Journey with a New Map? Thoughts on the Sudan Agreement and Stability in Africa

Three weeks after a grueling twenty-two months of difficult negotiations-prodded along behind the scenes by a host of special envoys from a number of countries, including the United States-in the Kenyan resort town of Naivasha, the government of Suda

Three weeks after a grueling twenty-two months of difficult negotiations-prodded along behind the scenes by a host of special envoys from a number of countries, including the United States-in the Kenyan resort town of Naivasha, the government of Sudan and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) finalized a peace accord that both sides hope will end some twenty-one years of fighting. The conflict, Africa's longest-running civil war, pitted the Arab Muslims in the country's north against blacks in its south, who are mainly Christians and followers of traditional African religions, leaving an estimated two million people dead and another four million displaced (an additional ten thousand have been killed and one million displaced since last year in the western Darfur region in a separate conflict that the United Nations has characterized as "the world's worst humanitarian disaster" nowadays). The three protocols just signed pave the way for a final peace treaty to be signed in Washington, possibly as early as next month.

The agreement splits power and wealth between the government in Khartoum and the southern rebel movement. Sudan's new oil revenues-presently 250,000 barrels are produced each day, a figure schedule to rise to 500,000 by next year-will be shared equally between north and south. Positions in the central government will be apportioned between adherents of the two sides along a 70 to 30 ratio in favor of the government, although the ratio in three contested border regions-oil-rich Abyei, Blue Nile state, and the Nuba mountains-will be 55 to 45. Islamic sharia law, which the Arab-dominated central government has been trying to impose on the entire country since 1983 will be limited to the north, with the situation of the capital to be determined by a future assembly. Most interestingly of all, the government has agreed on a formula that provides for a constitution to be drafted in the next six months granting the south considerable autonomy for six years, culminating in a referendum over complete independence for the south.

Although African peace agreements have a notoriously short shelf life and it still remains to be seen whether the two sides in the Sudanese conflict will honor their commitments, the Naivasha accord stands out among similar deals for just admitting the possibility that international borders might be altered and a new map of the continent ought to drawn up permitting the creation of a new state. One of the little (but not inconsequential) ironies of international politics is that while the continent is often portrayed as chaotic-a "frontier of anarchy" and the birthplace of "the coming chaos," to recall Robert Kaplan's memorable titles[i]-Africa is actually remarkable for having retained essentially unchanged the boundaries of the 1880s, a feat that Europe certainly has not accomplished. In fact, Africa's newest internationally recognized sovereign state, Eritrea, which achieved its independence from Ethiopia following the victory of insurgents against the then Ethiopian regime and a plebiscite in 1993, is the restoration of a colonial era political unit that had been merged with Ethiopia in 1952, rather than an entirely new entity.

The challenge for African states since independence has been how to refashion what Bertrand Badie has called "l'état importé" into an arrangement that is not only stable, but will also be accepted by its citizens as legitimate, as well as sufficiently performing the basic functions of statehood: control over national territory; oversight of the natural resources; effective and rational collection of revenue; maintenance of adequate national infrastructure; and capacity to govern and maintain law and order, including respect for basic human rights. A cursory glance at any major newspaper, however, reveals that in Africa today the "imported state" is in trouble. Sierra Leone has barely emerged from a more than a decade of civil war that saw the near total collapse of its government as well as frightening scenes of violence. Until last year, Liberia was run as a personal fiefdom by a warlord-turned-president; now the country is a de facto United Nations protectorate supervised by a retired U.S. Air Force major general. The ironically-named Democratic Republic of Congo-which has never, in its history as an independent country, had so much as one free and democratic election (one is due next year if the peace accord ending its 1998-2003 civil war holds)-has been embroiled in a conflict that has been called "Africa's first world war" and taken a immense toll of 3.3 million lives, giving the DRC the highest crude mortality rate in the world today. Somalia-or at least its southern half-still lacks a central government more than a decade after the ill-starred international intervention of "Operation Restore Hope."