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McGill questions the prospects of peace in partitioned Sudan

Panellist concerned Sudan troubles overshadowed by Arab revolutions

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In the wake of Southern Sudan’s January decision to secede from Sudan, government and non-governmental representatives, academics, and students met to discuss coming events at a conference hosted by the McGill Institute for the Study of International Development (ISID) last Thursday in the McGill Faculty Club.

The East African country of Sudan has been ravaged by civil war for four decades. Sudan’s conflict finally came to an end in 2005 when the United States brokered the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

In accordance with the conditions set out in the CPA, a referendum for the self-determination of southern Sudan was held this year. With a 99 per cent majority, the predominantly Christian southerners voted for secession from the historically authoritative Islamic regime in the north. As a result, Sudan will separate into two separate countries effective July 9.

McGill associate professor and Founding Director of the ISID, Philip Oxhorn said that Sudan is a “priority country” for Canada and emphasized the need keep attention on Sudan post-referendum.

“Things are by no means over in Sudan, but the media’s attention has drifted because the referendum was so overwhelmingly in favour of partition and things seemed to be going relatively smoothly.”

Khalid Medani, an associate professor of Political Science and Islamic Studies at McGill and panellist at Thursday’s conference, called attention to post-referendum events in Sudan. He noted that there has been violence – “southerners against southerners” – in the past few weeks. He also pointed to the breakdown of the talks between the governments of the north and south scheduled for March 13. Medani felt that, although there is currently “a huge crisis” in the Sudan, it had been downplayed given recent events in the Middle East.

“It’s by no means a foregone conclusion that the partition will result in peaceful, positive outcomes, particularly in the short term. There are still things that are very worrisome that need to be addressed and can’t be ignored,” said Oxhorn.

Keynote speaker Aggrey Abate, Vice Chancellor of the University of Juba, appealed to Canadian universities for help in fostering higher learning in Southern Sudan. In 1989, the University of Juba was forced to move to Khartoum, the capital city in the north of Sudan. All five colleges of the university were re-located to Juba, the capital of southern Sudan, at the end of last year, but Abate indicated that this required a number of already limited resources.

Elsadig Abunafeesa, a former Sudanese MP who also worked as advisor to the UN on conflict prevention and resolution, voiced his view on the role of the UN being marginalised by the US. He expressed particular concern that the US was “not neutral”  as an arbiter of the CPA.

“If you read the CPA, you’ll see it was not fair. I wish to see now the US go back, and leave the driver’s seat…and the UN take care of the pending issues,” said Abunafeesa. According to Abunafeesa, the UN’s presence will allow that “at least the two sides – the north and the south – can be satisfied with the mediator.”

Whether secession will foster peace in Sudan was not explicitly addressed at the conference. When he spoke with The Daily, Medani said that secession, although a difficult process, would conclude the “many years of sheer brutality by the northern governments.”

“What [secession] resolves is a larger conflict that killed millions of people and devastated the southern part of the country,” Medani explained. “What it has not helped resolve is the issues of development and permanent peace.”

Oxhorn stated how ISID’s conference provided “useful policy suggestions” regarding Sudan.

“We’re having something else on the Sudan war – a closed door chat workshop all day, involving a variety of people from the international community… from Canada, from Sudan, both regions, to talk about these challenges and we’re going to issue a report on that,” he said.

“Some people couldn’t come because of other obligations, some people were unable to get visas quickly enough to be able to come. The people that are speaking on the panel are sort of a cross section of who’s going to be in the private workshop on Friday and they were chosen because they represent different perspectives, different backgrounds,” Oxhorn said.

The closed session was not open to media.

Asked about the role of external actors, panellists agreed that the international community has a crucial role to play both now and after July 9. Douglas Scott Proudfoot, the Director of the Sudan Task Force at the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, said that Canada is already “deeply involved in Sudan,” and will remain so after secession.

“I don’t think this [violence] is going to go away, but that’s precisely why we need to build up capacity in southern Sudan, to govern itself and its citizens, and to keep a UN presence in southern Sudan, including Canada,” said Proudfoot.

“What [the referendum’s] done automatically is it’s created a whole new country and so, whether or not it’s going to allow both Sudans to deal with their variety of conflicts or not, that’s the real challenge,” Oxhorn said.

With files from Emily Meikle