John Ryle, a close friend and chair of the Rift Valley Institute, which does some of the best research and work on Sudan, sent me this piece by him in the Financial Times of August 2, 2005; I am taking the liberty of reposting it as it is very important. It bears close reading for its discussion of the prospects of peace in Sudan (particularly the fragile North-South peace, which is sometimes ignored by American commentators focused almost exclusively on the horrors of Darfur in the west), following the death of south Sudanese leader John Garang in a helicopter accident in July:
Peace still has future in Sudan after death of Garang
By John Ryle
Published: August 2 2005 20:32
The death of John Garang de Mabior, the southern Sudanese leader, in a helicopter crash has raised fears for the future of the peace process inAfrica's largest - and most conflict-ridden - country. Garang's deathsparked riots and inter-ethnic violence on Monday in Juba, the southern capital, and in Khartoum, fanning concerns that his death could jeopardise the peace agreement between the former southern rebels and the government inthe north.
The violence in Khartoum is alarming, but in the south there are reasons for hope - if not for the long-term prospects of wider peace in Sudan, at least for the immediate future of the agreement and the south's internal stability. First, the crash in which Garang died was almost certainly an accident: he was flying in a rainstorm over territory controlled by his Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army, in the personal helicopter of his long-time ally, Yoweri Museveni, the Ugandan president, and there is little reason to suspect foul play. Second, the leadership succession was uncontested: Salva Kiir Mayardit, Garang's long-time deputy, took over with the consent of other SPLA commanders the following day. Third, althoughGarang had a key role in the agreement, the overall process mainly has been driven not by internal forces but by western powers, primarily the US, whose interest in its success remains undiminished.
John Garang led the SPLM from its inception in 1983 until the peace agreement was signed early this year. He ruled as a "Big Man" in the classic African mould, controlling every appointment and seeing off challenges with autocratic ruthlessness. Under the peace agreement he became first vice-president of Sudan in a new national government. His arrival in Khartoum at the head of an SPLM/A delegation last month was greeted with elation by war-displaced southerners living there, who number at least a million, and also by western Sudanese displaced from Darfur, where hundreds of thousands have died in a separate insurgency.
A paradoxical aspect of Garang's leadership of the SPLM/A was his insistence throughout the conflict that the solution to Sudan's problems was not separation of north and south, but a transformation in relations between underdeveloped areas of the country - the west and the east as well as the south - and the dominant ethnic groups of the centre. The phrase he used to summarise his vision of the country's future was "New Sudan".
His analysis of the pattern of political and economic grievances in the country was confirmed by the Darfur uprising. Yet the rank and file of theSPLA - and southerners in general - have remained unambiguously separatist throughout the conflict. For most of them "New Sudan" signified - and still signifies - an independent south. This contradiction between Garang's stated position and popular sentiment among southerners was resolved in the demand for self-determination: a central clause of the peace agreement is a referendum on north-south separation, due to take place in six years' time.
Few doubt that a majority of southerners would vote for separation in any referendum, but the peace agreement also contains provisions designed to make unity attractive, making it easier for the northern government to stomach compromises forced on them.
Will the new leadership of the SPLA maintain this studied ambiguity? The reported appointment of Riek Machar Teny-Dhurgon to the vice-presidency of the south makes the question more pressing. Dr Riek mounted the first challenge to Garang's SPLM/A leadership in the early 1990s, a split only resolved when he rejoined the group in 2002. Both Riek Machar and Salva Kiirare more closely identified with a separatist position than was Garang, but they have also declared support for the existing peace agreement.
The presence of Riek Machar as Salva Kiir's deputy augurs well for the cohesion of the SPLM/A: Mr Kiir, like Garang, is a Dinka, from southernSudan's largest ethnic group, while Dr Riek is a Nuer, from the second or third largest. Between them they have a good chance of neutralising one threat to peace in the south: the continuing presence of government-backed militias.
It is to be hoped that the coming months will also see the emergence of a more representative and effective southern administration. Such a development would benefit the country as a whole: a stable southwould free the western powers to concentrate on resolving Sudan's other crises: the violence in Khartoum and the continuing conflict in Darfur.
(The writer chairs the Rift Valley Institute, a research organisation working in eastern Africa.)