August 03, 2005

When there already exists a deep distrust of the existing government and all its tools and proxies, the way to establish such trust in an emergency situation is not for the existing government to enforce a state of unilateral emergency law; let alone for that government to pull back all avenues of investigation under the government umbrella.

John Garang de Mabior is dead. Bucking the separatist nationalism sweeping Sudan even as it continues to sweep the rest of the globe, driven by a vision of real strength in Sudanese unity, faced with the emotional and national exhaustion of an unwinnable war, Garang had grown the Sudan People's Liberation Army from something resembling his own personal fifedom to an independent and potent de facto opposition party; and once he had been sworn as First Vice President of Sudan, de facto status become official status. For the first time in decades, the people of Sudan became willing to invest their faith in these solid harbingers of real change. The detailed Neivasha Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the new constitution Garang had been instrumental in helping create, are solid in their structure ... but as with all articles of faith between two parties, they depend on good faith by both sides for their survival. Now Garang is dead: and the first action by the government he had resisted so long (after enacting a state of emergency) was to draw all sources of information back under tight governmental control, including the all-important investigation into the helicopter crash in which he died.

During the Great Depression, banks discovered that closing their doors against runs did not protect them but in fact accomplished the opposite: further eroding the public faith so crucial to their continued operation and survival. What is needed in Sudan just now is not a visible toeing and even propagandising of the party line but transparency -- and even more importantly an overt and continually reinforced demonstration of willingness to pursue and maintain such transparency. It begins by continuing the cautious cooperation with international units outlined in earlier agreements: Kenyan-led mediation; Swiss-assisted truce negotiations (with Norwegian monitoring); British advisory assistance in guiding SPLA insurgents into thinking of themselves as members of a national army, to serve alongside former enemies. (Israel/Palestine could learn from this model.) Whatever the current need for military action, whatever validity (or lack thereof) in government cries of sedition; the current government, working unilaterally, is simply not trusted to work fairly: and thus no amount of unilateral force or propaganda will serve to do other than to reinforce that mistrust.

The groundwork for internal cooperation (government, SPLA) and international cooperation has been laid; but it can be unravelled far faster than it had originally been woven. Thus far, three directives have been stated:
Thus far, not one of these directives has addressed the underlying issue of trust/transparency, let alone opened any doors to independent, international investigation: rather, any such doors (such as the active Ugandan offer by President Museveni) have been slammed shut before they could in any way endanger the current unilateral actions. (The collaboration mentioned above is to occur in a structure that would carefully retain government majority power, reducing SPLM representation to 14%.) We already know where such tortoise-withdrawal will lead, having watched it for decades of near civil war. Yet even now there still remain options; and President Omer Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir now faces another choice: to stay the course he has chosen, or to step back a little and cede his party's majority power, its effectively unilateral monopoly, to the SPLA and international investigations in the interests of national peace.

Garang is dead. Sudanese peace doesn't have to die with him.

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