solved.